Organizing a full-day conference is not an easy task under any circumstances. Though one could argue the lift is a little lighter if the Conference topic is easily defined and understood. A Conference on developments in the paper clip industry for instance: still a pain to organize but not hard to agree on a central theme.
Web 2.0 on the other hand….
Where do you begin? How do you bring together thought leaders developing everything from mashup applications to a Second Life presence for government agencies, foster provocative discussions while maintaining a central theme that carries throughout?
Over the next few days I’ll be posting on the discussions that took place at The ExecutiveBiz “The New New Internet” Conference today, and the speakers who sought to fit together all of the Web 2.0 pieces into one puzzle. With over 800 attendees from the public and private sector – executives, managers and thought leaders who will have a huge say in how Web 2.0 evolves in the coming years – circulating, absorbing and networking, there was an undeniable buzz working its way through the hotel (and I’m not just talking about the hundreds of Blackberries set on vibrate).
For those who attended, feel free to post comments on your takeaways from the sessions and speakers, and what you took away from all of the insight gleaned. And for those who could not attend consider this blog a Cliffs Notes version. Also, be sure to keep checking the ExecutiveBiz site for full video and photos of the presentations and panel discussions.
Today’s entry will focus on two keynotes: the Conference kickoff presentation from Ted Leonsis, Vice Chairman Emeritus, AOL and the lunch presentation from Tim Ferriss, bestselling author of The 4-Hour Work Week.
I’m starting with these two because they both addressed overlapping themes that hold relevance for every nook and cranny of the Web 2.0 space. They both spoke of how, for all the technological developments and new gadgets, the lives of consumers are not more productive. For Ted, a self-professed student of happiness, this is a problem. Web 2.0 holds the power to enhance his five key ingredients of happiness (relationships, community, self expression, giving back and pursuit of a higher cause), but only if companies providing Web 2.0 services stay focused on the consumer. Ferriss’ lunch keynote took a different approach to in some ways hammer home the same point: individuals are letting devices, clients and relationships control them, rather than vice-versa. The result, he warns, is that no matter how much money we make or clients we win, our happiness level decreases because our control over life has decreased.
Though introducing himself as “the New New Ted Leonsis” it was in fact vintage Ted – separating what is cool and flashy about Web 2.0 from what is required for companies to create a viable business model on it. The social networks, video sites and user reviews might be getting all of the attention, but Leonsis reminded the audience that consumer collaboration is not 2.0. It isn’t even 1.0 but instead pre-Web 1.0.
For Ted – from his time at AOL to his role with the Washington Capitals – it has always been about the consumer. It is about the consumer who no longer is content to sit on a couch and be told what programming he can watch at a particular time. The consumer wants choice and control. For television that plays out through TiVo, and now that we live on the Internet it is about control over content, expression, applications and the overall Web experience.
Though enthusiastic and optimistic, Ted is concerned by how Web 2.0 companies are laying out revenue streams. While a successful company should tap multiple revenue streams, Leonsis argues most Web 2.0 companies lack even a single viable revenue stream and instead are content to piggyback on Google’s. For Web 2.0 to take hold as a business model this will have to change, or risk having the entire category beholden to a small handful of Web behemoths like Google, FaceBook, MySpace, etc.
Leonsis concluded by addressing the demographic realities that Web 2.0 companies must heed in order to find an audience. While the country is growing more diverse ethnically, he points out that most of the people pulling the Web 2.0 strings are predominantly white and male (a fact he confirmed by asking attendees to survey the audience). I can attest to the heavy male factor, as female attendees rejoiced that finally, at long last, the line for the men’s restroom exceeded their own.
It was really the ideal opening speech, because it armed attendees with some big ideas and considerations as everyone headed off into micro-sessions where Web 2.0 – as a business within the public and private sector – would be discussed in more detail.
Ferriss picked up on the happiness theme by crystallizing how beholden we are as businesspeople to the technologies that supposedly make our lives easier. The concept of his book is really about how to redesign our lifestyle in a way that maximizes happiness while maintaining work and life productivity. As listeners sliced into chicken breasts and registered both written and mental notes, Ferriss sliced through complex work and life issues by placing them into simplified buckets with tangible solutions.
Our work and personal lives are filled with an endless stream of tasks we feel the need to accomplish. The problem, as Ferriss tells it, is that we often pat ourselves on the back for multi-tasking. In truth, we should be single-tasking: picking out the small number of tasks critical to our work and personal lives and focusing exclusively on them until project completion, then outsourcing the trivial tasks that occupy so much of our day.
Scanning the audience you had the sense that few people could imagine making room in their lives for more work, more family obligations, more social requirements. And that is the problem as Ferriss sees it: our lives are not scalable. By focusing on critical tasks and outsourcing trivial tasks we can make our lives scalable and regain control of our lives.
Both speakers took aim at how we – as consumers and workers – interact with Web 2.0, technology and gadgets. Beyond all of the applications, Web sites and tools, it is really about finding ways to increase happiness and control for consumers. For Leonsis, Web 2.0 businesses are still working through ways to utilize the Internet for this purpose, and for Ferriss the consumer still hasn’t quite figured out the formula for making their own lives easier.
What both men agreed on is the tremendous power Web 2.0 – when executed properly – can place in the hands of consumers, and in subsequent posts I’ll dive a little deeper into the Conference sessions that demonstrated how that potential is already starting to play out.
Brian Lustig is co-founder of Lustig Communications, a Rockville, MD-based communications firm that works with growing technology and government IT firms. Lustig is also a contributor to local business and industry publications.