Thoughts from Web 2.0 Expo…

Today I attended the Web 2.0 Expo in SF thanks to a free day pass. Otherwise I probably would not have gone. Why? It’s 2010. Aren’t we supposed to be at Web 4.0 by now? Seriously. I feel that meme has been just so overexploited and grown tired, becomingly effectively meaningless, a typical Dilberty buzzword, vacuous and inane. But hey it was free…and I got a few golden nugget takeaways :-)

Yes, there’s the usual “in the bubble” rah-rah about clouds, social, rich, etc. But here’s what grabbed my attention:

* The Facebook Era by Clara Shih. Basically rhapsodizing on the Facebook phenomenon, per her recently published book. She spoke of the consumer psychological impact and cultural movement symbolized by Facebook: always on, sharing, commenting, liking, networking, etc. According to her, sites like FB, LinkedIn, Twitter (note the total absence of MySpace–is it dead?) make the “cost of staying in touch so low”. (Dunno about that, in terms of the literal billions of minutes worldwide of lost productivity and fragmentary attention spans, discursive relations, interruptive chats). She spoke of “weak tie relationships” and “ever expanding rolodexes” thanks to these sites, which have become indispensable and have to be leveraged in our apps/offerings.

* Adobe CTO Kevin Lynch on-stage interview. Of course the “elephant in the room” was raised, re: HTML vs Flash and Apple’s strict stance. Lynch made clear that his position is “”freedom of choice on the web is the key question”, to enable people to “express themselves”. He obliquely referred to Apple: “some want to wall off parts of the web”, and cited analogies to the railroad system in 1800’s with various rail gauges/sizes that had to become standardized to enable innovation. Also mentioned Open Screen initiative by Adobe, for cross-device interactive media…and Omniture, which is for “analytics and optimization of web content” to allow A/B testing. Another quote: “It’s now passé to talk about experience matters, and that’s great…we can now focus on APIs, clouds, client apps to enable great experience.”

* Ecommerce disrupters: A series of short presos by various dot com innovators/leaders. Mostly a blur to me, but a few choice ideas: “Simple is intelligence”, referring to reducing the vast quantities of consumer choice online to a few distinct offerings that really matter to a customer’s life. And “Don’t use data to guess…instead build a customer relationship”. Avoid the trap of predicting and spamming and over-advertising (info overload/featuritis). Dig deeper and understand customer motives and loyalty/disloyalty incentives.

* Slideshare: CEO Rashmi Sinha described some lessons learned in building and expanding this popular site for hosting/sharing PPT slideshows (and now videos too). For ex: The social web is visual, citing people’s desire to create, express with images and videos. You should build a strong core, and use multiple platforms for distribution (like facebook, twitter, google, iphone, etc.) to grow customer reach/loyalty/mindshare. Strive to reinvent paradigms, citing HP’s publishing their announcement of buying Palm as a Slideshare preso. (not your typical press release) Finally keep expanding your vision, this case with Slideshare now going beyond PPT slides, now getting into videos/movies by users.

* EBay Simple Lister beta: This was a cool demo of Silverlight 4. The speaker also described the process of designing/coding the product in just 8 short weeks, starting with (of course) sketching with pen/paper > clickable comps with rough hand-drawn style > fully interactive prototype. All using MSFT Expression Blend and Sketchflow tools.

* Clouds/Web 2.0: This session was more about distilling some core concepts and defining them or at least reach some common understanding with the audience. The speaker, from Rackspace, led the discussion by raising simple but important questions: what’s web 2.0? what’s cloud? what’s open? No real closure but interesting debate…