Friday Nov 14, 2008

Web 2.0 Summit 2008, Day Three

(This post covers the last day of the three day conference. Also see: Day 1, Day 2.)

The final day kicked off with a "web meets food" theme as Michael Pollan (noted author focusing on "the places where the human and natural worlds intersect") took the stage. His was not a cheery message for first thing in the morning. He noted that our current methods of food production are large contributors to green house gases, with a heavy reliance on fossil fuels. He feels we can and must turn agriculture into part of the solution, not the problem, and that we'll all be much better off and healthier if we "eat sunshine, not oil." A big part of the problem is we're locked into a cycle whereby the more we process food, the more profitable it is, but the less nutritious. 

He suggested ways the web can improve the situation. First, make the food system more transparent. If we really knew how food was made and its impact on the environment, it would be a major catalyst for change. Secondly, the Web is the perfect place to form communities of like minded people who can focus of enabling sustainable alternatives as well as cultivating and identifying local food sources. Just the cost and impact of transporting food is huge, that's why farmer's markets may well be a model of the future (back to the past?). Is it smarter to bake butter cookies in Denmark and ship them to New York, or to ship the recipe to New York and bake them locally?

Back to more mundane matters (like making money), Richard Rosenblatt of Demand Media Inc. gave a very impressive talk and demo of his company and its new Pluck on Demand product. They make it incredibly easy to add contextual content and social media to any web site, in a self-service model. (I saw a guy in the row in front of me on his laptop doing this real-time to his web site once he saw the demo!) Richard explained some of the driving concepts behind his vision and services:

  • In a search driven world, audiences fragment but then reform around passionate verticals. Provide the tools to engage them quickly in your communities once they find you.
  • Social media will be the key success factor for every web site.
  • Look to grow organically via community, not just search.
  • Create content at scale, leverage the community content model. 
    • Support it with algorithmic, ROI driven content placement.
  • The right content + social media = user engagement and revenue.

Reinforcing that "cloud computing is all the rage," we had our second panel on the subject, featuring Padmasree Warrior (CTO, Cisco) and Shane Robison (CTO, HP) in a conversation with Tim O'Reilly. They started by discussing the changing role of the CTO, which is more focused now on strategy and the future of business technology. (That was contrasted with the CIO role which they described as more operational, often implementing what the CTO recommends.) And then onto the benefits of the cloud...

  • It's the next evolution of computing.
  • Applications are abstracted from physical location.
  • We haven't hit the tipping point yet. We still need "hybrid clouds" that incorporate standards and can interoperate with "private clouds." Think "inter-clouds" as opposed to inter-net.
  • HP wants to provide "infrastructure as a service."
  • Clouds can help with Green IT. Think of instrumenting the environment through the cloud.

For a conference that started the day after the presidential election, we finally got down to some politics. Enter author and mega-blogger Arianna Huffington, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, and high-profile political consultant Joe Trippi. It was a lively and spirited discussion, with everyone in a pretty good mood as you might imagine. A few take-aways:

  • 1960/JFK -- the first "television" presidency. 2008/BHO -- the first "Internet" presidency.
  • Huffington stated something Al Gore would also say later in the day: Obama would not have won without the Internet (for fund raising, communication, and community building).
  • There was a concept that the 'net "surfaces the truth," and perhaps Right and Left are outdated terms. What's important is where the truth lies (and it's not necessarily in the middle). 
    • This could ultimately affect the future of our two party system.
  • You can "fake it" on a 30 second TV ad. It's harder to do 24x7 on the Internet.

I thought Elon Musk provided the ultimate example of living your dreams. He said that during his college years he felt there were three important problem areas for focus: the Internet (he was a founder of PayPal), clean energy (see Tesla and SolarCity), and space (SpaceX). He had an unassuming manner about him, but you can see he's really putting his time and money to work on these problems. Compare that to making your fortune, then kicking back on your own tropical island...

