The 'phenomenal' Dreamforce 2013: Protests, connected toothbrushes and Sean Penn

Marc Benioff: Salesforce chief executive (picture credit: Robert Scoble)
Marc Benioff: Salesforce chief executive (picture credit: Robert Scoble)

If you repeat a word continuously it loses all meaning. Salesforce chief executive Marc Benioff demonstrated that to perfect effect this week with his wilful misuse of the word "phenomenal" at his company's Dreamforce conference, writes Matt Chapman.

Everything in his world is "phenomenal" or even "phenomenal phenomenal" when the occasion warrants it. Dreamforce is a festival devoted to the personality cult of Benioff. 

He was omnipresent. Benioff’s opening keynote lasted two and half hours. It kicked off with a bang with a performance from Huey Lewis and The News and appearances from Oscar winner Sean Penn and former supermodel Petra Nemcová.

Nemcová told the tragic story of how her fiancé was killed in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004, a natural disaster that led her to set up the Happy Hearts fund. Penn and Haiti prime minister Laurent Lamothe talked about how cloud computing could protect the country’s data from a repeat of the 2010 Haiti earthquake that killed more than 100,000 people.

Putting on a show

Benioff’s reputation for putting on a show and landing heavyweight speakers including Sheryl Sandberg and Marissa Mayer pulls in crowds in their thousands. Delegates were repeatedly told 130,000 had registered for this year’s Dreamforce.

The gridlock it created in San Francisco caused Twitter chief executive Dick Costolo to send an angry tweet to @Benioff.

There is no technology conference in the UK that has anywhere near the scale of this. The discrepancy highlights how far ahead Silicon Valley is of Silicon Roundabout.

Tucked away in back rooms of gargantuan hotels you could find senior directors of Samsung speaking at breakout sessions and collar them for a chat afterwards. At a UK conference he would be a keynote speaker.

Poster girls

The Dreamforce keynote speakers were the poster girls of the tech industry. An hour of preamble led up to Marissa Mayer’s appearance as Benioff stalled by chatting with supplicant chief executives.

Mayer’s eventual appearance was interrupted by protestors objecting to her being on the board of Walmart. There were no interruptions for Sandberg in her blatantly scripted fireside chat with Benioff.

Sandberg plugged her book as if she was on 'The Jonathan Ross Show'. Although her feminist message is vital in a male-dominated technology industry, it would have been nice if Benioff had asked her one question about Facebook.

The talk of connected toothbrushes and a demo of the capabilities of Google Glass gave a fascinating insight into the future the internet, which firms such as Salesforce are set to dominate.

Welcome to the future. A smart toothbrush that can alert your dentist when you haven’t brushed. 


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