As I walked into Mel’s Diner, the jukebox was blaring with the Big Bopper crooning “Chantilly Lace.” Perfect. So naturally I ordered a turkey dinner, with stuffing, lumpy mashed potatoes with gravy and cranberries. I washed it down with a root beer and finished with some banana crème pie. And just to make the experience totally authentic, the table wobbled and the chairs were those uncomfortable ones like your mom had in the kitchen when you were little.
Funny for the nostalgia, because I’m in San Francisco, attending the Web 2.0 Expo, masterminding about where the future of the Internet is headed. The best minds in the space from all over the world are here and it’s been a thought-provoking week.
There were some intriguing keynotes, interesting interview sessions, and a few great breakouts. Of course some of the best learning at these things comes from walking the hallways, networking with the other attendees. There is also a huge Expo hall filled with vendors offering web technology and services.
More than a couple things were totally fascinating to me…
At lunchtime you got to select your can of soda from a barrel of ice. I looked around my table and six of us were drinking Dr. Pepper, and two were having Mountain Dew. A corporate consultant joined us later because there was nowhere else to sit and she was the only Diet Pepsi. At any other type of conference in the world the diet colas would have won nine to one. So is that memes, good niche marketing, or are techno geeks really different animals?
It continues to amaze me how many start-up ventures there are with no business model, and no conceivable way to make any money, even if they had 50 million users. I thought we got over this when the tech bubble crashed, but evidently these venture capitalists still have a few hundred million (or billion) to piss away.
There was a company there touting a free service to update your Facebook, Twitter and My Space accounts. I asked the guy what was the benefit of his service versus Ping fm, which allows me to update like 40 different social media sites at once. And he kept murmuring over and over that I could do those three on his site, like that was some kind of a benefit.
You can’t complain about the marketing skills of these techno geeks, because they don’t have any.
Like a lot of trade shows, there were scads of expensive booths that companies had spent tens of thousands of dollars on, yet walking by them you couldn’t find a hint as to what they actually do. Probably about 40 percent had huge logos of their company name, and you couldn’t find a benefit or even what they offer with a search party. And of course another 40 percent had massive displays of feature blather and undecipherable jargon guaranteed to cure insomnia.
The booths were packed with headlines about “digital media supply chain management,” “value added services delivery,” “custom rich internet solutions,” and “enterprise scale” whateverthefuck.
One company selling mobile apps spent a fortune setting up a big, pretty booth, and staffed it with two people that couldn’t speak anything but Japanese. Even with the help of a translator, neither could give me an example of how I could use or profit from their service. I realize I can figure that out, but what’s the point of sending them here if they can’t buy a clue?
Even the company branding themselves as “a digital agency” couldn’t come up with a single benefit to a potential customer. And they’re going to charge money to market you? I guess they figured those free bottles of water they were giving away would clinch the deals. The only booth that knew anything about marketing was selling “the best chair for people with bad backs.” Not exactly techno, but they were smart enough to realize all the techno people are sitting in bad desk chairs all day.
Silicon Valley has heard of the recession and claims that money is tight. But the VC guys can’t help themselves. If you use the words “cloud,” “metrics” or “analytics” in your business plan, they simply have to fund you.
Just because these tech guys can’t sell anything doesn’t mean there isn’t some amazing stuff here however…
I sat in on a demo of the new product collaboration between Cynergy Labs and Microsoft called Surface. Now I’m a Mac guy, so it’s not easy for me to be impressed by the Ballmer Boys, but this is totally off the chain.
If you saw that last Bond flick, Surface is what the agent was using when he was touching the screen on the table to generate the video display to show M the currency they traced and where the guy ended up in Haiti. It looks like it is touch controlled, but it’s actually driven by six cameras underneath. It’s designed for collaborative computing, and can process 50 inputs at a time. Check it out here:
As you know, I’m not a programmer and couldn’t write code if my life depended on it, but I was intrigued by the description of a session in the programmer track presented by Aza Raskin, who is head of user interfaces for Mozilla Labs. So I chose that session, and was glad I did. Aza is mad genius, and he gave a sneak peek of their new “Ubiquity” software that is the nuclear bomb of cool.
