September 26, 2006

DEMOfall Conference Report

There is a Bird in the Ballroom.
Overheard early this morning: "I think I have a way to claim legtimacy," one of the demo startup company heads said to colleague as they walked by.

Claiming legitimacy might be the theme of the conference, we'll see. I am here with a pre-set bias that a lot of these demos are "features", not businesses. I hope I'm wrong.

I'm at the DEMOfall conference in San Diego.

This is my first DEMO conference.

Chris Shipley making her introductory remarks

It's been a convenient year for the schmoozefests. First, PC Forum in the San Diego area. Then the WSJ D conference, also in the San Diego area. Now DEMO. If only O'Reilly would move ETech north and bring Web 2.0 down here, I'd be all set.

Oh, there is a bird in the ballroom.

This morning I found I spent a lot of time looking up high into the superstructure of lights and cabling above the stage to see where the bird -- a pigeon, I believe -- had gone to. Once in a whle the bird will leap off of a ledge or rail from somewhere in the ceiling above the stage, and fly to another point. The bird is clearly lost and doesn't know how to get out of here.

The ZING guy rehearses

As I type this, one of the executives of ZING Systems, a presenting company, is walking around center stage, quietly rehearsing his presentation -- the last of the afternoon, and it's only lunchtime now. He seems to be doing it over and over as he's been at it way more than the allotted six minutes. His microphone is not on, so it sounds like he's speaking extremely quietly, as if he's praying. He keeps walking around the center portion of the stage, as if dancing, not straying too far from a central point. Occasionally he'll somewhat self-consciously place a hand on a hip, or strike some other pose as he's talking. In his right hand he's holding a crib sheet. Or is it a cell phone? Or is it a phone with a crib sheet around it? I cannot quite tell.

The bird up in the ceiling occasionally flaps its wings.

Like most presenters, he's wearing the black T-shirt with his company's logo on it. Whoa, wait a minute, he's been interrupted by a colleague -- another ZING T-shirt has just walked up and they're talking. Now they're done. Now the original Mr. ZING is back to his prayers, pacing, gesturing.

I am wondering if the bird will feel the urge to make a dropping during a live performance when the crowds return after lunch.

An A/V guy wearing a headphone/mic rig, and carrying some papers walks up with one of the ZING T-shirt guys. "Just so you know," the A/V guy says, " you're not the only person submnitting new scripts." He goes on to explain that now has to go get some script-change-approver to review the changes. "He has to go see how much different it is, " he's saying, "and if he approves it, fine, but otherwise you have to stay with the old." The ZING guy mumbles something along the lines of understanding. The headphone guy adds, "Just because we're trying to be professional here, he has to go through this now" and walks off into the back of the stage behind the curtains.

A word about the stage. There's a very clever use of what appear at first glance to be enormous ice cubes on stage left and stage right, but are actually 1 meter by 1 meter squares of burlap, canvas, or other tough fabric, attached together like a quit patchwork. The fabric pieces are wrinkled and rough. But the effect of high intensity colored lighting from directly below, brings out the wrinkles and roughness dramatically -- making the pieces look like huge ice cubes. What I like about this design is that it is practical. Use lights, and lightweight pieces of fabric, and significantly reduce the shipping weight and travel case requirements for the stage backdrop.

"You guys are approved." It's the headphone guy. He's not talking to ZING he's talking to the other presenters who changed their scripts. "You guys are good." Now he turns to the ZING guy. " I need you to hang here one more second," and he walks off stage.

Later, two official looking conference types come out and give ZING the good news -- they're approved. "OK, let's do it, but understand, if there are errors on screen, we're going to cut the camera...." The ZING guy is saying, "I understand that...."

The Opening Session.
One kudo for the conference: none of the "keep 'em locked out until there's no room to breathe" pre-conference ballroom door guards at DEMO. The doors were unlocked perhaps a half hour before the festivities began, which meant no mad rush for a seat within a power cord's length of a power strip. Power, at a tech conference, is everything. Laptop power, that is.

I found a seat up front, next to the CNET gang. The music was blaring and loud: a pounding disco remix of an old Fleetwood Mac hit, which segued into an old Kraftwerk classic, "Computer World". Then, "Sky rockets in sight, aftrnoon deliiiiiight!" Then as we got closer to the start of the show, an odd rewriting of "Puttin' on the RItz", something about "Constantinople", was played very loudly. Then the music REALLY got loud, nearly rock concert loud, as the A/V people played "Ballroom Blitz" by, who was it, Meat Loaf?

