Sunday, November 29, 2009

Web 2.0: Conference of Insights and Inspiration

Delightful and inspiring, the 2009 Web 2.0 Conference in New York City was rife with success stories, entrepreneurial spirit, and wicked-cool concepts (Did you know that your email contacts are each worth $948, according to an IBM research team?).

In addition to our previous Conference entries about entrepreneurship and design, we learned about…

… the importance of collaboration,
“Do what you do best, link to the rest.” – Tim O’Reilly of The O’Reilly Radar. As applicable as it is in the context of social media, it’s really applicable to just about anything. Focus on your core competency, partner for the rest. Good leaders do it when they delegate. Obama did it on the road to the White House. It requires a clear recognition of what you’re good at and what you’re not… and the confidence to admit it to yourself and others.

… the difference between an audience and a community,
“The difference between ‘audience’ and ‘community’ is which way you turn the chairs.” – Chris Brogan, Mayor of Twitterville and author of Trust Agents. We love this visual. It reminds us to interact with, not just talk at, our users. Without this understanding, it’s difficult to develop a following.

… what Wal-mart and the mafia have in common,
“What do Wal-mart and the mafia have in common? They conquered distribution!” – Chris Brogan (again). Whether we’re talking about web content or merchandise or, in the mob’s case, drugs, it’s the same. If you want to amass influence, you’re better off running a system, not inputs to it. Run Google or Digg, not Reuters or the AP.

… why the internet is like junk food,
Dana Boyd, PhD, researcher at Microsoft, had some fascinating (if not too many) insights to share as one of the Keynoters (she spoke faster than most people’s brains function to fit a PhD dissertation's worth of content into about 15 minutes). She analogized internet consumption to food intake. Her research shows that people consume content based on stimulation, not necessarily what is best for them. We click on stories and sites about gossip or sex or violence, just as we crave sugars and fats in food. They’re stimulating, if not addicting. If not careful, she warns we’ll develop the psychological equivalent to obesity. There can be such a thing as too much internet stimulus, which in turn is bad for society. Obesity is a drag on collective healthcare costs; internet over-stimulus a drag on collective intelligence. While she didn’t provide solutions, we were left interested in finding some and at the very least thought-provoked... "psychological equivalent of obesity"... brilliant.

… and entrepreneurship some more.
How would Kevin Rose (Founder of Digg) and Jay Adelson (CEO of Digg) start a company today? By being “scrappy!”

They advise doing what you want to do with the resources you have (or are easily available) and go from there (Kevin himself started by renting server space for $99/month). They had more to say on the topic:
  • Do your own PR. Throw your own parties. Contact press directly.
  • Hack the press. If you can’t reach a top writer at a top media property, target a junior writer there.
  • Meet influencers. Don’t be afraid to meet people of consequence for your business.
  • Prototype on your dime. Everything is so cheap today that you don’t need funding in the beginning. Prove your concept on your own – you can do it with thousands, not hundreds of thousands – then go get funding to take it to the next level.
  • Partner when time's right. Partner when you can’t do it all anymore.
  • Release fast and often. Speed is the name of the game. As reinforced by Rashmi Sinha, CEO and Founder of Slideshare, it’s the main advantage small players have over big ones.
  • Iterate often. Continually improve your product or service. The more it incorporates user feedback, the better.

Ralph Waldo Emerson said (as Chris Brogan referenced at the conference): “Go where there’s no road and leave a trail.” Kevin Rose and Jay Adelson did it with Digg, countless and untold others are doing it right now. Are you one of them? (If so, let us know. Comment below or email us at

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