Today I bounced around a bit, from a very stimulating two hours with Louis Monier, founder of Alta Vista and current head of R&D/Search at eBay, to attending a CMO roundtable discussion at Yahoo where co-founder David Filo spoke, to a Churchill Club dinner in SF where Walt, Kara, Greg Harper and Larry Page talked about their favorite gadgets.
I asked Louis to react to the ideas in my monoculture post – that the best minds are now silo’d in private corporations. He had a great response: “Airlines are not built by the academy.” In other words, very complex and expensive stuff by definition is done by the private sector. Monier was, in fact, a veritable quote machine, and were it not so late, and were I not so tired, I’d create a whole post on the subject. Perhaps tomorrow. One more: “Google is, I think, the intellectual descendant of Alta Vista….I always said, with search you need a sharp pencil, that’s all.” In other words, don’t give me more than I need, just focus just on solving the search problem. It is true, Alta Vista was briefly THE search engine that mattered – about 1996-97, before it was ruined by Compaq and later CMGI.
The CMO discussion focused on Yahoo’s brand. It featured a panel of senior Yahoo execs talking about what makes the brand special, with an emphasis on how they live the brand from the inside out – how the company and its employees act in a way consistent with what the brand means to the outside world. A bit flat, but there was some neat stuff – I always like to hear Libby Sartain speak (she’s the head of HR there) – she’s infectious and quite inspiring. David told the early founding story, which was good to hear from the founder’s perspective.
The Churchill Club was livelier. There’s nothing like geeks with toys to get a crowd going, and Larry for one outdid himself. He really does love this toys, and seemed quite in his element – relieved, I imagine, to for once be in a public speaking role where he does not have to directly bear the weight of being a founder of Google. Cool stuff included a blue tooth ear plug for cell phones, LED flashlights (no bulbs, quite bright, long battery life), a 4 million pixel webcam that is its own POP server and looks rather like HAL from 2001, and touchless, digital toilets from Japan that require no toilet paper (they wash and dry you at the touch of a button. Really.)