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Google invites 400 to 'off the record' event

Speakers will include high-level Google, Yahoo and MSN execs, but writing about the event is forbidden, a search expert says.

Google is planning a partner forum for about 400 people, including bloggers and journalists from major media outlets, and is prohibiting participants from writing about it, according to a search engine industry expert.

Dubbed "Zeitgeist '05: The Google Partner Forum," the event is "the first 'customer innovation conference' Google said it has ever held," wrote Danny Sullivan in his Search Engine Watch blog from Friday.

The event is scheduled for Oct. 25-27 at Google's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters, Sullivan said. The link to Google's posting about the event now requires a username and password for access.

In his blog, Sullivan cited the following passage, which he said is in the frequently-asked-questions section of the event Web site: "All speeches and discussions at Zeitgeist are off the record. To ensure that our presenters and attendees can speak openly, no press coverage or blogging is permitted."

Speakers on the agenda, Sullivan wrote, include Google co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page, Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, Yahoo Chief Executive Terry Semel, MSN Senior Vice President Yusuf Mehdi, InterActive Corp's Chief Executive Barry Diller and Microsoft blogger Robert Scoble.

Members of the press invited include Arthur Sulzberger, chairman and publisher of the New York Times, James Fallows of the Atlantic Monthly and New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell, Sullivan wrote.

"I found it amusing to think that they are going to have people from The New York Times and other media outlets and suggest they can't talk about what 400 people are going to hear, much less having Scoble, who blogs about anything, not able to talk about it," Sullivan said in an interview Monday. "It's not a small, private event. Major executives from companies are speaking at it."

To be sure, Google's chief rival Microsoft did a similar thing at its sixth annual partner conference earlier this year, which included executives from competitors. The software giant closed its confab for advertisers and ad agencies to the press in 2005, following a first-ever invitation to media outlets the year before, which garnered much press for the event. MSN representatives said this year that it had reversed its invitation to the media because its advertising partners had found press questions the previous year distracting.

Sullivan said he was tipped off to the secret Google event from a posting in a discussion on Threadwatch, a community Web site for Internet marketing.

Google did not return an e-mail seeking comment. (Google representatives have instituted a policy of not talking with CNET News.com reporters until July 2006 in response to privacy issues raised by a previous story.)