"Why didn't you take the $33 per share, Jerry?" John Battelle asked Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang 33 different ways at last week's Web 2.0 Summit until, on some level, you cringed for the poor bastard. Moments earlier, Battelle had introduced Yang as a man he'd known for a long time, a man who doesn't back down from a fight. Then Battelle - gently at first - brought the fight. I interview people for a living in front of cameras, but this was simply a masterpiece and ultimately I cringed for the both of them: Battelle for having to do it; Yang for wandering aimlessly, sadly, and, I suppose humanly. This was among dozens of remarkable, memorable moments in a conference that seems to keep getting better each year.At about the halfway point on Thursday mSpoke exec Sean Ammirati asked me what I thought of the conference so far and I blurted out that there was no time to think. Session after session with big thinker after big thinker had left me mentally exhausted with little time to fully contemplate what I'd heard. Now, with time to think, here's what I heard.
Last year a smug, cocky 23-year-old CEO held an audience captive during an interview that was as strange as the boy-wonder. This year, that same CEO, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg seemed just as smug but oddly more at peace with where his company sits. He practically gloated about the Microsoft investment, and said that the Microsoft-related revenue Facebook is getting is waning and implied that it wasn't really that strategic to begin with. Whatever you think of the hubris, the company's Connect gambit is the real deal, and if they can pull it off, the social network competitive landscape could be forever tilted toward Facebook.
Despite efforts to paint the conference as some sort of definitive word on Cloud, there was really only one momentous panel on the topic, which included VMWare, Salesforce.com and Adobe. The last one was a bit of a surprise, but someone needs to create the front-end environments for the cloud: thus Flash and Air. But as always, Salesforce CEO Mark Benioff held the crowd captive with one-liners about Oracle ("mature dying models"), SAP ("maybe already dead") and Microsoft's Azure ("you mean a Zune?"). But it was VMWare's Paul Maritz who stole my attention with concepts like and Information Bank and building an information marketplace around collective personal information.
The panel I will remember most included the Mayor of San Francisco (Gavin Newsom), political consultant Joe Trippi and blogger extraordinaire Arianna Huffington, who turns out to be a sound bite machine ("the Internet killed Karl Rove politics," Sarah Pallin was "the Trojan Moose of the Republican party"). But what I remember most was how what these three stars said tied into the theme of this year's conference, which is that we've pretty much blown past trying to define what Web 2.0 is. It just is. It's the platform, stupid, now let's get on to what it's going to do. And what it's going to do - what it has already done - is change everything. How we communicate, how we campaign, how we solve problems, how we reach the nooks and crannies of the world.
If you want to read the quintessential piece on how the Barack Obama campaign blended traditional grass-roots, door-to-door, neighborhood-by-neighborhood party building with the Internet look no further than Tim Dickinson's piece in Rolling Stone last March. Here, though, Huffington observed that this election, because of the role the Internet played, could eliminate notions of left and right, liberal and conservative, and ideology altogether. "You now have to be in the party of getting things done," Newsom said.
Now candidates and elected officials have no choice but to be transparent, for everything is known, there are no private moments (thanks to citizen journalism), and the Web can actually connect constituents to politics in a more forceful and direct way than ever before. As scary as this may sound to some, as we move from the age of television where you sit on your couch, being fed by what comes across the screen, the Internet requires an active participant - you are "galloping your horse," as Huffington put it. With 1.6 million land lines in Nigeria, but 66 million cell phones, text messaging has become "the torch of democracy," Trippi added.
Thursday night I was an interloper at a Tweet-Up at the House of Shields bar across from The Palace Hotel. This was a somewhat-impromptu gathering led by Tim O'Reilly who is a recent convert to the practice of Twittering and now perhaps its biggest proponent. We gathered to celebrate the medium, which is still in its infancy, and the birth of a hefty report on the topic. Despite the oxymoron of a 50-something-page report on the phenomenon of microblogging, it is well worth the read. I have been, for the longest time, a non-believer, but sitting at Web 2.0 Summit following all of the tweets I suddenly had the epiphany that this is the way we're all going to follow the news; that those we follow and those who follow us will lead us down pathways and journeys we've never imagined and we certainly wouldn't have found on our own.
Last week was a special week, to be sure. There was Lance Armstrong in the middle of preparing for another remarkable comeback, this time not to save his own life, but to save the lives of cancer victims everywhere. He was charming and funny, and he Twitters. And he gave away a bike to a lucky auction bidder.
There were so many others, it would blow your mind: Michael Pollan, author of "In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifest," Tesla CEO Elon Musk (who a friend told me misquoted some his own stats for Tesla performance), and the incomparable Al Gore drenched in sweat until he got to sit down and go toe-to-toe with Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle as the week's final speaker, like a gigantic fireworks display to end a night at Disneyland.
Gore implored the audience, the government and everyone else about the urgency of our environmental crisis. Gore declared that Obama should declare that we will get 100 percent of our electricity from renewable sources within the next 10 years. And he gave us all a challenge for that notion of Web 2.0: "A puppy has to have a purpose," he said, talking about when his family begged him to get one; Web 2.0 has to have a purpose.
Finally, maybe it has.