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Radical opacity

January 26, 2007

Meanwhile, back at Davos, where this year's buzzphrase is "enlarging the conversation," all the interesting information, according to John Battelle, is being doled out behind closed doors and under gag orders. Writes Battelle on his blog:

Nearly every session I attended where I got that unmistakable "Shit I have to post on this" feeling was, unfortunately, off the record. Last night Larry and Sergey sat down with Charlie Rose for an intimate chat at a private event. Off the record. Before that I spoke to a room full of Media Governors - the folks who run just about every major media company in the world. Off the record. Before that, a gathering of influential editors and journalists from all over the globe. Again, off the record.

The overarching theme of this year's gathering, by the way, is "The Shifting Power Equation."

UPDATE: The Guardian reports on comments from Brin and Page, including an expression of regret over Google's decision to censor search results in China: "Asked whether he regretted the decision, Mr Brin admitted yesterday: 'On a business level, that decision to censor... was a net negative.'" The pair also bristled at comparisons between Google and Microsoft, reports the Guardian: "Since moving into China, Google has been compared to Microsoft because of its dominant position and power. 'We are very sensitive to people talking about us in that way,' said Mr Brin. Mr Page described the differences between the two technology companies by saying 'we have very open partnerships, we are very clear about being fair with revenues.'"

UPDATE: Forbes has more details on what Brin and Page said. Apparently, the expression of regret about giving in to Chinese censors was fairly tepid and related mostly to Brin's nervousness about the effects on Google's image (do I sense a pattern emerging?):

Brin said the damage to Google's image made the deal a "net negative." But Page wouldn't say it was a bad move. "I would hate for us as a company to make what we think is the wrong decision for people in China based on our reputation."


Not sure I got you there: of course, the panopticon is a bad ideal. I tend to prefer your actual post to your quoting Batelle with no value: don't get me wrong, I love Batelle (and his blog is the first one I ever started reading on a regular basis) -- but a link to it with a one liner would have been enough:
"Great post from John, about how Davos claims to be transparent and is not."

Posted by: Bertil at January 26, 2007 10:08 PM

Power is indeed shifting within the elite - it always does, of course, but there's an ebb and flow, and this is one of the faster and more visible times.

*However*, that game of musical chairs among the world's A-list doesn't mean anything to anyone else, meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Except that there's more digital-sharecropping businesses which run off hype and dream-selling. Which is why "Second Life" is being presented, it's a PR and pyramid scheme that's being demo'ed for the Power Elite.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at January 26, 2007 10:10 PM

It seems to me that one of the main motivations for "off the record" discussions at these events is to create that meta-buzz glamor -- "here's what the big shots are saying behind closed doors." This plays on people's belief that the big shots get or stay big through exploiting secret knowledge.

It's all nonsense, we shouldn't fall for it. No doubt the founders of Google have some genuine secrets of strategy or technology (or maybe of the plots of novels they are wrwiting late at night in lonely garrets). I guarantee they didn't disclose those actual secrets at Davos, or in any other setting where they didn't control the guest list themselves. What they did do was engage (or acquiesce in) some old-fashioned hype.

Posted by: tmcmh at January 29, 2007 07:59 PM

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