Keynote Conversation with Vint Cerf

February 11, 2009
By Lisa Barone in Internet Marketing Conferences

Morning, kids! We’re back at SMX West today for some more fun liveblogging. If you missed any of yesterday’s coverage, you can head back to our trusty liveblogging schedule and check it out. Otherwise, strap yourself in because we’re in for another long day of awesome!

Kicking things off today will be a keynote with “the father of the Internet”, Vint Cerf. I got my bagel and my apple juice in hand, so let’s go!

Danny’s starting off the keynote by mocking the livebloggers and trying to freak out the people still outside. He must have gotten sleep last night. He’s silly.

Now we get a video!

Chris Sherman is up on stage and giving introductions. Chris says that Vint is known as one of the father’s of the Internet and Vint immediately corrects him the say that he’s  says *the* father of the Internet. Heh. Way to be, Vint!

We jump right in and Vint begins talking about his thoughts on the current state of the Internet.  He think it was interesting how quickly people found ways to use these new capabilities.  The Internet is a road system open to innovation and creativity. Look how quickly email popped up. Within a year or two of ArkinNet being set up, people found a way to do network email. A lot of those applications were learned very quickly. New ways and new ideas are showing up on the Internet every day.  The economics of this thing are driving a lot of energy and creativity. We could see the potentail, but we couldn’t see the specifics, says Vint. The same is true today. People keep finding new ways to use the Internet and that’s what makes it so much fun.

What has surprised you with how people are using it?

When the WWW became visible, what surprised him was the interest people had in pouring information into the Web to share it. The sharing of knowledge is power.   We use clues to find what we’re looking for, including getting help from our friends.  There’s been a wonderful, normal evolution of how search works, the social element. It helps us get through this massive amount of information.

You’re the Chief Internet Evangelist at Google. Do you think there are people who still need persuading to use the Internet?

He says yes. Only 21 percent of the world population is online. More and more of them are coming online thanks to mobiles that are Internet-enabled. There still needs to be investments made to get the other 80 percent of the world’s population online. Helping people decide that it is not only useful to do that, but also makes business sense, is part of the portfolio. He doesn’t spend his time only doing that, though.

He also visits the engineering offices at Google.  He spends time on international policy issues having to do with the Internet. People use the Internet in a variety of ways and not all those ways are socially acceptable.

He wants to know how we establish norms for the use of ecommerce. How do we create uniform standards? Figuring out how we make ecommerce work on a more effective basis and what frameworks would be useful is part of his portfolio, as well.

Vint spends a lot of time on college campuses.  He sees the possiblity of intercloud possibilities. How do you move information from clouds in order to make sure it’s still protected? You want choice replicating information across different clouds. We have to find new vocabularies and structures in order to do that. Visiting the universities is a great way to lay out some of the tough research problems.  They’re too young to know you “can’t” do that, so they go out and make it happen.

Where do you see search evolving?

We haven’t done well searching through video, audio, etc. We don’t know how to do that very well. We also don’t know what it is we’re searching about.  We don’t understand the semantics of what we’re looking for. One intern at Google said we navigate people to documents but what we should be doing is navigating them to answers. We don’t know their true question. We only know the search terms they put in. If we actually understood the semantics better and knew what they were looking for, then we could provide them with answers.  We’re far from being able to do that.

YouTube is the 2nd largest search engine. Cleary these harder problems are becoming increasingly more important to us.

YouTube is an example of the UGC phenomenon. He’s continually impressed by the energy that goes into these videos. Hee, that’s a very politically correct way to say it. :) He says he doesn’t know who it is that’s watching these videos.  He thinks its just the bloggers and the bloggers’ dogs. [giggle]

It’s clear that YouTube has triggered a nerve. It’s touched people who have for a long time only be recipients of the video. Now they’re the producers of video. It’s stunning how that has changed the tenor of debate. In many ways he thinks the YouTube guys have opened up a new landscape for social interaction. [That, my friends, is a horrible, horrible thought.]

Advertising in the TV world is very invasive. Right as someone is going to get shot, they break for a commercial. It’s annoying, actually.

What Google has learned is that people don’t see information as annoying advertising if they’re actually interested in the information.  Give control back to the consumers. Don’t do it by interrupting. Let them decide if they want advertising information. Let the consumer drive what kind of information they’re interested in.  He doesn’t know if that makes a lot of sense, but he likes the idea of having control.  He’s curious to see what happens. He wants to see how we’re going to enable the consumer to get more control over their advertising.

It seems like it’s a radically different mdoel. What are the implications for traditional media and ad companies?

The creativity part is still there. Things will be fun and interesting. It takes creative talent. In this user control world, you may not have to go to the same amount of trouble to get attention because users have already expressed an interest in something. Creativity is still going to be there. The business model may turn out to be a little different because instead of simply charging on the basis of possible impressions, you actually know something about how many times a video was watched. There’s feedback.  He doesn’t think it’s any different. The users are in control.

You talked about how mobile phones are keeping track of our locations. What’s the world when mobile devices are everywhere?

One thing he learned is that mobile phones are an information window that you carry with you. The consequence of that is that they can help us answer questions that are related to where they are. People are asking geographically indexed answers.   In real time you can get the exact information you need, based on where you are. Getting info that you want now, when you need it, is really cool and more and more people will have that opportunity with mobiles. What we’re carrying around with us is a programmable device.  It’s going to allow a transparency in the world we live in a whole new way. People may or may not like that, but that’s the world we’re headed towards.

What you’re really talking about is privacy. I know Google is concerned about privacy. What are your thoughts?

We’re very concerned about privacy.  The info we hold absolutely requires maximum security and privacy, he mentions email info and maybe health info in the future. The way we authenticate ourselves to our systems is way too weak. When he thinks about privacy, he realizes how relative it can be.  You want to be able to give people finite control over your information.

The same thing is true for the management of our entertainment systems at home. Our mobiles can become our ultimate remote for our entertainment.   Information privacy is absolutely critical. We need to make sure that people can move their information while retaining all the access controls.

Is there a tension between what needs regulation and what doesn’t?

Yes. Sometimes you need regulation to maintain openness and fairness.  On the other hand, regulation is only as good as its ability to be enforced.  If we were to conclude on an international scale that spam was a social activity that we objected to, we could take the view that if we can’t prevent these things technically, we can say, “if you do this, there will be consequences”. We do this with things like drinking and driving. And we say if we catch you, there will be consequences. It could be on a global scale, that we can do something like that. We can adopt common legal ways of handling these.

Where is Google evolving in 10 years?

Vint will keep trying to organize the world’s info to make it more useful. Google will also evolve in ways that are not easy to predict. The engineers there are permitted to do whatever they want to do for 20 percent of their time.  They invent all kinds of new things to try out. He’s well persuaded that Google will be focused on information and how we get access to it, how we share it, how we store it, etc.

Holy cow. That was a lot of information. Gotta run, kids! :)

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