Green Card for Business and a Red Card for Google

Web 2.0 ExpoWeb 2.0 Expo is in full flow. Yesterday the Digital Mission companies had the opportunity to check out the talks and keynotes.

It was an interesting tone, as Mr Web 2.0 himself, Tim O'Reilly took to the stage to give a speech that was both a 'state of the web' address and a challenge to Google: Would they persue an open web or would they take the path of "one ring to rule them all," producing increasingly closed systems.

Tim O'Reilly

Google's recent announcement of turn-by-turn directions and speech recognition services are a head-on challenge to very large and established industry players. We take the openness of the web for granted, but Tim was quick to point out that it is far from a given.

Facebook's recent URL stripping of Twitter status messages entering the platform caused a bit of a story. Apparently it was a system bug, but it was taken as a sign closing the platform, locking out potential competitors. Of course they still have their "you are entering the big-bad-scary web" warning messages each time you click on an external link. Again, something that might be down to an over enthusiastic legal team rather than an intent to frighten people into staying on their platform.

"Do the right thing. You will gratify some people and astonish the rest." - Mark Twain

Tim O'Reilly"Data is the Intel Inside" of the Internet, but Tim feels that instead of the Internet as a platform, we may be entering an era of Microsoft as a platform, Google as a platform, etc… as services like Azure and Google Apps create separate data ecosystems. Web businesses would be wise to keep a sharp eye on these dynamics.

There is a big difference between a loose affiliation of web-based services ("small pieces, loosely joined" as Tim put it) and a battle of "one ring to rule them all" systems that attempt to lock users in with a cheaper-than-free model.

The phrase left ringing in my head after Tim's keynote was the Jeff Jarvis quote: "Do what you do best. Link to the rest." - Wise advice for journalists and web-businesses alike.

Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson,

After Tim, there was a fire-side chat with Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson of Digg. They are clearly focussed on growing the platform, and I couldn't sensing that they feared being stuck as a mid-size player. Digg is no slouch, with tens of thousands of contributions each day and millions of hits, but the human-recommended-web is a highly competitive space, with new entrants every day.

The conversation was full of advice for entrepreneurs. Kevin and Jay see now as an easier time to start. Costs are lower, and development platforms have become more accessible both in functionality and in price. Kevin repeated the Web 2.0 mantra - "release early, release often. iterate as fast as possible." - the strategy for rapidly moving market places.

Chris Brogan, New Marketing Labs

Chris Brogan's speech challenged people to think more socially about their business. His main advice - "How do we share?" Ask that question a lot, he urged, in social media, listen, more than you worry about what to say. "How do we develop relationships that yield?" - customer interaction is changing, especially on the web - communities are a powerful structure, but audiences and communities are different, and require different strategies not just a different tone of voice.

"the difference between an audience and a community is which way you turn their chairs"

Caterina Fake, Hunch

Talking to the Digital Mission companies afterwards, Caterina Fake came across as the highlight of the day. Her battle story, as co-founder of legendary photo-sharing site Flickr, was quite inspiring. Flickr apparently came out of a failure - it was a business that set out to do one thing, ran out of money and then did Flickr instead - 90% of the features were built by 6 developers. Their model of incredible complexity made to look amazingly simple, is one that crowned them king of the photo-sharing space - leading to their acquisition by Yahoo!.

Caterina now has a new start up, Hunch, which takes that same theme of making it easy for lots of people to contribute little things that combine to make something big, beautiful and almost magical. Yes, I'm a bit of a Flickr fan-boy too.

Danah Boyde, Microsoft

Danah Boyde, now of Microsoft, unintentionally gave a dual path demonstration of the power of information flow. She appeared slightly tired and nervous as she took to the stage, and as she talked the Twitter stream on the huge screen behind her became increasingly snarky - even by British standards. "Slow down and take a breath" the tweets urged, but of course she couldn't see them, as she read from her notes.

The text of her talk is here - It is a good one, and if you are interested in understanding what social media is doing to people and society, it is a must read. However, Danah's academic style and rapid delivery isn't something that can be digested whilst simultaneously tweeting and reading the back channel. When the screen was temporarily switched off, the atmosphere in that huge auditorium completely changed. At least for a few moments, until it came back on. "We are moving from broadcast media to networked media" said Danah, and it would appear that we are in the child-like stage of this new world.

Digital Mission FolksWhile some of the digital mission companies took the chance to recuperate, others headed across town for meetings with prospects and potential partners. Because of the number of events in New York this week, it seems that almost everyone from the digital industry is in town.

These are interesting times. Web 2.0 Expo and the digital mission last year coincided with the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and while the big banks on this side of the pond are paying back the government money that bailed them out, there is still the feeling of an economy that is in the process of being rebuilt. As Caterina Fake said in her interview, now really is the best time to be starting a business here.