So what was different about this web 2.0 conference? It was the 3rd Web 2.0 Conference run by CMP/O'Reilly Media that I've been to (I followed the 2004 Web 2.0 conference virtually). Check out my previous wrapups of the Web 2.0 Summit and the Web 2.0 Conference in 2005. The Web 2.0 Expo was the biggest of all 3, both in terms of the venue and the number of people attending - estimates ranged from 10-16k. It also had more of a developer focus, although there were plenty of business people too. More on that in a minute.
profiled Bungee Labs, a next generation web development platform that impressed me. A few other newcomers that caught my eye were Egnyte (a collaborative document sharing app), Vidoop (a security solution that featured in the LaunchPad), and robotreplay.com (a site analytics service). That's naming just a few, and I didn't manage to see all of the companies on show (check the R/WW Author wrapup of the Expo, in the next post, for more standouts).From a product and web technology perspective, there were a lot of enterprise or SME focused startups and products on show - particularly in the Expo Hall area (The Land of the Booths). As I walked around the plentiful booths, it seemed at least every second product was for enterprises or SMEs. This was definitely a change from the previous conferences, where consumer-focused products dominated and usually stole the limelight. I've already
In terms of the sessions and panels, the Web 2.0 Expo was overall a success - with enough good sessions about new technologies and interesting Web 2.0 issues to keep people happy. There were of course some sessions that were disappointing - e.g. some were just product pitchs, or perhaps the discussion between panelists didn't quite pan out. But that happens in every conference. There were unfortunately a lot of issues with the WiFi, despite the best attempts of the organizers to fix it. Another disappointment was that the Expo had no closing keynotes on the final afternoon, and the main booth area was also closed at around midday on Wednesday. It seemed kind of a letdown to only have panel sessions running in the final afternoon.
Photo: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid
But turning to the positive, the Expo had a great mix of people attending - developers, designers, business people, VCs, bloggers, etc. So unlike the Web 2.0 Summit at the end of last year, this crowd was diverse and more focused on the technology aspects. I also got the impression that more 'mainstream' people, from corporations or small/medium businesses, were in attendance - which is a healthy sign. And that was really the aim of the conference organizers, encouraged by the different tracks of sessions (one for design, one for strategy and business, etc). The only complaint I heard about the tracks was that some of the developer community who already knew about web 2.0, did not find enough detail in their sessions to satisfy them. But on the other hand, I also spoke to a company that wasn't familiar with web 2.0 whose developers were enjoying the tracks (this was after the first day). So I guess you can't please everyone, but overall the (admittedly few) sessions I attended were interesting. I actually spent most of my time networking/booth-hopping and in the press room, which in my case was the only place I could connect to the Net.
Other features of this conference I enjoyed:
The Expo Hall was great, with a good mix of startups and more established vendors. Strangest sight? The IBM booth, with IBM staff milling around in red shirts (not IBM blue) and doing on-the-spot classroom sessions with microphones and videos. That strategy seemed to be pulling in the punters (many willingly plopped themselves into the IBM chairs and listened to the lessons)... but as a fellow blogger quipped to me yesterday: "I don't go to web 2.0 conferences to listen to IBM". No disrespect intended, because IBM is doing some great things now with web 2.0 technologies. But the real excitement was to be found, at least for me, in the many startup booths - e.g. CambrianHouse's booth was excellent, with a kind of tropical theme going (see pic below). All in all, I enjoyed wandering around the booths and getting demos from the many passionate technologists waiting to gush about their babies.
Photo: Scott Beale / Laughing Squid
The Ignite show on Sunday evening was awesome. These were 5 minute quickfire presentations on a particular theme or product, mostly focusing on stuff happening on the edge. I really enjoyed them, precisely because they were not the usual 'product pitches' - they were more like 5 minutes on whatever technology passion the presenter had.
The presentations ranged from the more traditional - for example Ryan Stewart (who was a last minute addition, so he had little prep time) did a fantastic 5 minute summary of RIAs - to the bizarre, e.g. the guy who built a web app at the South Pole or the guy who discussed how his hobby of bee-keeping was a good example of the web 2.0 "hive mind"! My favorite presentation at the time was the 'open source hardware' story about 14 year boys making Lego guns at instructables.com - although given that the Virginia Tech tragedy happened the day after, it is in retrospect more than a little disturbing. At the time it came across as more humorous than creepy; but thinking about it in the aftermath of the tragedy, it certainly is a somewhat disturbing use of technology to make guns out of lego.
In any case, I loved the Ignite sessions. Especially as the audience had the opportunity to vote for the best presentations, using text messaging on mobile phones. Big credit for the concept has to go to Brady Forrest of O'Reilly Media, who came up with the idea and has been running Ignite in Seattle recently. I will delve more into Ignite in a follow-up post.
The Web2Open was a great addition to the conference. This was a free event where developers and designers discussed the tech issues of the day. I must admit I didn't have time to attend it (other than poking my nose in a couple of times), but I did hear second-hand that the Open satisfied web 2.0 technologists and the 'in crowd'. Props to Tara Hunt and Chris Messina for organizing this.
When it comes down to it, Web 2.0 Expo was a success in my eyes, despite the technical glitches with WiFi and last day scheduling oddities. From a networking standpoint, it was a great crowd of people to mix and mingle with. The cliche is that the best part of a conference is the discussions in the hallway - and in the case of the Expo it was discussions in huge cavernous hallways that were usually teeming with people. I got the feeling that others enjoyed the conference, although it's hard to generalize. The evening parties were good too, with the Netvibes event on Monday probably the highlight.
If you attended the conference, please add your thoughts on it below.
All photos in this post are from Scott Beale / Laughing Squid, who has a lot of great Web 2.0 Expo photos on his blog laughingsquid.com.