Page last updated at 13:10 GMT, Saturday, 26 April 2008 14:10 UK

Web 2.0 debates internet's future

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, Silicon Valley

Generic live mesh data
Opening up internet programming was a central theme of Web 2.0

San Francisco's Web 2.0 Expo conference brought together thousands of people responsible for crafting the future direction of the internet, and the world of applications - or apps - was front and centre.

Everyone from Microsoft to Yahoo to MySpace was on a mission to woo developers to create exciting applications for their devices.

Jennifer Pahlka of Techweb, one of the conference's co-chairs, said the carrot these big Silicon Valley companies were dangling to entice developers to get involved was that of openness and allowing people to devise programmes without constraints.

"Yahoo was talking about opening up advertising platforms, Mozilla was talking about opening up the mobile web and John Zittrain from Oxford University was talking about openness to drive innovation and creativity so we don't go into this closed system where every application has to be approved by someone else," said Ms Pahlka.

"So I think open versus closed and who gets to define what is open and what isn't is a big theme that dominated the week at Web 2.0."

Throwing down the gauntlet

For Charlene Li, principal analyst at Forrester Research, this over-arching principle of openness was at the heart of two of the week's major announcements.

Mitchell Baker
I think that Web 2.0 is at an intersection
Mitchell Baker

"I think the combination of Microsoft's Live Mesh and the Yahoo! Open Strategy are throwing down the gauntlet to everybody else to open up as well," he said.

Live Mesh aims to synchronise and unite a multiplicity of devices and applications online.

Yahoo! Open Strategy is about stitching together its online services under the social profile concept for ultimate access.

Ms Li told BBC News: "All this then says that whoever has the best experience, if I can make your connection to the web better than anyone else, you will be loyal to me."

Web 2.0 intersection

The point of delivery was a hot topic throughout the Web 2.0 conference and the focus was undoubtedly on the mobile web.

Dean Takahashi
They are all start ups digging the earth right now and their pay-off will maybe come later
Dean Takahashi

Mozilla's chairwoman Mitchell Baker is banking on the Firefox browser as being one of the more important platforms for developers who are working on mobile devices.

"I think that Web 2.0 is at an intersection and the software on which it is based and the involvement of Mozilla demonstrates that by being open and allowing interoperability you get more innovative and better efforts," she said.

For the last six months, Firefox has been working on a browser that operates on mobiles and the organisation is already testing its prototype, she said.

To some degree, that takes care of the here and right now, but turning to the next stage in the world of the internet, at Web 2.0 chatter about Web 3.0 was bubbling under the surface.

While largely thought of as the semantic web - where machines understand what is being written - not everyone at this conference was ready to embrace Web 3.0.

Forrester analyst Josh Bernoff described it as "a load of baloney".

"It just shows people can count and it's some piece of marketing flim-flam dreamed up by companies pushing their products," he said.

Opening up

Dean Takahashi of Venture Beat said if you want to find out what the next big thing is, follow the big money.

Jennifer Pahlka
I am just more interested in applications that connect me with other people than with a computer that says it can understand what I just wrote
Jennifer Pahlka

For the moment that is not happening in the so-called world of Web 3.0.

"The semantic web is a longer term play and so far I don't see highly valued companies popping up there," said Mr Takahashi.

"They are all start ups digging the earth right now and their pay-off will maybe come later."

For the moment, Mr Takahashi said the venture capital landscape is being dominated by the mobile world, social networks and applications.

With a plethora of companies embracing open social networks and the demand for applications increasing, this, he said, is where there real growth will be.

"Starting a plain old application company for something like Facebook, that's like a one or two person company," said Mr Takahashi.

"What you are going to see is other businesses acquiring those small app companies so that they can have a big collection of Facebook apps that will eventually be worth something.

"That's potentially where the money will be."

Get connected

For the moment, Jennifer Pahlka advised users to enjoy the ride that is Web 2.0.

"There is still a really long way to go with Web 2.0," she said.

People were still trying to find ways of "exploiting all those principles of collective intelligence", she added.

"The fundamental aspect of what is gong on just now is more personal and that resonates more with me than the semantic web," said Ms Pahlka.

"I am just more interested in applications that connect me with other people than with a computer that says it can understand what I just wrote."


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