With the annual Web 2.0 conference only a week away, we're about to get bombarded with the latest avalanche of marketing hype about technologies that are supposed to change our lives. And if past is prologue, I'm quite sure the 24-hour attention cycle will again be dominated by more monotonous debates about the future of social networks and news feed platforms.
But as these debates play out among the usual cast of characters on TechMeme, pay close attention to the new rules of media engagement--and I'm using "media" in the widest possible sense here--where the blogosphere awards points to some favorite companies while giving the cold shoulder to many others.
Just to put that statement in context, that's always been the case and it predates the birth of the Internet, long before the idea of a media conversation ever got born. Back then, the major tech companies could afford the biggest marketing budgets and they dominated the news cycle even more than they do now. As for companies that fell out of favor or were too small or too difficult to explain--well, let's just say they had a rough time getting to center stage. Personally, I'm not waxing nostalgic for the way things used to be. I remember the frustrations voiced at the perceived favoritism (or laziness) of the media. Too many good and interesting stories got lost because smaller companies didn't have the resources to buy the services of fancy PR operatives.
But I wonder whether history's not repeating itself--with a twist. Bear with me on a short detour.
Last week I attended a briefing by Autonomy, a company based in the United Kingdom and San Francisco. On Monday, Autonomy will announce a product designed to assist companies with governance compliance. This likely will be a big deal for IT administrators and law firms that are scrambling to enact internal information management policies in the wake of the subprime mortgage and credit crisis. You can find out the details on Autonomy's site but I'll wager that most people reading this post have near heard of the company.
If we judge a firm's importance by the amount of attention it invites these days, you would conclude that a firm like Autonomy is of little or no relevance to the wider technology world. Yet the company enjoys a $4.5 billion market capitalization and ranks as one of the leading commercial ventures in the field of the contextual understanding of electronic data. Unfortunately, it's a complex story to sell in a sound bite or two and it probably doesn't help that Mike Lynch, who founded Autonomy, built a business around his understanding of Bayesian inference and Shannon's information theory. That's a mouthful to get out and the product line is a lot more difficult to understand than compared with, say, Bebo or Flickr.
Most of what passes as worthy of comment in the 24-7 chatter cycle tends to focus on one part of the tech story. But I wonder whether another, more important piece of the narrative is getting shunted aside in the process. Autonomy's not alone. Each week I receive a stream of e-mails and phone calls from PR people representing infrastructure software companies. Some are more interesting than others but we're not talking about stuff that sets pulses beating harder. Guaranteed, not a one will ever lead the pages of the news aggregators unless their CEO first gets outed as a cross-dresser.
Sometimes I jump at the story. Most of the time I say no. When I turn them down, however, I do it with a sense of regret. Did I just let the next Salesforce.com slip away? I'll never know until it's too late.