Web 2.0 Reflections

So Web 2.0 Expo is wrapping up today and after spending all of Wednesday and Thursday there, I have a couple of thoughts.

First of all, I have a love-hate with big conferences like this. On one hand there isn’t much intimacy or unscripted presentation, but on the other hand it’s very efficient because the 100 people you really want to meet up with are all in one place. Big events are a fact of life in our business and while there are fewer of them than in years past they are nicely balanced out with smaller more focused events. So in the final equation, it just is what it is.

What was web 2.0 about Web 2.0? Not much apparently. The keynotes were big, packaged, and had little, if any at all, audience participation. The panels and presentations were similarly tight and canned with a lot of “I have 5 minutes for questions”. Tim O’Reilly talks a lot about changing the world with web 2.0, how about changing the way a big conference works first?

The Crowdvine network that they put up was limited (was going to reiterate what I said on twitter, lame, but that’s probably unreasonably harsh). Crowdvine actually followed me on twitter when I had an exchange with Dion Hinchcliffe about it, suggesting that I was looking at it wrong, the point of the social network was to connect before the event and that they then want people to shift to face-to-face meetings at the event. What can you say to that… basically Dion and I were wrong to expect more out of it.

The Expo was using a pretty neat Firefox extension called RoamAbout that enabled, well to be honest I’m not sure what it enabled because it’s a firefox extension that I never got around to installing and it looked like yet-another-thing I would have to deal with. The Expo web page called this the “backchannel” but I’m not sure why, and at any rate the page highlighting the service is a great example of an anti-adoption pattern, no information and a download link.

One much needed service they could have provided would be a interactive map of all the power outlets in the conference center. It was actually quite interesting to see small pods of people develop around every power outlet and the anxious expression on someone’s face when they realized that s/he could join a pod because all the outlets were being used.

There was a twitter profile for the Expo but it’s not clear how they were using it and with Twitter in the state that it has been in this week I’m not sure it would be my first choice anyway. I would have liked to use @EventTrack but for some yet unexplained reason Twitter has been blocking the service.

I guess what I am trying to say is that the conference experience is more important than the conference content. We’ve known for years that the most interesting stuff happens in the hallways and that it is the promise of the unscalable hallway experience taken up online that gets people excited. Having said that, I don’t want to be starting from scratch with yet another social network (YASN), I want to take advantage of services I am already using AND enable a degree of data portability in the process.

The exhibit hall was quite active but featured a long list of companies that I had seen before and was dominated by big vendors like Oracle (pitching CRM no less) and Microsoft. Exhibit halls are how these conferences pay the bills but there simply has to be a better way to do them. I don’t know what else to say…

Some of the presentations were very good, I especially liked the session that RockYou did on monetization of widgets. Lot’s of data and real examples, but in the end just “5 minutes for questions”. Also, where are the session presentations online? It appears that there isn’t a slide sharing service where all of the content is available open and free.

I want to also take a second to thank the folks from Blogtropolus for putting on such a great blogger lounge, which rocked in comparison to the conference media center. They were great hosts and offered a robust wireless network as well as a lively lounge for the couple of days I was at the event. I actually met more people I wanted to see in that lounge than anywhere else at the conference.

I’d close by asking Tim O’Reilly a question: You say web 2.0 can change the way businesses interact with customers, employees, and partners, but Web 2.0 Expo is very much like other industry events that go on and as a customer I had very little engagement about what I want or how I want to get it… so the question is, do you you know your customers?

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