Friday, March 14, 2008

LeeComm2008 - Template for Conference 2.0???

I've got two basic takeaways to share with you about eComm2008. We're well into Day 3 now, and my impressions are pretty well set at this point.

First is the content. Generally, the presentations have been quite good, and some have been really strong, both in terms of creative graphics and the messaging. A few that have stood out for me include:

- David Isenberg - driving home the net neutrality message and the need for developers to be more aware of the regulatory climate and how it will impact the state of competition

- Dawn Nafus of Intel - talking about the importance of context-awareness, and how this adds value to data and mobile applications - BUT - it's no as simple as "add GPS and stir" - it's too easy for these services to be intrusive and neutralize the added value of mobile services

- Thomas Howe - voice is a spice - it's hard to make a commodity more valuable. Farmers grow commodities like corn, but cooks use the commodities to add value and create something new and interesting. Voice has no intrinsic value, but it does have value in making applications more useful. Bottom line - we need more cooks than farmers - that's what developers need to be doing - thinking of voice as a spice - not a main course.

- Bob Frankston - his usual provocative insights about networks. For him, the value lies not in the networks themselves, but how you use them. Broadband is very inexpensive infrastructure - cheaper than roads, electricity, etc. So, make it accessible and open as possible, and the applications will come. Telcos don't think this way, and in his mind, they're going to be on the outside looking in before long. He also had a very clever take on the conference name - calling it eConn - not eComm. For him, this conference is more about connectivity than communications. Good call. He's quite a character, and it's not hard to see why his photo hangs in the Hall of Fellows just outside the main room here at the Computer History Museum.

- Martin Geddes - great insights and research findings about what's wrong with the "one-sided" business models used by telcos today. He fleshed out the "two-sided" business model idea, explaining how telcos are better off being services platforms than gatekeepers who control their subscribers.

Many other good presentations here, but overall, far too much to really absorb. That's both a strength and a weakness, of course. Once you become saturated with presentations, you tune out speakers much more quickly, which isn't really fair to them, but we're all kind of captive here, with there only being one track in the conference.

Ok, enough. Let's move on to the second takeway. So, why LeeComm? Well, this is totally Lee's baby - he's done a great job putting this together as well as pulling it off. Pretty impressive labor of love for a first-timer. He's learning as he goes, and while there have been small snafus here and there, he's got the basis of a pretty strong idea here. He's very forthright about all this - he's not in it for the money - he just wants to create a forum for dialog and to keep the spirit of innovation moving forward.

There's a fair bit of noble idealism here, but it isn't misplaced. This is not a carrier-bashing event or an anti-Microsoft gathering - it's about making communications more meaningful, and there's a lot on offer here. Not a lot of carriers here, but there were some, and aside from the dozens of small, up and coming companies, there were big names too - BT, Vodafone, Embarq, Skype, Google, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, Motorola, etc. And quite a few cerebral presentations from academics and researchers.

My conclusion from all this - whether he knows it or not, Lee may have hatched the template for Conference 2.0 in our space. I look at this, fittingly, in terms of IP vs. PSTN. eComm the IP side of the equation - it's open, fluid, flexible, not expensive to deploy, disruptive, embraced by early adopters, etc. You with me?

Before I go further, I'd like to site Andy Abramson's post from today about the Conference Calcutta. He talks about some things that are not right with conferences today, and that ties nicely into where I'm going here.

If eComm is IP, many of the more established telecom/IP conferences seem very PSTN by comparison - they're complex, expensive to run, less flexible, more mainstream, etc. This can be a dangerous analogy, but that's what strikes me about what's happening here. eComm is a one-track show - no exhibitors, and just one room where it all happens. Simple, very open and collaborative. Lee has been adapting the format on the fly, and I can say this first hand. He's been nice enough to give my son, Max, a 2 minute speaking opportunity for later today. Totally out of the blue. Max is sitting next to me cooking up a short preso right now, and he'll be up on stage in about an hour.

I could go on, but you get the idea. There's a lot of potential ahead for eComm, and if they can figure out how to make this conference of interest to those who matter the most - the carriers - then Lee could have a real business on his hands. Right now we're among friends, preaching to the converted, so the trick will be taking it to the next concentric circle outside the core.

It will sure be interesting to see what unfolds once this wraps up, especially since so many people here will be going straight to VON next week. I won't be there, but would love to hear comparisons from anyone attending both events. You know where to find me....

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