November 28, 2007

Silicon Valley Media Notables Divide "Hot" from "Not"

This evening, I had the opportunity to attend a fun panel put on by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) Silicon Valley at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, featuring some of the Valley's top reporters, from the Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek, Forbes, CNBC, Kara Swisher of All Things Digital, and uber-blogger Robert Scoble. The panelists, all "Hot" in their own right, shared with the PR-heavy audience what they thought were the biggest hits of 2007, and what's next in the coming year.

Virtually all panelists said 2007 could be summarized through the success of a few companies: Apple, Google and Facebook, to name a few, the rise of the iPhone, user generated content, social networks, Twitter, and advertising-driven firms. But some said a tide was going to turn with the change in the calendar year, away from consumer-driven technology, and toward enterprise. Also, many expected a combination of bad news to hit the Valley and the economy at large - a market downturn, a recession, and bursting of what could be seen as the advertising bubble, with many companies riding the second wave to Web upstarts to disappear altogether.

Kara Swisher, author of (a must read, featured in my bookshelf), was one of the stars of the evening, proving herself intelligent, quick, witty, sarcastic and perfectly willing to mock Second Life, Facebook widgets or the other panelists at any opportunity.

At the other end of the table was Robert Scoble, with Amazon Kindle alongside, playing the part of the only true digerati on the panel. His brazen openness and willingness to engage with his readers through his blog, through Twitter and Facebook, and request to be contacted by cell phone, was in stark contrast to others all too tired of PR pitches - most who said they preferred e-mail. He was one of the few to bring up private startup companies he likes, including Kyte.TV, and vehemently disagreed with CNBC's Jim Goldman on whether Microsoft was seeing a string of success with Vista, Zune and the XBox. And when he stated he read 800 RSS feeds a day, the response was one of shock from his fellow panelists, who jokingly compared him to the notoriously always-on Marissa Mayer of Google.

The far-ranging discussion chided the US government for being too focused on "the friggin' flag", as Swisher mentioned, instead of working to get the country in a leadership position on broadband and wireless, while nations like Vietnam, South Korea and Europe were able to get their act together. She postulated that had the development of the United States' interstate highways been managed in the same way, we'd be on cobblestones.

Other comments were that ad-driven media companies will see a spike in spending to the tune of $100 million around the 2008 presidential election, a one-time jump that will go away, painfully, in 2009, that Yahoo! better get off its kiester and figure out what it's going to do with all its users and products, and that Google just might continue disrupting every new market it enters, including wireless.

While I'd met some of the panelists and others in the room before, it was my first time meeting Scoble personally, but given our online discussions, talking with him had an immediate air of familiarity and friendship, one forged through shared experiences and points of view. (He was no idiot...)I'd be eager to sit in on more discussions like this, and to see if these notables were right with what they expect for 2008.