The economy may be in a tailspin, but last week’s Web 2.0 Expo proved that some start-ups have enough wind in their sails to see it through to the other side. The secret sauce of rocking through this downturn – and the theme of the conference – is doing more with less.
Now in its third year, the Web 2.0 Expo played host to web designers, developers, entrepreneurs, marketers, business strategists, and venture capitalists. Janetti Chon, Community Manager for Tech Web (expo co-sponsor, along with O’Reilly Media,) described the main theme of the conference a quest for, “not only for the hot new thing, but for the failures to learn from, the innovations and inspirations, the successes that will surprise you, and the practical applications of all of the above.”
In the tradition of embracing my Attention Deficit Disorder while blogging about something I could spend hours commenting on, here’s an unabashedly chaotic and subjective look at the conference and its high-points, low-points, and every scary mascot and Marketing Fail in between.
Over the Next Few Weeks The Daily Anchor Will be Featuring Some of the Hottest Companies and Products we Discovered at the W2E:
- Yola (formerly SynthaSite): Easy-to-use widget-based platform for creating websites
- Nomee: All-in-one social networking software
- Doodle: A free online coordination tool which makes it easy to find a date and time for a group event.
- Lunch: Social sharing network fueled by your curiosity
- SocialText: Enterprise social networking + collaboration
- Gawkk: Like Twitter for videos: discover, share, and discuss videos
- Super Rewards: Virtual currency monetization platform
- Goose Grade: Lets blog readers become copyeditors
- Zoho: A suite of productivity, collaboration, and business apps
- Wrike: integrated online project management solution that helps you manage projects, teams and businesses.
- And a few others
First Things First: Failures
(Because we learn the most from our mistakes)
- Mascot Fail: I’m still having nightmares about MindTouch’s mascot. I have no idea what a 5’5″ tall scary-looking rabbit has to do with social enterprise software. Actually, clarification, any company with a mascot automatically fails. Give that costume back to your local high school, you big bullies.
-WiFi Fail: If you were lucky enough to connect to the official “w2e” WiFi network at all, chances are that your browsing experience was akin to that of using a 56k dial-up modem back in 1994, except every 2-5 minutes you’d lose your connection, which I guess makes it even worse than dial-up. Conference organizers assured us it wasn’t a bandwidth issue, but the problems persisted for all 4 days, so what, pray tell, was the issue? Shoddy internet at a Web 2.0 conference? Oh the irony.
- Electricity Fail: This one falls on Moscone. Conference organizers had the foresight to provide a “power-up” area with tables, chairs, and ample power strips for attendees to recharge during sessions, but with zero plugs to be found in the Keynote hall or seminar rooms and with sessions running anywhere from 90 minutes to 3.5 hours (with not much break time in between,) many an attendee ran their batteries to the ground. If Virgin Atlantic is able to provide electrical outlets beneath every seat, shouldn’t San Francisco’s largest convention center?
- Name Fail #1: “Web 2.0 Expo.” The concept of anything being “2.0″ is so 2004, which in tech-years is like the last ice age. Tim O’Reilly admits he loves and hates the term, and concedes it’s outdated.
- Name Fail #2: “Website Magazine” was a sponsor/vendor. Do I even need to comment? I mean, really? The fact that you’re handing out a print publication called “Website Magazine” at a Web conference is just too hilarious for words. I tried clicking on the subscribe button but nothing happened. My advice? Re-launch it online and call it “Website Website.”
- Name Fail #3: Is anybody else sick of the whole compound-word naming scheme? (Think CoreMedia, ImageSpan, GooseGrade, KickFire, LogicWorks, MindTouch, OrangeSoda, etc.) Ugh.
- Name Fail #4: Speaking of the compound-word naming scheme, I was pretty amused to find two companies that combined the color “blue” with a type of fruit to name their company… BlueKiwi and BlueMango. On a related note, quick props to SynthaSite for rebranding itself as Yola last week. I like it. You’ve gotta hit the SEO hard (and fast) though: the #1 search result is Urban Dictionary, which defines Yola as “another slang term for cocaine.” …I don’t think those are the quite the customers you’re looking for.
- Etiquette Fail: To “hi, this is Paul” with the pony tail and black t-shirt in the Keynote hall – and plenty of others – what made you think it was acceptable to answer your cell phone during a Keynote and carry on a conversation? Not once, but twice! And you didn’t even try to talk in an indoor voice.
- Marketing Fail #1: This is a shout-out to every vendor with a vanilla logo and busy backdrop that failed to include any mention of what type of service you offer on your pop-up banners or at-a-glance marketing materials. Don’t expect attendees to walk up and ask what service you provide, expect them to approach you only if they’re attracted to the service you’re offering and are interested enough to bite.
- Marketing Fail #2: If you’re going to hand out a pocketed folder containing your “marketing” materials (the quotes are necessary, trust me,) then be sure that the cover displays YOUR brand name, not the brand name of the folder-maker and that, your brand name appears on at least one of the top pages inside. Also, spring for the folders with the little cutouts for a business card, instead of the ones with the temperature conversion chart and multiplication table. I’m not going to call you out; you know who you are.