"The Platform" had some very interesting dynamics when you consider the fierce competitors sharing the stage: Moderator Max Levchin (Slide), Vic Gundotra (Google), David Treadwell (Microsoft Live), Amit Kapur (MySpace), and Elliot Schrage (Facebook).  Fortunately, peacefulness reigned, though there were a few testy moments (mostly Microsoft v. Google, as you can imagine). The main theme was how to evolve the platforms and support the developers:

  • Enable developers to build viable biz models while increasing customer engagement. ("People like to share information.")
  • Join people, places, devices, & applications.
  • The Platform must benefit all three to survive: provider, developer, and customer.
  • How do you deal with fast evolution vs backwards compatibility (especially for your 3rd party partners)?
    • Build strategic alliances
    • Be transparent and open to feedback
    • Provide tools, resources, and support
  • Rely on the evolution of the Internet to push forward the platforms built on it.

Bob Sutor, IBM VP of Open Source, said the world is at an "inflection point" where we must start using IT power to start solving world problems. Make big bets, public/private partnerships, and open standards are key.

I was fascinated with Shai Agassi's talk about building an "electric car network" (see BetterPlace). This is truly a big bet! Imagine an electric car that you pay for by the mile, and you don't own the battery. Need a charge? Pull into a "filling" station -- they remove the dead battery, put in a charged one, and off you go in less time than it takes to fill your tank. How fast this can happen is a "matter of policy" (and some deep pockets I presume), though he said they are actively working in Israel to release the first network.

"Track Me" was a panel on geo-location and some of the cool things happening now and possibly in the future. The panel was composed of moderator Brady Forrest (O'Reilly Media), Greg Skibiski (Sense Networks), Ted Morgan (Skyhook Wireless), April Allderdice (MicroEnergy Credits), and Rich Miner (Google).

There was a fascinating demo of the kinds of things Sense Networks can calculate and present, based on "analyzing massive amounts of real-time location data to understand and predict aggregate consumer trends." You'd be surprised by the correlation between the time and location of taxi cab trips in San Francisco and the rise and fall of the stock market! They have a lot of data and are still trying to figure out the meaning of some startling results and trends, plus ways to "segment" based on location.

Miner from Google talked about building location into the platform, then letting developers build upon it. Privacy was an obvious concern that came up. People need to own their data and have the ability to control, review and delete their location data. What is the geo-location equivalent of a cookie?

Rebecca MacKinnon (Global Voices)  and Isaac Mao (currently a research fellow at Harvard Law) talked about overcoming censorship on the Internet (mostly in China), and its impact on closed governments. McKinnon talked about the difficult place Internet companies find themselves, wedged between governments and individuals. Mao introduced his concept of "sharism".

And with that, it was time for Al Gore, the exciting grand finale. I really enjoyed seeing him in person, and he held his own quite well, showing an impressive capability to talk tech and appeal to the audience. As mentioned, he reiterated the message that Obama would not have won without the Internet. He talked about Current TV and their efforts to "democratize the TV medium." He used some powerful analogies:

  • The invention of the printing press almost 600 years ago "freed" information for the first time from the elite and created a new information ecosystem. Television "refeudalized" the control of information into a few elite hands. Now the Internet will democratize information again.
  • We are moving to a time when Web 2.0 will be taken for granted, like a "fish in water." He challenged us to move to "World 2.0."
  • Finally, a great analogy that really resonated with me (showing my age, I guess):
    JFK took office in 1960 and said we would put a man on the moon in 10 years. It seemed incredibly ambitious and perhaps unattainable, but it was done in a little over 8 years. He challenged Obama and all of us to take on a similarly ambitious goal: Make 100% of all electricity in the US from renewable energy within 10 years. If we could go to the moon back in the 60's, we can do this in the 2000s!

The conference came to an end with a final reception (i.e. yet more drinks and hors d'oeuvres), and everyone I spoke to thought it was an excellent event. I agree. If you've read this far, I thank you and hope you found this overview provided a decent taste of an unusual and exceptional conference.

Wednesday Nov 12, 2008

Web 2.0 Summit 2008, Day Two

(This is a continuation of my prior post, "Overview of  the Web 2.0 Summit 2008.")

