Tuesday, April 17, 2007

O'Reilly Web 2.0 Expo: Thoroughly Unimpressive == Very Encouraging

I spent some time at the Web 2.0 Expo yesterday, and as tech shows go, it was pretty weak:
  • The show floor was obviously, painfully small, even for a one of the smallest rooms in Moscone
  • Some of the BigCo sponsors seemed detached and irrelevant
  • The "food and libations" where hard to find, hard to pry away from vendors, and generally in short supply
  • The genuine web 2.0 plays seemed like they weren't sure why they were here; they weren't adept at engaging those of us who wanted to learn stuff that's not obvious from 5 minutes on the website
  • The tooling companies got a ton of attention, and were not prepared to leverage the attention... I went back to one tooling booth no less than four times to try and get a demo and conversation, but they were in long one-on-ones and had no bandwidth and no "backup chatters" (the ones who typically try to engage you at a show, triage you, and then if you seem important go the extra mile to find you the Chief Architect or the VP of Foobar to talk to)
  • The companies trying to sell services (consultants) have not figured out how to get attention and relevance
Wow. That sounds real bad. But I was elated, actually, and not because I'm working on a secret new thing and I wanted to feel superior to some competitors.

Instead, I realized that web 2.0 and the traditional tech conference are at odds conceptually. They don't make sense together, and the fact that this was obvious so fast means the web 2.0 ecosystem has not in fact been corrupted by so much froth that it starts looking like 1999.

I was really thrilled to see that by this yardstick there's a whole lot more runway for web 2.0 innovation before this plane floats up and away.

Lemme run through that list another time and tell you exactly what I liked:
  • Small show floow? Who needs a show floor? Web 2.0 exists on the -- gasp -- web! It's good to talk to the humans at these companies, but booth square footage is unimportant.
  • Big corps seemed irrelevant? well, many of them are irrelevant ... a web 2.0 meme is they became irrelevant as this wave of innovation took hold: Pricey license to get started? Whatever. Enterprise web stack with more classes in it than my app has lines of code? (I'm not exaggerating, this is a true story!) Get real. Proprietary SDK with a restrictive license agreement? No thanks, buddy.
  • Not enough free food and drink? This means there isn't hot and cold running money just yet, and the folks who absolutely must have hors d'oevres aren't there. Web 2.0 is more about Promax bars and BevMo (or Costco) than about catering.
  • Real web 2.0 plays seem flatfooted in the "traditional conference setting" -- of course they do. The traditional tech conference is really a marketing-oriented event. These companies were on the cluetrain from the beginning -- their marketing is via their users, and their web forums and wikis (with employee participation) are the best part of a tradeshow everyday, without the nonsense. Their schwag is the free service you can use right off their website.
  • Tooling is going to be increasingly important, and the best tooling companies will get their stuff together as the market matures. I think these companies got caught a little by surprise, and still have to work out a way to charge enough to stay in business, without charging too much to... stay in business.
  • Lastly, the consultants. I believe there is a place for consulting in the new web world (after all, I work for a consulting firm) but the traditional pitch is going to have to change. There are a number of themes I think make real down-to-earth sense around web 2.0 consulting, but they'll have to wait for another post.
When JavaOne turned the corner (in a bad way) and started looking like this show, it was clear the excitement was overwith. Java is an enterprise-style ecosystem. (Not that you can't build small agile things in Java if you really want, but seriously, do you really want?) It thrived on enterprise-scale players making huge investments with money, hardware, teams, code. Tons of mid-size software shops flourished, selling apps that run $100 up to $800 a seat, and there was money in it because it helped build even bigger enterprise systems. Lots of money, lots of free beer.

When JavaOne went small, it was a symptom of a serious illness. But then the virus took up a home in web 2.0 like some kind of endosymbiont and here we are.

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