A More Somber World Economic Forum At Davos

The World Economic Forum, arguably the most prestigious gathering of the world’s political, business and intellectual leaders (plus, absurdly, me and Robert Scoble), has officially opened at the tiny ski resort town of Davos, Switzerland. 2,500 attendees from 96 countries have flocked to the event this year, about 500 more than last year. And a record 40 heads of state are present as well. At least one rock star isn’t here this year, though.

The theme of this year’s event is “Shaping the Post-Crisis World,” and many of the dozens of sessions over the next few days are laser focused on the worldwide economic collapse.

There is a clear consensus among attendees that the worst is yet to come, and that we are facing the worst economic outlook of the last few generations. Some of the CEOs I’ve talked with (and most of the big company CEOs are here) are flat out scared about what kind of economic shock will hit them next. Part of being here, clearly, is to be around like minded people that they can commiserate with.

Many of the parties that I attended last year have been scrapped and replaced with more low key affairs – not because they cost so much money but just because they aren’t appropriate in such a somber atmosphere.

So far I’ve been camped out at the YouTube corner (post from last year), which the company wisely brought back this year.

As always there is a heavy emphasis on technology, entrepreneurship and new business models. I’m moderating four sessions over the next few days.

Tonight I am moderating a dinner session on “The Future of Entertainment.” Free content is a fact, whether it’s legal or not, and I’ll be talking to Paulo Coelho, Peter Gabriel, Jim Wiatt (William Morris) and others about how content owners can make a living in this new reality.

Tomorrow I’m moderating two sessions. The first is “Where will the Money Go?,” where Matt Bross (CEO BT Innovate), Bruce Golden (Accel), Yossi Vardi and others will discuss how startups might balance fast growth with the need to get cash flow positive. Later tomorrow I’ll be participating in a session on social computing and the enterprise along with Matt Cohler, Reid Hoffman, Robert Scoble, Jimmy Wales and others.

And then on Friday the big panel, one that I’m honored to moderate: The Next Digital Experience, with Chad Hurley, Craig Mundie, Shantanu Narayen, Mark Zuckerberg and Hamid Akhavan. This session will be live streamed and on the record.

I’ll be posting more over the course of the week, and you can watch my sporadic photo stream at posterous.

And for those of you who remember the drama last year, I’ve heard officially that once again, everyone but me will be flying home in style on the Google jet. Ah well, at least this year I booked a business class ticket.