Day Two started with Paul Otellini, President and CEO of Intel. He focused on two big areas of opportunity that Intel sees. The first was "enterprise" (or professional) social networking. He showed a thought-provoking demo of the unified enterprise community network of the future -- tightly integrated communication tools, professional learning management, robust search and RSS feeds. The demo focused on a fictional Intel new hire in Asia and how such an enterprise web community would smooth her integration into the company and also accelerate her learning and effectiveness. Then he said something like, "Of course, these tools don't exist yet..." 

The second big opportunity was the "personal Internet," where the machine brings relevant and timely info to you rather than you having to seek it. This led to another demo, this time of the smart mobile device of the future. Features included machine translation (written and verbal) in the palm of your hand, instant commerce, lots of geo-awareness, etc. It demonstrates Intel's focus on bringing the power of the web to mobile devices.

Next up was Kevin Kelly, a long time reporter on the culture of technology who helped launch Wired Magazine. This is more or less what his first slide looked like:

The number 6527

Care to guess the meaning?

Turns out it had been exactly 6,527 days since Tim Berners-Lee transmitted the first web page. The Internet (r)evolution since then has been amazing, but Kelly really said we need to hasten the next phase, the so-called Semantic Web. It's about awareness and linking of data. First we linked computers, then pages, and next we need to link data. 

So what will the next 6,500 days bring? Kelly feels it'll go way beyond "the web, only better." He spoke of one large machine of interconnectedness, the Web Operating System (I couldn't help thinking of Sun's seminal mantra, The Network is the Computer). The web will "own" all data -- if it's not part of it, it doesn't exist. All devices are connected, processed, and structured. One media platform for all. Everything is always on. "Believe in the impossible."

This could be an awesome thing, though it does have that "big brother" ring to it as well. Let's hope the "security guys" get it right.

The plethora of iPhone enthusiasts in the audience were entertained by a talk with Ralph De La Vega, CEO of AT&T Mobility and Consumer Markets. Let's just say he's pretty happy with how things are going. 

The web can and will play a huge role in the future of health care, as discussed in the "Future of Health" panel. Lots of talk of genetic testing and online communities. Check out 23andMe, then order your own genetic profile for a mere 400 bucks.

Appearing in full battle fatigue, Army CIO Jeffrey Sorenson showed the military side of social media. The Army lags behind the speed of commercial innovation and is just rolling out Web 2.0 now. Security concerns are paramount of course. But we saw interesting demos of "Battle Command Knowledge System" and "Command Post of the Future" -- web based systems that will greatly enhance our military capabilities and speed/accuracy of communication.

The "Future of Media" panel provided an engaging discussion featuring Evan Williams (Twitter), Joel Hyatt (Current TV), and Ken Auletta (The New Yorker). I remember coming out of my first Web 2.0 Expo in 2005 thinking I had to start a blog (which I did). This time, it was all about Twitter, so I'm going to give it another try too! (I'm admittedly not 100% convinced, but time will tell.) They talked about Twitter changing how people connect --> will it actually change our culture over time? 

Today we are enabling "conversations" in every possible format, though the questions remain on how to monetize these new interactions. (They didn't have the answer, sorry.) 

I found Hyatt's thoughts on Current TV provided a refreshing perspective:

  • Many people innovate, then look for a business model. They did the opposite.
  • They're developing "user generated advertising" (he showed a clip of a Toyota commercial made with a hand held video camera). Their study shows these ads are "preferred 9 to 1."
  • The networks are focused on moving TV to the Internet. Current is focused on moving the Internet experience to TV. 

Next speaker, Saul Griffith, a rocket scientist type for sure, reminded us that we all contribute to the energy crisis. We all have to help solve it. He's built a very clever web site that lets you easily determine how much energy you use in a day. He suspects we'll all be surprised and ultimately better conservationists after finding that out.

I have a 17 years old son, so couldn't help noticing the physical similarities to Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook. Yes, he's young, but he was very composed and well-spoken. (BTW, it's been a big week for 24 year olds around here!) He took some heat for the closed nature of the Facebook platform, but that's changing, and he said there is a natural progression from closed to open systems over time. (That's a key part of Sun's open source vision, so let's hope he's right.) He spoke of a long term goal to enable people to share information any way they want on any device. How to make money? Think of how to best entice customers to share information, then deliver "engagement ads" that are highly effective. 

