The Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco 2008, which runs April 22 through April 25 comes at an inflection point in this rapidly growing arena. Yahoo, one of the major players in the Web 2.0 space, stands on the brink of being acquired by Microsoft. Meanwhile, the U.S. economy is sluggish, which limits the capital available to Web 2.0 startups. Indeed, four years after the term "Web 2.0" entered the industry vernacular, many forward-looking innovators are focused mobile services and Web 3.0, also called the Semantic Web.
Nevertheless, the conceptual underpinnings of Web 2.0, the Web as a platform, have proven to be sound. It might even be fair to say that Web 2.0 has won. Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo are busy building upon the Web as a platform, along with thousands of startups and other large companies like Adobe, IBM, Oracle, and Sun.
Yet there remains a need to explore Web 2.0 in a conference format because some of its major issues remain unresolved.
User control of data, for example, is one of the key aspects of Web 2.0 as O'Reilly Media CEO Tim O'Reilly explained the term in 2005. But in many ways and on many sites, users don't yet control their data. Google users, for example, do not have a button they can press to instantly delete all records of their Google searches from Google's servers.
The tech industry needs to resolve whether user control of data, an issue that intersects with the issue of privacy, will remain part of the Web 2.0 concept, because there's significant incentive for companies to control and exploit user data.
On the Web 2.0 preview blog, Erika Hall, lead strategist of Mule Design, offers a glimpse into how some industry figures think about this issue. "Given [the controversy surrounding Google Street View] and tools like Twitter and Dopplr, and Yahoo's Fire Eagle, I think George Orwell would be stunned by the extent to which people are embracing the eradication of privacy," she observes.
Jennifer Pahlka, general manager and conference co-chair of the Web 2.0 Expo, said the expo has moved from the initial giddy stage to an event more focused on serious business issues. One topic she expects will generate interest is the proliferation of Web infrastructure options, such as Google's recently launched Google App Engine.
"The other really big question is open versus closed, and to what degree to you call something 'open'," Pahlka said. One speaker that will address this question, she said, is Jonathan Zittrain, chair in Internet governance and regulation at Oxford University and author of "The Future of the Internet -- And How to Stop It." Another speaker on this topic, she said, is Aristotle Balogh, CTO at Yahoo.
Web 2.0 has also not fully resolved how to share data and offer open APIs while still serving shareholder or business interests. Many companies have opened up data and services to outsiders but consumption of that information tends to face limits when the entity using the information seeks to profit from it. There isn't yet a standard licensing model to translate data into revenue. About the closest thing right now is Amazon Web Services per-per-use computing infrastructure.
And then there are the security issues. Web 2.0 sites, built using Ajax technologies, continue to be criticized for being vulnerable to hackers. And the security problems are compounded by the way in which Web pages now tend to be assembled from data sources that aren't immediately transparent to Web page visitors. Such opacity makes it easier for cyber criminals to conceal malware on trusted pages.
Along these lines, the Friday keynote by Google's Matt Cutts, "What Google Knows About Spam," may offer some insight. Google has become a popular target for spammers, not only because of the size of its audience but because its free services can be exploited more effectively through their association with Google's trusted brand. The extent to which Google can defend itself against spammers and cyber criminals should be a bellwether for the Web as a platform. If the security issues cannot be managed more effectively, consumers and businesses will be reluctant to commit to Web 2.0 services.