Web 2.0 Expo draws startups, superstars

O'Reilly's first-ever Web 2.0 expo highlights a phenomenal new generation

If anyone knows about the potential of what has been dubbed "Web 2.0" it's the folks over at O'Reilly Media. Heck, company founder Tim O'Reilly himself coined the phrase back in 2003 to describe the emergence of a new generation of Web-based business models in the wake of the dot-com collapse. And if this week's first-ever Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco is any measure, the Web 2.0 phenomenon is on track to exceed expectations.

O'Reilly's company evangelized the Web 2.0 concept with events like its Web 2.0 Conferences, initially intimate gatherings of tech industry cognoscenti. But as sites like Facebook, Flickr, YouTube, and Digg took off, interest in Web 2.0 grew. The Web 2.0 Expo is a response to that, said Jennifer Pahlka, of CMP Media, which is sponsoring the show. "We felt we had an opportunity and duty to create an event for the entire Web community beyond VCs and executives," said Pahlka.

In contrast to the Web 2.0 Conferences, the Expo operates more like a traditional trade show, with multiple tracks for Web developers, designers, marketing and business development experts, she said. Sessions address pressing issues within the Web 2.0 community, such as the blending of Web design and Web development as professions, the challenges of building and maintaining social communities, and the impact of blogs and online reputation on the success or failure of Web 2.0 ventures, she said.

The Expo will showcase an impressive lineup of Silicon Valley luminaries, including Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos and Google CEO Eric Schmidt. The show is also being used as a launching pad for countless startups that are hoping to grab a piece of the media spotlight at the show.

Bungee Labs is one of them. The Salt Lake City-based startup will unveil Bungee Connect, an online, SaaS-based collaborative environment that allows developers and designers to quickly create Web-based applications using technologies like SOAP and Ajax, and tie them to third-party platform companies like Google, Microsoft, Amazon.com, and eBay.

"Companies these days have private Web services they use internally and public Web services for things like supply chain that are accessible to outside development communities, but integrating those Web services is hard," said Lyle Ball, vice president of marketing at Bungee. Bungee's Connect environment, which is free to developers, will make those interactions more fluid, with access to toolkits and tools for state management, and publishing and hosting Web applications developed in the collaborative environment.

The company sees the new services as a kind of "development as a service" offering and plans to make money using a utility computing model for applications that are developed and hosted on Bungee Connect, Ball said.

For Calgary-based Cambrianhouse, a Web-based collaboration environment, the show is an opportunity to appeal to a tech-savvy crowd of developers, designers, and entrepreneurs who could give Cambrian's network of 12,000 members a boost, said Jasmine Antonick , communications director at Cambrianhouse.

Cambrian, which Antonick likened to a "YouTube for ideas," allows individuals to post ideas for new companies, then use crowd sourcing to develop the ideas and tap into pools of developers, designers, and business people, she said.

On the enterprise front, applications of technologies like blogging, mashups, and Internet video are bound to play a big role, with executives from companies like Cisco, BEA, Salesforce.com, enterprise Wiki firm Socialtext, and Web video firm WebEx.Â

With more and more startups and enterprises eyeing social networking and user-generated content, identity management stands to be a big issue at this week's show, as well as Web 2.0 strategies like agile development, which established firms of all stripes are taking a hard look at for their internal teams, Pahlka said.

With 10,000 visitors expected, organizers were surprised by the enthusiasm for the event, and expanded the Expo from two to three floors at the Moscone Center in downtown San Francisco to accommodate the crowd. Still, Pahlka said that the Web 2.0 buzz is no replay of the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s.

"I haven't run across a Pets.com yet," she said, recalling the archetypal dot-com flame out. "Most of this stuff is useable. There's no irrational exuberance and no crazy valuations. These are companies that have staying power, whereas Web 1.0 companies didn't," she said.

We'll see!

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Paul F. Roberts

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