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Google Hones Cutting Edge

While Google already offers the different pieces that could make up a one-stop home page -- such as news, mail, movie listings and local search -- it took the new technology of RSS feeds to push Google into the portal business. Marissa Mayer, who heads up Google's consumer Web products group, maintained that the personalized page came in response to user requests. But its timing, arriving just as RSS feeds are starting to include advertisements, suggests an equally compelling incentive.

Google also introduced three other technologies that, while they won't be monetized for some time, will draw strong consumer interest. The first was an engine that can translate a number of foreign languages in a way that, judging from the demonstrations, is vastly superior to anything on the Web today. Google used its huge computer network to scan thousands of documents, such as those translated into several languages by the United Nations, to recognize familiar patterns.

Another technology improved on Google's ability to organize search results. Marius Rasio, a research scientist, showed how the new search engine can single out specific dates from a number of pages -- determining a rough date for the invention of the transistor, listing the years that Brazil won the World Cup and offering a timeline of "important dates" in Marilyn Monroe's life (which ranked her Playboy photo shoot as more important than her marriage to Joe DiMaggio).

Even more impressive was Google Earth, an improvement to the popular Google Maps feature and its satellite photos. Relying on Google's Keyhole software and a software developed by NASA, the new maps enable users to scan a global map, fly over a relief map of a site such as the Grand Canyon, then zoom in to see individual houses.

Google executives also tried to respond frankly to a wide range of questions that have been dogging the company. Schmidt grew prickly once or twice, such as when a journalist kept returning to the issue of whether Google's project to scan the world's books into searchable files would prioritize English-language books over others. Schmidt adamantly asserted otherwise and demanded proof of the allegation.

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