Google's Brin: Time to speed up the web

Even though the web is becoming the dominant development environment for applications, online performance still has a way to go, says Google co-founder Sergey Brin

Google co-founder Sergey Brin says he wants to change the rules of software and help traditional media find a new business model, but the web needs a performance boost first.

In a conversation at Google's I/O developer event in San Francisco on Wednesday, Brin pointed out how software gets twice as slow every 18 months — an effect he named 'Page's Law', after his partner Larry Page and in an ironic reversal of Moore's Law. Brin committed Google to bucking this trend: "I want to break this law. I want to make software increasingly fast," he told an audience of reporters.

Brin, whose company launched the ambitious Google Wave collaboration platform a day after his remarks, looked back at how things have changed for web-application development since the early days of Google. Describing the development of Gmail as a web application, he discussed the internal debate inside the company about building it as a JavaScript application, and the arguments about whether it was even possible. Now he thinks the debate is over, and the web-development model is becoming dominant.

"Clearly browsers have been improving, and programming models have improved too. Nobody asks today 'Can you have this on the web?' But we still have a long way to go, particularly in respect to performance," he said.

Google's development of its own browser, Chrome, is part of that work on performance. Chrome's speed boosts and HTML 5 support are now being used in Google's products, including Google Wave. As a consequence, Brin remains excited about Google's tools and future. "You'll be seeing applications that were science fiction 10 years ago popping up," he said.

Brin could not avoid talking about search, and he sketched out some ideas for the future. First, he noted that the underlying mechanisms of search engines have not changed much, but that users have become more demanding as searching has become part of everyday life.

"People's expectations of search engines have increased and, at same time, questions are more complex. That's why we're seeing more success from smart techniques."

He described those increased expectations and more complex queries as drivers for Google, and talked about how what those 'smart techniques', including automated synonym searches, are showing good results.

There is more to come, he hinted. "We'll see some surprises in the next few years," he said.

Sidestepping controversy, Brin talked about the relationship between Google and newspapers in the same terms as the relationship it has with all its content providers. He pointed out that without content from news sources and other websites, there'd be nothing to search — and that Google has paid out over $6bn to other web sites through its AdSense programme.

Admitting that traditional print media faces hard times, he emphasised Google's neutral attitude to different business models for content providers, from free to subscription. Brin suggested that it would take time for print media to find the right business model for the online world, joking about when Google first attempted to make money from advertising.

"The very first attempt we tried, we found relevant books on Amazon and linked to them, using the Amazon affiliate programme. We made enough to cover pizza for the team that developed it," he said.

Brin expects print media to have to go through several iterations until it finds the right model, just like Google's advertising business, which took time to get critical mass and become a sustainable business.

Brin remained optimistic about the future for traditional media online, saying: "Newspapers deliver very valuable content to the world. If you take the time to figure out business models and build up the basis of advertisers or whatever, you'll also have a strong sustainable business."