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Ballmer, Bartz, Schmidt collide in London

Westminster at centre of digital universe for seconds

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Comment What do you get when you invite Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer, Yahoo! CEO Carol Bartz, and Google chief Eric Schmidt to talk about tech opportunities in the UK?

Jargon, rhetoric and a matey slap on the back from the Tories, is about the sum of it.

It’s perhaps a coincidence that Ballmer and Bartz have both been in London on the very same day that Blighty Prime Minister David Cameron made some horrible noises about plonking a bunch of Web2.0 types on Lea Valley after the Olympic 2012 troupe moves on.

Ballmer rubbed shoulders this morning with Deputy PM Nick Clegg and Brussels’ digital agenda commissioner Neelie Kroes at the Microsoft-sponsored Government Leaders Forum Europe (GLF), where he once again tried to flog cloud computing, this time to politicos.

He repeated that “innovation” was needed “on the policy front to meet innovation in the technology space”.

I'm not sure if Kroes was listening to that particular plea, but she certainly appeared to have shared Cameron’s Kool-Aid.

She now wants everyone to “Think of Digital Agenda as Digital Big Society”, following a speech that fully endorsed the UK government’s efforts to get everyone online, with a lot of help from Twiterrati darling Martha Lane Fox.

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To Kroes, MLF is a woman who knows “how to take responsibility” of “digital competence”.

Elsewhere in London today, Bartz popped up at an Internet Advertising Bureau (IAB) event. She delivered a speech in which she seemed to have coined a new phrase “Social Recommendation Optimisation”, that might just get some of the Nathan Barley types Cameron has been flirting with excited.

Yahoo!, whose own search estate is now powered by Microsoft’s Bing, would love to be playfully labelled the world’s largest ad broker. Alas, that is Google’s domain.

Instead, Bartz is still searching for more spare change under the virtual sofa. She told ad wonks at the IAB shindig that brands needed to make more use of digital advertising.

“Brands aren’t doing enough. Display advertising can bridge the emotional divide that is necessary if you’re trying to make your campaign viable, rather than just bringing your offline campaign online.”

The Yahoo! boss insisted today that “advertising is content”, which perplexed some members of the IAB audience – that is if the number of negative tweets coming out of the event are to be believed.

Then turn to Google’s Schmidt, who penned (I suspect via the medium of Google Docs) a joint puff piece in The Daily Telegraph with the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne.

Both men talked of the “innovation deficit” in a piece that was accompanied by a picture of the Old Street *sorry* Silicon roundabout in Shoreditch.

“We simply cannot afford to be modern-day Luddites, resisting change in our private or public sectors. Innovation can upset the established order, but it is to be welcomed, not feared,” wrote Osborne and Schmidt.

So there you have it, we need to sort out this "innovation deficit", shake up our cloudy policies, attempt to "bridge the emotional divide" and get with the "Digital Big Society" programme.

Otherwise we're all doomed and our elite force of social media luvvies will be left shivering in the eEnd marshes of nowhere.

In the meantime, we'll have to wait and see what effect Ballmer and co's visitations have on the ConDem's stance on issues like data protection and digital privacy over the next couple of years. ®

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