Guest column: Net buzz

There's nothing like four days with the Internet Society to get that ol' TCP/IP flowing through your veins. Last week's INET '99 conference in San Jose did the trick.

A few observations:

IBM's Net guru, Irving Wladawsky-Berger, reports that the Safeway grocery chain in the UK is not at all convinced that legions of customers will give up their shopping carts in favour of ordering eats over the Web.

"People at Safeway tell us that their research shows people like to come to the store," he says. Which doesn't mean they want to spend all weekend there. In search of faster checkouts, Safeway is experimenting with handheld devices that shoppers would bring home, use to keep track of their grocery needs, and then take to the store to scan purchases in the aisles.

Meanwhile, you still get to smell the halibut and thump those melons.

This was the first INET since the death last fall of Jon Postel, the man who for decades helped bring order to the Internet's inner workings. His family was on hand to accept the first Jonathan B Postel Service Award on his behalf.

"He was the first of the Internet giants to depart from our midst . . . and he will be missed," said Vint Cerf, the outgoing Internet Society chairman. "He was a humble, devoted and often stubborn servant of the community that he loved."

Here's a bit of advice for technology conference planners: Never, never, never hand a microphone to a politician from the city hosting your event.

San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales last week used his 10 minutes in front of a captive INET audience to deliver a boilerplate Chamber of Commerce sales pitch. "We're a business-friendly city, and we're an Internet-friendly city," Gonzales assured the roomful of fidgety technologists.

Of course, Gonzales' infomercial was positively spellbinding compared to the snoozer produced by Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan at Spring Internet World.

And don't give me that nonsense about protocol. Would you rather "insult" one windbag politician or the thousands of guests you invited to your conference?

While in the neighborhood, Buzz dropped in on venture capitalist Jim Breyer, managing partner at Accel Partners in Palo Alto. Breyer says his firm has been inundated with proposals built around "next-generation rich media communications and technology".

One such start-up is FastForward Networks, a San Francisco-based operation headed by Cisco expatriates. Recent recipients of a $US3.6 million endorsement from Accel, FastForward is building network equipment it claims will finally allow Internet broadcasts that won't call to mind old newsreel footage.

Our chat ended when Breyer was called to the boardroom for a meeting with Groove Networks, another Accel-funded start-up whose directors include Breyer, fellow Accel partner and former Lotus CEO Mitch Kapor, and Groove founder Ray Ozzie, better known as the father of Lotus Notes. Buzz has long been pestering the always-congenial Ozzie for the full skinny on Groove, which is developing communications software.

Certainly this chance meeting would be the perfect opportunity to land that scoop, right? Fat chance.

I even offered to play recording secretary for the meeting, but was politely shown the door.

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More about Accel GroupFastForward NetworksGroove NetworksIBM AustraliaSafeway

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