October 9, 2006

Is the 'New New Internet' really new?

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

I don't make these things up. There really was a New New Internet conference held near Washington, DC, in September, and I went to it. (The conference organizers paid my travel expenses.) I listened dutifully to a number of keynotes and networked with some of the Web 2.0 entrepreneurs, wanna-be entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists who seemed to make up the bulk of the attendees. I shot a bit of video, too, so you can get a couple of glimpses of what went on. But in the end, I was left with the question, "How much of this stuff is really all that new?" And even though the question, "What exactly is Web 2.0?" was asked and answered over and over at this conference, I still think cartoonist Bill Amend's September 22 Foxtrot comic strip gave the best definition of Web 2.0 that I've seen anywhere, in any medium.

As Amend pointed out, the thrust of this whole Web 2.0 thing seems to be getting other people to fill your site with cool "content" for free so that you can make a whole bunch of money without doing a whole lot of work or investing a whole lot of cash. In Web 2.0-land, you don't write or maintain a mapping utility. Instead, you do a "mashup" that relies on Google Maps. You don't do original reporting, but rely on readers' submissions of links to reporting others, elsewhere, have done.

There's sort of a multi-level marketing feel to the whole Web 2.0 thing, in that the actual work on which everything relies -- content production -- is hardly mentioned at all; the talk is almost entirely about layers of utilities and profitability that sit on top of the original work.

One thing is for sure: Web 2.0 already has success stories and stars. Here's a short video clip from Jobster.com CEO
Jason Goldberg's

Wow! Buzz like mad! With that much buzz over what is essentially a blog where both employees and employers can share information about each other, who needs substance?

Some cynics might say, "Isn't this kind of like FuckedCompany without the negative spin?"

It sure is, and employer-sponsored at that. Not that it will be censored in any way, but in a private conversation after his presentation, Goldberg admitted that yes, "derogatory" comments may be removed from Jobster. It took a series of prying questions -- all under the watchful eye of a handler from Waggener-Edstrom, a PR firm best known for its close relationship with Microsoft -- to get Goldberg to mention this bit of information. To me, this makes Jobster a less-than-honest source of information for jobseekers. But I am admittedly a gray-haired skeptic, not the kind of bright-eyed young hopeful Jobster is designed to attract on behalf of its corporate sponsors, so I'm sure Jobster will make mega-millions for its owners despite my low opinion of the site's value to job-seekers.

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Google exec Rajen Sheth gave a presentation that didn't glorify himself at all, and didn't contain much "Google's great! Rah rah Google!" noise, either. He concentrated on useful information along the lines of "Here's how you can use Google offerings to help build your business," and "Here are some things we do internally at Google that you might want to try, too." Video sample of Sheth's speech:

Hart Rossman of SAIC was another speaker who concentrated on advice that audience members could use in their own businesses, most notably the relationship between Web 2.0 and service-oriented architecture. SAIC has long been known primarily as a US government contractor that often works on secret defense projects. New New Internet conference chair Jeremy Geelan told me he was a little surprised that SAIC was jumping so hard on the Web 2.0 bandwagon in light of the company's historic tendency to keep a low profile. But SAIC was a prime conference sponsor, and Rossman had a lot of interesting material to cover.

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Another interesting SAIC contribution -- also led by Hart Rossman -- was an "unconference" held at SAIC headquarters the day before the main conference. Here's a short video in which Rossman explains the "unconference" concept:

Michael Arrington, founder and operator of TechCrunch, was the keynote-iest of New New Internet conference keynote speakers, complete with a hired livery car to whisk him to and from the Ritz-Carlton, where the event was held. Since TechCrunch "is a weblog dedicated to obsessively profiling and reviewing new Internet products and companies," he was obviously the perfect speaker for an audience full of Internet entrepreneurs and hopefuls. I didn't tape his presentation because he really didn't say much that someone as tech-hip as our readers didn't already know (or can easily learn from reading TechCrunch). But then, this conference was not for people like you. It was for people who want to learn what people like you are already thinking and doing.

Consider: Slashdot has had plenty of Web 2.0-ness since it was founded in 1997, and NewsForge has had its share since 1999. SourceForge.net is so Web 2.0 that as it updates and adds features it may soon become Web 3.0, possibly even Web 4.0. But again, I say, those of you who frequent these and other OSTG sites were not the target market for this conference, and since it was sold out with over 400 attendees, your presence was not missed. Oh, they loved you; most of the presenters admitted at one point or another that this whole Web 2.0 thing is based on open source software you either develop or promote, and some bluntly admitted that without people like you they couldn't have afforded to start their businesses.

That's always good to hear, because it means more jobs and consulting opportunities for people who have made their reputations in the open source world. And from an open source perspective, this is the best part of something like a New New Internet Conference -- even if you don't have any good reason to go to it yourself.

Final note: If you wish you had been at this conference, there are a bunch of attendees' blog entries at TheNewNewInternet.com, and you can download professionally produced, full-length videos (as opposed to my little "audience eye view" snippets) of all the presentations from StreamCenter for a mere $245.

Click Here!