The signature experience of the Web 2.0 Summit was hearing the roar of the schmoozing, networking crowd out in the hall every time the door to main conference session room was opened — there was the distinct sense that there was more excitement outside the conference than inside the conference. If you wanted to meet potential investors and partners, Web 2.0 was the place to be. This was by no means a poor reflection on the conference program — John Battelle is a great interviewer, and he went mano-a-mano with a who’s who of the industry, asking tough, probing questions to which no one seemed able to give very satisfying answers. But there were few revelations, few moments where you had the exhilarating experience of seeing something that was about to change the world. Every conversation I had began with discussing the underwhelming nature of Web 2.0, as Richard MacManus and Liz Gannes expressed in their conference wrap-ups.
The paradigm shift phase is over — Web 2.0 entered the hard, unsexy phase of figuring out how to build long-term sustainable businesses. There were many obligatory references to the fantastic potential of online video — but as to what the BUSINESS of online video will look like, there weren’t many insights beyond the obvious observation that everyone hates pre-roll ads. Microsoft dazzled with its Photosynth three-dimensional photo visualizations software — but they made no pretense to knowing what businesses might emerge from this technology.
One of my favorite moments at Web 2.0 was listening to Jeff Bezos talk about Amazon’s Web Services. Extending Amazon’s infrastructure to offer “pay by the sip” resources for scaling online infrastructure seemed so perfectly logical as Bezos described it. Battelle asked Bezos the obvious question of why a retailer would get into web services? Bezos’ answer — Why not? We’ve got excess infrastructure. We run a high volume, low margin business. Duh.
Another great moment was hearing Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie argue that the web as operating system is not (yet) a panacea — there are some things that offline local client applications still do better — like provide truly reliable, instantaneous applications. Although Microsoft as a deep vested interest in offline software, Ozzie’s argument was compelling and well articulated. Marissa Mayer later talked about Google’s struggle to meet user expectations for fast, reliable application in an online environment. Companies like Omnidrive and Zimbra bragged about online/offline integration.
The infrastructure for Web 2.0 is still in a transitional period. The network is not ubiquitous, not entirely reliable — web applications simulate the ideal user experience, but don’t yet fully deliver it. The web as operating system will eventually be a reality, but online business strategy needs to be anchored in the realization that we’re not there yet.