The Bayou View

A small snapshot of a big conference

February 26, 2001 -- Amelia Earhart is somewhere in New Orleans' Morial Convention Center. At least, she could be. Fact is, most of North America could be hiding out in that cavernous establishment, and there would still be enough room for everyone to homestead 10 or 12 acres and never see a neighbor except during your major holidays. But I guess you need that kind of space when you're throwing what some estimated was a $10 million party, which is just what Oracle did last week when it hosted Oracle Appsworld.

Where to begin? As if New Orleans itself weren't enough of a visual (and olfactory) assault, you've got the added stimuli of a former president making the keynote speech, the reunited Bangles performing at the Superdome, the circus-like atmosphere of dot-com marketing money in full plumage (for all the stories about VC money drying up, somebody is procuring some flashy doodads from somewhere), and the verbal jabs from Oracle chief Larry Ellison to Bill's gang. Not that there's anything wrong with that last facet. It led to the best line of the conference. When asked if Oracle's 9i could be upgraded to 11i on a Windows NT platform, Ellison replied that he thought so, but that particular platform wasn't a priority.

The speeches, from figures as varied as Ellison, Loudcloud co-founder Marc Andreesen and Grady Means, co-author of Metacapitalism, were delivered in a high-tech loft-like setting, with Texas-sized video screens to either side of the podium. The pre-speech mood music was provided by a strange Devo Meets Blue Man Group trio wearing what I swear were night-vision goggles. Even stranger, the majority of their music seemed to be generated by not playing their instruments. They merely came in close contact with these postmodern axes, and out came ambient world music interspersed with bird chirps, electronic violins and other unnamable sounds. (In an especially ironic twist, the computer-generated images that accompanied the music looked strangely like the patterns generated by the latest release of Windows Media Player.) Between the setting and the music, the whole experience had the ambience of a low-energy Chamber of Commerce mixer, fueled by lattes and ubiquitous bottles of Oracle water.

The content of the speeches was, honestly, largely lacking in substance. Ellison's speech was basically a Our software is good, so don't mess with it PR session, and while Andreesen's speech was far livelier, I still had to go to Loudcloud's Web site to get a clear picture of what the company does. (They serve as Internet operations outsourcers.)

Means' speech was easily the most interesting. It's safe to say that when you make statements like, For every dot-com millionaire, there will be 100 B2B millionaires, and, Go ahead and order your Ferrari, you pretty much have the crowd's undivided attention. Means also said he looked for public exchanges to grow more successful over time, and he was skeptical that there was a good, fast-forward strategy in B2B.

Smaller breakout sessions were also held, on such topics as collaborative commerce and the basics of Oracle Exchange. Overall, the sessions were geared toward those just now getting involved in B2B or supply chain issues. There's certainly utility in that, and the attendees seemed to be getting a lot out of the sessions, but a little more depth would have been welcome.

The biggest insight I gained from my stay in New Orleans? As mentioned in a previous article, it's that, along with a world of promise, there's still a big lack of clarity in the B2B space. So many companies are indistinguishable from each other that I pity the people tasked with implementing or honing initiatives. Some company, or maybe a few companies, are going to hit on a plain-spoken formula that allows them to get their message across, and they will be the ones that are truly able to order, and pay for, their Ferraris.