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Web 2.0 Summit: Leading Players Facing Challenges, Push for Openness

It’s the final day of the three day long Web 2.0 Summit , the leading confab for the Web 2.0 era.  It’s been a bustling and busy three days in San Francisco with sessions and discussions on a wide variety of Web 2.0 topics, from Advertising 2.0 and Net Neutrality, to the World of Warcraft and Enterprise 2.0.  Given that the Web 2.0 Summit is an executive level conference, the discussion of business models and company strategies around Web 2.0 has dominated the conversation and not the specific techniques and approaches for actually designing and implementing Web 2.0 services and products.  Those subjects have been moved to the upcoming Web 2.0 Expo next April, which will be a much larger event expo-style conference at Moscone Center.

The leadup to the conference was John Musser’s great 100-page update of the famous five page Web 2.0 description from Tim O’Reilly (John’s comments on the new report here) and the conference also had an exciting Launchpad event to unveil a series of interesting new Web 2.0 sites.  Richard MacManus has the details with links to the sites here on ZDNet.

The two topics that seemed to come up the most often these last three days was 1) how existing major players on the Web can continue on in their leadership roles without significant changes in their business strategies and 2) the need for Web sites and platforms to be as open as possible in order to draw the broadest range of audience and adoption.  In a profiled afternoon conversation on day two, AOL’s Jonathan Miller seemed to clearly understand these issues — which are actively facing his company today — as it heads into the world of user generated contact and social networks, two forces that are growing large new Web startups, and hence competition, very rapidly.  These new fast growth site models , such as the ones used with YouTube and MySpace, are not however providing clear paths for way for public company to please their investors (net revenue.) Miller also observed that many large companies are not in a position to acquire hot properties like Google did with YouTube.

In another public conversation in the main ballroom right after Jonathan Miller was Microsoft’s Ray Ozzie delved into the issues that Microsoft is facing, that started out by focusing on the challenge of how to adapt Microsoft’s flagship operating system product, Vista — as well as their most profitable product, Office — more effectively to the Web.  The Internet, particularly with Web 2.0 sites, has become the pre-eminent new “superplatform” and it’s a significant challenge to Microsoft to stay relevant in a world where the browser is increasingly the center of attention for the software experience.  Ray seemed sanguine about the opportunities however and Vista certainly has many features, such as pervasive built-in syndication, that will certainly pull Vista closer to the Web.

But it was openness that was clearly the most prevalent topic, with discussions on how companies should free their content and services to be used a wider range of situations, particularly from 3rd party entities, even forming the foundation of other products and services offered by entirely different companies.  Openness can also take many forms, from syndicating content to providing well-defined and monetized Web service APIs, and if you don’t provide a technical and legal basis for doing so, challenges will only increase as the limited numbers of ways that content and services will reduce the number of overall business opportunities available.  And it puts companies that don’t do this at a competitive disadvantage to companies that do open up.  Finally, openness creates the potential for unintended uses, particular as small, more focused content is opened up (smaller chunks are more reusable and general purpose).  It was clear in many discussions, such as with Jonathan Miller, that it’s well understood that walled gardens just aren’t a viable online business model any longer.Strategies for Creating Open Web Sitesand Platforms

As culled from Web 2.0 Summit discussions and other known best practices…

  1. Liberate content and services via a public, open API.  Content will continue to be separated from the experiences that mediate access to it, this makes adaptable experiences possible. Example: RSS readers let users consume content in the ways they choose and have control over.  Doing this turns your Web application into a platform and is one of the most important habits of highly effective Web sites .
  2. Syndicate as well as use Web services to open up data. Each method has clear strengths such as discoverability, ease of consumption, or on-demand control.  Example: This means RSS or Atom as well as REST or SOAP.
  3. Make it legal to reuse content.  Don’t charge if you can help it, consider monetizing it via advertising, transaction fees, or subscriptions.  Don’t cripple unintended uses, such as Yahoo!’s limits on their APIs, vs. Amazon’s profitable emphasis on unlimited use.
  4. Diligently build trust and credibility No one will use your open data or services unless there is trust and credibility in the site.  This is very hard to establish and is easily lost.  This is one of the hardest intangibles of openness to manage.
  5. Expect the unexpected.  Opening up a site means that others will dream of ways of using your data and services in ways you couldn’t imagine.  Often this means they’ll use it as a free resource to achieve something that wasn’t possible before in terms of scale or volume.  Be prepared for extreme situations and be sure to monitor your feeds and open services and be prepared to throttle them for malicious or inadvertent waste.

There were plenty of other good sessions at the show and I attended one of the best ones late on the morning of the first day, a great talk from IBM about enterprise mashups, situational software , SOA, and Web 2.0, which are all colliding and combining to make it easier for companies to clear out their application backlog.

Also see great coverage by Stowe BoydRichard MacManus , and I hate to say it but ValleyWag, who has relentlessly live blogged the conference.

Announcing Web 2.0 University 

Finally, and pardon the shameless self-promotion, we did have our own big news at the Web 2.0 Summit, namely that O’Reilly Media — the company that coined the term “Web 2.0” and described the trend to the world — and my firm, Hinchcliffe & Company, jointly announced on Wednesday that we’ve formed strategic partnership to join forces on a series of premier services around Web 2.0.  You can read a complete overview of our first major new service, which is already available, called Web 2.0 University. We believe this full series of education and consulting solutions around Web 2.0 will bring intensive, hands-on services around the specific design patterns and business models of Web 2.0.  The premise is that companies are increasingly becoming aware that they need to apply Web 2.0 models to the core of their existing products and services and these services will help them get there quickly and with a minimum of disruption.  So far, early interest has been intriguingly high.

The Web 2.0 Expo will be upon us before we know it.  The deadline for proposals is tomorrow, November 10th, so get them in if you’re interested in presenting. See you there!

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