The keynote speaker at the SG Cowen & Co. Internet Conference (more about the conference coming up) at the Le Parker Meridien Hotel in New York yesterday was John Battelle. John has a very distinguished background as Visiting Professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, co-founder of Wired magazine, founder and publisher of The Industry Standard and an entrepreneur responsible for or involved in the launch of more than 30 magazines and websites. There is much more to say about John, but you can find a couple of million links in Google. I just finished reading John’s new book, The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, and highly recommend it if you are interested in the history, underpinnings, and potential future for Google and "search" in general.
Rather than a typical "keynote" speech, John was interviewed by SG Cowen in a fireside chat format. In response to how "old media" is doing versus "new media" John cited boingboing.net as an example of where things are headed. Boingboing has two million readers and yet most people have never heard of it. The content ranges all over the map and the advertisers love it, not because they care about the content, but because there is such a large community of 25-40 year old visitors that represent a very nice market.
Several of the audience questions were about Google, as expected. John said the biggest risk they face is themselves. "Google has to do something spectacularly dumb" and get it over with to prove they are a "grown up" company. The Google search engine is their revenue engine and the "clickstream" may be the next big signal from the Internet of a sea change. The clickstream is described in detail in John’s book but basically it is the database of every mouse click of everyone in the world.
John and I have both been talking about the print business for a long time but he speaks about it with incredible creditability. "The print business is not a business" he said. "Kids know Google but don’t know print". He also described how he sees Yellow Pages being replaced by the "local" versions of Google and Yahoo!. John was more sanguine than I would have thought about the newspaper business. He agrees they are in a nose-down dive but feels they are beginning to make the right moves and if they make the painful crossing of the gap to a lower cost structure and revenues shifted to the Internet that they will survive.