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Web 2.0 Expo Highlights and Emerging Themes

Web 2.0 Expo Highlights and Emerging Themes


I attended Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco this past week.  Brady Forrest (co-chair) invited us to have our H.E.Ai.D. installation (large scale, collaborative play space with lasers, generative sound, and a tinge of augmented reality) in the Expo.  Aside from the joy of watching Tim O’Reilly dance  in our installation, it was great to get up to date on all things Web 2.0.  Here’s my report:ubergeek



Tim O’Reilly framed the event very well during his keynote speech, essentially giving a report card on the state of Web 2.0 – arguing that the web as application platform should be conceptualized as an information operating system rather than platform of devices or technologies.  See his recent article on O’Reilly Radar to learn more.  The main concern he raised was the ongoing tension between large companies’ desires to dominate the web as an information platform (one ring to rule them all…) versus a more utopian, Internet-style, democratized version where services from multiple providers are “horizontally integrated via open standards”.  Applying this thinking to the social space, he argues that the real power is in developing applications and APIs that allow third-party developers to leverage the social data that companies have produced through years of supporting communication and networking technologies.


Aside:  This kind of thinking is one of the reasons I love the O’Reilly crew and their events.  Because they don’t create their own technologies, but are rather a publishing company specializing in books and events for technology innovators, they are in a unique position to serve as trusted, impartial advocates for a future that best serves the needs and interests of individual users.  I only wish they could run events without any sponsorship at all….I’m sure it introduces some bias.


I was happy to see a lot of the event focusing on the social space – themes included:

  • Helping user focus on content they care about.  Users are overwhelmed with a fire hose of information on the Web, so a few talks/technologies focused on how we can help users focus their attention on content they care about.    
    • Social aggregation. that is integrating content from multiple social streams such as Facebook and Twitter is one such method.  Both Spindex.me from Microsoft’s Fuselabs and Strings (presented in the LaunchPad session) had social aggregation tools, allowing users to incorporate their various social streams into one location.  I’m often dubious of social aggregation tools, because I’m not convinced the average user really wants all their content mixed in one place — plus it’s been tried (e.g., FriendFeed, Strands).  However, I thought Spindex.me had a compelling use case: layering smart search over the socially aggregated content to help users find content their friends care about, and focus on emerging trends in their social sphere.  T
    • Social curation.  There were also a couple of social curation projects: that is, allowing users to select the best online content, either your own content (again, Strings), or content around a search theme (Montage from Microsoft’s FUSE Labs) and then share with friends.  Pearltrees.com had personal content management social curation with a network based visualization.   pearltrees.com. 
  • Managing user generated content.  User generated content allows technology companies to leverage large amounts of information.  But with the advantages are many pitfalls, because when everyone has a voice, and everyone can share, sometimes they say mean and inappropriate things.  A few talks provided basic “how-to” information, including Randy Farmer’s discussion of reputation mechanisms.  He said sometimes the best reputation mechanisms are not shared:  don’t share negative evaluations publicly, because some people will use them to gang up on others, but rather use them on a hidden level to prioritize content.  At the Web 2.0 Expo/Bay Area Ignite a few talks discussed not abusing social media and user generated content.  Listening to these talks you got a sense of a UGC backlash:  you shouldn’t force people to over share (Avoidr and The Forgiveness Engine by Jesper Andersen) and you shouldn’t waste people’s time with contests (Jen Bekman).
  • Building on a culture of social participation and sharing.  A couple of talks explored issues around building large scale pro-social participation and sharing.  See http://creativecommons.org/weblog/entry/21842, nothing too surprising here, but if you’re new to using social media a good overview.  Perhaps the hardest lesson for big companies is giving up control and being accessible to community, practicing what you preach with openness/sharing.  A similar theme emerged in a discussion of open leadership by Charlene Li.  (This talk seemed to be more about open, social media marketing than leadership – in the modern web 2.0 world…marketers should engage with consumers.) 
  • Designing for rich interaction applications.  A few talks addressed the fact that there are increasingly rich internet applications online, and the existing tools and methods for designing web applications need to be updated to address new online interaction models.  E.g., Chris Griffith argued that you need to actually prototype your more complex interaction sequences as a part of the design process before handing it off to developers — or, he warned, they end up designing for you.

Other highlights:  Location location location was everywhere.   So to was Twitter as a central part of the web 2.0 information operating system, e.g. see bing twitter www.bing.com\twitter.    For a fun example of the power of large scale access to user generated content, see the One Million Giraffes project, where Olla Helland trying to win a bet collecting a million giraffes drawn by 2011 using social media.   Social, casual games and game mechanics were appearing in everything social.    Generally seening people getting increasingly excited about augmented reality, esp. in mobile,  e.g., Microsoft Tag tech embedded in the event:  http://emergingexperiences.com/2010/05/rockstar-on-tour-web-20-expo-san-francisco/


Other cool technologies worth checking out:

Rhomobile – won the launchpad award, converts apps to work on multiple platforms

Ocarina – iPad application  where you could play music, but also see other people playing and *play with them* around the world

HTML5 – everyone was abuzz about HTML5, Alexa Andrzejewski gave an entire talk comparing it to Flash.  I didn’t go to this talk but my developer buddies were all abuzz about it, saying HTML5 web sockets will make the real time web happen by enabling push data that currently web sites inefficiently pull for.  They expect it will replace Flash – companies using Flash are moving to html5.  

Stupeflix – dynamically generated video, they demo’d its use for advertising, showing how you can create a sort of photostory for entire catalogs of ads with updated prices.


What seemed notably absent relative to last years’ web 2.0 events?  Facebook applications.


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