Last week's Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco was pretty intense, all things considered. It's therefore lucky that this week is the Half Term school holiday in this particular corner of the UK, and peppered with days off to do various non-work things.
Now I've had time to reflect without the need to type and listen and keep an eye on the office, what were the trends and highlights for me?
I noticed two big switches since 2005 when I last attended this particular gathering. Firstly, although I didn't see much evidence of a credible alternative, there was far less of an assumption that Google AdWords were the business model of choice. And secondly the lobby conversations just seemed much less desperate than last time, when everyone and everything was frenetically for sale.
The iPhone was everywhere. I saw lots of people using Apple's latest, but don't think I saw anyone actually talking into the thing, which means that Nokia's phone-less (?) alternative may do well. We get iPhones in the UK in a couple of weeks, and Talis will be raffling one at our conference the week before that launch. Something tells me that my chances of winning that iPhone are about as high as those for Nokia to send me an N810.
There seemed less of an emphasis upon scheduled evening entertainment than previously. Richard MacManus comments on this, too. From my perspective it was a good thing, as it made my packed schedule of dinner engagements (and a trip to a real San Francisco home) so much easier to manage. In many ways, these (including one with Mr MacManus) were the highlight of the trip.
The main auditorium was a truly unpleasant place to spend time; way too crowded. The overflow room upstairs was a far better bet, complete with comfy sofas, power, wifi (which you could also get downstairs, if your battery was up to the job), and easy access to food and drink. It would have been nice to be able to ask questions with a video link to the sweatshopauditorium downstairs that was bi-directional, though. A second display showing the whole stage would also have been good. The main monitor kept zooming in to provide detail on faces/slides etc; it wasn't always focussed on the thing I considered important.
So what about the meat?
Well, in case you hadn't noticed, Facebook is going to be big. I don't just mean suggestions that Zuckerberg may be 'selling himself short' at a mere $15bn, or evidence that Facebook's platform is delivering profit for third party developers. More than both of those, there was an underlying - often implicit - recognition that growth opportunities lie in pushing content and functionality off our individual websites and into the cloud. Although I've argued before that Facebook is a very long way from being open, it's 'Platform' remains a compelling example of ways in which external content can be aggregated and consumed elsewhere. Imagine what would be possible in a more open ecosystem, an ecosystem of which Facebook could be a part? Were others (MySpace, anyone?) to seed such an ecosystem whilst Facebook remained off to one side, would the rate of fall in Facebook numbers equal or exceed their recent growth?
'Semantic' has arrived; the Metaweb/ Radar Networks/ Powerset pow wow with Tim O'Reilly (pictured) on the final afternoon was great, and was just beginning to go places when they ran out of time. More debate and analysis would have been nice, with (a lot) less demo. This was followed up by John Doerr recognising the whole space as a compelling investment opportunity, echoing trends that Brad Feld highlighted in his recent podcast with me. I found Danny Hillis' explicit distancing of himself from the Semantic Web odd (Shelley just found it funny...); I'll admit that I've done a little of the same, but more to demonstrate that there is plenty that the Semantic Web's building blocks (RDF, GRDDL, etc) can do right now, without needing to await the arrival of The Semantic Web. We do need to find better ways to describe this space, though; 'Web 3.0' can be unnecessarily confrontational/epochal, and 'Semantic Web' carries way too much baggage...
Jonathan Zittrain had some interesting things to say, and they're not nearly as contrarian as they might at first have appeared.
Mary Meeker was good value, as always... although impossible to blog! I was surprised by the lack of reaction to her figures illustrating the fall in US growth, relative to competitors to the east.
Gene sequencing needs to be watched... very closely.
Real people don't think (quite) like geeks and venture capitalists! Craigslist, rejoice...
(Almost) everyone had a Platform, with some more black hole sucking-ish than others. It does appear, all too often, that the web is actually becoming less open than it has been of late. All these Platforms are sucking data and users and developers to themselves, and letting very little flow back out. It certainly fulfils short-term goals around eyeballs, advertisers, and the like. But it's bad for the web and, in the long term, it's got to be bad for (most of?) the guilty.
(Almost) everyone was recognising the power of intention/attention, and seeking ways to implicitly or explicitly harness both. Social and semantic graphs have something to say, here.
Photograph © James Duncan Davidson/O'Reilly Media