Archive for April, 2007

Web 2.0 : My Take

Thursday, April 19th, 2007

Having sat through 3 days of the Web 2.0 expo 2007 and listened to all the confusion surrounding the term and what it means nearly two years after Tim O’Reilly introduced the term – I thought I’d take a shot at putting down my own take on the term.

In my view Web 2.0 is quite simply a statement about the maturity of the web. The web in its current form has matured along three key dimensions:

  • The technical dimension – browsers have matured, web application frameworks have matured, server and network infrastructure used to deliver web applications have matured; all this allows for things like AJAX, Saas, Mashups, etc. to happen. None of these are fundamentally new ideas or concepts, they were all tried early in the web’s lifecycle and failed because the web was simply not ready for them. Javascript was simply too hard to get right across a set of browsers because of spotty support, most ASPs rushed to web-enabled applications in the shortest possible time and did a terrible job with them, there were hardly any web services to speak of until recently.
  • The business dimension – there are a well established set of business models on the web today. Sure, there are new ones being invented all the time (more on this later), but there are some fundamental patterns that are very well used and understood.
  • The user dimension – users have gotten used to the web and have come to rely on it. With the advent of tools like review sites, blogs and wikis, users have gotten accustomed to active participation as well. Users both as individuals and in the context of their businesses have come to trust the web (sure there are security issues, but these exist elsewhere as well).

Given all of this, a set of new possibilities open up. Carlota Perez in her somewhat dry but extremely informative book Technological Revolutions and Financial Capital discusses the sequence of events that unfold whenever a technological revolution like the web occurs. The final phase of a technological revolution is what she calls the “golden age” or “synergy phase” where she talks about a set of techno-economic factors that come together to change all relevant business models in a fundamental way. We are simply witnessing the beginnings of this phase with the web (the phase itself typically lasts 2-3 decades). So, what are some of the business models that have already changed/are currently changing because of the web:

  • Commerce: this was the earliest to change and is now very mature.
  • Software: this is in the early stages of change – two big changes in Software are Saas and Open Source – probably be a few more years before the dust settles.
  • Telecommunications: this one is nearly mature – the big change has been the consolidation of services – i.e. the emergence of the bandwidth utility like the electric/gas/water utilities – today, one can buy all their bandwidth needs (wired and wireless) from a single vendor. The remaining piece is for the wired and wireless worlds to come together, which I believe is happening as I write this …
  • Media/Advertising: this is again in the early stages – big changes are the format (digital assets) and peer production – again, be a few years before the dust settles.
  • Finance: this is really still in its infancy – sure, a lot of the trading/banking activity has moved online and there have been some benefits; however, true innovations around business models have not happened in a big way – peer production seems like the big change here (Prosper is a great example) – probably be a much longer time before things settle here.
  • Services(IT/Healthcare/others) : this appears somewhat mature – big change is in collaborative delivery from multiple/remote locations – not sure what other big changes are likely because of the web.

So why then does all the confusion exist around the term Web 2.0 ? The answer again is quite simple – marketing. What we’re seeing is quite similar to what is related in the story of the blind men and the elephant (one version rendered here) – various parties selling various things (books/conferences/software/services/whatever …) are associating whatever meaning is convenient to them with the term Web 2.0; confusion quite naturally follows.

I’m as sure as the day I was born that there are a bunch of sane people who see the full picture and are busy dreaming up all the new possibilities that this mature web we live in offers up …

Day two at Web Expo 2007

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

Keynote session was pretty interesting – the hosts were pretty dull and seemed very nervous to be in front of a large crowd (3k people was the number thrown around).

The launchpad portion had a couple of interesting products – Vidoop (Name 2.0 sucks!) is easily the coolest idea I’ve seen in a while – very innovative approach to solving the single sign-on problem and Tellme’s updated local information product with a visual map/voice navigation capability also seems pretty slick and useful.

There was a panel discussion around Mobile 2.0 – very revealing for me – did not realize we are in the middle of a rapid convergence of mobile networks with the internet. This should bring some real change and excitement to the mobile scene.

There was a somewhat bizzare higher order bit presentation by a guy from Sun – he rambled on and on about an organization called Architecture for Humanity – while the organization seems really cool and is doing some very great things – I for one did not get the point of his presentation at the conference – seemed incoherent and pointless …

Bill Tancer from Hitwise and David Sifry from Technorati presented a lot of very interesting data on trends on the Internet. A couple of datapoints that were extremely unique and interesting – stats on writers vs readers in the “participatory web” and the demographics of writers and readers. No surprise that writers are much smaller than readers – turns out to be < 1% for sites like YouTube and Flickr and around 5% for Wikipedia. What is really surprising is that a vast majority of readers are under 35 and a vast majority of writers are over 35 (don’t remember the exact numbers and can’t seem to easily locate the foils – another aspect of crappy conference organization – no well defined process for foils). As Bill put it very well, it is the older generation educating the younger ones.

John Battelle did an excellent job of interviewing Eric Schmidt. Although I must say I was a bit disappointed he did not ask why Google shut down access to its SOAP API for search …

Highlight of the afternoon was a very lively and humorous session by David Hornik on viral marketing. His slide format was very interesting – just a single thought on each slide (sometimes just one word). Should try it sometime in the future. Wonder if there is a cool name for this format …

I finally get my act together!

Tuesday, April 17th, 2007

After months and months of procrastination, I finally took the time to setup my blog this evening – blogosphere – here I come :-)

Spent the day at Web 2.0 Expo 2007. Highlight of day 1 was an excellent talk on Web 2.0 security by Alex Stamos. A lot of the other pitches went to the sponsors who shamelessly promoted their wares. Adobe’s Apollo was all over the place – seems like a pretty slick offering for the AJAX/rich internet app space. I briefly chatted with Kevin Lynch at the Adobe booth – seems like all the licensing around Apollo is free, the APIs are all going to be open – Adobe plans to make its revenues on tools and server function. Be interesting to see how Adobe can translate its significant market share of Flash/Adobe Acrobat into share for Apollo. Wonder if they’ll be the next target for Google …

One tool that seems pretty cool is Foldera (not sure I love the name) – conceptually similar to some work I saw while working at IBM Lotus (Activity Explorer). Plan to give it a try sometime – the price is just right for me – it’s free :-)

Saw this really cool video titled the “Machine is using us” that was shown at the keynote session – check it out if you have a few mins.

The conference organization seems extremely sloppy – seating in the rooms is very limited, the wireless connection was very spotty, saw people arguing violently with the security folks about the rights associated with their badges on more than one occasion, food was in very short supply (no munchies with coffee for example), the “vegetarian” option for lunch was a California sushi roll with crab meat in it (duh!).

Found out about the killings at Virgina Tech this evening – wonder when this type of insanity will end – just thinking of the shock and misery for all the near and dear ones of the victims makes me shudder …