A very high powered (pun intended) panel was up next on Cloud Computing -- Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware, Marc Benioff, CEO of salesforce.com, Kevin Lynch, CTO of Adobe, and David Gerard, Google. You know this is one of the hottest topics of '08 and extremely well covered, so I don't think there was a lot of news coming out of this. Some interesting concepts were mentioned though:

  • Information will outlive devices and applications; the cloud becomes the "information bank."
  • Providers have to protect, enable access, and add value to information stored with them.
  • We're hitting the "fourth generation" of software, getting back the richness of client-server applications (which we lost with Web v1.0) but keeping the power of the Internet.
  • They need to provide the tools to enable the movement of apps to the cloud.
  • We need to break down the disconnect between rich customer experiences and pedestrian enterprise experiences.
    • What if you had a rich Flash interface to SAP? (Adobe wants to be the "interface to the cloud.")
  • It doesn't have to be a low margin business. Differentiate by providing unique value and/or a large ecosystem.
  • Clouds are still proprietary, though. More value will be created as they interoperate and provide new services. (We're seeing this now with Salesforce's integration with Google Apps, for ex.) 
    • Standardization is needed, as well as new data models that break down data silos.
  • Eventually, consider we'll have "personal clouds" as opposed to multiple friend lists on separate web sites.

Shifting back to the future of advertising, there was a talk with Jack Klues of Vivaki -- they control billions and billions of dollars in ad budgets for some of the world's biggest brands. His message for weathering the economic storm:

  • Maintaining and protecting brand is at least as important during a downturn as any other time.
  • You can increase share as media buys become cheaper.
  • Don't lose sight of what people care about; keep on message and brand.
  • Continue to look at how to optimally blur the lines between advertising and content (ethically, of course...)

A "Launch Pad" event was next. Five start-ups gave their elevator pitch to a panel of VCs. The audience voted on our favorite by texting votes which were tabulated and projected real time. I agreed with the winning choice, GoodGuide. Great concept and valuable info -- take a look. (No real losers here, all were of interest but not sure they'll all survive: Predictify, Sungevity, Everyscape, Qik.)

The day closed with a Music discussion with Chris DeWolfe, co-founder of MySpace, and Edgar Bronfman, CEO of Warner Music. It was a bit too much focused on the launch of MySpace Music I thought. They said the music industry will be "very different in 5 years," but not necessarily how. And with that, another long but stimulating day ended.

Continue to read about Day 3...

Tuesday Nov 11, 2008

Overview of the Web 2.0 Summit 2008

I felt fortunate to attend my third Web 2.0 Summit, November 5-7, 2008, in San Francisco (thank you, Andreas!). I really thought it was an excellent event and fairly different from the prior ones I attended (here are my comments on the 2005 Conference and 2006 as well.) What was most different was the strong and well-coordinated thematic focus on "World Meets Web" -- it truly permeated and unified the sessions and discussions. The concept behind this is that we've come a long way with the web and it has become a major influencer on the global society. How do we use this new found medium for the betterment of the planet and to deal with all the issues we face? It couldn't have been a more timely theme,  nor punctuated better than Al Gore's closing comments, as he noted Barack Obama could not have been elected without the web! Talk about web meets world....

The format was generally the same as previously. Wednesday morning provided the only workshops, where you have the choice of attending several tracks that run simultaneously. (This is where you typically wish you could be in two or more places at once so you don't miss anything.) Starting Wednesday afternoon and through the conference closing late Friday, we all assembled in a large conference room for the engaging interviews with true industry leaders as well as the “high order bits” (short, 10-20 minute talks by various domain experts).

There's lots of info online of course about the Summit, and in the interest of time and efficiency, I'm not going to bother deep linking to everything. Here are the bios for all the speakers, and many of the presentations (and video) are online too. My main goal is to share some of the insights I captured from the various speakers and events.

