Groucho Marx once said, "I would not join any club that would have someone like me for a member." That was my original concern about attending the Fortune Brainstorm, a three day technology conference in Half Moon Bay California. I met one of the conference organizers, David Kirkpatrick at a couple of the World Economic Forum events and he is a very bright and insightful guy. But I thought it might be another one of these conferences where you spend a lot of money just to attend. Our marketing team convinced me otherwise.
Brainstorm last week was a very connected event with some very influential people. I recognized at least a quarter of them from Davos. The bloggers were also there in force with Robert Scoble, Om Malik and Kara Swisher participating as the first evenings entertainment. The subject matter was also generally more relevant that Davos as well given its proximity to Silicon Valley. Given how far I came, I used part of the time on Monday to do some interviews in San Francisco on our Alfresco Labs 3 launch, so I missed the opening sessions with Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Michael Dell, Mark Benioff from Salesforce and Brad Smith from Intuit. The setting for most of this was somewhat intimate with main room laid out like a giant conference room with lots of Herman Miller executive chairs. (Herman Miller was a sponsor.)
The environment was set up like an office. So everyone ends up doing work.
Although this was a tech conference, some of the focus was on how relevant tech is. The level of discussion was what you would expect in an article in Fortune magazine. That level of discussion is good to understand how the big trends are moving to affect everyone's lives, not just those in tech. The first breakfast session that I attended was on Cloud Computing with Marissa Mayer from Google, Adam Selipsky from Amazon, Kevin Lynch from Adobe, and Zach Nelson from NetSuite. Cloud Computing is increasingly attractive from a cost perspective, but enterprise customers are still worried about security and reliability. Google does not allow encryption and Amazon does not guarantee recovery and recommends that you back up your data on S3. So I asked the panel when we can expect security AND reliability. Marissa didn't answer and the other panelists answered the part of the question that they wanted to.
Cloud Computing: Michael Copeland (Fortune), Charles Fitzgerald (Pi/EMC), Zach Nelson (NetSuite), Kevin Lynch (Adobe), Adam Selipski (Amazon Web Services), Marissa Mayer (Google)
Mark Anderson hosted a session on the direction of technology with several CTO and technology leaders including Sophie Vanderbroek from Xerox, Padma Warrior of Cisco, and Bob Iannucci of Nokia. The discussion range as far as their technologies. Xerox is looking at collaboration and sees the future in intelligently understanding the content being handled in that collaboration in something called content-centric networking. This is something that Alfresco can get its head around. Cisco sees the internet morphing from a primarily messaging based platform to more of an entertainment platform. Video being a more natural form of communication will become more pervasive and that the real requirement will be more filtering rather than generating. Nokia took us on a cosmological tour of technology trying to show us that the bigger issues are around mobility and the data that affects our lives. In addition, data privacy will become one of the biggest issues to tackle.
CTO Forum: Mark Anderson (Strategic News Service), Sophie Vanderbroeken (Xerox), Padmasree Warrior (Cisco), Bob Iannucci (Nokia)
Vinton Cerf, inventor of the Internet and now at Google, kept sitting in front of me and always asking questions. It made it difficult to get a question in myself since the moderators would always move to another part of the audience. Get your own seat Vint!
Nicholas Negroponte showed off for the very first time a dual-boot One Laptop Per Child XO machine (the famous $100 laptop) that is now configured to run both the OLPC operating system and Microsoft Windows.
David Kirkpatrick and Nicholas Negroponte showing of the latest dual boot OLPC XO
In "How Green is Your (Silicon) Valley?", VJ Joshi from HP, Rob Lloyd from Cisco, Jonathan Schwartz from Sun, and Michael Spliter from Applied Materials discussed the role that Silicon Valley can play in creating green solutions. By and large, as you would expect, IT makes things more efficient and eliminates the need for travel and face to face meetings. VJ kept it relatively small with the practical steps that HP is taking like making two-sided printing the default. Jonathan kept it big getting us to think about what will happen when IT services as a utility will be 10 times bigger. Jonathan Schwartz talked about MySQL's approach of no office buildings at all. But, I found Rob's and Cisco's point more insightful. When we start architecting our buildings (and homes) with information systems and controls in place, that is when we will really start to reduce our greenhouse footprint. Meeting rooms, transportation and environmental control facilitated by IT (and of course internet routers) will allow us to reduce transportation of ourselves and our resources.
