It's been a pretty action-packed day here at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco between a full slate of sessions and a number of briefings with companies who are announcing interesting new or improved products and services here at the event. One of the trends I see is that there a number of companies here that also appeared at DEMO 2007 in January in Palm Desert who are now announcing significant new milestones for the services and products they launched at that event just a few months ago. Web time is indeed becoming increasingly accelerated.
I've had a chance to meet with a couple of these companies already to see how they're progressing. Prior to heading to his event, I had a phone briefing with Nexo, a social portal builder service that is now taking aim on the business marketplace. Their website promises businesses an easy, cost-effective way to create a secure site to collaborate and communicate with co-workers, clients, or business partners. Nexo creates a private space for workgroups to share files, emails, task lists, calendars, blogs, pictures, and other information objects. A point I am in complete agreement with the Nexo folks about is that e-mail is a poor tool for collaboration and was never intended as a way to create community. Wikis, at least in their raw form, are too cumbersome for "regular people" to set up, use, and maintain.
Earlier today, I met with SharedBook CEO Caroline Vanderlip who showed me the evolution their content aggregation and publishing engine has gone through since they were at DEMO. They're offering their print-on-demand-driven engine for creating unique, personalized books as a white label service to a wide variety of content owners to allow people to collect, organize, format, annotate, and print soft-and hardcover books in any quantity. The possibilities appear boundless to offer new ways to repurpose content and develop new revenue streams for the content owners and to produce more personal and meaningful artifacts for consumers.
I attended two sessions this morning on the Design track. The first, moderated by Richard MacManus of Read/Write Web, featured Kelly Goto, Chris Messina, and Jeremy Keith (filling in nicely for Emily Chang who was ill). The topic of the session, The New Hybrid Designer, was an really interesting discussion of how the role of the designer has changed from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0 and from a page-oriented evolution of print-biased design to a role that incorporates skills in interaction design, agile development, customer-facing design, and development based on tools like AJAX and Ruby on Rails leveraging the ever-increasing set of APIs and web services being made available.
One of the most interesting discussions in the session was precipitated when Messina voiced his concerns that "containers" for web functionality like Adobe Apollo and Microsoft Silverlight would make it harder to create dynamic applications that leverage these data streams as they will, he predicted, created new "walled gardens" by obscuring what is currently a pretty open playing field of ideas and techniques. Keith added the observation that by hiding the source for the hybrid applications created using these tool, up and coming designers would lose a valuable learning resource that runs counter to the spirit of a read/write web built using open, standardized tools. Needless to say, the room was pretty sympathetic to the sentiments expressed by the panel.
The second session I attended this morning was titled Embracing the Chaos and was presented by Mike Bletzner, chief phenomenologist for the Mozilla organization. As someone who appreciates great job titles, I have to admit to being pretty envious of Mike whose current title was preceded by “porcine makeup artist”. In his his talk, he discussed the dynamics of community as they relate to the development of a popular, open standards application like Firefox. Among the high points from his presentation were the following facts and ideas:
The three skills required to deal with the chaos of a community-driven project are to:
- Listen to your community. Bletzner observed that, humbling though it may be to admit it, they’re often smarter than you.
- Lead your community. Provide parameters of success to help guide their way. He mentioned the military concept of using “Commander’s intent” – a one-line statement of purpose as a header on all orders sent into the field – as a model for consistently communicating the ultimate goal of any effort in whcih the community is invited to participate..
- Let your community play and experiment (which should be pretty self-explanatory to anyone who appreciates the current school of thought about innovation and the unintended but completely desirable consequences of creative play).
Beltzner also shared the astonishing (to me anyway) fact that 37% of the Firefox 2.x code has come from the community and that, based on their analysis, doubling the size of their internal development staff (currently 40) would not significantly change that ratio.
I'm off to a press briefing right now followed by a trip to the just-opened show floor. More to follow... Stay tuned.