Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Tech industry spews Web companies, doohickeys so fast we can't keep up

USAToday
Ten years from now, when someone wants to identify a moment that epitomizes the nuttiness about this Web 2.0 stuff, I vote we designate an entry in popular tech blog GigaOm this week:

"A couple days ago, we pointed to Mooglets widgets, the creation of Rome-based Mad4milk.net. Today, we are shocked to learn that Mad4milk has been acquired by Freewebs. The Web host says it will repackage Mad4milk's JavaScript effects library, offering developer community site Freewebs Farms, and soon a widget library."

What in the name of Moses is going on? Not even educated tech veterans can keep track anymore. Mooglets? Widget libraries? Mad4milk? Is this a scene from Harry Potter and the Stoned Venture Capitalists?

The tech industry is frothing. It is spewing companies and Web doohickeys and blog amalgamizers and Internet contraptions like video social-networking wiki cooking sites.

KEEP TRACK OF IT ALL:Comment on this story on Kevin Maney's blog

They have names such as Kiko, Tribe, Imeem, StumbleUpon, Meebo, Eyespot and Twitter. Sounds like the cast of Pee Wee's Playhouse: The Next Generation.

There is so much coming so fast from so many corners that nobody can possibly keep track, much less ever, ever try using it all.

Money is flying into ventures that most people east of Palo Alto, Calif., would find incomprehensible. Dash Navigation got $17 million from high-profile venture firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. Dash bills itself as a "social network of traffic data" — allegedly getting cars to wirelessly talk to each other about where they are and reporting to the network if they're wheezing through bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Hard to say if it will work, but if you add "social network" to anything right now, you can get $17 million. Walk into a venture firm's office and say, "I've got a social network for hermits." Boom. Seventeen million dollars.

Which is crazy, because no one needs millions of dollars to build a consumer Web business anymore. In fact, that's why there are so many new sites. Creating a complex site is way easier and probably 10 or 15 times cheaper compared with six years ago, tech entrepreneurs say.

At the same time, ad dollars are rushing to the Web. David Court of consulting firm McKinsey says, "In the next 24 months, we will see demand for online advertising actually outstrip the supply." That's why we're getting so many consumer websites: They're easy to build and a booming market for ads.

Pretty soon, neighborhood kids will stop setting up lemonade stands and instead build Ajax-driven photo-tagging recommendation engines, or some other confluence of buzzwords.

You can tell that some insiders sense a bubble-ishness in the air.

Like, I met with Gordon Gould, a successful, surfer-dude serial entrepreneur who just launched ThisNext. It is social networking crossed with shopping — or, to use his freshly minted buzzword, "shopcasting."

Throughout his presentation, he kept tossing around one overheated catchphrase after another — the wisdom of crowds, the long tail, product discovery — and then, to his credit, apologizing for it. "We'll take ThisNext to the blogosphere — which is a terrible term," Gould said at one point, seemingly tired of his own industry's rhetoric.

Then I met with Tony Conrad, co-founder of the new blog search site Sphere. Bloggers that day were jabbering about a redesign of del.icio.us — a social networking tagging community something-or-other site. And we got talking about the gaggle of sites popping up and how a lot of them seem just too geeky for words.

In this spirited conversation, I made the admission: "And I still don't know what the hell del.icio.us is good for!" Expecting Tony to lecture me on the momentous development that is del.icio.us, he instead grinned, threw up his hand and high-fived me.

Which was refreshing because the Web faithful are often certain that many of these latest sites are going to upend the established universe. If you remember, that sounds a lot like tech people circa 1997.

Earlier this month, tech bloggers ecstatically wrote that newcomer Digg is going to replace The New York Times as a venerable news source. Digg is basically a band of a few thousand loyal Digg fans rating stories they like from all around the Web, so the stories rise to the top of the site. Here's the profound, worldly headline the Diggettes voted best on Monday: "What are the top 100 viewed Wikipedia pages?"

USAToday

To be fair, at the top of the Times' site just then was "Shiite militia clashes with Iraqi troops." Which is the news equivalent of eating a bowl of flaxseed. Maybe there's a happy medium.

Of course, you can't win if you tell techies sites like Digg or Dash or ThisNext are just interesting tweaks to the landscape, not a reordering of the cosmos. It's like arguing against someone who fervently believes the world will end in 2012. The only way to prove your point is to wait until 2013.

Guess we'll see. Web 2.0 is a broad term for a new generation of websites that are more interactive and multilayered than the 1990s batch of websites. And right now, Web 2.0 is like a water balloon being filled by a fire hydrant. Industry jokesters call it Bubble 2.0.

A lot of the new sites are fun. I'm glad people are creating them. But it's hard to imagine how the world can absorb everything being pumped out there.

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