Ruminations on tech, the digital media, and some golf thrown in for good measure.

Archive for March 14th, 2011

Live From SXSW Interactive: A Chat With Barry Diller

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IAC Chairman and CEO Barry Diller may have started out in the mailroom at the William Morris agency 50 years ago, but certainly no moss has grown on him since then.

In his keynote interview this morning, Diller outlined a utopian, if bumpy ride to get there, vision for the future of Internet infotainment, one that (hopefully) would be rid of too much government interference and would allow a million Internet entrepreneurs to blossom.

(Hey Barry, while you’re at it, could you talk to the staff over at Match.Com and get me an actual date instead of being chatted up by girls desperate to leave the Ukraine?)

Diller was funny, and the interviewer from CNN did a good job of staying out of his way. First, She chocked up Diller’s bona fides: Cheers, The Simpsons, Fox Broadcasting, HSN, and now IAC, before diving into questions about the new Internet bubble.

Then, Diller explained that he chases good ideas, not valuations, but understands how “money chases things.” But he was still impressed by “the amount of sheer invention that’s going on.”

He explained some of the recent valuations are mathematically insane, but is still a believer and got into the Internet space very early on (1992-1993). The reason he likes this space? People follow their curiousity, and it’s more interesting “to start businesses on my own, ideas we can support, than to chase crowds.”

The Internet, he explained, is a miracle that allows everybody to participate.

Diller talked as well about his recent investment in Newsweek and its combination with Tina Brown’s “Daily Beast,” explaining this was “an original Internet vehicle based on its merit.”

Though he was more cautious about the business model of Apple for magazine and content publishers, Diller did explain he like’s the new iPad 2, explaining it’s “just a better product” and, like the Kindle, the second was better than the first.

Diller was also passionate about his defense of Net Neutrality, explaining that not having it “is the only thing threatening Internet freedom.” We are not where we need to be, he explained, and he finds the lack of screaming on the part of the people who are in various ways part of the vineyard, very surprising.

The logical evolution of Diller’s argument is that no net neutrality would allow the trolls to charge for additional capacity based on usage in a way that could lead to the economics that determined the shaping of broadcast news, where scarcity ruled and therefore the economics played tremendously in favor of the distributor.

As he explained, most cable producers now work for a “boss,” and the independent producer has largely gone the way of the dodo bird. The power resides at the top, but the Internet “miracle” has liberated us from that ogopoly…well, so far.

So, go ahead and run out onto the Information Superhighway and explain “I’m sick and tired and I’m not gonna take it anymore.”

Meanwhile, Diller seems to have suggested he’s about to start spreading out more investments, particularly in video online, and assumably with the idea that someone, somewhere will figure out this regulation thing.

In three years, he explained, you’re going to have Internet TV be out there, able to be accessed by everybody, navigated sensibly, and anybody with an idea and some backing can be a producer. All of this is now possible.

And yet, Google TV could hardly get out of the gate because the broadcast networks were scared of being “Apple-fied” and giving their content up to the Google black box.

Where will all this end up in the next several years? Will the victors be the Internet TV box, the mobile handset, some new device we’ve not even thought of yet?

Who knows? But one thing I’ll likely bank on, and that’s Barry Diller being right at the center of the action.

Now, if he could just get his Web service to get me a successful date.

Written by turbotodd

March 14, 2011 at 6:15 pm

Live From SXSW Interactive: J. Craig Venter On Writing The Genetic Code

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Have you had your genes sequenced lately?

How about synthetic biology? Create any synthetic widgets in your spare time?

J. Craig Venter, one of the first humans to crack, and have cracked, the human genetic code is at it again, and boy did he deliver this morning at SXSW.

His appearance alone was an interesting mashup, introducing the first biological scientist to speak at this digital festouche.

So what was Venter’s message?

Well, first, it was to answer some big questions: What is life? Can we digitize it? How extensive is it? Can we pare it down to its most basic components?

As Venter and company have started filling up their computer databases with more and more digitized biological information, they’re starting to answer those questions.

This presents the world with some unique opportunities, science that could help with everything from synthetic fuels to enhanced crop production to helping create vaccines using synthetic biology (a flu vaccine was created using this methodology in less than 24 hours, a process that typically takes months).

Yes, of course, there are far-reaching ethical and moral questions about such scientific investigations, which Venter readily admitted. And the Obama White House even issued a report on the ethics of synthetic biology just last year.

But perhaps conspicuously masked behind the opportunity was a reveal that Venter himself may not have been conscious of in his talk.

Science fiction writer Bruce Sterling approached the microphone during the Q&A to ask the follow question: “How do you see what you’re doing?,” a reference to the nanotechnological scale at which most synthetic biological science is occurring.

Venter’s response: “You can’t see what you’re doing at scale…you have to take it on faith.”

I think I almost heard Sterling snickering as he shuffled away from the microphone.

Written by turbotodd

March 14, 2011 at 3:32 pm

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