Kara Swisher

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Let the D11 Speakers Begin: Sandberg, Silbermann, Costolo, Woodside, Immelt and More!

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One of the best parts of planning the next D: All Things Digital conference — which is in its 11th iteration this year — is trying to figure out what group of top tech and media players will make the very best combination to bring real insight, news and forward thinking to our amazing audience, at the event and also online.

Some interviews one knows with certainty are going to be epic — such as our joint one with Apple’s Steve Jobs and Microsoft’s Bill Gates at D5 in 2007. Others, like our terrific session with Oracle’s Larry Ellison last year at D10, gave the attendees a new look at someone they thought they already knew well. Some are just plain funny — such as former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason’s famous “death stare” in 2011 at D9.

What’s most clear throughout them all is that Walt Mossberg and I have been lucky in getting high-caliber and engaging speakers who are willing and able to sit in our signature red Steelcase chairs and answer our sometimes thorny questions.

This year’s D11 is no exception. While there are many more speakers we can’t announce quite yet, here’s the start of the list for the 2013 conference, which has been sold out since last fall:

As we did last year, we’ll be having Kleiner Perkins partner Mary Meeker walk the audience through her famous annual Internet report, giving both her observations and prognostications about where the digital space has been and where it is headed next. Meeker’s slides come fast and furious, and often set some of the themes that will doubtless be raised by other speakers.

One speaker who has dominated many key memes this year has been Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, whom we last had at D6 in 2008, when she appeared with CEO and co-founder Mark Zuckerberg. Since then, a lot has happened at the social networking giant — including a tumultuous IPO and a need to quickly develop its mobile business — so there’s plenty to discuss related to Facebook. Of course, there is also a lot to talk about related to her recent book on women in the workplace, titled “Lean In,” which has garnered just a little bit of attention of late.

Another very voluble speaker will surely be Twitter CEO Dick Costolo. We felt it was important to bring him back onstage, given all the change at the social communications company over the last year, from its aggressive efforts to build out its advertising business to its tangles with Facebook to its expected IPO in 2014. Twitter has emerged as a key company on the global stage — and it is Costolo’s job to keep it there.

One of the most explosive startups on the scene recently has, of course, been scrapbooking phenom Pinterest, whose steady CEO and co-founder Ben Silbermann will appear at our conference for the first time. Unlike many attention-seeking entrepreneurs, Silbermann has quietly pushed the young company to the forefront of e-commerce and other key digital arenas by creating a unique and elegant way for people to share interests of all kinds. Despite its recent huge valuation, Pinterest has an unusual heft and influence in tech and beyond that few other such companies can claim.

Also of interest is the new leader of Motorola Mobility, the smartphone maker that is owned by Google but is being run separately by CEO Dennis Woodside. A longtime exec at the search giant, Woodside is charged with creating world-class hardware for the Android platform that can attract consumers and compete with a spate of rivals — while still maintaining a certain distance from the mothership.

Such an effort will require a lot of innovation, which is why Woodside is bringing along someone well known to DRegina Dugan. The charismatic exec first appeared at D9 when she was director of the federal government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and she riveted the crowd with stories of Mach 10 airplanes and other cloak-and-dagger tech. Now she’s an SVP at Motorola Mobility, where she leads the Advanced Technology & Projects group.

How big companies are reacting to the Internet revolution has always been an important topic at our conference over the years, and there is no bigger conglomerate to ask about it than GE and its chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt. While the company operates across many segments, from energy to technology infrastructure to capital finance, the changes and impact of digital have been paramount for GE. In fact, Immelt recently wrote a provocative editorial on the “Industrial Internet” and the rise of intelligent machines about leveraging “the power of the cloud to connect machines embedded with sensors and sophisticated software to other machines (and to us) so we can extract data, make sense of it and find meaning where it did not exist before.” Heavier stuff than your basic jet engine (which GE makes, by the way).

Change has not been easy for Web-centric companies, either, including Cisco, whose CEO John Chambers has led the networking giant through the growth of the Internet since the very beginning. Still, Cisco has struggled with a number of recent consumer efforts, even as it has been aggressively shifting its focus to the cloud to continue to dominate in the network space and to push the idea of the “Internet of Everything,” where it plays a central role.

To ratchet up the conversation, we decided to pair Chambers with one of the enterprise’s most clever and fast-moving entrepreneurs, Aaron Levie of Box. The cloud services company just raised a mega round of funding and is headed for an IPO next year, but we also invited Levie because he is very, very funny and manages to explain the massive changes moving through the sector in a very, very funny way. We look forward to his take on how smaller upstarts like Box, Dropbox and many others are managing to best the big companies with innovation and chutzpah.

Speaking of that, there is no better tell-it-like-it-is exec in digital media than Barry Diller of IAC. We have had the razor-sharp Diller onstage at D before, but we thought it was time to bring him back because of his aggressive investment in Aereo, the Web TV service that mainstream TV networks abhor. Diller, who has run such a media operation before, is perhaps the perfect person to be disrupting them now, and to talk about the state of the media industry today. He’s also still owner of a lot of key Internet franchises that have had to react to the shift in consumer tastes and desires.

In another pairing, Jeff Zucker will join Diller onstage to debate how media is faring. It’s an important issue for him, since he was just hired by Time Warner to reinvigorate its CNN cable news brand in a fast-changing environment. Zucker has worked everywhere in the TV sector, but rethinking how it creates and delivers its offering in the future — while making more than digital dimes — is a massive task.

Also huge is the uphill battle new Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai faces in turning around the fortunes of the Japanese consumer electronics giant. As he overhauls the once-dominant company, he also must push forward on a number of fronts that include mobile, digital imaging, videogames and network services. There is also the upcoming debut of the PlayStation 4 console, which has yet to be unveiled, all of which has added pressure to Hirai’s quick-moving efforts at turnaround at Sony.

Hirai will be appearing with Jed York, CEO of the San Francisco 49ers, who is in the midst of building a digitally tricked-out new stadium for the storied football franchise, which is being described as a “large data center.” And more — including addressing the importance of technology in delivering the modern sports entertainment experience. The issue is one that every sports owner on the planet thinks about these days, as fans expect more and more ways to share, communicate and interact.

Using a sports metaphor, it’s a pretty good line-up so far, but the D11 speaker list is far from complete, with more very big names to be announced in the coming weeks. And, especially since we have no more tickets to sell, it’s important to remember that we will be using AllThingsD to bring you the news, videos and more that will allow everyone to experience it all, no matter where they are.

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