21, 2002 | Supernova 2002 was an ambitious conference
and Kevin Warbach, the organizer
along with pulver.com, acknowledged
that from the outset when he said that he had crammed a three day
conference into two days. The conference was touted as a glimpse
into the decentralized future. Decentralized systems, as may be
obvious, are systems that have no single point of control - the
Internet is a perfect example. No one entity or agency controls
it, no single server provides the service, and no single point of
failure will bring down the system. Warbach sees these types of
systems as the fundamental issue in computing for the next decade.
By then end of day one, however, it became clear that the conference
was going to be about one thing: blogging.
Speakers would approach the podium and within moments the sound
of typing on 30 laptops would begin. Faster than you could say "FTP",
there were comments, opinions and editorials posted to several weblogs.
It was the clicking of a very geeky paparazzi. Some blogs were just
commentary, but many disagreed with or substantiated the statements
made by the speaker and provided links to more information. A commonly
heard comment in the room was that while the best conferences may
have good speakers, most information comes from conversations in
the hall. In this case, the best information came from the posts
of the attendees. In fact, the slow completion of this article,
well over a week after the seminar concluded, is almost criminal.
This was zero-day stuff.
resplendent in a Lucky Charms inspired moon-and-stars shirt, Pollack
style shoes and a HandSpring Treo, took the podium as keynote speaker
on the first day and gave what sounded like a standard speech summarizing
his new book "Smart
Mobs." He outlined the power of text messaging to mobilize crowds
that have done everything from simply protest to aid in the overthrow
of the Estrada government in the Philippines. The most lasting message
he passed to me was to envision the future by imagining technology
1000 times as powerful and 1000 times as fast as we have today -
especially in the form of handheld devices. Rheingold went on give
prescient examples of this: attaching a UPC reader to an Internet
enabled handheld device and scanning the UPC tag on a package of
prunes. Plugging this information into Google yielded information
that most consumers don't have access to: the lobbying efforts of
the Sun-Diamond corporation regarding the use of chemical additives
in their products and the pending litigation against the company.
A similar scan of a box of Cracklin' Oat Bran yielded an FDA warning
about the egg and dairy content of the product. The ubiquitous availability
of this information would give the consumer an unprecedented amount
The podium was then taken by Corporate VP of Microsoft,
Dan'l Lewis, followed by Rod Smith of IBM.
Dan'l spoke about the Microsoft .NET initiative, and I was glad
to hear that he often had to first explain what .NET was. I wasn't
the only one confused. The gist of the future from a Microsoft point
of view should come as no surprise: they will control it, license
it and allow interoperability as they see fit. IBM has a similar
strategy, but it was received with less open hostility than the
Microsoft plan. Despite their messages, I have to applaud both speakers
for their courage - the animosity was open towards Microsoft, and
only marginally less for IBM, taking place mostly in cyberspace.
Allaire of Macromedia
spoke via streaming video feed from his home in Newton, Massachusetts.
Unfortunately, the technology stumbled and most of his message was
lost in the delay and buzz of a bad connection. What did get through
was the need for more feature-rich clients to display internet data.
He noted that over the past years, the quality of service has evolved
much more than the clients used to view the content.
Next was a panel consisting of Jeremy Allaire, Mike
of Groove Networks, Karl
Jacobs of Cloudmark
and Doc Searls
of the Linux Journal.
The topic was "Beyond the Web," and among many other things, all
the members pitched the growth of P2P networks, networks made up
only of ends, not servers, and the growth of blogs. Doc Searls opined
that the Internet was successful because the technology was created
by the technologists and that to grow beyond the web, it needs to
be more of the same - a system that no one owns, that anyone can
use, and that anyone can improve.
of the Open Source Applications
Foundation then took the stage to pitch his new project, Chandler.
This is a suite of tools that he tried very hard not to refer to
as an Outlook-killer. The project was inspired by the need of his
wife's small consulting firm to share their calendaring information.
In an office that size, the functionality of Exchange was needed,
but the cost for that software was "absurd." With security baked
in from the start, and all the functionality of that other software
suite, it sounds like he has a great product. As of this writing,
though, it's a long way off.
The Collaborative Business Panel, Narry
Singh, of CommerceOne;
John Parkinson, of Cap Gemini
Ernst & Young; John
Hagel, consultant and
JOHO, spent a great deal of time telling us how bad current collaboration
software is. Parkinson said that even after spending a billion dollars
in search of this particular Holy Grail, there is nothing out there
worth using. Others on both the panel and in the audience disagreed,
noting that even bad collaboration software - such as e-mail - is
in heavy use.
