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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Web 2.0 Conference Notes From The Field

Went to the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. It was a small show but it had some of the fun elements I look for in a high-tech trade show. There were plenty of companies I had never heard of, and no one could explain what "Web 2.0" means.

According to what I saw on the exhibit floor, Web 2.0 is either Enterprise Social Networking, Web Applications like Google Apps or "Platform As A Service" (PaaS). These are really three completely different things; it looks like the Web 2.0 moniker will have to live with this fractured definition, probably until the term becomes old hat.

Enterprise Social Networking seems to be MySpace for companies. I see FaceBook filling this market niche already, but there are a whole bunch of little startups who are making software or services that will outfit a big enterprise with a private version of MySpace. Related to these companies are the enterprise wiki companies all doing products like Google Sites.

There were plenty of web application companies on the show floor too. Again, Google is doing this with Google Apps. Honestly, I'm not quite ready to drink the web application koolaid quite yet. I still need the richness of an application like Microsoft Word to produce printed documents. But, given the size of the market represented by Microsoft Office I am sure it will only be a matter of time utill the quality of the applications, offline capabilities, and really useful groupware functions will drive a significant part of the market to web applications.

I suppose if I had to pick my personal favorite definition for Web 2.0, it would be Platform as a Service. I think this is the most important trend identified at the conference, because it represents the largest potential stake of the future of technology.

It doesn't take much to realize that what Platform as a Service represents could be as significant as Windows OS or the TCP/IP protocol stack. And the key to it is developers. As this idea begins to catch on, more big applications like salesforce.com will be deployed using a particular PaaS provider's APIs and other programming tools. Salesforce.com realizes this and they have been courting developers right from the beginning to get them to use Force.com as a programming platform.

There were plenty of other big players at the Web 2.0 show to court developers with their PaaS offerings, including Microsoft, Amazon.com, Entelos, and Yahoo. I suppose the real question here is whether any of them will be able to catch up with salesforce.com's tremendous lead. Experience shows that betting against the leader in high-tech marketing is usually a bad idea, so let's all start learning the force.com platform.

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