Web 2.0 Summit

This year I was able to go to the Web 2.0 Summit. Web 2.0 is billed as an executive conference, and it lives up to its billing. There is much more focus on business than technology, even though the web is technology through and through.

The World

The web is a global place, but for Americans, at least this American, it is easy to forget that. Wm Elfrink from Cisco did a great job discussing how internet technologies are changing society all over the world. I also enjoyed John Battelle’s interview with Baidu CEO, Robin Li. There is a lot of interesting stuff happening outside the United States, and it is only a matter of time before some of that starts working its way into American internet culture.

Inspiration

Mary Meeker is famous for being an information firehose, and she did not disappoint. Her 15 minute session contained more information than many of the longer talks and interviews. I wish that she had been given double the time, or an interview after her talk. Fortunately her talk and slides are available online.

Schulyer Erle did an Ignite presentation titled How Crowdsourcing Changed Disaster Relief Forever, which was about how OpenStreetMaps was able to help with the Haiti disaster relief effort, and provide a level of help and service heretofore unseen. It’s good to technology making a real difference in the world.

Vinod Khosla gave a very inspiring talk about innovation. The core idea was that you have to ignore what conventional wisdom says is impossible, improbable or unlikely. Market research studies and focus groups won’t lead to breakthough innovations.

The session which resonated the most with me was the Point of Control session on Education, with David Guggenheim (director of Waiting for Superman), Ted Mitchell, and Diana Rhoten. Long time readers will know that our kids have been home schooled (although as they are getting older, we are transitioning them into more conventional settings), so perhaps it’s no surprise that the topic would engage me strongly. One of my biggest reasons for homeschooling was that almost all modern education, whether public or private is based on industrialized schooling – preparing kids to live in a lock-step command and control world. Homeschooling allows kids to learn what they need to learn at their own pace, whether that pace is “fast” or “slow”. One of the panelists, I think it was Ted Mitchell, described their goal as “distributed customized direct to student personalized learning”. That’s something that all students could use.

Just Business

Ron Conway’s Crystal Ball session was chance to see some new companies, and was a refreshing change from some of the very large companies that dominated the Summit. The problem with the large public companies is that their CEO’s have had tons of media training and are very good at keeping on message, which makes them pretty boring.

The Point of Control session on Finance got pretty lively. I thought that it was valuable to get two different VC perspectives on the market today, and on particular companies. One of the best sections was the part where Fred Wilson took John Doerr to task over Google’s recent record on innovation.

I’m a Facebook user but I’m not a rabid Facebook fan. Julie and I saw “The Social Network” when it came out in theaters, so I was curious to see Mark Zuckerberg speak in person. He did much better than I expected him to. While there wasn’t much in the way of new content, at least Zuckerberg demonstrated that he can do an interview the way that a big company CEO should.

Postscript

I found the content at Web 2.0 to be pretty uneven. Since this was my first year, I don’t have a lot to compare it to. I will note that the last time I went a high end O’Reilly conference (ETech, circa 2006), I had a similar problem with content not quite matching expectations. For Web 2.0 this year, there turned out to be a simple predictor for the quality of a session. If John Heilemann was doing an interview, more likely than not it would be a good one.

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