Cyberposium 16

Cyberposium 16 Speakers Highlight Deep Investment in Content, Predict Decline of Private Cloud

Almost 600 people gathered last weekend on the HBS campus for Cyberposium 16, the world’s largest business school technology conference.  This year, Brad Garlinghouse of AOL, Joe Kennedy of Pandora, vmWare founder Diane Greene, and HTC CEO Peter Chou delivered the keynote addresses.  In past years, the conference included Jeff Bezos, Halsey Minor, Craig Newmark, and Jerry Yang.

Cyberposium 16 stage

AOL’s Brad Garlinghouse kicked off the conference.  Although he kept tightlipped about the new AOL mail, which it released on Sunday, Garlinghouse did talk about AOL’s push into local content.  He left the audience with two takeaways: consumers want to see aggregated content, and that content should be delivered through narrowed choice sets, much in a way that Pandora’s algorithm delivers it’s music content.

The next keynote was Joe Kennedy, who successfully turned around Pandora from an almost bankrupt company to a 70+ million-user service by building a great product and marketing it by word-of-mouth.  He says his service differentiated itself by investing in humans to decode and understand the content, not simply creating an algorithm to do it.  He foresees Pandora entering the vehicle market to compete with FM radio.

The conference then broke into panels.  In the online video panel, Google’s Payam Shodjai predicted that consumers will engage with fewer, but more content-rich ads, pointing to the Old Spice commercials as an example.  One of the industry’s challenges, the panel concluded, was creating a coherent advertising experience across platforms, bringing mobile and the web together.

The second series of panels included Innovations in Payments.  This, the panel concluded, is a challenging problem to solve.  According to the Karen Webster of Market Platform Dynamics, only 7% of payments are online.  Few merchants outside of Amazon actually create the infrastructure to learn from payment data.  Privacy, and the threat of margin erosion and payment complexity, is forcing some users to return to cash.  Mobile won’t solve this problem—merchants refuse to accept a shift in the industry in a chicken and egg holdup.

Diane Greene, who founded and built vmWare, came on stage.  She sees a major commoditization of server, data storage, and routing technology as large, public data centers become more prevalent and as these players edge margins from traditional enterprise players whose customers will eventually migrate to the cloud.  She outlined five barriers to this switch: trust and privacy, data control, rapid pace of innovation, inertia of migration, and the vested interests of in-house IT staff.  Greene mentioned that she is an investor in Rockmelt, which was heavily discussed among the conference’s participants.

The third series of panels included a panel on online advertising, moderated by Jordyne Wu of the inbound-marketing firm Hubspot.  Jordyne questioned advertising spending, a threat that was picked up by Chan Suh, founder of Agency.com, who criticized the “circle of ignorance” and the vested interests of thoughtless marketing budgets.  The advertising industry, from a customer perspective, could become less relevant as internet users curate more content on services like Twitter and Facebook, rather than relying on advertising as a source of product information.

The last panel series included an Enterprise Cloud panel, moderated by Flybridge Capital’s Matt Witheiler.  This year, the discussion focused less on defining cloud computing and more on the impediments that Diane Greene outlined in her earlier talk.  Donald Leka of Transmedia reinforced the private cloud’s cost disadvantages, as billions of dollars are lost through proprietary technology duplication.  Brad Meisles of vmWare also chimed in: the business models currently in place could change, as the utility payment model of services consumed may not persist.

Peter Chou, CEO of mobile device maker HTC, presented last with a most enviable revenue growth chart.  The main takeaway from Peter’s talk was that building a brand from a history of ODM was challenging and involved deep investment and commitment to quality.

Overall, there were a few trends from the conference.  The first was that consumers are demanding a slimmer set of higher quality content delivered through a narrower choice set.  The second takeaway was that the transition to the public cloud, despite short-term hurdles, is inevitable—the cost effectiveness of large cloud providers will push customers to consume cloud services at ever declining prices.