Web 2.0 Summit Takeaways

The theme for this year’s event was “Web Meets World.” So there were plenty of sessions on how ideas and technologies from the Web world can be used to transform other, large industries – the power grid, the food chain, the automotive industry, politics. Here are some key takeaways, as I see them:

Venture Capital: The VC scenario is going to be tough for the next 1-2 years. VCs have already been predicting doom and gloom, and advising their portfolio companies to hunker down, conserve the cash, and prepare for a long ‘winter.’ New ideas are going to get harder to find capital as the first priority for VCs is to ensure that the best amongst their portfolio have enough cash to last through the downturn given that liquidity events are going to be rare.

iPhone: The mobile data industry has been transformed by the iPhone. It not only improved the Internet browsing experience dramatically, but now it has also driven a whole cottage industry around applications. Apple has become a quasi-mobile operator, albeit a more benign one. There’s a lot of interest around iPhone applications development. Even though there are just about 15 million iPhones worldwide, the interest that has now been sparked in the concept of an Application Store and allowing users to directly download the apps of interest to them (and not being limited to the offerings provided by the mobile operator) is going to be the norm for the future.

Online Advertising: Given that much of the current Internet monetisation model is entirely around online display and search advertising, there was some discussion on what impact the downturn would have on advertising budgets. On this hinges the future of many companies in the Web ecosystem. It is still not clear on how much of a cut there will be in budgets – the coming months will give a clearer picture. The search for a model for monetising  social networks still goes on – while Facebook has made some steps in this direction with their Engagement Ads, much more needs to be done. Mobile Advertising is still very nascent and barely merited a discussion. The US is still very much a PC-centric market.

Cloud Computing and Platforms: Among the emerging technologies, the one which evoked a lot of discussion was the Cloud. It is The Next Big Thing. I have this theory that every 12 years, there is a big technological shift that starts to happen – in the early 1980s it was the PC, in the mid-1990s it was the Internet, and now it is the Cloud. Linked with the Cloud is the desire of every company (almost) to offer its Platform as a Service. The world of Cloud Computing is still nascent but holds much potential – and will probably create new winners and losers in the years to come.

Enterprise Social Networking: The tools that we use for personal social networking need to come to the Enterprise. Collaboration is the one area that needs an overhaul in the way we do things within the Intranet. The elemental ideas and services exist, but they still need to be put together in a way which made the likes of MySpace and Facebook the centre of the lives of so many people.

Web 2.0 for Other Verticals: As I mentioned earlier, what was very interesting about the Summit was the diversity of thought that came from the best minds in different verticals. Energy, Healthcare, Climate Change, the Food we Eat, the Cars we Drive – all are inexorably linked together, as technology begins to start driving disruptive change in different industries. Perhaps, the one which interested me most was the discussion on how Web 2.0 ideas were at the heart of the 2008 Elections.

Big Bets: The time to make Big Bets is Now. This may seem contradictory given the scarcity of capital that will be available, but this was something which many speakers mentioned. The World has big problems that need to be tackled and they cannot be tackled in isolation. With Obama at the helm, there is a feeling that cutting edge R&D and Big, Bold initiatives will help the US maintain its leadership even as it goes through an especially difficult downturn.

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