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Google’s latest risky bet: Venture capital

Who is William Maris? According to the Wall Street Journal Thursday, he’s the 33-year-old entrepreneur that Google (GOOG) just hired to help establish a new venture capital arm under the direction of longtime senior executive David Drummond. The article is skimpy on details, and Google isn’t talking. But the story actually reads like a Washington, D.C., leak where White House or congressional leaders float trial balloons to see what the reaction will be to policy ideas. It’s a form of cheap market research.

The reaction to Google’s VC idea is likely to be muted. Corporate venture arms sound like a good idea, but they typically don’t work. Because the in-house venture capitalists are employees of a big, mushy corporation, it’s tough to give them the same greed-induced compensation packages that partners in a traditional venture firm get. A corporate VC shop also has more conflicts: A startup that takes money from Google runs the risk of alienating Microsoft (MSFT), Yahoo (YHOO) and any number of lesser-known software companies and ad networks that otherwise would be potential investors or, even more important, customers.

Conflicts aside (because, after all, who really cares about conflicts?), the real problem is mission drift. People like to reference the might and influence of Intel (INTC) Capital, the chip giant’s venture wing. They forget that in the late 1990s Intel Capital, whose laudable goal was simply to promote startups that would increase the usage of microprocessors, was a laughingstock that poured millions upon millions of dollars down the drain on dot-bombs. As Stacey Higginbotham of Giganotes points out Thursday, Dell (DELL) and Disney (DIS) had such a devil of time winding down their venture investments that they just shut the units altogether.

So who is William Maris? Here’s TechCrunch’s brief. Ultimately, understanding Maris is far less important than hearing from Google what its venture intentions are.