Once again, I am closeted in a fancy hotel at a conference for startups and venture capitalists. This time, however, I am sort of enjoying it. The silliness and arrogance of the past couple of years are fading away, and I am surrounded by people who talk intensely about technology, self-discipline and five-year business plans.
Conference moderator Chris Shipley claims that the experience of funding so many bad startups made the high-tech industry progress faster than it otherwise would have. I dont believe it. Having so many people running around not knowing what they were doing certainly made my job harder. And what are the benefits to anybody of having half a dozen versions of Pets.com?
Here are the lessons I see from Demo 2001:
> Microsoft is still inspiring companies to compete against it. I was delighted to watch Intuit CEO Scott Cook introduce his latest scheme for removing the need to use Microsoft software. Six years after Intuit was almost acquired by Microsoft, Cook is still at it. He is opening the APIs to QuickBooks and creating an online marketplace for developers to offer applications to small businesses. Intuits data center also will suck data out of Microsoft Excel and parse it for importing into Intuit software. Meanwhile, Eazel—a group of former Apple, Netscape and Sun employees building an interface for Linux—claims that because people are finding useful software on the Web, the rules have changed and Microsofts lock on applications is broken. Well see.
> The Internet has not changed Microsoft. IntelliShrink—Microsofts scheme for squeezing Outlook messages onto mobile devices by stripping out spaces, punctuation and vowels, and replacing long words with short ones—is typical of Microsofts brute-force approach to software design and produces messages that are hard to read. But IntelliShrink does carry Microsofts "Intelli" branding scheme beyond the PC and into a new market, which would be one of Microsofts top priorities.
> Internet entrepreneurs need to remember to think about the outside world. It took a Wall Street Journal columnist, Walter Mossberg, to straighten out a panel discussion that had stalled on privacy. Mossberg asked why Net companies are not begging the government to set rules on privacy the way railroads begged the government to create the Interstate Commerce Commission. That way, they could avoid being regulated separately by each state and municipality. He also said companies should have to pay for the privilege of getting information about consumers—who should in turn choose whether to make their information available—and have to expect to earn customers trust.
> The Internet will not change human behavior. A teaser for my next column—well discuss why the remote-controlled iRobot was given human characteristics.