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How to be a tech blowhard

CNET's Michael Kanellos shares trade tips for any aspiring bloviators keen on dissing the tech-know-it-all set.

Has Facebook replaced government?

This is the sort of outlandish speculation I've come to know and love from an industry that thrives on hype. As far as I can tell, no one has actually said it yet, but let's give it time: It's not even lunchtime, and any number of theories are bound to pop up before the end of the day.

"Is Wikipedia the new Microsoft, or the new Intel?" "Can Larry Ellison make a rock bigger than he can lift? What if he's wearing his magic loincloth?" "Can I get crabs in Second Life?"

All you really have to do is string together two or three nouns or concepts in a semiprovocative fashion, and you've become a one-person think tank.

Remember that video trotting around the Web predicting the rise of Googlezon? It speculated what would happen if Google and merged. The video predicted a one-world domination of media, information, and thought.

In reality, the merger would mostly have resulted in a lot of "Ten Great Garden Hoses for under $29!!!" and "Deepak Chopra, Now in Pop-up" spam. Ominous, yes, but a manageable sort of ominous. Kind of like a steadily growing pile of unredeemed Valpak coupons in a kitchen drawer.

Want to become a pundit? Here are some tips:

1. Be insane or obvious, but not both.
There are two basic reactions you're shooting for. You either want to: one, stun someone into a temporary catatonic state with enigmatic predictions, or two, confirm their prejudices and personal beliefs. In other words, it's either "Can Hewlett-Packard patent the number 6?" or "Although a lot of people dislike it, Microsoft will make a lot of money."

Being outlandish and predictable at the same time, though, is tough--unless you graduate to compound sentences. Then you can do "Hannah Montana has dramatically boosted Disney's profits, which could make her an ideal candidate for taking over for Jerry Yang at Yahoo." Still, the audience likes to pigeonhole its lunatics, so stick to a consistent mood.

2. Watch the Nielsens.
With Oracle's attempted takeover of BEA Systems, the Redwood City, Calif.-based software company will...well, who really cares? Enterprise software courses through our lives, but only the guy who runs the tech department at the DMV really has to worry about what it does. The only things important to know about Oracle are that Vigga the killer whale used to swim in the ponds outside the headquarters when Marine World was there, and that it is still a player in the "Best Corporate Cafeteria" race.

Focus on the targets that everyone follows--Google, social networking, Apple. In fact, why not blurt "Is Apple becoming Google, or is it the other way around?" during the next break at a conference. People will be flocking to you like you're Uri Geller.

If you're interested in clean energy, there's a simple principle: the more distant and unlikely a technology, the more popular it is. Energy efficiency is probably the most promising field for cutting greenhouse gases. But when the smart-grids panels come up at the green conferences, everyone heads for the coffee urn. Put on a presentation about a car that runs on compressed air, and the place is packed.

3. Find a good enemy.
One acronym: RIAA. The public hates them. Why? Because they are going after people who are breaking the law. How much more heinous can you be?

Sun Microsystems once played this system well. It described the technology world as a battle between Microsoft and the forces of humanity, led by Sun. Later, Microsoft put some money into the company. Afterward, co-founder Scott McNealy would describe Sun's mission as "humankind versus IBM Global Services, and we are kind of the leader of mankind in this aspect."

IBM global services, though, are a B-league menace. It's like being afraid of Outback Steakhouse. Sun has yet to rebound to its former glory.

4. Never be afraid to one-up someone.
In a hallway once at an Intel Developer Forum a few years ago, I heard two analysts debate whether Intel would actually move from making 32-bit chips to 64-bit chips to match Advanced Micro Devices. For years, Intel said consumers didn't need 64-bit chips. (Intel did graduate to 64-bit chips in 2005, but almost no consumers take advantage of the 64-bitness.)

"I think they will skip 64 bit and go straight to 128 bit," interjected a third, before scurrying off. The non sequitur left the other two speechless. Touche!

5. Be vague.
Does Dell get it? What is Facebook's big nightmare? Has Comcast lost its FCC mojo? Imagine me, a long-haired leaping gnome, the star of a Hollywood movie?

As an added bonus, you might someday be right.