Web 2.0 spotlights risk, opportunities on the Internet

The hottest topics for Internet businesses, such as mashups, RSS, podcasting and search, will be discussed at this week's Web 2.0 Conference.

What is new and what is changing in the Internet business will be debated, explained and analyzed at the second annual Web 2.0 Conference, which runs this week in San Francisco.

Burning questions that should be of interest to companies doing business over the Internet will be addressed by an impressive roster of high-ranking executives from industry powerhouses such as Google, Yahoo and Microsoft , as well as from small startups.

"There are plenty of conferences, but this is one of the few that is entirely focused on the Internet industry as a business ... and where it might be going. There's a lot to talk about and a huge amount happening in this space. The resurgence of various models on the Internet that are successful is very much reflected in the program and agenda at Web 2.0," said the conference's Program Chair John Battelle, an author, entrepreneur and journalist who cofounded Wired magazine and founded The Industry Standard magazine.

Some hot issues of interest to business executives that will be discussed:

-- The benefits and downsides, best practices and liabilities, of letting employees keep online journals, or blogs, about their work.

-- Podcasts, the method of creating audio clips for distribution using syndication feeds, have become intensely popular, and this may mean they emerge as attractive online advertising vehicles.

-- Companies can collect loads of customer data online, but mining it and making sense out of it can be a challenge.

-- Increasingly, developers are creating applications that use the Web as a platform, to do things like the popular "mash-ups" in which disparate online services from different companies are integrated using open application programming interfaces (APIs.)

Speakers tackling those and other topics include Yahoo's Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Terry Semel, IAC/InterActiveCorp's Chairman and CEO Barry Diller, America Online's Chairman and CEO Jonathan Miller, eBay's Founder and Chairman Pierre Omidyar, Microsoft's Chief Technical Officer Ray Ozzie and Google's Senior Vice President of Global Sales Omid Kordestani.

The term Web 2.0 refers to the way the Internet business has developed after the bubble burst in 2000, Battelle said. "But more than that, Web 2.0 is a way of thinking about your business that includes a number of principles, one of which is harnessing collective intelligence" and building on top of other people's work, in the spirit of the open source movement, Battelle said.

Another characteristic of the Web 2.0 landscape is the potential for platform independence provided by the Web, which allows for the creation and deployment of applications and online services that aren't tied to a specific device or operating system, he said.

It is generally accepted that the company that is most threatened by this development is Microsoft, because it can erode Windows' force. "Microsoft has already begun reacting to that. The [recent] reorganization was a huge reaction to exactly that. It's a major threat to the way they've done business in the past and they're very aware of it," Battelle said. "The Web provides an opportunity to develop services and applications and business models that aren't entirely dependent on our PC-centric view of the world and Microsoft knows that."

Those attending will also witness discussions about how media and entertainment companies should protect and distribute their content online, whether it be movies, songs, articles, newscasts or television programs, a thorny issue involving intellectual property protection concerns.

A session will also be devoted to innovation in the search engine space. "Search has become our primary navigational interface to knowledge and information and that's why we see such a battle over search between all the major companies that are Web platforms and Microsoft," said Battelle, whose recently published book "The Search" about this area has been well received by critics. "It's a very large field and there's lots of money chasing whatever is next in search. It's a great area of innovation."

The Web 2.0 Conference, produced by MediaLive International Inc. and O'Reilly Media Inc., closed its registration after about 800 attendees signed up, Battelle said. This isn't a dramatic increment from the 700 or so who attended last year, but size isn't the goal of the event, he said.

"The goal of this conference isn't to be big as it could possibly be. If we wanted to, I suppose we could make it a lot bigger. The goal is to have a conversation that feels relatively intimate. So you need to at some point say: 'Ok, that's as many as we're going to take,'" he said.

Some of the announcements expected at the show include:

-- KnowNow will introduce a real-time notification service that delivers RSS content directly to end-users as soon as it is available, saving them from having to check their RSS feeds on a Web site, news reader or aggregator. The new service, called KnowNow eLerts, delivers the notifications via its eLert toolbar or deskbar, according to the company.

-- Topix.net will announce that its NewsRank article categorization technology has been rolled out to 177 newspaper and television station Web sites from Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Tribune Company. The technology automates the process of presenting readers with content that is related to the article they are reading at the moment, according to the company. NewsRank is also available to other media companies beyond Gannett, Knight-Ridder and Tribune, each of which owns a 25 percent stake in Topix.net.

-- Startup Bunchball will introduce a social networking site in which users can set up groups with friends, family and colleagues and interact with them using socially-oriented applications hosted by the company. The site will also foster the creation of a community of Flash developers who will provide the applications. "For developers, Bunchball.com is a site where they can create and deploy social applications with unprecedented speed, because we handle all the 'plumbing' for them, from databases to servers to presence, chat, online file storage, etc ...," wrote Bunchball founder Rajat Paharia in an e-mail. "We don't charge developers for this, and instead give them ways that they can make money off of their creations, including an advertising revenue share and the ability to sell content."

-- Flock, also a startup, will preview its "social" Web browser, which will feature tools to help users organize, search and share bookmarks, to create blog entries and to manage RSS feeds, according to information provided by the company.

-- Morfik will announce and preview a development environment designed to automate and simplify the creation of AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) applications. Morfik expects to release the product in the last quarter of 2005.

-- PubSub Concepts will announce it is funding a "major" open source development effort related, among other things, to blogging and the semantic Web, according to the company.

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