As we launch into another exciting week of Web happenings, I had a chance to conduct a video interview with the Web 2.0 Summit Chair, John Battelle about what we could expect to see this year. You can see the interview at our Live Web 2 Summit TV site. We'll stream selected content live, and on demand, throughout the conference on that site. The lineup is pretty impressive, but after talking to Battelle, I'm even more excited. Here's why.First, the 2008 program would be difficult to top -- Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook CEO), Al Gore, Lance Armstrong, ousted Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang and the list goes on. There are no Gores or Armstrongs this year, but in some ways that fits the Web Squared/Web Meets World theme the conference has rallied around. Don't get me wrong, there is star power galore, but it's perhaps a more practical, focused gamut. There's work to be done.
The Web Squared theme, Battelle said, is born from the notion that there is finally web adoption in multiple new dimensions, thanks largely to mobile device advancement and mobile bandwidth proliferation. New opportunities have emerged around an explosion of data, not just from individuals any more, but from machines and sensors. Because of this, we are finally at a point where we can solve some of the biggest issues that face our world. "Web 2 was the first declaration of this shift," Battelle noted, but the opportunities are now exponentially larger now. Hence, Web Squared.
One of the key elements to the Web Squared theme is "Augmented Reality," which will drive a series of discussions at the conference. Battelle explains this as the ability to "know the collective wisdom of others in the moment, wherever you are . . . a data layer between you and the world that makes you smarter about what you're seeing." He gave a simple example: If you're standing on a corner, needing to catch a cab, how do you know if that's the right place to stand? Alone, it's difficult to know, especially in unfamiliar territory. But with the collective wisdom of crowds, through tweets or dedicated applications, you can find that information. This information may come not just through humans, but through data collected from sensors on traffic lights or cell phones.
I thought it was interesting to kick off the conference with the CEO of Comcast, Brian Roberts, and to end with Tim Berners-Lee, but, as Battelle pointed out, Berners-Lee invented the Web and Comcast provides it to the largest number of people. Fitting, then. But Comcast has plenty of ambitions as it looks to acquire NBC (GE, which is selling NBC, is also on the docket) and begins to challenge portal sites like MSN, Yahoo and AOL, Battelle said. He'll also be talking to Roberts about Comcasts high profile role in some of today's policy shaping discussions (bandwidth capping, net neutrality, etc.), and its pioneering forays into scaling customer service through tools like Twitter (@comcastcare). Tim O'Reilly will be talking to Berners-Lee, who has been fairly prescient in his predictions about where the Web is going, and he'll be asking Berners-Lee about what he expects to see next, and what he's most worried about.
As always, Web 2.0 will be filled with startups trying to make their way. Wowd (a customizable real-time search engine), Aardvark (a crowdsourced information engine), and the biggest IPO in the past year, Digital Globe (calling this spatial imagery doesn't do it justice -- the satellite-provided images will help populate Google and Microsoft maps, for example). As Battelle pointed out, not all will make it, but Web 2.0 has had a pretty good hit rate on the companies it has debuted. Battelle also highlighted some of the policy-oriented discussions, with the federal CTO (Aneesh Chopra) speaking, along with the Healthcare Policy Walk and Carl Shapiro, the new chief economist from the U.S. Department of Justice.
It's also an interesting time for companies Battelle called "the comeback kids" to take the stage: Carol Bartz, the CEO of Yahoo, AOL's CEO, Tim Armstrong and MySpace CEO Owen Van Natta. While it's probably time to move past Yahoo's spurning of Microsoft's acquisition offers from last year, in addition to having Bartz on the hot seat, the head of Microsoft's online business, Qi Lu, will also take the stage, which could lead to some interesting dialog. And Battelle may find a way to ask Twitter CEO Evan Williams whether it was wise to turn down a half billion dollars from Facebook.
Finally, Battelle said there will be seven big news announcements coming from the stage of Web 2.0. So stay tuned and buckle up. It should be an extraordinary week.
Fritz Nelson is an Executive Editor at InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.
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