Reflections on AlwaysOn and Silicon Valley

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AlwaysOn is not your typical conference. During the two and a half days it was on, it ranged from discussions about data to user generated content to venture capital to mobile. Quite a range. This was both a strength and a weakenss, but the audience handled it all with aplomb. Perhaps the hottest topic at the event was social media and in particular the rise of sites like YouTube and MySpace. A few days after saying it was serving 100m videos a day, giving it 60% of the online video market in the US (rivals like Yahoo VideoGrouper and Metacafe aren’t even approaching those numbers), YouTube CEO Chad Hurley was on a panel batting off questions about impending competition from Microsoft among other things. There were at least two other YouTube clone sites at the conference (there are 240 more out there in cyberspace) and it’s clear everyone is trying to figure out how to “monetise” this area. AOL is even trying to get in on the act. Hurley said YouTube has “created a marketplace for video”, not unlike eBay created a marketplace for auctions. At some point it becomes almost impossible to catch them up, just as many sites found with ebay. Other areas of social media and networking like the Facebook site are also attracting a lot of attention. And a few days later, when I was in LA, it became clear that MySpace is now a mainstream phenomenon. A few years ago AOL used to make a lot of money by selling AOL “keywords” – but these days even local radio station DJs just call out their MySpace home page (“check out MySpace slash Live105”) , sometimes instead of the station’s own web site. As for whether the dotcom madness is back in Silicon Valey – I’d say yes, but with a large pinch of salt. As one veteran told me, you don’t see Porsches parked on every corner like you did in 1999/2000, but people are much more upbeat than they have ever been in the last five years. Two things though – the faceless, characterless offices of the average Silicon Valley startup remained fascinating to me. I have never seen so many bare walls in an office. In Britain people would be “nesting” like crazy, adding posters and slowly dying pot plants – here they just get on with the coding…. And secondly – no mobile. No-one seems to think of the mobile area in Silicon Valley – but this is hardly surprising when you see all the billboards from the mobile operators proclaiming “less dropped calls’ than their competitors. When you are just trying to get a mobile signal, SMS and mobile media is just not worth bothering with. However, mobile media is increasingly an interest of the LA/Hollywod media scene, of which more later…

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