I’ll admit that I’m a little bit embarrassed by the latest speaker to be invited to Yahoo!’s campus. The embarrassment is compounded by the name of the speaker series: The Influentials.
Just as a reality check, let’s take a quick spin through the original reasons for fame of three of our Influential speakers:
Tom Brokaw: reading stuff on TV that other people wrote. And having a funny voice.
Arnold Schwarzenegger: reciting lines in the movies that other people wrote. And bodybuilding.
Tom Cruise: reciting lines in movies that other people wrote. And dancing in his underwear.
Sure, Tom Brokaw was also a journalist and wrote a book, and Arnold is honest-to-god the Governor of the very state where we have our headquarters. But it would be a mistake, I think, to try to front that this series is about inviting prominent journalists, politicians, and Scientologists to share their views …. it’s about inviting people whose faces are very familiar because we’ve seen them frequently on screens of various sizes.
Just as a counterweight, though, I have to say that the newly expanded Yahoo! Research group is generally kicking ass, and as part of that has a speaker series of their own. And guess who the most recent speaker was? Christos Papadimitriou. (I know what you’re thinking: not _that_ Christos Papadimitriou? Yes, _that_ Christos Papadimitriou. Combinatorial Optimization Man himself.) And I really wanted to see his talk, but you know what? The talk was at 10am, and I got there at about 10:02, with the result that the very large room was not only standing room only, but that special kind of standing-room-only where anywhere you try to stand you’re going to be rudely blocking the view of a standing person who staked out a standing-room spot before you did. So I left… But there must have been a good 500 people there. And then there’s the TechDev speaker series, that has brought in Jeff Barr, John Battelle, Eric Brewer, Lawrence Lessig, Mark Pauline (of Survival Research Labs)… So overall, I think we’re doing OK with speakers at various levels of fame and substance.
It could be that my problem with Cruise/Brokaw/Schwarzenegger, when it comes down to it, is just with the name of the series. Call it the Familiar Faces Celebrity Speaker Series, and maybe it would be just fine. Maybe even kind of fun. I don’t agree with the Governator’s politics, and am not sure that he is an Influential, despite his current office… but was I there? Was I as much of a Treo Paparazzo as the next guy? I’ll never tell.