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June 8, 2006

My Review Of Larry Weber's Hosting Of The MITX Awards

Larry Weber.jpg

Larry Weber, the chairman of Massachusetts Innovation Technology Exchange hosted the MITX Technology awards last night at the four seasons in Boston. Larry provided inspiration and insight into the future of innovation in Massachusetts and social media. Using examples from the past such as Digital and Wang, Larry pointed to the audience as the people who are focused on building the successful innovative technology companies of the future.

After giving the state of Massachusetts technology community a boost, he turned his attention to the growing power of social media. Larry Weber's is PR professional who founded some important technology PR companies. He has worked with traditional media for many years, and last night he explained that he thought the future of the paper newspaper does not look good, both in form and function.

He described how a few years ago he visited an exhibit at the Boston Public Library, and in walking into the entrance he had to pass over the bodies of former PR colleagues lying in front of the building. A joke and to illustrate the market after effects and fall out in the PR industry after the fall of the bubble.

At the library he saw an exhibit on the history of the newspaper. During the early years of the newspaper around the time of the American Revolution, there were 39 newspapers in Boston and 59 in New York. While now there's only two major papers in Boston and a few in New York. The reason for all the newspapers in the eighteenth century was all the different communities. He also described how initially there was no news in newspapers, only opinion. Eventually news appeared in small snippets, and lastly small business card ads appeared for advertising.

Larry brought us back to the present and told the audience that we are basically going back to the past with social media. Now that everyone can easily generate their own content on the web, the power of traditional media is being diluted. Opinions, conversation and local content will gain more prominence as more and more people learn how to create their own content online. In the next few years you will see even more disruption to traditional media channels and social media will play an even bigger role in the public discourse.

I thought Larry Weber both inspired and challenged the audience to create new technology innovations in the new realm of social media. He pointed to the changes in the public's use of the web, and said that Massachusetts as a region has one of the best chances to capitalize on this new marketplace.

A number of companies received awards for new technology; check out the MITX Technology Awards page for details (Backbone Media designed parts of the MITX website). Backbone Media was also a sponsor for the event and we had a whole table of staff. Backbone's President, Stephen Turcotte presented several awards, including the Security Applications award. The award went to Bit9, and Todd Brennan, the chairman, CTO and Founder of Bit9 received the award. I give Todd the award for the best acceptance speech of the evening; he was excited, had a support group and was very passionate about his product.

Todd Brennan.jpg

I encourage people to attend these events in the future. The content is a lot better than the average awards show. Larry always keeps the audience on their toes with his dry humor and random polls, about technology, sports and politics.

There was also a panel discussion about social media. Moderated by Jason Pontin, Editor in Chief and Publisher of the Technology Review. A fellow Brit, who played devil's advocate and drilled his three panelist to justify the business usefulness of social media. Panelists included John Clippinger, from the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society. David McCall from Microsoft, and Carl Rosendorf from

I thought John Clippinger was the most interesting panelist, and I would have liked to ask him more questions about his work with the department of defense and how the DoD is using social media. David McCall made the biggest gaff, when in the context of explaining the ease of using the web he described how he spent many evenings in his underwear chatting with other online denizens. He recovered by saying he will shortly no longer be working at Microsoft!

The panelists described how social networking sites will become increasing important to Internet users. And that people would spend increasing amounts of time on them. Jason Pontin jumped in to ask what would it take to build an open source connection between all of these different social media sites?

John Clippinger told the audience that several companies are working on building the connections between different social media sites. Many people last night described how teenagers are using MySpace and Facebook social media sites. And those members would like to see more integration.

This discussion reminded me of an article I wrote about the differences between bulletin board and blogs, "Why Corporate Blogs Provide More Overall Marketing Benefits Than Customer Forums." I thought forums typically closed conversation spaces, while blogs are open spaces. And that conversation happens within closed walls in forums while conversations happen between blogs. To answer Jason's question, I think there already exists a mechanism for integration between different websites, its called linking, tagging, commenting. All of the interactive features that blogs use. I think the key for social media sites is to keep themselves open enough so that their content can be shared with the world, but provide access to content development tools through registration.

During the Q&A session, Adam Zand of Topaz Partners, grabbed a mike and told the panelists he completely disagreed with them, he thought that personal connection and face to face meetings are still important to him, his friends and colleagues. While the web has a role to play it's not going to eliminate the need for personal connections.

I agree with Adam's comments, in fact several of the panelists back peddled and agreed that it's a balance between online connections and in person connection. This exchange reminded me of the Pew Internet project, "the strength of Internet Ties," where people did have more social connections through the web. But that it was still important to boost web based connections with telephone calls and in person meetings. See the Pew report and my blog post on the report, " Call your Mom!"

Finally, Larry introduced Nicholas Negroponte as this year's innovation hall of fame inductee. I wrote a more detailed blog post on my personal blog PR Communications last night, as Mr. Negroponte's speech really inspired me. He is selling very cheap laptops to underdeveloped countries, which are quite powerful machines at a very low cost. Larry had made a comment about Mr. Negroponte always appearing in public in a suit and tie. Mr. Negroponte followed up by saying that he had never had a picture taken of him in public without him wearing both a suit and tie. And that also it was same suite and tie, apparently he has 30 of exactly the same suits and ties. Check out Google images, all I see are suits and ties.

Nicholas Negroponte.jpg

Overall a great evening!

Posted by johncass at June 8, 2006 11:28 AM

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