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Tech Industry

Divining the shape of tech things to come

If the mindset during a recent gathering of tech hot shots is a harbinger, the gloom and doom crowd is dead wrong, says Internet attorney Eric Sinrod.

Fresh back from attending the Venture Summit West conference hosted by AlwaysOn at the Ritz Carlton in Half Moon Bay, Calif., just over the hill from Silicon Valley, I got an earful about the shape of things to come.

Boldly promoted as "the most powerful gathering of investment stars on the planet," the hype in some respects was deserved, as the tech movers and shakers strutted their stuff and shared their ideas and predictions.

Some of the early discussion centered on whether the Internet is headed for another downturn. Indeed, security analysts and media pundits previously were criticized for not foreseeing the prior Internet stock bubble. So it was that there was much debate whether ostrich heads were getting stuck in the sand again. Not surprisingly, there was no clear consensus on this point, with some participants expressing the view that Internet stocks are overvalued, and with others opining that there is ample value underpinning certain Internet stocks.

There was talk of a tech IPO slowdown. But that was countered by others who pointed out that VMWare enjoyed a very successful IPO last summer during what's a typical doldrums period for initial public offerings.

While the conversation moved around, there was some buzz around the notion that online video is becoming hot a la YouTube and others. The point was made that practically everyone is getting into the act, using tiny video devices to upload all sorts of content onto the Internet, and that this must be the wave of the future.

However, one participant noted that online video has been deemed the "coming wave" for more than a decade, and another stated that U.S. viewers are accustomed to high production quality from shows such as Lost and will demand such quality in terms of persistency.

There seemed to be consensus that media phenomena such as American Idol are brilliant, in that they create an interactive experience (voting for contestants), enlist viewers into the process of creating stars and hits, which in turn leads consumers to go out and pay to see the stars and buy their music.

Not surprisingly, interactive experience discussions bled over into the topic of games, virtual worlds, and social networking. Craig Sherman, the CEO of Gaia Online, for example, explained that while games such as World of Warcraft are pure fantasy and totally immersive, social-networking sites such as Facebook connect people but do not really involve a truly "in-world" type experience, as one would find in a virtual world. Gaia Online, like other virtual worlds like Second Life, blends social networking with the fantasy aspects of fantasy game sites. That creates a full living experience in an online world through a person's visual representation, or avatar.

And while all of these subjects were being discussed, there was an explicit and underlying theme of "show me the money." The explicit theme had to do with prognosticating where the money is going to flow in the future toward the next big thing. The underlying theme related to the fact that start-up companies were pitching in the hopes that the interest of VCs would be piqued.

Overall, a healthy can-do spirit prevailed. I came away feeling that we were not back to the go-go mania of the late 1990s. Indeed, the lessons from the dot-bomb have been learned. I sensed that the movers and shakers were shaking with fairly clear eyes about the future.