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|Esther Dyson, the chair of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), is known as much abroad for the High Tech Forums she has organized in Europe since 1989 and her investments in Russia and elsewhere as she is for the new organization she leads. Last week the tenth of Dyson's European High Tech Forums took place in Budapest, Hungary.
Though most Americans believe adoption of the new technologies surrounding the Internet and the Web have been slow, and that e-commerce has not been embraced there in the way it has here, the excitement around forums like this one belie that shallow impression. Other barriers to as immersive an Internet experience exist in Europe, including metered and tariffed telephony. And there are the attitudinal differences we have considered in this space in previous Memoirs. But the excitement level and the potential are no less high in Europe or elsewhere in the world for the networked economy.
For example, the financial and venture capital (VC) community was well represented at High Tech Europe Ten. Besides Ms. Dyson's firm Edventure --- which has investments in Forum participants like online game company Uproar, ERP software vendor Scala, and start-up debt collection service Paymentor--- VCs like Atlas Ventures, ICE Securities and Warburg Pincus were in attendance. There were also heavy-hitters like Goldman Sachs, Salomon Smith Barney, Merrill Lynch, Advent and Amadeus represented.
These are not the kind of players who show up where the prospects are moribund.
|IF THE INTERNET WANTS TO BE FREE, WHY IS IT BEING BOUGHT SO QUICKLY?
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"We must accept the fact that the future of the Web is all about money. How can it be any different when money is also the future of the world?"
I've got one word for you, son: "Portals."
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|This is the kind of forum where you won't hear lots of talk about "building community" or using the Web as a tool for social justice. The preoccupations at High Tech Europe are strictly commercial. Topics like dealing with the threat of Web regulations, how to make free Internet access more profitable for large concerns, and keys to doing business-to-business transactions dominate the discussions. The big questions are who has the next "business model" and who will dominate their industry.
That's why the VCs are there and that's why you'll find a Jerry Yang, Yahoo! co-founder, and an Andreas Schmidt, CEO of America Online (AOL) Europe there, too. Other than the start-ups in their do-me pumps and short skirts, so hungry for cash that they put Amsterdam's redlight district to shame, you'll find the same sharks at the High Tech Europe Forum which you did at the Global Business Dialogue (GBDe) earlier this year. (See MEMOIRS archives below.)
Many critics of ICANN point this out when discussing Ms. Dyson's sympathies --- not without some credibility. Ms. Dyson is as much a deal-maker, a child of the ROI, as she is an angel of the new medium. Some people would argue more so, using the company she keeps as an example. (Uproar, for example, one of the firms Edventure has interests in, was valued at $150 million USD last year.)
Some look at these latter facts, and the cozy relationships between Ms. Dyson and members of the Clinton Administration Commerce Department and suggest that she is leading ICANN to put the best possible face on the commercialization of the Internet. They say that ICANN will never be truly international, but always dominated by Washington and that the concerns of smaller Web enterprises will be less likely to get representation, let alone a fair hearing. So reporting on the tenth High Tech Europe Forum, a discerning commentator looks for evidences of whether these charges have credence or not.
I shall say, grumbles about the choices for the three newest Board members of ICANN don't serve to build confidence in the openness or internationality of the organization.
|As I have watched the nature of forums, conventions and trade shows surrounding information technology, the Internet and the Web change over the years --- less ponytails and leather jackets, more suits and expensive production values --- I have wondered aloud where the history of the medium is being written. That became part of the motivation for this feature of our magazine.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to accept the romantic notion that some kid in a garage, or someone like myself working from a tiny apartment in a second-tier city, will overtake an Amazon.com or an America Online. Certainly imagination, determination and vision still have their place on the medium, but capital tends to rule wherever it stretches its tendrils. It would be naive in the extreme to believe otherwise.
It is much easier for the portal and vortal forces to coalesce around a few big gateways like Yahoo!, Netcenter, and the new Alta Vista, in my view, than it is for a small and sleek enterprise to gain recognition simply by dint of quality and innovation. In the game of eyeballs and mindshare the 800-pound gorillas are willing to hemorrhage money now for dominance when broadband delivers on its promises --- which it may well do in Europe long before becoming widespread in the United States. Such a development could change the demographics of e-commerce and Internet competition. Thus, I have come to believe, the history of the Web is no longer being written by small, hungry and dedicated people but at forums like High Tech Europe and the Global Business Dialogue and in the board rooms of financiers. I would love entertaining examples which demonstrate otherwise.
One final note: members of the MOIA mailing list will note, when looking at postings to-date, that a large number of the participants and some of the more impassioned ideas are coming from individuals outside of the United States. At last tally, I was intrigued to discover that the MOIA demographic is almost evenly divided between US and non-US professionals.
Steve Carlson, moderator of the Online Europe discussion list, recently proposed the notion that the real excitement and growth of the Internet is now moving quickly from West to East. He noted that the UK is becoming a hotbed of Web enthusiasm and entrepreneurialism this year. Perhaps his assessment is correct. My own remains: keep an eye on Japan, India and China.
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I AM A GLOBAL CITIZEN. SO ARE YOU.
MEMOIR ONE: The Pinnacle, by FELICITY USSHER
MEMOIR TWO: Age of Exploitation, by ROD AMIS
MEMOIR THREE: Is Microsoft Bothering You, too? by RON DIENER
MEMOIR FOUR: The Name of The Rose by ROD AMIS
MEMOIR FIVE: War on The Web by ADAM J. SMITH
MEMOIR SIX: G21 Interviews ICANN's ESTHER DYSON
MEMOIR SEVEN: The Chamber of E-Commerce by ROD AMIS
MEMOIR EIGHT: G21 Interviews GEORGE OLSEN of THE WEB STANDARDS PROJECT
MEMOIR NINE: Reprint - On Globalization by ROD AMIS
MEMOIR TEN: A Global Discussion by ROD AMIS
MEMOIR ELEVEN: Global Discussion - Part 2 by ROD AMIS
MEMOIR TWELVE: See You/See Me by ROD AMIS
THE NEXT MEMOIR
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