I watched an MSNBC program tonight called The Summit in Silicon Valley, hosted by Tom Brokaw.
It included such guests as Marc Andreessen (Netscape), Jeff Bezos (Amazon.com), Meg Whitman (eBay), and Jerry Yang (Yahoo!), among others.
While I watched the show, I participated with the chat on MSNBC.com, and my experience with both the show and with the chat was mixed.
I found most of the television broadcast to be a pedantic, thinly veiled marketing and PR session for the participants. It seemed more intent on boosting their businesses, than on enlightening the public. It also seemed more focussed on reassuring people that internet-based commerce is safe, reliable and protective of their privacy, than it was on giving any substantive response to their very real questions.
Jeff Cheney has covered the TV show better than I would, since most of my attention was on the chat, so if you’re more interested in that, check it out.
The chat session was definitely drawing more of my attention than my TV was. Who knows if this is a function of how close the chat device was to me, relative to the distance of my television (if you watched the show, you’ll know why my tongue is in my cheek as I write this).
First, the good points about the chat. (Caveat: I’ve not been a frequent user of chat apps since I was in a long-distance relationship for about 9 months in 1995, while I was in college.)
There were multiple rooms (I think 10 or 15), and between 20 and 60 visitiors in each room. The room I was in had about 50 people, mostly lurkers. It seemed to be a roughly manageable number of people, as long as the eight moderators managed to keep out the bots and spammers, though you have to have a quick eye to catch all the comments.
I enjoyed the fact that I seemed to be able to enlighten some of the more newbie members about technical details that they didn’t understand. For example, when the MS antitrust suit came up, someone asked why DirectX and MSIE are considered to be part of the OS. (I’m not going to state an opinion here about the suit- just about the technical point, so no flames.) I think I managed to give a satisfactory answer, and added that I’d have liked to have seen a DirectX implementation on other platforms, because when I used it while working at Sonic, it seemed pretty powerful and easy to use.
I especially enjoyed evangalizing the anti-patent cause that’s been touted by NoAmazon.com, especially given how elusive Jeff Bezos was when asked about the OneClick patent. He basically denied there was a patent on OneClick, and then shielded himself behind “I can’t comment further because it’s in litigation.” Yeesch!
The spirit of the “participants” in the chat was generally upbeat, skeptical, and intelligent (more on participants later). Likewise, the moderators were restrained, but quick to “kick” anyone who abused the forum.
There were questions and comments about whether to use credit cards online, and what the risks were. My answer was that there’s more risk at a restaruant, or a gas station, and there are more protections on the legit online businesses than either of the former.
There were questions about maintaining personal privacy. My response was that all the Internet does is make it easier to find the information. It doesn’t make it any more or less private. Don’t tell anything to anyone on the Internet that you wouldn’t tell a stranger at a dinner party.
The most interesting aspect of the chat session was that I repeatedly saw questions and topocs that had just appeared in the chat, show up on the show. I felt as though my active participation did make some difference to the direction of the discussion. Without the chat, we would have had no direct influence. (More on this later too.)
After the TV broadcast was over, one user who was going by the name ‘IMHO’, asked the question, “So, what did everyone learn tonight?”
Almost everyone was nonplussed by the broadcast. My own response was, “All I learned is how easy it is to get the national media to give your gigantic hi-tech company free publicity.”
There were, however, problems with the chat.
There were too many people for a chat with no filtering. I had to constantly watch the chat window, because it scrolled so fast that any single posting wouldn’t remain for more than a few seconds.
There were too many bots and spammers. I can’t tell you how sick I am of seeing people write things like “Macs suck!” or “Bill Gates is an asshole” or whatever. The worst was a pro-linux bot which kept getting kicked, and then re-registering, spamming with totally irrelevant hails to open-source. Look guys, open-source is way cool, but activities like this don’t help anyone except its opponents. Grow up.
And back to the idea that the chat made a difference. Here’s what I think, knowing something about how live television shows work (having participated in a few). The chat session really helped MSNBC’s marketing effort more than it did anything else (and vicariously, it helped the marketing efforts of all the dot-coms present). How could you ever have to worry about losing momentum in a live broadcast when you have 500 people whispering ideas in your ear. All you have to do when you get stuck is listen for a second, and blurt out the question one of your chat users had just asked. While I was in the chat-room, it felt more like participation, but upon reflection, it feels more like we’d all been taken advantage of, so that MSNBC can drive up its ratings, and Amazon can continue to thwart open competetion in eCommerce.
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