Page last updated at 10:39 GMT, Thursday, 2 April 2009 11:39 UK

Web 2.0: More than just a number?

By Maggie Shiels
Technology reporter, BBC News, San Francisco

Web 2.0 expo theme
The economy is casting a shadow over this year's conference

Could Web 2.0 become "Web squared"?

That was the conundrum raised by the man who actually popularised the Web 2.0 moniker that many have grown to love and hate in equal part.

But during internet veteran Tim O'Reilly's keynote speech at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco, he looked back over the past five years to demonstrate that the "baby we built with technology is growing up and it's starting to go to work".

He told the assembled audience of developers that the web was more than just a fun place to hang out and catch up with friends on Facebook or MySpace.

As proof of the "maturation" of Web 2.0 technologies, Mr O'Reilly described how they were increasingly interacting with the world through the use of sensors.

As proof, he cited the Google search application that predicted where flu would hit next, an energy metering aggregator called Amee and an internet sensor that Twittered people automatically when their plants needed watering.

"We are starting to see a co-ordination of these sensors. That is the future," stated Mr O'Reilly, the founder of O'Reilly Media, which organised the conference along with TechWeb.

He then told the audience that this led to a formulation "moving beyond Web 2.0 as it really engages with the world, it really becomes something profoundly different and we are calling it Web squared".

At that point, a slide came up with the words "Web 2.0 + World = Web Squared."

Alive and well

Certainly the Web 2.0 title is one that even Nate Elliott, a principal analyst for Forrester, feels is sounding tired.

"Yeah, it's time to call it the Web 7.0 conference or what about 9.2," he joked.

Co-conference chair Jennifer Pahlka from TechWeb acknowledged that the title definitely seemed to get under people's skin.

Tim O'Reilly
Tim O'Reilly signals it's perhaps time to move on from Web 2.0

"There is a contingent of people that are tired of the word. Are people tired of the concept? I don't think so and I think many, many people are only now discovering the concept," she told BBC News.

Mr Elliott agreed that there was a lot still going on and that the name should not cloud that.

"Web 2.0, as a set of ideas, is alive and well," he said.

"There are still a lot of challenges around that we haven't solved and you see a lot of interesting discussions at this event where people are trying to solve those problems. But Web 2.0 has a healthy future to look forward to regardless of what it's called."

Ms Pahlka was a bit more vocal.

"Look, I don't really care what it's called. I care that people understand that delving into this concept and building businesses and applications and products out of it is a way we can innovate in our economy.

"And we desperately need innovation now."

The 'power of less'

With the lagging economy looming large over this Expo, it more than explains the reason for the theme of the Power of Less.

The number of attendees and exhibitors was down by around 20% but Ms Pahlka said being forced to go back to basics and think more simply was a good thing.

WEb 2.0 expo
Despite the downturn, business is still getting done at the Expo

"If you choose a path of less, whether that's less cluttered design or a simpler business model, it helps you focus on what you are doing.

"You end up finding the constraints of less provides this enormous creativity, this enormous opening and these business opportunities for you."

As an example of that, Ms Pahlka referred to Twitter.

"Twitter is a classic example of the 'power of less'. It has a slim design. It's a company that does only one thing - it allows you to send 140-character messages.

"All the other features their users have requested they have said let someone else do them, this is what we are doing and we are going to do it really well and an eco-system has evolved around that approach," said Ms Pahlka.

Mr Elliott said that while he understood the need for businesses to hunker down and go into survival mode, he was disappointed that he was not seeing more cutting edge innovation at this year's Expo.

"When I look around, I see ideas, but I see less people shooting for the moon. I see more people trying to get the ideas that already exist right.

"Of course it's important to keep innovating and to keep finding those big ideas. We are waiting to see what will come from this recession and we are hearing from all sorts of companies that they have to focus on results, on accountability and making sure every dollar spent is spent wisely."

With such a serious backdrop to the conference, Mr O'Reilly ended with a call to arms.

"We need to create more value than we capture. In our financial system there were a whole lot of people who said: 'Wow, I can get a lot for myself.' This is really a tale of how collective intelligence can go awry.

"We know that this wonderful flowering of innovation is something that we have created together. I want you all to take that as your mission to continue to create, to invent and to make value for this challenged world of ours."

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