For the workshops, I chose topics related to presentation and advertising, as this relates closest to what I'm working on now (developing new web personalization and ad serving capabilities for Sun).

The first talk was a bit of a strange start, as a little ways into it I realized it had nothing to do with the web (at least directly). Go figure. Nancy Duarte's topic was "Telling Meaningful Visual Stories" and was really about creating compelling presentations. It was targeted partly at least to the many entrepreneurs that attend, with lots of guidance on how to make compelling pitches to VCs. But I think there are lessons to be learned for presenting info on the web as well. Some key takeaways:

  • To connect with the customer, become a story teller. Share experiences, be vulnerable perhaps, believe that your own story can touch customers. (This is something that cannot be outsourced!)
  • Consider your audience first and how to reach them, then develop the content. A presentation is not a “document”.
  • Break out of the mold – start with a blank page, not a template. Change your environment, get a different perspective, collaborate and brainstorm on ideas. You want to inform, inspire, persuade.
  • Avoid complicated architectural diagrams, as they don't resonate. "Tell" your architecture as a story.
  • Use metaphors. Include conflict to grab attention. Produce ideas and stories, not slides. Be transparent, be different. Your stories can change and influence!

The next workshop I attended was "Consumer Brands Tackle Marketing 2.0," with some high profile marketers from leading companies. Some nuggets from that panel:

  • Technology changes, people don't.
  • Social media offers new opportunities for gaining customer insight, if you know what to do with it. Consider "perpetual marketing," as the engagement doesn't end. We're still evolving how to use social media consistently in marketing programs.
  • The audience defines the message. Good creative still wins, technology can't overcome crappy messaging and content.
  • Traditional media has the reach but many in the audience won't be interested. For example, if you advertise Pampers on national TV, what percentage of the audience cares? This is really where we can differentiate advertising on the web, by targeting interested and relevant audiences much more closely.

As I mentioned, we're working on more personalization initiatives here at Sun, and one outcome is that we're bumping up against our own privacy policy. There's a fine line there about what we can and cannot do. I asked the panel about how they deal with it, and mostly got shrugs! David Knox from Procter & Gamble did say they had just changed their privacy policy to enable global opt-in/opt-out on their site, instead of by section as it was previously. Their approach was to email every single customer and inform them of the new policy.

So it seems everyone is trying to deal with this, and there is no perfect answer. I think the best thing is to be transparent with what we're doing. We need to revisit Sun's privacy policy to see how it can evolve to match the evolution of our web and personalization capabilities. When we do make a change, we'll need to communicate it appropriately.

The last workshop I attended had the not-so-helpful title of "Please - Not Another Network Panel." Sponsored by Yahoo, it actually focused on web advertising and ad networks. I'm pretty new to this area so didn't follow all the subtleties of the conversation about how these mega-networks work, but I managed to learn more about that side of the industry.

And with that, it was lunch time, then we headed in for the start of the mega-conference. The focus on web meets world was clear from the start, as the first interview was with Larry Brilliant, head of google.org, Google's philanthropic arm. Google committed from the start to putting 1% of revenue, profit, and resources into philanthropy. We'll see this theme repeated throughout the conference – the web has made you millions (or billions), so how will you use that to make the world a better place?

Google is focused on three key initiatives:

  • Inform & Empower -- mostly a third world focus on empowering communities to get better information and accountability from their governments.
  • Predict & Prevent – Early disease identification and prevention. This touched on another recurring theme, “instrumenting the world.” We have great new sensor capabilities and can tie the sensors together via the web for almost real-time, unprecedented insights into the global ecosystem.
  • Renewable Energy -- specifically, we need a form of renewable energy that is cheaper than coal. At that point, there is no financial barrier to adoption.

Bottom line: "It's time to use technology to make the world a better place."

Mary Meeker gave her usual dizzying blitz of a zillion financial slides in about 15 minutes. It's pretty hard to digest that quickly but my takeaway was that, while the economy may be tanking, there is still plenty of growth and opportunity for Web innovators.

