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Obama Confabs With Tech Industry’s Dynamic Dozen

The menu has not been released and few attendees have spoken to reporters about the evening’s conversation. Despite the lack of information, though, the tech community is hopeful that a dinner meeting with President Barack Obama and 12 industry luminaries will translate into something tangible.

Attending the event — which was held at the Woodside, Calif., home of Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers partner John Doerr — were Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. Zuckerberg didn’t post, and Costolo didn’t tweet about the dinner later, incidentally.

Rounding out the guest list were Google CEO Eric Schmidt, Oracle CEO Larry Ellison, Cisco CEO John Chambers, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, Genentech Chairman Arthur Levinson, Stanford University President John L. Hennessy, and venture capitalist Steve Westly, managing partner of The Westly Group.

Following the dinner, Obama planned to visit Intel’s semiconductor manufacturing facility in Hillsboro, Ore., where he is expected to name CEO Paul Otellini — an occasional critic — to his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.

Sweeping Concepts…

The general themes of Obama’s outreach to tech executives on this California trip, according to a White House statement, are education, growth, export, innovation, and research and development initiatives. Obama singled out tech companies during his State of the Union address last month, pointing to their innovation and position in the global economy.

It can never hurt for a president to get a sense of what an industry’s issues are, Michael Hussey, CEO of PeekYou, told the E-Commerce Times. “Okay, much of this visit was symbolic, but it is good for President Obama to understand where tech companies are headed, what worries them, and what their hiring strategies are.”

…And Possibly Some Specifics?

It is unlikely anything specific was discussed, Hussey speculated — but if any particular issues were mentioned, Hussey fervently hopes do-not-track legislation and regulations were among them.

“If these are rolled out in a rushed fashion, it could alter the known landscape of how we use the Internet,” he said.

Big vs. Small

The guest list represented a good cross-section of tech interests in Hussey’s view. However, Jonathan Askin, a professor at Brooklyn Law School, saw some problems with it.

“I’m a little concerned over the names at last night’s ‘tech industry’ dinner table,” he told the E-Commerce Times, pointing to the all-star guest roll. Instead, he would have preferred the administration speak with stand-alone startups.

Such companies “need the rules and the tools that will foster brand new models of business ventures that would promote the social good, individual autonomy, and sustainable businesses,” he said, “not just enable tech entrepreneurs to devote their resources to build mere applications and to build even stronger fortress walls for Apple, Google and Facebook — like barnacles on the whales.

“A few independent thought leaders not beholden to the Silicon Alley tech giants would go a long way in helping to create the policies and structures for true, sustainable innovation and entrepreneurship,” he Askin concluded.

PR 101

Such concerns are irrelevant, in the view of David Johnson, principal of Strategic Vision, who saw the visit largely as a PR event.

President Obama “wants to be shown he is doing something with the movers and shakers in the tech industry,” he told the E-Commerce Times. “He wants to be shown as being hands on.”

Affiliating with industry leaders — whether they’re from the manufacturing, tech or service sectors — is one of the oldest tricks in politics, Johnson continued. “Every president and leader has used it. Rarely does anything substantive come from it.”

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