When Ballroom Blitz faded, the announcer came on. "Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Shipley!!!!!!" New music was rapidly cued up --- "Suddenly I see, this is what I want to beeeeee" a woman sings, as Chris Shipley comes out on stage from behind a curtain, and walks to the edge of the "bunker". The stage was set up with two four long podiums, two rows on either side of stage. It's as though the stage were set up for a big brass band. But those platforms aren't for musicians, they're for people running the laptops that are doing the demos. There must be some two dozen computers on stage in total.

I find it interesting that Shipley doesn't come full center stage, but hangs around the end of one of the "bunkers." She reads a speech. The video cameras are not kind. They pick up the fact that she's quickly turning red as she speaks. She says a bunch of light introductory remarks about the kinds of things we're going to see at this conference, some of which will be controversial. I'm wondering if any have military applications. It's always the surprising (as in, what are they doing here?) military demos at geeky tech conferences that seem "controversial." "We're going to begin this parade of 67 companies with five products that make life a little bit easier," Shipley announces.

You only get one chance to change the future? Balderdash. You get tons of chances.

She introduces the first presenting company: DASH. The A/V folks turn up the intro music INSANELY LOUD. It's JIMI HENDRIX SCREAMING "CROSSTOWN TRAFFIC, ALL YOU DO IS SLOW ME DOWN!." Damn, what is it about Americans and their loud rock and roll at conferences.

Thankfully, the Hendrix music went away as quickly as it had flare dup. Dash has a small GPS-driven device that you mount on the dashboard of your car. What makes DASH different than conventional GPS toys is that this one phones home. Spyware for your car? The presenter assures the audience that the DASH device phones home anonymously. One hopes. I thought it interesting that Yahoo! Local search, Craigslist listings, and data are all accessible from the device. Theoretically any website data is, one assumes.

After that, Tribeca Labs demoed "how photography gets better" with their Photobot tool. Featuring "zero click" (i.e. hands-free) photo retouching. Gee, Zero Click. Where have I heard that one before? oh yeah. I would not use Photobot. I like to tinker with the photographs I take.

Next up was PLUGGD. PLUGGD is cool. It seems like a feature, that Google should offer. It does audio search. Text search in audio, I should say. Found a 30 min podcast? That someone said mentioins your company name? In theory you could use this tool to type in a keyword and search the audio. Potentially revolutionary. Stuff the three-letter agencies have no doubt had for years are finally appearing in the open marketplace.

PRESTO was the next demo, and it's something I saw demo'd at the WSJ D conference in June, so I tuned out. (Ummm, I thought the DEMO conference was for product PREMIEREs? Oh well....)

RINGCUBE introduced Mojopac, which lets you store your whole desktop, documents, and even applications, on an iPod. The demo was very attention grabbing -- the guy walks across center stage and drops a Thinkpad. Pause. Dramatic pause! Totally had me. I thought, oh shit, his demo is toast. Then he says, "not to worry, I have my whole system on my iPod thanks to Mojopac...."

I love this picture, that they keep showing on the screen during the periods between speakers... Vision.... and a guy holding something to his ear. Perfect.

Next up were enterprise solutions. SystemOne was uninteresting. ThinkFree I've heard of before. well, that was unbelievable.

Why unbelievable? Talk about Total Information Awareness and the End of Privacy. Just what you want. You visit a website, and a sales rep pops up a message on the site saying, "Hi Brian, I've got some great prices for you. Let me call you right now." SalesGenius lets you monitor what your prospects do -- who's reading the spams you send them, who's visiting your website and what pages they're on and when and for how long and --- worst (or best, depending on your level of evil) of all, it gives you a "buddy list" showing how recently your prospects have visited your website, including who is on it RIGHT NOW. Oh, you can also replay the surfing activity of your prospects, which pages they saw in what order.

It's 13:43. The afternoon sessions begin soon. The reggae music is up load. Two people wearing black pants and white shirts are standing on stage, looking to the ceiling. They're clearly looking for something. I think they're looking for the bird. The bird is sitting on the main lighting superstructure. They cannot see it. I can see it clearly. Yep, it's a pigeon. I hope it doesn't get fried by one of those high powered Klieg lights.

More later.

Posted by brian at September 26, 2006 02:03 PM


So did you really not recognize "Istanbul (not Constantinople)" [ ], or were you just being snarky?

Posted by: Chris at September 26, 2006 03:07 PM

Nope -- I live a sheltered life :-)

Posted by: Brian Dear at September 26, 2006 03:37 PM

brianstorms is Brian Dear's weblog. Non-spam email:

Be sure to take a look at these other fine websites:

Copyright 2002-2003 Birdrock Ventures. brianstorms is a trademark of Birdrock Ventures.