Web 2.0 could be a little more Web 2.0

Last month was Web 2.0 expo, and I recently got the “give us feedback” email. So I thought I’d give some feedback, and shoot a pointer to this posting over to O’Reilly. [UPDATE: never heard back from them.]

The Web 2.0 expo was intense and rewarding, so let me start by saying that I really enjoyed it and it was well worth the time and expense. Kudos to the organizers for putting together a great program and attracting a great crowd.

However, I was struck by how “un-web-2.0” the conference was. And I don’t mean in the manner that most participants were whining about – the low-capacity wifi solution and the dearth of power plugs (bring a second battery; buy a broadband card). What I’m referring to is the soul of whatever “Web 2.0” is.

So what is that soul, exactly? The tag “Web 2.0” is dated at this point, of course, but it remains a label of what is really just another interim generation of internet technology (or more accurately, a set of technologies and conventions). Let’s say that for the purposes of these discussions what I consider the pertinent characteristics are the following (slightly more brief than Tim’s version):

  1. Dynamic. Web pages are created on the fly as opposed to served up from static files.
  2. User generated content. The key interesting characteristic, of course; the notion that the principal value is derived from users providing content to each other.
  3. The long tail. Related to but distinct from the user generated content notion; the result of the scalability of net technologies in allowing arbitrarily specialized interests to meet in essentially arbitrary clusters of subinterests.

For completeness, there is a fourth element in COTS resources. Common off-the-shelf has largely reached all key capital requirements – computing power, storage, communication bandwidth, and principal software stacks (open source). But this relates more to the business elements of 2.0, not so much the “soul”.

So thinking about these spiritual principles, what was missing in the Web 2.0 Expo resources? Well, the following struck me:

  1. Attendee list. Yes there was a free-for-all wiki to enter information on, but having flagged my registration information “public” I assumed it would be … public. Turns out that it was, sort of, but not really. This should have been an on-line list of attendees where we could add additional notes, as well as send messages and start discussions
  2. Presenter slides. These were meant to be uploaded during the conf. Some were uploaded after. But they should have been uploaded before the conference, and should have each had a discussion forum associated with it where people can post comments, transcript, pointer to audio, etc.
  3. Birds of a feather. The BOF sessions were posted on a whiteboard. An obvious choice would be a Wiki, where the talk page could include comments from those who participated.
  4. Web2Open. A “create it yourself” conference that was organized at the same time as Web 2.0 Expo and in the same location, where speakers were self-selected. Again, an obvious need for a Wiki page for it, with talk page for participants to comment and stay in touch.

In fairness, there was a common wiki blog for people to say “hi” (which put me in touch with some people), and there was of course Flickr tagged pictures

It’s easy to complain and have ideas about how somebody else should do more work. But I have dabbled in such things myself. A while back, I organized the review process, the web pages, the online resources, and the editorial process for the conference proceedings for the first Euro-Par Conference, the major European computer science conference on parallel computers. Let’s see what I was able to do on my own (I did all of the coding):

  • A single (large) web page covered summary information on all of the presentations. This included title and authorship, abstract, a postscript file of the paper (this was pre-PDF dominance), the first page of that paper extracted (this was pre-broadband), and biographies or other related info from the authors if they wished to contribute that (many did). All authors were also encouraged to submit their slides (in PS) before the conference, and most did. This single page served as the heart of the information, it was then cross-indexed in various ways.
  • The full advance program showed the parallel tracks, the disposition over the days of the conference, and the schedule for each talk. Each session linked to the summary information (see above) for that session. It also included brief bibliographic summary for all of the sessions (author, title) with the same links
  • A separate author’s index contained an alphabetical list of all the presenters, with direct pointer to the presentation they were making.
  • A mail server was set up to send any requested full papers (uuencoded compressed postscript), e.g. /cgi-bin/europar95-paper?s005 would send paper 5 to the entered email address. This was needed because pre-conference only registered participants were allowed access, under our agreement with Springer Verlag; it should be noted that this was the first time that the Lecture Notes on Computer Science had ever been made available electronically prior to the conference.

(Kudos to my old colleagues at the Swedish Institute of Computer Science for keeping those pages alive.)

In summary, there was a “social space” in place prior to the conference, so you could download and print whatever material you were interested in, and you could read it during your trip to the conference venue. Plus it left a resource for you to refer to when you got back home.

And if you clicked on any of the above links, you might have noticed something else of note. I did this in 1994. The coding was straight in HTML, Perl, CGI, the good old stuff. The site went live in August 1994, and as you can see on the statistics page, the peak interest was the month prior to the conference, in July 1995. (Academic conferences need to gear up about a year in advance to handle the full peer review process, which was also entirely electronic btw, but that’s another story.)

So I would think that in 2007, with social spaces being all the rage, a “Web 2.0” conference might be a little more communal.

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