My Web 2.0 Expo: Monday

April 20th, 2007 by Jack Ivers

This is the second in a series of posts which represent my notes, impressions, and in some cases audio, for the sessions I attended at the 2007 Web 2.0 Expo.

Monday was my first full day at the Expo, and the day I had to face the sad truth that I could only attend 12.5% of the sessions available, since there were eight simultaneous tracks. It is a current meme that having too many options leads to unhappiness; and I have to say it was true for me, for a while at least. But in the end, I just had to pick one session and try hard not to regret the seven I was missing.

All You Need to Know About Django (Adrian Holovaty, Django). Adrian is a good guy and it was great to hear the story to Django from the horse’s mouth. I came away, though, unconvinced that we should abandon our current favorite platform Ruby on Rails in favor of Python / Django.

Rich Internet Applications with Apollo (Mike Chambers, Adobe). Mike got burned by the failure of the wireless network, which preventing him from demoing, which pretty much killed this presentation. Ironically, Adobe was the sponsor of the wireless network [1] I came away from this session totally underwhelmed with Apollo, wondering why anyone would want to use it. A later demo by Kevin Lynch during the afternoon keynote changed my mind.

From Software to Webware: How Web-based Applications Will Shake the Software Industry (Panel: Paul McNamara, CEO, Coghead, facilitator; Ismael Ghalimi, CEO, Intalio; John Seely Brown, Senior Fellow, Annenberg Center at USC; Vishal Sikka, CTO, SAP; Martin Wegenstein, Former CIO, Autodesk). Note to self #1: avoid panels. Note to self #2: avoid presentations by old-line companies trying to look cool by hanging out at the Web 2.0 conference. There was one bright spot: John Seely Brown, but man, he looked uncomfortable up there with a panel that included the CTO of SAP, a (former) CIO, and a company that sells SOA tools to the Global 1000. My favorite JSB quote (paraphrased): “I may be the only one on the panel today that holds the unpopular opinion that IT departments generally do more to impede progress than to promote it.” Zing. JSB also talked about collaborating users having a “gaming disposition,” that is, the kind of we’ll-pull-it-together-ourselves mindset that a World of Warcraft guild leader has, “assembling resources towards a goal.” My desire not to miss a good JSB comment was the only thing that kept me from running out of the room screaming.

Tagging that Works (Thomas Vander Wal, InfoCloud Solutions). Great session, good insights around all aspects of tagging and folksonomies. I liked his term “pivoting” which he uses for the scenario where, as I drill down on a particular tag, let’s say “web2.0″, I pivot on another dimension, perhaps a related tag (”enterprise2.0″) or a different element of metadata such as a frequent user of “web2.0″ tags. Very funny demo sequence on Amazon.com, pivoting around the tag “talentless” … mp3 audio

Keynotes

  • Conference Welcome (Tim O’Reilly). Nothing memorable.
  • A Conversation with Jeff Bezos (Tim O’Reilly interviewing). Bezos’s opening comments focused on Amazon’s web services offering (he termed them “infrrastructure web services): Simple Queue Service (SQS), Mechanical Turk (“artificial artificial intelligence”), Simple Storage Service (S3), and Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). He emphasized variable pricing, so no need to incur large up-front costs. More than 5,000,000,000 objects now stored in S3. 920,000,000 S3 requests on a peak day. 16,000 S3 requests on a recent peak second. S3 architected for “web scale computing.” Walked through an example application architecture for a video encoding app based on SQS, S3, and EC2. Showed how EC2 servers can be added on demand based on queue length. Talked about a spaceflight website that had extremely high peak demand when they posted video that got picked up by major news services, showed how use of S3 kept their bill low, just $200 for S3 services for the month that included this peak event. Says that EC2 is “completely capacity constrained” right now, he says “we’d much rather be demand-constrained,” trying to get there, but for now EC2 is invite-only. Web services “certainly not profitable today” for Amazon. O’Reilly pressed Bezos on why Amazon was straying from retailing in its web service offerings, who explained by saying “we looked around and asked ourselves, “what are we really good at?”
  • Built to Last or Built to Sell: Is There a Difference? (John Battelle, CMP, moderating; Jay Adelson, CEO, Digg/Revision3; Joe Kraus, Co-founder & CEO, JotSpot, now part of Google; Mena Trott, President, Six Apart). Interesting point made that VCs don’t want returns of 5X or 10X — instead, they are looking for the home runs of 100X. So there is surprising pressure from initial investors not to sell for a 5X or 10X return.
  • High Order Bit: Introducing Apollo (Kevin Lynch, Chief Software Architect, Adobe). Kevin did a great job explaining and demoing Apollo. Showed an eBay Apollo app currently in beta, provides very slick UI for on-line use, but also operates off-line; he used the example of putting his Web 2.0 conference badge up for auction, did it while disconnected from the net; the transaction queued up, and when he came back on-line, the queue was processed and the auction transaction uploaded. Kevin emphasized that Apollo apps are built using standard web technologies, such as HTML, JavaScript, AJAX, Flash/Flex. Their target for the Apollo runtime is 5-6MB, and is easily web-installable, which definitely sets it apart from other offline-capable solutions such as client-side Java and Lotus Notes. On the other hand, Apollo is a true client application, see by the OS as a native app. Targeting Windows, OSX, and Linux platforms, apps will run identically across all three. Apollo provides a sandbox that the application runs inside, does not provide full access to host OS, instead provides an API for things such as disk access. Showed a salesforce automation example built on top of salesforce.com APIs, again with offline capabilities; in this case, the ability to synch manage contacts and documents offline. Even more Lotus Notes-like, but based on familiar development tools, small, web-friendly.
  • Launch Pad #1: Jay Bhatti, Co-founder, Spock.com. Amazing people search tool. Shows what tagging can really do, great tagging UI, nice “pivoting” capabilities (see my comments on the Tagging session). Still closed beta, too bad.
  • Launch Pad #2: David Knight, Vice President, WebEx Connect. O’Reilly, what were you thinking? This was worthless.
  • Launch Pad #2: Kerry Fleming, inpowr. A social network where people work together to set goals and achieve positive things in their lives.
  • mp3 audio

Next up: My Web 2.0 Expo: Tuesday (including lots of audio)

[1] One of the conference people had the temerity to tell the Tuesday keynote audience, all 2000+ of us, that “the wireless vendor says everything is fine, we have plenty of capacity, so if you’re having a problem [it’s your fault], you should stop by the help desk [you idiots].” Square brackets are, of course, my interpretation of what she was saying. A little later she asked how many people were having wireless problems. About 1000 hands went up. Clearly the problem was in fact with the wireless setup; I suspect we were hitting limits on both connection capacity (max number of nodes that could connect at once) and bandwidth (I often had a sub-5KBps connection, sometimes sub-1000Bps). Well, it is no doubt a tough problem to solve, as this kind of problem seems to be more the rule than the exception at large conferences.