Memories

Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg Talk All Things Digital at NYU

Reflections on personal tech, Steve Case and the letter D.
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Mr. Mossberg, Ms. Swisher, and Mr. Cohen.

Last night, two journalism veterans in a very young industry took the stage at NYU for the first installment of “Inside the Internet Garage,” a series of interviews wherein titans from the various corners of tech will reflect on the last 20 years of the Internet. Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg have chalked up many firsts in their careers: Mr. Mossberg was one of, if not the first, mainstream columnist to write about personal technology in plain English; Ms. Swisher was the first person to tell the Wall Street Journal that it needed to launch a blog.

Moderator Aaron Cohen, an adjunct professor and the former CEO of Menupages, guided the merry pair down memory lane–and they were merry, teasing each other and their moderator. “Walt’s texting me right now,” Ms. Swisher announced at the start of the program.Mr. Mossberg started working at the Providence Journal as a reporter at the age of 20; Ms. Swisher was in college at Georgetown, on track to be a CIA analyst, when she got sucked into the campus newspaper. They met while covering the same beat in Washington, D.C.–specifically, AOL. Ms. Swisher was writing her book, AOL.com: How Steve Case Beat Bill Gates, Nailed the Netheads and Made Millions in the War for the Web, and Mr. Mossberg was credited with writing the first mainstream, positive consumer tech review of AOL’s dial-up service. (A review that, by the way, inspired the head of AOL competitor Prodigy to march into the Journal’s newsroom and demand that Mr. Mossberg be fired.)

While Mr. Mossberg found a personal interest in personal tech–his first column was “How to Stop Worrying and Get the Most from Your Personal Computer”–Ms. Swisher drifted into the beat more from the business side. She was writing for the Washington Post at the time, but she wanted to go somewhere she could write about tech. Mr. Mossberg arranged for a job offer and she joined him in 1995 at the Journal, which was carving out a niche in tech thanks in no small part to Mr. Mossberg.

It wasn’t long before the pair had the idea for All Things Digital, a separate website and associated conference inspired by other web-themed, crappy conferences. “We were bored out of our minds at tech conferences and tech is so exciting,” Ms. Swisher said. The success of the first D conference enabled the two journalist-entrepreneurs (journopreneurs, we’ll say) to shake the Journal down for their own separate blog, which became AllThingsD.

Mr. Cohen covered the history exhaustively in what ended up being an “Inside the Actor’s Studio” sort of fireside chat that lasted more than 90 minutes. A couple favorite anecdotes:

-Jeff Bezos called Mr. Mossberg to ask if he should drop the “.com” from Amazon’s name
-Mr. Mossberg walked Ms. Swisher down the aisle because Ms. Swisher’s mother was “anti-gay, and anti-gay people have a problem with gay marriage”
-If Ms. Swisher were stranded on an island, the one web service she’d want is Twitter
-At the beginning of the program, the pair decried conflicts of interest in tech journalism, and Mr. Mossberg mouthed something at the camera. We’ll know for sure when the tape comes out, but from our seats in the back it looked very much like “Pogue” [UPDATE: Mr. Mossberg says in the comments it was "Arrington."]

Mr. Cohen wrapped up talk with a string of videos from past D conferences, which have been running since 2003: Eric Schmidt, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.

Before the close of the evening, Mr. Mossberg turned to the audience and wagged his finger at the entrepreneurs he supposed were sitting among the spring-loaded chairs: “Find a great partner who isn’t like you!” he advised.

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