State of the Web 2.0 Union

Joseph Smarr and Pete Cashmore
Caption: Joseph Smarr and Pete Cashmore “Partying Like it’s 1999″

I’m back in the office after two action-packed days and evenings in San Francisco for the annual Web 2.0 Expo. It was a huge gathering at an historic point. Are we on the cusp of the open Social Web or the brink of a “nuclear winter” — or both?

I loved this quip in a piece by CNET’s Caroline McCarthy regarding a pre-launch startup, Chi.mp, co-hosting an open bar party with Mashable:

“Amid the drunken revelry and pulsing electronic music, one prominent tech-industry veteran at the party was asked exactly what Chi.mp is. ‘I’ll tell you what Chi.mp is. It’s venture money getting set on fire,’ the jaded observer replied. Surveying the buoyant crowd, he added, ‘This feels a little like 1999.'”

But over-the-top partying aside, the vibe for me was tectonic. I could feel the strain of enormous tension built up along the traditional intersections of the industry’s continents. Microsoft introduces and demonstrated their bold “Mesh” initiative, which pits their cloud computing against Google’s. Yahoo! announced a sweeping makeover as on open platform, but is fighting for its independence from an unsolicited takeover bid by Microsoft. Will Yahoo! have the time to see its open efforts blossom. And if they become a part of Microsoft, how will such efforts “mesh”?

Tim O’Reilly reminded us all that there is something really big going on, and that we should not get distracted by the business headlines. I found his talk inspirational, and I agree with his thesis that the Web, especially the Social Web, is a driver of change in human capability that will have as dramatic an impact as the development of writing or the creation of cities. “Are we done yet?” he asked the crowd, with the fervor of a preacher or Presidential candidate. “No!” came the response.

And in what was one of the most well-received talks of the Expo, here Joseph Smarr of Plaxo articulates with great clarity one area in which we clearly are not “done yet,” deploying a new service layer that will remove the friction of the Social Web:

Here’s one of the key slides from Joseph’s talk that shows the Social Web services layer that we believe is about to emerge:

Emerging service layer for the Social Web

I also had the privilege of having meetings with most of the big companies, and I heard things that would have seemed impossible even a year ago. The commitment to opening up, to open standards, like OpenID, and to interoperability, is really quite amazing. 2008 is going to be an historic year, for sure.

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