Greening the Valley: James Manyika (Fortune and hidden by the Fortune sign), VJ Joshi (HP), Rob Lloyd (Cisco), Michael Spliter (Applied Materials), Jonathan Schwartz (Sun)
David Kirkpatrick is writing a book on Facebook called The Facebook Effect and used this position to interview new COO Sheryl Sandberg. She puts on a much more media savvy front than Mark Zuckerberg, but not quite as much out-of-the-garage appeal. It all sounded a little too glib. Apparently she used to work in the White House at some point and Google. I was surprised to learn that co-founder Matt Cohler had left Facebook, although he was attending the conference. She announced that he was becoming a partner at Benchmark Capital. I bet Peter Fenton had something to do with that. I had interacted with Matt in relation to some work that we were doing with the World Economic Forum and it seemed that at least part of his role at Facebook was now taken up by Sheryl.
David Kirkpatrick and new Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg
At this point, my camera ran out of battery :-( I participated in a Lunch Lab on Healthcare facilitated by Marissa Mayer of Google and Zoe Baird of the Markle Foundation, but they did most of the talking. There were a few experts who got a word in edgewise, but I didn't really feel that I could participate despite having working with pharmaceutical companies on information management and classification for the last 15 years.
In World without Exits, Andrew Braccia (Accel), Danny Rimer (Index), Dana Settle (Greylock), David Siminoff (Venrock) and Quincy Smith (CBS Interactive) all talked about how there are no exits aside from acquisitions. Danny, one of the best investors in Europe and backer of MySQL and Skype, said that there are still acquirers for good companies. He said all of his portfolio that had been acquired since the beginning of the year had been enterprise software companies. Andrew said that he is telling his portfolio companies to hunker down for the next couple of years. I have heard such talk since 1994 before the big launch of Netscapes IPO.
Life on the Net 2018 was pretty interesting, although probably a little too diverse like several of the sessions at the conference. We had Larry Lessig - open source intellectual property specialist, Phil Rosedale - founder of Second Life and Half Moon Bay resident, Joichi Ito - chairman of SixApart. Larry's "the sky's falling and your privacy is gone" position was pretty scary. He said that the Patriot Act came in so fast that it must have been pre-written before 9/11. He said that he had sources that have told him that is exactly what happened and that there is an internet-based Patriot Act waiting to be put in place as a result of any sort of catastrophic disaster on the Net. Phil believes that virtual worlds of some sort will be the future of user interfaces to the internet because they are easier for older and non-experienced users to use. Obviously, we need more technology improvements for this to happen. Perhaps the biggest technical obstacle to be overcome is the notion of a single identity that is secure and non-repudiable.
The evening event started with a Tweet Out in the platform overlooking the Pacific Ocean. I now have more respect and interest in Twitter as a result of meeting so many Tweeters. Dinner was hosted by the government of Singapore and I met so many people that evening I can't recount it all. However, I didn't stay up so late that I didn't get a chance to get up early and take some pictures of the harbor I was staying next to. I waited too late to stay at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay, but sometimes that can be an advantage, especially cost wise.
An early morning stroll around the harbor at Half Moon Bay.
I was up early enough to sit in on a breakfast roundtable on Programming for the Web and Social Networking. Now I thought this meant programming like programming a computer. They meant programming like NBC is setting up it's Fall line-up. Still interesting. I am getting a sense that there is still a new big wave of video and much richer content coming than just YouTube. And the opportunity to manage it, organize it, categorize it and monetize it will be huge.
Finally, I sat in on a real programming session with the Future of Code, featuring David Hansson of BaseCamp and Ruby on Rails fame, Grady Booch - early pioneer of Object Oriented Programming and at IBM, and Charles Simonyi of Intentional Software, creator of Microsoft Office and Space Tourist. They all take very different approaches to architecture and they spent a lot of the time telling each other that the others were wrong. They all have points and my biggest insight from this is what prejudiced guys they all are.
Neville Roy Singham (ThoughtWorks and moderator), David Hansson (37signals), Roger Simonyi (Intentional), Grady Booch (IBM)
Grady Booch: "There are systems built upon systems and then you have a lot of crap. But that's enough about the Bush Administration."
I missed the rest because I had to head off to Sun Computers, but you can read more below about Eric Schmidt and Neil Young. We had gone to meet with Jonathan Schwartz who had left the conference the day before. He said that although there were interesting things there, he does go to a lot of those things. I asked him if they were all the same. He nodded. Lucky guy. Living 5000 miles away from the valley, I don't get to go to that many events of this quality.
Philip Rosedale Doesn’t See Browser-Based Virtual Worlds As A Threat to Second Life. Is He In Denial? - Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch
A glimpse into the future of the Internet - Tom Forenski, ZDNet Blogs
Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg: Making money isn't a priority (except for her) - Nicholas Carlson, Valleywag
Liveblogging Eric Schmidt/Google Interview at Brainstorm - Erick Schonfeld, TechCrunch
The best Fortune Brainstorm Tech Talk: Neil Young challenges tech industry - Robert Scoble, Scobleizer
The blog editing system in action - Robert Scoble, Scobleizer