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Answers flow with the Chardonnay

Any good reporter knows the best information flows after hours, when the music swells and the drinks are poured. With this in mind, NEWS.COM heads to the Seybold Conference's Innovators Party.

reporter's notebook As any good reporter knows, the best information flows after hours, when the music swells and the drinks are poured. With this in mind, I headed to the Seybold Conference's Innovators Party, Wednesday's chardonnay-and-fajita get-together hosted by Jonathan Seybold himself. I needed some big questions answered about the Microsoft versus Netscape keynote debate that fizzled the day before, the rumored death of print publishing, and what might be the next killer app. Or applet, as the case may be.

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Alex jams with Sage the drummer
 
As the polite rhythms of the hired band pulsed and the conversation bubbled around me, I wended my way unnoticed through the crowd with my trusty cameraman, Kevin. Hardly an eyelash was batted. The crowd must have thought we were with the band. Sage, the drummer, gave me the ugly truth.

Suddenly, there he was, just beyond the tasteful silk flower arrangement: Jonathan Seybold in the flesh. Alas, the ring of admirers and sycophants was impenetrable. My thoughts grew dark.

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NetObjects' Tom Melcher tells Alex a scary story
 
If I were so morbidly inclined, I could have swung a dead cat at this year's Seybold conference and easily smacked the head of someone touting the latest, greatest Web publishing software. One company that might indeed have such software is NetObjects. A prototype of their Fusion tool was tested in the fire of the 24 Hours in Cyberspace photography project and came out the other end with IBM, Microsoft, and Netscape waiting with distribution deals. Flushed with NetObjects' recent successes--and perhaps with a glass of wine or two--Vice President of Business Development Tom Melcher explained that certain print publishers should be scared, very scared.

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Kobixx CTO Stephen Pendergrast wins Dubious Theory award
 
We were unobtrusive no longer. The flacks smelled photo-op. A yellow-shirted rep from another Web-publishing tool maker Kobixx told me to put away the dead cat as she dragged me over to Chief Technical Officer Stephen Pendergrast, an affable fellow and writer of books. I liked him immediately, but when asked about the danger of the Internet shortening our attention spans, he offered a rather dubious theory.

I needed some old-school common sense from someone with perspective, with authority, with... a finely-tailored suit and tie. Just at that moment, a lane opened to Seybold. He was ready for the first question.

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Jonathan Seybold deflects a personal question and wins style points
 

Ah, the Seybold wit I had heard so much about. When the laughter subsided, I moved on to a matter of far greater import. I was digging for dirt that CNET rumormonger Skinny DuBaud himself would be proud to have under his fingernails: the Debate Debacle, or why Andreessen's middle name is "chicken."

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Jonathan tells Alex the truth about Netscape and poultry
 

Oh, Jonathan. Discreet as ever. A perfect gentleman, much nicer than one fellow technohack who lambasted Andreessen for ducking the debate and allowing the slick Redmondians to steal the show. (The day after the keynote, the Seybold Show Daily headline cooed "Microsoft wows 'em in keynote").

Mumbling Marc should take a tip from Sheldon Laube, a cofounder of USWeb, a Web-hosting franchiser based in Le Val du Silicon. Laube had a beard to make King Lear proud and waved his arms more than the lead in a high school drama club production. After telling us about his 68-year-old mother whose life has forever changed by masquerading as a twenty-something in AOL chat rooms, Sheldon let us in on a secret: the Next Big Thing.

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USWeb's Sheldon Laube lets Alex in on The Next Big Thing
 

By the time Sheldon was done, the band had packed up, wallets had been emptied of business cards, and the Web publishing software vendors had wiped the cat hair off their faces. My work, for the night, was done.