Werbach Introduces the Broadband Media Distribution Panel
The final panel on day one was the most fun to watch. The Broadband
Media Distribution panel, subtitled "Can't We All Get Along?", answered
the latter question with a resounding "no." Cory
Doctorow of the Electronic Frontier
Foundation and Sean
Ryan, Listen.com, sat next
to each other, but each expended a great deal of effort trying to
ignore the other. Morgan
Guenther of TiVo managed
to escape relatively unscathed, despite shouts from the audience
that their TiVo
thinks they're gay. However, all the sparks, and all the good
sound bites came from Cory Doctorow's end of the table. In the face
of the apocalyptic predictions of the impact of the DCMA, Ryan put
chin in hand and seemed to give up. Despite their seemingly polar
stances, however, it was obvious that both Ryan and Guenther revel
in the freedoms that the EFF fights for. Listen.com and TiVo are
not dedicated to freedom of distribution: they are in the business
of making money on the freedoms that the EFF wins for them. While
certainly not willing to blindly accept the obscene limits of the
DMCA, they are more interested in finding a business model that
will allow them to thrive under whatever freedoms are doled out.
Day two opened with an inspiring speech from Dan
of the San Jose Mercury News. Had Gillmor given this speech on the
start of day one, it would have been prophetic. As it was he validated
the importance of the speed-blogging that was occurring in the audience.
Dan spoke about the evolution of "Journalism 3.01b2: We Media,"
where the tools of journalism depend on decentralized services such
as blogging. In the case of the attacks on September 11th, blogs
and personal web sites played a vital part in helping to connect
survivors and their families. Blogs and ubiquitous web access also
offer an unprecedented amount of fact-checking capability and feedback
from the readers. Ethical issues were raised, however, since the
ethical obligations of a journalist are clearer than those of a
blogger. In two cases at least - the KayCee
Nicole story and a conference where bloggers
were paid by Microsoft to report on the event - the obligations
of a blogger to report truthfully were called into question. Gillmor
also took a clear stand again the DMCA, summarily saying that Hollywood
can't win: it would be Bad.
The final two sessions I was able to see at Supernova were the "From
Web Services to Distributed Infrastructure" and "Are Weblogs the
Next Platform?" panels. The web services panel was moderated by
Brent Sleeper and staffed by Christian
Gheorghe, TIAN; Anne
Thomas Manes, founder of Bowlight;
Graham Glass, The Mind Electric; Dick Hardt, founder and CEO of
ActiveState. The panel was challenged from the start to even describe
what web services were, and while there were good examples, there
wasn't a consensus. Manes disliked even the name web services,hoping
to find a phrase that emphasized the services and disassociated
it from the web. Gheorghe was more concerned with the quality of
the user experience and the ability of that user interaction to
close the deal on the service. Hardt provided a valuable metaphor
to describe the state of today's web services: Java was the write
once, run anywhere dream, but the implementation was quite different.
Web services suffer the same fate: the idea of web services is much
more powerful than the current implementation. All of the participants
agreed that there is a strong need for an identity service to drive
the adoption of web services. An identity service would be a single,
trusted entity that would provide identity verification services
to subscribing sites. This would provide a single sign on site that
would be able to verify your identity to all the sites you use:
Amazon, the New York Times, and other vendors.
Blogging, which had proved it's importance before lunch on day 1,
finally got a voice on day 2. Nick
Denton, Weblog Media; Dave
Winer, Userland; and Meg Hourihan
paneled the Weblogs, which was the one discussion virtually everyone
seemed to agree on. Both the panel and the audience grokked the
importance of blogs, and no one argued that the popularity of them
was only now ramping up. Various predictions bounced from panel
and audience: in 5 years no member of Congress would be without
a blog; in 10 years no one in the US would be without a blog. With
nothing to argue about, Dave Winer solicited the audience for feature
requests for his blogging
software. The panel ended by happily proclaiming the end of
the read-only web.
Unfortunately, my experience at Supernova ended there. There were
several other sessions that I regret missing such as the session
on Infrastructure. Looking back to Dan Gillmor's speech, I feel
justified in pointing you toward the other reporting that covered
these events. Here
is some coverage of the "Why Stupid is Still Smart" talk given by
David Isenberg, author of Rise
of the Stupid Network. David Weinberger also had some good
notes. The "The Great Wireless Hope" panel seems to be best
covered at the Supernova site,
as was the panel on "Rethinking
For me, the best thing about Supernova was the entrepreneurial environment.
Lunch conversations were like the good old days: everyone was pitching
their start-up and talking about the next killer app. While everyone
was more realistic about the chances of finding funding, at least
they were optimistic about the future. In Silicon Valley, that is
a rare and valued experience.
is the IT Manager for a cool company in Burlingame, California.
He previously wrote about the Internet
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