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Web 2.0: Wish You Were Here

I’ve been ducking in and out of the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco this week, and it has been pretty consistently great. Just to name drop for a moment: the coffee breaks offered the chance to sip java with the likes of former FCC chairman Michael Powell, Release 1.0 founder Esther Dyson, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and InterActive Corp. CEO Barry Diller.

I’ve been ducking in and out of the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco this week, and it has been pretty consistently great. Just to name drop for a moment: the coffee breaks offered the chance to sip java with the likes of former FCC chairman Michael Powell, Release 1.0 founder Esther Dyson, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, and InterActive Corp. CEO Barry Diller.

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The idea underlying the event is that we’re in the midst of a Web renaissance. Hosts John Battelle and Tim O’Reilly would tell you that the Web 2.0 era is about APIs, third-party developers, “lightweight” business models, AJAX, RSS, mash-ups, and so on. But I think it can be explained without resorting to wonky acronyms: this second generation of the Web is fertile, energetic and interesting because four things have happened.

People understand how to use the Web, and it’s part of most people’s daily routine. There are more broadband Web users now than dial-up users in the U.S. Businesses have grasped how the Web can make them more efficient, and bring them closer to customers. And finally, it’s a lot easier to set up a Web service or build a Web-based software product today – there are puzzle pieces and components (many of them open source) that you can grab and put together, rather than creating every little chunk of software yourself, as was required back in the mid-1990s.

Those four dynamics are creating a crop of really interesting new companies, whether you want to slap the Web 2.0 label on, or not.

Just a couple interesting moments from the conference today (Friday):

– A cameo appearance by Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who apparently came up to conference co-host John Battelle and asked if he could speak at the last minute. (Earlier in the day, Google had unveiled new software for reading blogs, Google Reader.) These days, it seems like whenever Google unveils a new product, the start-up world shivers: what does this mean for us? (Much the same way as people used to worry, a decade ago, about what Microsoft would do next.) Brin, who showed up wearing a Blogger t-shirt, seems incapable of playing the role of an industry gorilla: he still looks like a grad student who slept in. Brin said that start-ups who work in the same space as Google can be successful…in part because they might be acquired by Google’s rivals, particularly Yahoo, AOL and Microsoft.

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Brin also said that some of the most successful Google products haven’t been things suggested by top management. “It’s really hard to predict what’ll stick and what won’t,” Brin said. “That’s the reason we try so many things in Labs.”

– Check out Yahoo’s Tech Buzz Game

– This interactive table struck me as a neat research idea that ought to make it to the market. But it is being developed by HP, so who knows?

– Venture capitalist Vinod Khosla spoke this morning, and mentioned off-handedly that he made about five attempts to get Excite@Home to buy Google’s technology, before Google was a company. (AT&T, which owned part of Excite at the time, thought they could come up with better search technology. We know how that turned out.) Khosla said the search software that Brin and Larry Page had developed would’ve cost Excite about $1 million. That’ll go into the Business Hall of Shame for sure.

Khosla also said that the Web needs more reputation systems like eBay’s seller ratings: how do you know whom to trust? And he was much more bullish on content created by users (as opposed to “big media” content) than was Barry Diller. Terry Semel of Yahoo, who spoke on Thursday, probably falls somewhere in between the two.

Finally, let me point you to two other places:

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