- Lanyard Fail: They were so noisy! In seminars I felt like I was in a slot pit in Vegas. I’m sure it went down like this… Conference Organizer #1: “Let’s see how big and fancy we can make the clasps on the lanyards.” Organizer #2: “But won’t that be hella annoying every time someone shifts in their seat during a seminar?” Organizer #1: “omg, indb!”
- Market Saturation Fail: Exactly just how many companies were promoting their “enterprise wiki / social networking” platform at the W2E? Five? Fifty? Five hundred? So far SocialText is my fav but I think we’re going to have to do some head-to-head comparisons al la Chris Matthew’s HardBall.
- Pants Fail:
Now this was pretty cool. W2E blogging partners were given an opportunity to meet with Conference Chairs Tim O’Reilly, Brady Forrest, and Jennifer Pahlka in an intimate, 45-minute-long, invite-only, roundtable session. While the conversation strayed from the main themes at times – as conversations with bloggers are prone to do – there were some great questions and equally great answers. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Tim O’Reilly on what to say when someone chastises you for not remembering them: “It’s not that I don’t remember your name, I don’t remember your face.” Love it.
- On the plight of print media: “The jury is out. Print is a different kind of user interface, and sometimes it’s better. Magazines are a different tactile experience than a website; you don’t have to be worried about spilling something on it as you would be if it were an electronic device. There is still demand, and the demand is summed up by a quote of Seth Godin’s, ‘a book is a souvenir.’ The book as a souvenir is a driving force of print. There’s a lot of different drivers, and you have to really compose your thinking on what job you’re trying to accomplish. From a publisher’s perspective, it’s also a way of saying, ‘we have arrived.’” (Tim O’Reilly)
- On attending a conference vs. watching videos online and reading about it afterward:
Q: (Miguel Cavalcanti) “Does posting keynote videos and seminar presentations online weaken the point of physically attending a conference?”
A: (Brady Forest, O’Reilly Media) “No, there’s something about being there live; you want to see the person speak, say you were there, that’s your souvenir. Also, watching a video online at home is never going to replace the face-to-face meetings with people you meet in the hallways and the conversations you have, the deals that are made there…We don’t put up, actually, all the videos from the conference, it’s just the keynotes. The contents of the sessions don’t actually end up online.”
Q: (Ben Keppes, BizChat) “But if face-to-face is the most important, then aren’t coffee breaks more important than seminars? …Will Tweetups replace conferences?”
A: (Tim O’Reilly, O’Reilly Media) “Well, I don’t know, I saw a session down the hall with people spilling out, standing in the hall. Every industry is changing, and some events won’t survive, but the point of going to conference is get my staff up to speed on the latest technologies, they’re not going to say, “oh yeah, go out and find a tweetup,” they’re going to say “hey, this is really worth doing, go spend 3 days at this event, come back, and use your skills.”
A: (Janetti Chon, TechWeb) “The original question came from a Micah, who is from Brazil, and Ben responded, who is from New Zealand, and one thing that Jen [Pahlka, TechWeb] and I talk about is that this is a once in a lifetime gathering of these people and that will never get replicated; you can’t get that from online content. I think the strength of our conference is that we curate and cut out the noise for people who are looking for great content.”
A: (Jennifer Pahlka, TechWeb) “I agree that curation is the focus, I think that essentially what we’re selling is the context. Twitter has greatly increased the demand for people to meet. The market for face-to-face interaction is just giant at this point, so there’s really not, in my mind, any competition between TweetUps and conferences, there’s just this insatiable desire for people to meet in real life once they’ve met over Twitter, and some of that will happen at conferences and some of that will happen at TweetUps. It’s not an ‘either-or’, it’s very much an ‘and.’”
A: (Micah Baldwin) “I think the future of all media – whether it be publishing or events or video – is that curation. Picking what you want to tweet, publish, blog about. It’s the curating of it, that reTweet, that adds value. It’s that structure; the shared context, the keynotes, the place that everyone’s at, the space, the framework that in turn gives you the structure to interact. ”
Choice Keynote Presentations
“Web 2.0: 5 Years On” (Tim O’Reilly)
“Best Practices in Social Media Integration for Web Publishers and Content Providers” (Bob Buch, Digg)
“The Whuffie Factor: The 5 Keys for Maxing Social Capital and Winning with Online Communities” (Tara Hunt, Citizen Agency)
“Beyond Buzz: On Measuring a Conversation”(Katie Niederhoffer & Marc Smith)
Workshop Presentation Files
Two things are for sure:
1. The only thing more tiring than attending a 4-day conference is attending a 4-day conference on crutches 10 days after knee surgery.
2. I’m absolutely planning to attend the Web 2.0 Expo next year, and you should too (or the W2E in New York this fall!)
…And then I found $10!