Why Are These People Invited to Conferences?

Posted on January 22, 2008
Filed Under Web 2.0 Kool Aid |

The Digital Life Design conference in Munich hosted a session “Humans Disrupting Algorithms” and featured Jimmy Wales of Wikia and Jason Calacanis of Mahalo. According to TechCrunch:

Jimmy and Jason each gave a brief overview of their human powered search engines. Jason railed on Google and other big engines, saying algorithms have failed to control spam and SEO gaming, and that humans must be involved to get good results. Jimmy was more circumspect, and spent most of his time arguing that large numbers of people will be willing to spend time helping Wikia Search develop good results.

The first thing I thought: why would any conference invite Jimmy Wales and Jason Calacanis to discuss anything related to search? On January 10, “Mahalo ranked 69th last week among Search Engines and received 0.02% of all US Internet visits to Search Engines compared with Google’s 55.52%.” For a company that’s raised $16 million, it doesn’t look too promising. Wikia, with its $14 million in funding, was called a “complete letdown” by Michael Arrington when it launched recently and clearly has an uphill battle.

The second thing I thought: why is it that so many of the founders of Web 2.0 companies that are struggling to turn into viable businesses seem to be on the conference trail more than they are actually working to make substantive progress for their companies? Given the challenges Mahalo and Wikia face, why does it appear that their leaders are more involved with industry events than making their companies consumer successes? Sure, about what it’s going to take to beat Google, but executives aren’t paid to discuss theory - they’re paid to execute. Wales and Calacanis shouldn’t be engaged in talk; they should be engaged in action. Obviously, there’s a certain amount of industry “stuff” that executives always need to do, but it seems that for many Internet executives, Web 2.0 is more a perpetual cocktail party than it is a massive business opportunity.

With a , I think serious executives are more worried about taking care of business than being on panels at every single conference that has sprung up to exploit new buzzwords. And the conference organizers should heed my advice and actually invite interesting people who can justifiably speak with authority on the topics being discussed.

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4 Responses to “Why Are These People Invited to Conferences?”

  1. Jason on January 22nd, 2008 6:03 pm

    Well, to be fair to both efforts we’re just over six months old and Jimmy’s site is two weeks old. The fact that we’ve got a couple of million folks coming a month is really, well, to be honest unexpected!

    In terms of being at events it’s a balance. You don’t want to be out of the office so much that you don’t focus on your product, but you have to get out there and bang the drum on a fairly regular basis for a number of reasons including:

    a) introducing folks to your product
    b) industry relations (think investors, press, potential employees, etc).
    c) to learn
    d) to get feedback

    The DLD conference was amazing. I met a lot of folks who were much smarter than me, and got a TON of great feedback on the product. You really can’t afford to NOT be at an event like this.

    Now, when it comes to why should the same “a list” (i put that in quotes because I know it’s meaningless) folks get speaking gigs all the time I have two pieces of feedback:

    1. they are doing interesting things sometimes (not always)

    2. i agree with you, and that’s why I partnered with Mike Arrington on the TechCrunch40 event which is focused on NON “a-list” folks.

    So, I sort of agree with you on a couple of points. You should spend time working on your product, and we should rotate folks at these events. However, you’re totally mistaken if you think going to these events is not valuable. Your next partnership, killer team member, investors, or cover story in NYT/WSJ/ETC might be waiting to chat you up in the hall! :-)

    all the best,


  2. antje wilsch on January 22nd, 2008 6:26 pm

    D - as one who’s worked on many of these insufferable conferences, actually names pull in sponsors and attendees. People pay a lot of money to both attend and sponsor these events, plus the time involved (even if simply as an attendee).

    Very few people want to hear Mr 175 IQ no-name over lower IQ more-well-known name. It’s just a fact of putting on events, even if Mr 175IQ is a lot smarter and more interesting than the others. People like their little celebrities.

    So it’s then actually a self-perpetutaing cycle. The more their names are out there, the more well known their names/brands become, the higher value they are perceived as speakers and the more invites they get to speak.

    At uni we had a brilliant physicist coming to speak on the same day that Carrot Top was in town. Guess who sold out…. Conferences are money makers and time-drainers, so the effort has to pay off for the organizers. It’s all about numbers. If you pay attention to all of them like we do, it’s a lot of the same speakers over and over. But for the guy in Munich who only goes to one conference per year he’d rather hear Jimmy Wales than Joe Blow.

  3. Drama 2.0 on January 22nd, 2008 7:19 pm

    Jason: conferences are so boring. I think you’d get a lot more exposure if you participated in my Web 2.0 rap songs (I’ve included you in the first). What do you say? The video vixens I’d bring in from LA for the music videos are unlike any women you’ve ever seen in Silicon Valley.

    antje: Carrot Top or Jimmy Wales? Probably Carrot Top.

  4. Calacanis and Workaholics : The Drama 2.0 Show on March 11th, 2008 12:11 am

    […] businesses fail, and quite frankly, in the world of technology, the vast majority of startups (like Mahalo in my opinion) are shit companies. A herculean effort is not going to change the fact that a […]

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