Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Reflections on Day 1 of the UC Berkeley Media Technology Summit at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley

Day 1 of the UC Berkeley Media Technology Summit at Googleplex was intense. Somehow things seem more possible when you're at Google. At Google, you don't feel the drag of history that you feel when working with legacy media companies.

Perhaps the best way to track the sessions is to follow the stream of tweets on You should be able to find some of the presentations at This is an important event, not necessarily because it's the be all and end all of conferences - although many sessions have been terrific - but because it's so important to get technologists and journalists in the same room talking about how we can make sure America is served by real journalism.

Some of what we heard just reinforces what many already know about the Web. That doesn't mean it's not worth hearing again and in new ways.

For example, Michael Franklin, professor of computer science at UC Berkeley, talked about the new interaction patterns and business models of the Web. "Everybody is a producer and a consumer."

(One to one was an important undercurrent of the day.)

Thomas Tague, vice president of Calais Project, Thomson Reuters, reminded of the importance of metadata. Worth checking out

A panel on how consumers will use media in the future indicated that we'll see innovation in a touch panel tablet computer soon, that there will be continuing innovation in the living room (think entertainment), that there will be a greater focus on standards to make devices work together and that the Internet will be metered. (Yes, that means paying for what you use.) But probably the most important or thought-provoking comment came from Bradley Horowitz, a Google vice president, who talked about "attention management," essentially the problem that there's so much media coming at us today that it would be a full time job to manage it. "We need a new class and category of tools that helps with ranking and relevance problems," he said. Basically, his point was that we need to create tools to help people deal with the avalanche of content that is burying them.

Horowitz's advice for old-time media companies: "Make it an exciting time." But he cautioned that excitement is not always safe or easy. But he said, "Get into the game. Experiment and try things." It's good advice. But if people have to be told this, does anybody think they'll respond?

A tool I hadn't heard of to help organize the flood of content: That's what Blair Westlake, corporate vice president for media at Microsoft, said he uses to organize his online reading every day. He also reads The Seattle Times and Wall Street Journal in print every day, plus the Sunday New York Times. He said he reads for two hours each morning. Oh, for more citizens like him...

Great sessions on the culture and social nature of the Web. Few interesting factoids. Online social networks over index for minorities, including gays and lesbians. This means they make up a greater percentage of social network users than their representation in the general population.

What do users do? Read. Which means look at profiles and pictures. That makes up 79% of all activity. Harvard Business School Professor Mikolaj Jan Piskorski called it "lurking." 8% of the time is spent writing. 8% is spent on the network (think unfriending etc.) and 5% private (e-mail.)

One other interesting factoid. Myspace accounts for 10% of all US email traffic.

Another way to break down what people do: 44% of all clicks is looking at profiles and pictures of friends, 44% looking at profiles and pictures of strangers and 12% viewing own profile.

The prof said social networks are "covers." "People can get on the market without looking like they’re on the market," he said. This covers dating and jobs.

We wrapped up with a panel on what news is in the interactive era and a passionate presentation by John Thornton, founder of Texas Tribune, a serious non-profit news project in Austin. Let's just say that all these speakers were hopeful.

In the end, though, what's best about the conference is the chance to talk with people privately or in small groups about what they're doing. Nothing beats networking. And that's a lot of what this summit is about.


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