Web 2.0 Elephant

When Tim O Reilly coined the Web 2.0 term. Then the collective intelligence went to work and added their own definitions. I just came out of a Web Innovation 2007 conference in Bangalore. A bunch of us there were in a deep quest and introspection of how Web 2.0 can help the common man. But that did not prevent us from fantasizing a bit. The number of different descriptions were as varied as the participants and the speakers. Here is a small sample.

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Web Innovation 2007: My Awards

This is not fair to all the speakers since I could attend only a few (switching between tech tracks and business track) and trying to stay awake after heavy lunch, I might have missed a few other gems. But of the sessions I attended here are the best in each category.

The best show – Marc Canter

In addition to educating and entertaining and patiently answering lots of questions, Marc provided the most enjoyable evening program. He even danced a bit and gave a few pearls of wisdom. I love this one:

Rich people can’t be happy

The best presentation – Rohit Agarwal

It had all the elements of a good bollywood movie’s equivalent in a tech conference. It had wisdom, it had enough technology advice, it had a great list of dos and don’ts and a frank assessment of lessons learned. It was the best ROI for the 40+ minutes spent.

The most interactive presenter – Kiruba Shankar

Kiruba was kind enough to let the audience talk (a lot) and patiently added his opinions. He was great at harvesting the collective intelligence (and believe me, there was a lot of it).

The most patient and open minded soul

This award goes to Devishankar, the project manager of the show. I went up to him and told him flat out that I was very unhappy with the quality of the presentations (which on the first day was mostly product pitches by vendors). He was patient, gave me a slot to do some lightning talks (which I screwed up royally, Kiruba would have done a better job).

Cool Dudes

The five guys who braved a rapidly dwindling audience to come and talk about what they were doing and shared their knowledge from the scaling problems they faced to products they were building. To me they are the true spirit of the conference.

Web Innovations 2007: A Few Impressions

Here are few images/impressions I am left with after two days of this conference.

  • Marc Canter is a cool dude. He delivered what he promised before his talk – educate and entertain
  • Some sound advice from lots of people – Don’t build yet another Social Network
  • All great sessions had one similarity – people who run their businesses sharing what they did, how they did and why they did it. This is invaluable. You can not get this in any book
  • All the vendor presentations were yawn inspiring and uniformly boring. I think they missed a great chance by just doing product demos or pitches.
  • There were some cool dudes among the delegates. I could only meet a few since the structure of the event was more towards broadcast mode lecture format.
  • The little stories – a couple of developers from Kerala, two guys from Sudan, a girl who moved from VA, USA to Bangalore. These were the coolest part of the conference.
  • There were a couple of sessions where the entertainment value far exceeded information value. But that was alright for a change.
  • The tech content of the conference was stale with a few exceptions. Web 2.0 is more than 2 years old. Most of the stuff talked about is some thing that most people know. The title said Web 2.0 and beyond. The beyond part was definitely missing.
  • I think every one is searching for a relevant social network for India. This is where many opportunities exist.

Overall, I think unconferences are way cooler than regular conferences. I may be a bit biased here. I don’t mind regular conferences as long as:

  • The sponsors don’t spend all the time on product pitches and demos
  • Speakers stop talking 2/3rd of the way and take questions for the rest of the time
  • There are plenty of BOFs or similar informal, spontaneous interactions
  • There is enough time, space for networking

I hope the organizers incorporate some of these elements in future conferences. On the positive side, the organizers do recognize it and tried to arrange an experimental session. Overall I felt that the cool people I met, a few good talks and Marc, more than made up for the deficiencies.

Web Innovation 2007: Scaling Web Applications

On scaling Web Applications (heard in a few sessions):

  • Failures cannot be avoided
  • Functionality and features alone will not work
  • Difficult to get people with end-to-end knowledge
  • None of the elements can be ignored
  • Many players will be involved
  • Each layer should be able to scale independently
  • Scale out – not scale up
  • Build reliability through duplication
  • Build performance through load spreading
  • Pay attention to “storage scaling”

Web Innovation 2007: On Building a Social Network

This was undoubtedly the best presentation of the two days. It had information, insights and some great advice. It was by Rohit Agarwal, Founder and CEO of Techtribe. I will try to get his presentation and upload it. He kindly agreed to email it on request.

Here is how Rohit sees Social Networks:

  • mySpace, Orkut – See Me
  • LinkedIn , techTribe – Meet m
  • Facebook – See what I am doing

It is cute but a bit oversimplified.

Web 2.0 is:

Participatory Web

Is not about technology

Is about people

Is about connections

Is about community

Is about self-expression

Is about reach and pervasiveness

Rohit shares some of his lessons learned in building his social network.

Infrastructure

  • Build a solid foundation
  • Focus on necessary infrastructure

Performance

  • Page load time
  • Server response, latency

Pay attention to:

  • Hosting Infrastructure
  • Email Infrastructure (viral invites, messaging, suppression lists)
  • Usability (Cognitive Behavior, Colors widgets)
  • Think through the flow
  • Driving User Behavior (understand why users behave in a certain way, soft suggestions drive behavior)

That was quite valuable. But Rohit made it even better by covering two more aspects:

Key Hires

  • Performance Engineer
  • System Administrator
  • UI Designer

Marketing is key:

  • Personalized
  • Simple Messaging
  • Clear value proposition
  • Not In your face

This was the best session I attended in the Conference. I plan to check out both techTribe and startTribe. Rohit did two sessions. One in the business track and one in Tech track. Talking to him, listening to him, you know why some of the entrepreneurs are more successful than others. He was cool about admitting mistakes, sharing knowledge and had an easy comfortable informal presentation which was much more like a conversation.

Web Innovation 2007: Keynotes

Jaspreet Bindra, Country Manager India (Wow. I loved his talk.)

India story is going to continue.

Heavy growth in education, entertainment and communications (mobile)

India is not emerging. It has already emerged in mobile space. It is a different kind of story. It is not Korea, not Japan and definitely not China.

Global players will win in services, local players in content.

75 million English speaking people and growing.

For local services, we need to evolve a uniquely Indian model.

Don’t create a Facebook of India. It is already here. Leverage it to build your communities. (We don’t need yet another Social network, we need innovative uses of existing networks for the Indian context)

Bollywood and Cicket are Open Spaces (uniquely Indian). There is also education. These are the three largest content categories. Education is the biggest.

WWW is too big. It is all going to be MyWeb (my relevant subset of the WWW)

Problem of delivery and channel (narrow pipes)’

In India parent will starve to get children educated (so that they can have a better life).

Mohit Hira, Director – Times Internet :

It is not Web 2.0. It is web 2.i (i as in I?)

Can we do another glocalization like matrimony.com?

Think Stormhoek

Naresh Gupta, Managing Director – Adobe – Rich Internet Applications

Web 2.0 is about how to make ideas and information more engaging

Why Content needs to be engaging? ( I agree. See my A Picture is worth a thousand words and an animation is worth a thousand pictures)

  • Too much information
  • Too little time

Web 2.0 is engagement

(Comment: A bit of irony here. I think Naresh missed a great chance to make his presentation engaging. He was talking about Rich Internet Application using a Poor non-internet medium). But he made some good points. Something we don’t normally think about.