Web 2.0 Expo 2009

I knew this time would come. The talks about this thing called social media were great because they used to be in small groups, people passing around knowledge as if around a campfire. Now, in an attempt to codify this knowledge, package it for wider distribution, it’s become wooden – formulaic.

I like the fact that this year’s conference was themed, “The Power of Less” and at it least alluded to the fact that maybe it’s time to get back to simpler roots. Tara Hunt did a great job bringing that folksy delivery to the masses in her talk about Whuffie, her delivery is just as important as the message.  John Maeda’s talk riffed on that theme as well talking about the difference between MIT’s Media Lab and the hands-on artists at the Rhode Island School of Design.

Outside the conference there was a company passing out fliers on how to get 8,000 twitter followers without even trying, I’m not clear on the details but they sounded like Snake Oil salesmen. Just down the street was a guy sitting on a milk crate with an old typewriter on his knees. He was offering to type you up a personal poem on the spot. The Power of Less indeed.

“If your product ain’t real-time, you’re dead.” I think that was the gist of a sticker I saw last week. Basically long-form blogging and analysis are dead. Everyone is focused on the quick fix, easy access you get when you’re the first to hear about something and the first to react. Chartbeat is a real-time stats package that feeds right into the real-time web. I love the fact that you can set up parameters so you know when things are outside the norm but I don’t think I need to know exactly how many people are writing comments at any one time. Quitter has been around for a while but I wonder if I really want to know which tweets drove someone to stop following me.

Sometimes it’s better to have the fuzzy resolution of the non-realtime world. More letters, less tweets. A guy I know who runs a stationary store says that business is up.

It’s all about the pile on – jump onto a hot trend on Techmeme and ride the click-thru wave with the rest of them. There was no IRC backchannel this year – everyone was tweeting away their 140-character updates into the massive, public “in-crowd” of twitters. It’s not only about those in-the-know, there are now a subset of those that heard-it-first. Less about the original perspective, more about the twitch reaction. 

As pimping your product via Social Media goes mainstream, the kids that created this unique space are going to look for somewhre else to hang out. It’s looking like that place will be mobile but we’re going to have to wait a bit longer for all the pieces to fall into place. The iPhone taught everyone that it’s not so much the hardware but the application ecosystem that you build up around the device which drives utility. The Palm Pre will hopefully teach everyone that the phone can truely be a terminal to data stored in the cloud and that a small local cache of you cloud is all you need.

22994459I’m hopeful that the next couple of years will bring together that perfect storm of better/faster that tore down the walls between Compu Serve and AOL in the late-90s and got us the internet. Ubiquitous low-cost wireless bandwidth and app stores will do for us today what the 28.8 Supra modem and usenet did for us back then.

Until then, the image of everyone on BART either pecking away at their phone or turning it over and over again while they talk with someone will stick in my mind. I’ve never seen a technology so pervasive in someone’s life. Right now it’s drawing people away from the face-to-face conversation, the bluetooth headset indicates that anyone you’re talking to is secondary to the random caller on your cell. I’m hoping we can reverse that and make something that brings them back together.