What’s interesting is Modzilla’s Firefox just became the top browser in Europe. (The last time the #1 browser anywhere wasn’t Microsoft was never.) What’s REALLY interesting about that is Modzilla has about two designers, another seven or eight people in the lab, and less than 200 employees total. Yet they have about 1,000 contributors, about 10,000 testers, and about 300 million users. Forty percent of their code comes from the outside, from people like a 17-year-old student in Singapore that loves the opportunity to churn out code during most of his free time. Basically they have become the world’s largest open source engineering department with a payroll you could run a couple Burger Kings with.
So where is the future of the Internet going?
Well if I knew that, I’d have someone removing all the seeds from my watermelon and popping grapes in my mouth. But there are some pretty captivating scenarios.
The last two years all you heard was social media marketing. That drumbeat seems to be replaced now with mobile, mobile, mobile. It’s the new black.
One of the things Aza talked about was how people are missing in the browsers. In China, Chat is bigger than surfing the Net. Now we can attribute some of that to the fact that China bans so many shall we say “interesting” sites. But you also have to recognize the compelling nature of chat, texting and of course micro-blogging like Twitter. So might we see a dramatic shift from social media sites to social media browsers?
And where will the happy campers end up next? When the web started, it was the wild, wild, west, and everyone explored everywhere. Then we had the benevolent dictators like CompuServe and AOL that offered us the sanctity of their idyllic little walled gardens, promising to protect us from the evil, bad people.
We soon grew tired of the totalitarian dictatorships, and wanted to be free to explore the frontier again. So these walled off enclaves lost their allure and we set off to explore the great, vast Web.
Now there is so many cool sites, hysterical YouTube videos, interesting Diggs, can’t miss RSS feeds, engaging podcasts, scintillating Blogs (and of course, totally mesmerizing e-zines like this one) – we simply can’t cope with the information overload any longer.
So we’re reaching out to the social media sites, asking them to be the gatekeepers again, to protect us from overindulging at the all-you-can-eat Internet buffet. We use the Twitter feed, Digg river, and Facebook stream (which looks suspiciously like a Twitter feed) to segregate and provide the content topic areas and people we select. How long will that last?
As Aza demonstrated the Ubiquity software, you started to realize that the Internet is moving away from destination sites and will be driven more and more by user interfaces that have little relation to home URL or boundaries. And that will change EVERYTHING. Again.
Our sites, Blogs and even online communities that we’ve worked so hard to build, brand and grow, will actually become less relevant. The Internet experience will be more about outcomes driven by community. But not necessarily our community, but the communities each user has created on their own. And their interfaces will drive where they land, in a lot of cases bypassing the community.
When someone uses software like Ubiquity, it works from wherever they are standing at the moment. So when they decide they want pizza in Detroit, to translate something to Russian, or take another action, the software will process and handle that without a search engine, translation site or whatever site.
Sharepoint is the fastest growing product in Microsoft history, and it’s a basically a tool to bring 2.0 into the business environment. As Tim O’Reilly suggested, you start to see that Web 2.0 is not a version. It was meant to harness collective intelligence. Which it does. Just as it harnesses collective fear, stupidity, and prejudice. When you take Web 2.0 and add the world, you get the Web to a much higher power.
As usual, some people will get quite rich. And lots more will become road kill on the information super highway. It’s going to be a fab, funky and freaky ride.
The one thing I feel safe to say, is quality and value will still win out. At least a lot of the time. So it’s important that you be developing your tribe now, providing great products and services and creating long-term fans of your work. People that will remain loyal to you, because of the tangible benefits of what they receive.
Along those lines, I should mention Derek Gehl’s "Insider Secrets, Version 2009" resource. As most of you know, I think it is the best tool that comes out each year for helping you build your site the best way for search engine traffic, protect the deliverability of your list, build your community, and market from e-zines and direct from your site. Every business with a website should get this resource every year, the minute it becomes available. And that is right now.
Derek is actually retiring, so I’m not sure if this will be the last version ever put out. So don’t mess around with this. Get it here:
This was sent out as a “Randy's Rants,” but I’m posting it here on the blog, so you guys can participate in the discussion of where the Net is going next. I’ll be eager to see your comments and insights. So please check in below with your thoughts.