PC Forum is one of the conferences I most enjoy because it always try to look at the big picture. Esther Dyson opened the conference by announcing that her company, Edventure Holdings, has been acquired by CNET (see full press release for details). The agenda this year is focused on looking at the world and the US political scene through the lens of IT. The opening day of the conference was about "Globalization".
The first panel was about worldwide economic development, free trade, and the impact of "off-shoring". Narayana Murthy, Chairman, Infosys Technologies (and one of the many good speakers/panelists at the conference) made a really good point that the various geographies of the world will ultimately see value in "coming together" and will begin to break down barriers. His proof point was how the European Union came together for that very reason. Louis Rosenthal, Executive VP, ABN AMRO Services Company was skeptical about this point and believs that in some cases the barriers have actually increased. He also expressed a view that much of the debate about "off-shoring" is political noise that will go away after the U.S. elections. The others on the panel viewed the issues as more fundamental. Off-shoring is missing the bigger point which is that the world is globalizing. Diana Farrell, Director, McKinsey Global Institute said "competition is at the heart of productivity". The bottom line was a view that globalization means new markets and new jobs as long as countries don’t over-regulate.
The other panel on day one was about the reality of the Internet and politics,moderated by Tim O’Reilly, President & Founder, O’Reilly & Associates. The panelists were Bob Epstein, Co-founder, Environmental Entrepreneurs and Get Active, Scott Heiferman, CEO, Meetup.com, and Jonah Seiger, Founder, Connections Media. The politicians are using the Net. Scott pointed out that Howard Dean’s campaign “dissolved when it met reality”. The interesting point was that the huge numbers of people that participated in Dean @ meetup.com was not what it appeared. He said he believed that many of the people went there not because they supported him but rather to find out what their friends and neighbors were saying about Dean. Fifty percent of people who went to political meetups have never been to a political event. I found this a profound fact.
Tim made the point that in the early days of the Web, having a Web site was a strategic advantage but once everyone had a Web site, the advantage comes from good execution. In politics, we are approaching the point where all politicians have a web site and differentiation is going to come from great execution.
There was a lot of discussion about how citizens are getting more involved through the Net. There was a lot of discussion and audience participation about how politicians use viral marketing to raise money, whether individuals’ voices are actually being heard and whether the Net will actually make a difference in the political and government processes in the future.
It is clear that something really big is going on with regard to people using the Net to organize themselves, epxress themselves, and have an impact on society and government.
Monday will proceed with big-picture strategic questions for industry leaders, and Tuesday will focus more on the future and on new technologies.
Note: Meetup is a free service that organizes local gatherings about anything, anywhere. So far 1,124,000 people have signed up for Meetups about 4,140 topics at local cafes (and other places) in 612 cities across 51 countries.