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Google Hones Cutting Edge

Schmidt also tried to explain why the company withholds metrics that investors would like to know, such as the number of servers or ad rates charged. He said the company debated over whether to disclose such numbers but, given the company's unique nature and how closely people follow its every move, decided against it.

"I know it makes everyone's jobs harder," Schmidt said. "But we made a decision about what information to release because we didn't want to mislead people."

The argument was a little specious, but it seemed to be this: Given a choice between causing speculation by releasing information and causing speculation by withholding information, Google is safer withholding it, since it's less likely to attract shareholder lawsuits.

Many of the questions that might touch on any sensitive figures were deflected with Jedi-like dexterity. Asked how many servers Google uses to handle queries, Google replied, "We don't give out the exact number. The answer is lots and lots." Asked how it differentiates itself from rivals like Yahoo! (YHOO - Get Report) and Amazon's (AMZN - Get Report) A9 search service, Google said, "We take pride in what we do and we're happy where we stand." Asked if opening an office in China violated its don't-be-evil ur-rule, Google said, "We don't have anything else to announce now."

Some questions centered on Google's recent pushes into advertising. If Google is organizing the world's information, why is it worrying so much about ads? Google's response: Ads are a kind of content that, properly targeted, are less of an annoyance and more like information. The journalists in the room, whose professions are based on separating editorial content from ads, took that one pretty well.

Google also dished out plenty of examples of what it seems to regard as a flippant, off-the-wall ethic and its occasional flashes of arrogance. The company touted the day as a "Factory Tour," but that was another one of its cute jokes: Just as Google has no factory, the crowd received no tour. But Google did wheel in a couple of servers to the conference room just in case the bumpkins in attendance had never seen one.
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