October 8, 2005

Web 2.0 day three: Silly business ideas

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

SAN FRANCISCO - Admission to the Web 2.0 Conference costs $2,800. That's a big chunk of change, but the place is sold out, and the small conference rooms and the one large presentation hall are beyond full most of the time. I've asked several dozen attendees (out of about 800) if they felt they were getting good value for their money, and all of them have said "Yes." But given some of the ideas floating through the halls, one might suspect their judgment.

Some of the perceived value comes from the fact that there are venture capitalists all over the place. If you have a great idea for the next-generation vertically integrated multimedia search engine that bases its results on social contexts, not just raw link numbers, you have a fair chance of meeting someone who will finance your startup.

For the VCs, this is a great conference because the halls are thick with promising entrepreneurs. For example, one VC told me and an O'Reilly sysadmin about how he'd found a young programmer who was developing an exciting new Web browser that had tabbed browsing, new security features, and a one-click utility that would allow users to change its look and feel to suit their personal taste. All this, the VC said, was based on Internet Explorer, the world's most popular browser. What did we think of it?

The sysadmin and I pointed out that every single one of these "advanced" features was already available in freely downloadable Firefox, so it seemed pointless to develop an IE add-on that would do the same things.

"But what about people like me, who don't know how to download Firefox?" the VC asked.

Umm ... umm ... the word "agog" could be used to describe my reaction. I mean, if someone can't figure out how to download and install Firefox, how can they download and install an IE add-on?

(No, this VC wasn't pulling our legs. He was serious. There really are people running around with money to invest who know that little.)

Learning what's about to be hot

One company here debuted a travel blogging site during the Web 2.0 "launchpad," which introduced a bunch of new companies in an hour or so. This travel site is essentially a group blog where you can post your travel experiences so that other travelers can tell which hotels are good values and which aren't, and how you liked your stay in Cozumel or your last Princess Lines cruise. I've seen dozens of sites that already do this sort of thing, and most of them have empty spaces instead of active bulletin boards. So what's the point of having yet another one? Got me. But somebody seems to think the world needs it, and that people will post their business and vacation travel experiences on it instead of on their personal blogs.

There's lots of talk about "tags," which are one-word references (what we used to call "keywords" back in Web 1.0 days) that help people find your photos on flickr, or your bookmarks on del.icio.us, or your blog in some of the tag-conscious blog metasites. The idea of tagging is growing like mad, at least in Web 2.0-land. Before long I think we'll see professional taggers who will help you choose tags that will get your photos or blog or whatever maximum exposure, just as search engine submission people and, later, search engine optimization businesses sprang up to help your site get attention from search engines.

How about a business that helps you maximize your return from Google keyword buys? It already exists. I met its CEO.

Another great one: Making "mediascapes" for GPS-enabled, wireless-equipped PDAs and other handhelds. You'll be able to listen to neighborhood stories and information about the place you are through your little earbuds instead of listening to the actual neighborhood sounds.

The guy presenting this concept called it "heightened reality." Once again, though, it's a business that relies on the kindness of (unpaid) strangers, who will (hopefully) upload all kinds of ultra-local audio material. If no one uploads cool stories, there will be nothing to listen to. I'd probably upload some myself, but after I get finished maintaining my blog, my tag files, my online video library, and doing my podcast, I probably won't have time. Plus -- at least in my case -- there's this "job" thing that takes up a lot of time that could otherwise be spent making free content for all these VC-backed "community-based" startups.

My own Web 2.0 business plan

I can't help it. The alto tones of entrepreneurialism riffing on the bass beat of venture capital have bent my will. I have come up with a business plan I can present to venture capitalists.

My idea came to me while I was thinking about the "mediascape" thing where you'd listen to stories about the neighborhood you're in. I mean, what's the point of that? You're already there. Why shouldn't your PDA or cell phone or video iPod or whatever take you somewhere else? Wouldn't it be cool if you were, say, on a subway in New York in the middle of winter, and you could both see and hear the beach on Siesta Key?

The revenue model is obvious: Users pay to download the clips the same way they pay to download ring tones.

Next, I need a catchy domain name, like BeThereNotHere.com -- which I just registered.

Now all I need is a venture capitalist who wants to give me a couple of million in first-round funding. So I think I'll stop writing now, and go cruise the halls in search of one.

Click Here!