This is the summary of my 2 1/2 days venture deep down the rabbit hole. I have just attended O'Reilly's Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. While during the last days, I was just able to comment, I should now give some personal reflection on the conference.
Was it worth to travel to San Francisco only to attend the conference?
It definitely was. I had attended both of the Web 2.0 Expos 2007 in San Francisco and Berlin. There wasn't much of a difference between those events, and the excitement about Web 2.0 and social media was enormous at this time. I don't know whether the words Enterprise 2.0 and Government 2.0 existed back then, and if so, I didn't know them. MySpace was leading the web communities sector by far. Twitter existed already but except a few geeks like Stowe Boyd, nobody knew it or used it. Ning was the latest kid on the block, Dopplr and many other networks just had started a few months before.
This year's conference certainly had a very different tone. Social media have matured and are mainstream, somehow. For a consultant like myself who tries to help organizations to navigate through change, it was important to hear about the latest developments and have a look into the future. There wasn't much new tendencies, it seems that this is the time of consolidation. I liked the motto of the conference: "The Power of Less."
What were the main topics discussed at the Expo?
I didn't attend any sessions of the design or development track, so I have no idea what's new in terms of technology. I focused basically on two aspects, one being how to build strong online communities, particularly in the corporate sector - the Enterprise 2.0 aspect so to say, and the other one issues aoround marketing in the Web 2.0 world.
From my limited perspective, I would say that the notion of how to create strong tribes was one of the main topics (a concept that has been introduced by Seth Godin). The other one was mobile applications. It was interesting to see that Facebook and Twitter have become the mega (or meta) applications, those which set the standards and basically define the cornerstones of Web 2.0 All other platforms and applications are kind of supplements to a world which - at least from a marketing perspective - focuses around the question "How can I make use of the enormous diffusion rate that Facebook already has (with at least 200 million users, in all generations), and Twitter might have in the future? How can I increase the efficiency in which I use this platforms for my strategy - as a person or as an organization?" There are hundreds, if not thousands of programmes that aim at enhancing the user experience and the utility of both platforms. So, summarized, it is Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Twitter which dominate the Internet. And the iPhone of course, as a technical device - it seems that half of the attendants had one.
What about blogging - was that an issue at all?
Not really. It seems that blogging is taken for granted. When you are a Web 2.0 geek, it is out of questions not to blog.
What surprised you most?
A couple of things, in fact. First of all it was the growing awareness that there is a need for change management to accompany Web 2.0 projects in organizations. I arrived with my concept of Web 2.0 being a tool for change facilitation - which it is. But I had to realize that introducing social media as a tool for better collaboration, either across an organization or with outside stakeholders needs to be facilitated. It's like the introduction of personal computers 20 years ago into offices, or a big ERP project. And it seems that as long as the millenium generation hasn't entirely taken over all positions within organizations, there will be resistance to implementation of Web 2.0. For a couple of reasons: IT departments want to protect the security of the company's system, Boards fear that will not be able to contain openness and transparency once people are encouraged to write blogs, collaborate on wikis, etc. And putting customers into the driving seat of product development actually means turning how many companies work upside down.
Second, was the massive focus on permission marketing and the diffusion of marketing into every niche of the WWW. It was somehow fascinating and at the same time shocking for me to hear the same mantra again and again: Go to facebook, invade the social communities, listen to them and get into a conversation, and you will sell. And this is really a difference to the Web 2.0 conferences in 2005. Back then, marketing session were about how to make your social media platform popular. Now, marketing is about how you can exploit social media for your corporate goals (and here I include the fundamental Christians who have discovered Twitter as a perfect tool to reach out).
Third was that I realized that the concept of crowdsourcing has now become reality in the Twitter Era. You have a question - throw it out to the masses and you will get an answer. Even if you don't have so many followers (well, you should have at least some influential followers).
So, what's your executive summary? Web 2.0 has become mainstream, at least in the US and in Asia (so it will be mainstream in Europe in 1-2 years). It is clear what are the standard applications of social media for organizations, governments and non-profit communities. The tools have pretty much matured, and all further development just gives the cream on top of what we have already. It is now time to go vertical, i.e. deepen the diffusion of social media in organizations and society. This is a change project for most organizations, and for administrations anyhow.
We will have to fight for our privacy in the WWW, and have to learn how to protect ourselves from unsolicited, or subtle intrusion of marketing messages into our private lives, and of course the even worse things we all know about: child abuse, right wings, terrorists. This is an entire set of skills which we have to teach at school to protect our kids. As I have been saying many times before - the Internet isn't good or bad, it is really a mirror of our society - but it provides an effective platform for the very good ones and the very bad ones to pursue their aims.
But then, hey - it's good that companies and administrations are finally talking to their clients and citizens, and there is no way back to the classical, hierarchical organization where people work in their silos. The Internet revolution which started about 15 years ago has supported emerging societal trends that started in the late 1960ies and which found there expression in the collaborative approaches that dominate modern change facilitation approaches, such as Open Space Technology, Future Search Technology, World Café, etc. With the help of social media, we are now able to establish Open Space organizations, even on a global scale.