Web 2.0 Summit: Long tails, forgotten trails

The Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco last week was intended as a gathering of the best Internet minds talking strategy, but at times it felt like a big group hug: "Congratulations, we survived the bubble bursting!"

Although its more than five years since Web 1.0 came crashing down, many from that era still strut their stuff at these events, including Netscape's Marc Andreesen, Yahoo's David Filo , and every VC who wants to find the next Google.

But the hype has more reality in it now, and that reality was palpable at this event. The Internet is bigger and there's a whole lot more money flowing through it than in 2000. The Internet has gone global (only 20 percent of Internet users were North American in 2006, according to Morgan Stanley's Mary Meeker).

And rather than exuding a get-lucky mentality, participants here seemed to accept that there's lots of competition and commoditization out there, and that if you build something, it had better deliver real value to users at a low price.

Even Google seems to have gotten this religion, with CEO Eric Schmidt, for example, warning the collected entrepreneurs to "never trap an end-user's data, let them move it around if they want ... we're even going to do this with search data; it will keep us honest."

And nobody blinked when Chinese Internet kingpin Jack Ma said his company planned to launch a Web-based enterprise software suite. Why wouldn't he, if he has the developers, the capital, and the local market knowledge?

Everybody here wants to become a platform, to build out their connection with customers into something broader and deeper. "If you want to be a survivor, you have to go from being a killer app to a killer platform," said Salesforce.com's Marc Benioff.

"Why not do it?" asked Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos, summing up the free-for-all attitude as he explained why his company launched a suite of Web services that seemingly have very little to do with its core retail business.

"This is what we've been doing for 11 years, operating Web-scale apps, high volume, high transaction," Bezos continued. "To me, Web 2.0 is computers talking to computers ... this is a great business." Hmmm ... or could it be that Amazon builds its own IT capacity for the Christmas peak load and has a lot of idle hardware sitting around the rest of the year?

The new new thing this year was the presence of true media bigwigs -- people such as IAC/Interactive's Barry Diller or The New York Times Co.'s Arthur Sulzberger Jr. Althought their companies already have a significant Web presence (About.com, Ask.com, Ticketmaster, Match.com, and others), you couldn't help but feel they were here playing catch-up to the latest potential dinosaur killers like YouTube or MySpace. ("Yes, we got rid of Jeeves, we don't know where he is," confessed Diller, unemotionally, in his best laugh line).

Also, traditional tech companies such as Microsoft , Adobe, and even Intel , who've long danced on the Web's edges were here in force, trying to reinvent and reposition themselves.

Most of the attendees in the audience (when not out in the hallways doing deals) were surfing election results, Techcrunch, or tracking their site's traffic on Google Analytics. Video seemed to be the app on everyone's minds.

"This year something happened," proclaimed Google's Schmidt. "Video became a fundamental data type on the Internet." Morgan Stanley's Meeker presented stats showing that as much as 60 percent of Internet traffic may be P2P sharing of "unmonetized" video. And that while the global internet is experiencing 10-15 percent annual user growth, usage growth is in the 20-30 percent range. She pointed to Skype, with 136 Million registered users, growing as much as 80 percent a year. "Skype may be the fastest growing product in history," she said. (For more of these stats, see Meeker's full presentation here .)

So who will the winners be?

"Who's the dog that's really wagging the long tail?" asked conference organizer Tim O'Reilly in the best mixing of metaphors at this year's event. He'd apparently forgotten the old Web 1.0 saying ... on the Internet, no one knows you're a dog!

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