Rajesh Jain from Netcore Solutions (see his blog at emergic.org) explained how there are about 10 times as many people with cell phones in India as have Internet access. As a result, SMS is huge, offering ease of use, low cost, and easy value added services. There's a huge direct to consumer reach. He used the term “invertising” for invited ads in SMS messaging.

Up next was super-VC John Doerr, who helped fund Sun (amongst many other companies) years ago. He talked about Obama being the first President who will have a CTO, and suggested (Sun co-founder) Bill Joy would be a perfect fit. He felt energy research is our #1 priority and expressed a big concern that we're not graduating enough scientists and engineers. He also felt it was absurd that we train foreign students, then kick them out of the country once they're trained. I loved the way he summed it up:  "We should staple a green card to their diplomas!" Makes sense to me.

Doerr offered up survival tips for start-ups during the economic meltdown (which he described as more than bad mortgages, it's a "crisis of confidence"). I think much of this is great advice regardless of how big your company is:

  • Hunker down, take on the long view, focus on your core
  • Act now, and with haste (before funding gets cut)
  • Protect the core of your business (don't lay off the key people!)
  • Have 18 months worth of cash in the bank
  • Defer facilities investments
  • Re-evaluate R&D priorities
  • Renegotiate all your contracts
  • Everyone in the company needs to SELL
  • Give equity instead of cash
  • Secure the cash (i.e treasuries, somewhere safe)
  • React quickly to leading indicators and KPIs
  • Over communicate, don't sugar coat bad news
He was quite bullish on the iPhone and said they're seriously investing in it as a platform. He likes cooliris.com. He likes companies focused on the conversion of IT and "green technology."

Next up, Tony Hsieh, the personable CEO of Zappos.com. I think the Zappos story is well-publicized so won't go into details, other than to say it's quite impressive what they've done. This web-based "shoe store" is now a $1B business and expanding quickly beyond footwear. A few key points:

  • The company is "powered by service".
  • The goal is to WOW each & every customer.
  • Business is built by repeat customers and word of mouth.
  • It's good to have people call your customer support line. There is no better branding opportunity then speaking with your customers.
  • Company culture = company brand.

Larry Lessig, the outspoken Stanford Law professor, talked about the current failures of our government. He says it's come to the point where the Number One job of our elected representatives is to get "tenure" (i.e. raise enough money to get elected over and over again). Money destroys trust. We must change congress to fix our economy.

Day one ended with Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang on the hot seat, grilled somewhat mercilessly (but fairly, I think) by conference promoter John Battelle. Jerry took the hard questions graciously and stood his ground. He explained Yahoo's strength as a consumer brand that enables people to get what they want from the 'net. It's the starting point.

He talked about recent efforts to open up the Yahoo platform with the Yahoo! Open Strategy, enabling third party apps to integrate with Yahoo services. There is opportunity for all in the creativity that will come out of opening up the platform.

What I hadn't realized was the large press presence and how they would pick up on what was being said. While discussing Microsoft, Yang said he thought Microsoft should buy Yahoo. I was surprised when this casual statement during a conversation turned into national news.

As you can see, it was quite a stimulating Day 1!

As an aside...
I was amazed at the proliferation of iPhones in the audience (and Blackberries -- the lady sitting next to me had one of each on her lap) and somewhat dismayed at how many people were looking down constantly with an eerie blueish light on their faces from the phone displays. It didn't seem to me they were paying attention to the conference, and I wonder about this newest contributor to attention deficit disorder. But perhaps they're just better at multitasking then I am.

Continue to read about Day 2...

Wednesday Nov 29, 2006

Photos from 2006 Web 2.0 Summit



If you'd like to see the faces that go with all the names I wrote about (plus a bunch more pics of course), an extensive photo set is now available, thanks to James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media. (There are no close-ups of me unfortunately -- an obvious oversight! And yes, I'm just kidding...)

Also, if you'd like to drill down on any of the speakers or topics discussed, some of the key presentations are online now as well.

About

I helped design, build, and manage download systems at Sun for many years. Recently I've focused on web eMarketing systems. Occasionally, I write about other interests, such as holography and jazz guitar. Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/garyzel

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