Keeping the Web Trendy

SAN FRANCISCO -- With the goal of the annual Web 2.0 Expo aimed at highlighting the innovators on the Web and teaching and demonstrating tricks of the trade, it's clear why the keynote addresses at the conference here Wednesday paid special attention to the word -- Innovation. At the core of the Web 2.0 conference is the idea of embracing innovation, moving a step forward, and fulfilling the needs of consumers.

After all, visionary companies are not afraid to make bold commitments to "big hairy, audacious goals, said Tim O'Reilly founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, expounding upon the familiar phrase in his keynote address. He challenges Web companies, both big and small, to truly go after problems and to make a difference. "It's not just about participation; it's about building a platform to make the world smarter," O'Reilly told the crowd. "This is an amazing revolution in human augmentation, akin to literacy, or the formation of cities. This is a huge change in the way the world works."

O'Reilly laid out the following trends and opportunities as crucial for the Web, not only in 2008, but in the long term:

  • Internet as platform.
  • Collective intelligence to move beyond software.
  • Enterprise adaption of Web 2.0.
  • The advent of cloud computing and the internet operating system.
  • Mobility, or ambient computing.

Within the future of Web 2.0 in the enterprise, O'Reilly expressed the need for the enterprise to turn itself inside out and to find meaning behind user-generated data. He refers to website Wesabe as a primary example. A personal finance site on the web, Wesabe shows how people spend money. The site recognizes that people often spend money in a way similar to how they would cast a vote. The more money they spend, the more they must like a store or particular merchant. This opens the door for consumers to gain visibility of their purchases as well as for merchants to enter the conversation and offer suggestions. O'Reilly pointed out that this would be a great way for banks to make use of consumer data.

"This idea is focused on the idealistic vision of making data more useful to customers," O'Reilly says. "That's a lot of letting users into the back office and turning it inside out so they can be part of that data that you have." Isn't the goal always to make the consumer smarter and more capable?

Innovative, groundbreaking products can grow from where they are least suspected. O'Reilly draws up a 1970s photograph of the geeky, glasses-clad Microsoft crew above the caption, "Would you have invested?" On that same note, keynote speaker Clay Shirky, author of the book Here Comes Everybody, touches upon the start-up and subsequent exponential growth of Wikipedia. "It's when no one knows how to deploy something that people start playing around that the integration takes places and it transforms society," says Shirky.

Shirky's keynote address centered around an overheard statement about Wikipedia that got under the speaker's skin. The mumbled, eye-rolling expression was, "Where do they find the time?" Amazingly, the amount of time Americans spend watching television makes the time spent creating Wikipedia pale in comparison. Shirky refers to the free time of humans as the "cognitive surplus." Making use of that surplus -- not in front of the TV, that is -- is when innovation takes off.

When thinking up and starting new ideas, Shirky says, "Most don't pan out, but even if it doesn't, it shows that someone working alone with reasonable tools has enough of a hope to create a resource you couldn't have imagined existing five years ago," he says. "That's the numerical answer to 'Where do they have the time?' "

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