Contrarians Spice Up Tech Conference

Recently convicted Worldcom exec Bernie Ebbers was a scapegoat for larger problems in the telecom industry. Video on Demand is boring. It’s good that Hollywood and Silicon Valley don’t get along.

Technology conferences are usually filled with speakers patting each other on the back, touting their company’s products and the industry as a whole. Such self-promotion was hardly absent at the AlwaysOn Innovation Summit this week at Stanford. But the show organizers reigned in some of the hype and several speakers conveyed a sharp edge, such as the remarks above.

Like most tech shows, the summit promised a lineup of innovative products and services. That didn’t stop speaker Andy Kessler of Velocity Media to declare this assessment:

“There’s a sense of creeping incrementalism, of things done a little better or a little bit differently.”

One bit of product news came from Mark Cuban, the billionaire entrepreneur and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team. Cuban announced he plans to soon re-launch the Icerocket general search engine he owns as Blogscour. He said Blogscour would capture the real time nature of blogs and the passion of their creators.

“We’re going to stick to the Google model and keep it a simple, fast site,” Cuban told Internetnews. “Google is about relevancy. Blogscour is about what’s current (in the blogosphere).” By default Blogscour will show the most recent results of a search but users can also specify results within a given time period.

In an earlier talk at the show, Cuban went against the conventional wisdom that the industry and consumers would benefit by Hollywood and Silicon Valley working more closely together.

“Silicon Valley focuses on technology,” said Cuban. “Hollywood reminds me of NBA general managers who’s number one priority is keeping their jobs, not to win championships. Hollywood execs aren’t focused on making great movies but making movies that make money.”

Members of the AlwaysOn membership network could log in and view the proceedings live over the Internet and chime in with comments on a real time feed displayed on a big screen on stage. When George Gilder, editor of a technology newsletter suggested WorldCom’s Ebbers was wrongly convicted and the larger problem was with government regulators, a poster drew giggles in the crowd with the comment: “Ask him if he thinks Michael Jackson was innocent.”

Gilder was the most colorful speaker of the day, waving his arms as he declared that television is dead, video on demand is boring and the traditional ad model of 30 second spots will fail miserably if tried on the Internet. “Nobody watches ads they don’t want to see anymore,” said Gilder. “You can’t push that at customers because they now have a choice to go elsewhere.”

Big media’s attempts to enforce copyrights came up for discussion in a later panel where it was generally agreed piracy could not be stopped and too much energy was being spent on trying to do so.

“No one wants to stop people from getting digital content,” said David Goldberg, vice president of the music division of Yahoo!. “Legal stuff won’t do anything. It’s about giving consumers a reason not to steal.”

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