Web 2.0 Expover

With my San Francisco adventures at an end (for now), I’m safely ensconced back in Brighton tackling the daily grind of emails, work and procrastination. Looking back at the Web 2.0 Expo, on the whole I had a pretty good time.

It was a big conference; really big, like South by Southwest big. I wasn’t quite expecting that. Unlike South by Southwest, the crowd was not dominated by geeky blogging designer developers. They were there but they were in the minority. The majority of people there were either businesspeople or techies working at the coalface of large corporations. In retrospect, this was a really good crowd to speak to: I certainly didn’t get the feeling I was preaching to the converted (which I sometimes get when I’m speaking at Web Standards conferences).

The split in the make-up of the crowd meant that the conference itself had a somewhat schizophrenic feel to it. Really, there were two conferences going on—and I don’t just mean that in the literal sense that Web2Open was running concurrently.

The sessions and panels covered a reasonably broad range of topics. Geeks like me could find plenty to keep them occupied and interested. Some of the ones I attended were:

  • a panel on current state of browser technology that featured Chris Wilson, Brendan Eich, Rael Dornfest and others,
  • a panel on JavaScript frameworks—jQuery, YUI, Dojo, Google Web Toolkit—ably moderated by Simon,
  • a blazing talk by John Allsopp on microformats,
  • a panel whose raison d’etre escaped me but featured Matt Jones and was therefore, for that reason alone, worth attending,
  • a talk on Identity by Identity Woman herself,
  • a tutorial on building an SMS service,
  • a hands-on look at how to implement OpenID,
  • Joi Ito and others talking about gaming and virtual worlds

…and many more. The quality was generally pretty good and if I found myself at a talk I wasn’t enjoying, I could always switch to another room. So overall, thumbs up for the panels and presentations.

But then I made the mistake of going to one of the keynotes.

Whereas the panels and presentations were split amongst lots of reasonably sized rooms, the keynotes were in a giant auditorium. Things started off okay: Tim O’Reilly chatting with Jeff Bezos. It was a bit boring but harmless.

Then John Battelle led an interview with Mena Trott, Jay Adelson and that guy from JotSpot (I think). This was a half hour of John Battelle asking unanswerable questions and the interviewees refusing to answer them. Fascinating.

At this stage, the bullshit was beginning to fly thick and fast. Words like “leverage”, “incentivize” and “monetize” were being bandied about. Just as I was ready to start chewing my own leg off, I remembered my buzzword bingo app. This made the time pass a bit faster. Still, by the time the product pitches started at the end of the so-called keynote session, I was feeling distinctly nauseated.

That was the first day. After that I made sure to avoid the “clap a billionaire” talks and concentrate on the small stuff around the edges. I found myself sitting at a table where Colin from Viddler showed me some really cool stuff he was working on, Chris was refining a microformats side-project and François from Netvibes shared some of his code with me. Now that was more like it.

So the Web 2.0 Expo was a mixed bag. There was a lot of bullshit and buzzwords but there was also plenty of hackery and geekiness. The real knack was avoiding the former while seeking out the latter. By the end of the conference, I had it down to a fine art.

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