November 16, 2006

WEBMASTERWORLD vs. Web 2.0 Summit

by tolles at 1:14 PM was a media sponsor of the Web 2.0 Summit last week in San Francisco, and this week we’re at WebmasterWorld’s PubCon in Las Vegas as an exhibitor. In a lot of ways, these two conferences peg the current ends of the continuum for the industry in which I’ve been working since 1998 – broadly speaking Internet Search and the business of being on the web.

Industry shows are a great indicator of the state of things – who is going, the amount of energy in the room and, perhaps most importantly, where things are headed. The Web 2.0 Summit and WebmasterWorld; what makes each what it is – their champions and public faces John Battelle and Brett Tabke, the things that are the buzz of the conference, their audiences and ecosystems – provide a lot of insight into the health of our industry

Web 2.0 Summit: Best. Lobbycon. Ever.

Where else are you going to run into all the people you all used to work with who all run big parts of AOL, Yahoo or Google nowadays? Where else can you watch Jason on a frigging throne chat with Charlene Li? Jason and Charlene It’s just like the VIP room at the cool club. Yeah, it sucks if you can’t get in -- It’s kind of like the hot, newly gentrified neighborhood where real estate might not be worth what it costs (but might be a steal in the long run). Also, the keynote-level content is excellent. You’re just not going to see those folks on one stage anywhere else.

In short, the Web 2.0 Summit is the industry’s bullish take on itself – the place where all of us (who can get in) see each other once a year.

All the knocks on the Web 2.0 Summit I’ve heard this year are valid: I found much of the sponsored enterprise software companies pretty weak, and, god knows how they select folks for some of the lesser onstage sessions. (Ning? NING?). I actually fell asleep (really) at the Launchpad sessions. Also, the downside to an audience who can pony up $3k is that you get execs from real companies as attendees who, for the most part, are where they are because they’re go-along/get-along types – they are here to listen, not contribute, to the conversation. Things are a lot more fun when people don’t have a lot to lose. Year 1 of Web 2.0 was a lot more like that, and I’d hope that John and others figure out how to bring some of that energy from that time back to next year.

WebmasterWorld’s PubCon: Working the Land.

The audience at WebmasterWorld is not so concerned about the newest and coolest, nor are you going to see all those people who run AOL, Yahoo or Google. Who you are going to see is a cross section of the foot soldiers of the web. Topix booth at PubCon

All those people who buy Google AdWords? They’re here.

These guys run their own shops, and are paying for this conference on their own dime. I ran into a guy who runs a national network of DUI lawyer sites in the cab line over to the conference. Nice guy. At my talk there, I asked of the 400 or so person audience how many ran their own sites, and about 2/3 of the hands went up. When I asked the follow up question of how many people ran either their own site, or that of a small company, almost all the hands went up. These guys work for a living, and aren’t interested in tech for tech’s sake – they’re out there every day hustling for a living, and live or die based on organic rankings, getting people to their sites, and care not for your Ajax-mashup-open-source-creative-commons-BS. They want to know what they can do right now to make a few more bucks a day.

Compare and contrast…

Web 2.0 WebmasterWorld
Emcee John Battelle Brett Tabke
Audience Attitude Transparent Secretive
Attendees SF, NYC, LA The heartland
Big Deal Youtube
Big Issue Google's dominance
Annoying Question "Are you opening your API's?" "Is this non-duplicative content for SEO?"
The Web is... A platform we're building A platform we're using

So what’s this about health of the industry?

What really hit me was watching John Battelle give his keynote. Even though he was playing the part of ultimate insider the week before – he’s up there hustling at WebmasterWorld. He’s talking up his book, promoting Federated Media – and he seems to know that these guys, this audience, aren’t familiar with his brand stable. He’s gotta work it here. He’s actually coming across like an entrepreneur. A little nervous, even. He’s still willing to put it out there, make the connection…make the sale.

And it struck me the big difference between this time around and the last time. This time, people know that it might all go down in shower of sparks, no matter how great things are at the moment. Everyone’s keeping an eye out over their shoulder – and even those people who have “made” it at the Web 2.0 are working it. Mashery’s hacking the conference. Calacanis and Brian Alvey selling their startup to AOL. Again. Nick’s out, and Nick’s in at Valleywag .

And those guys walking the halls at WebmasterWorld? Those guys are hungry. A little scary. Nobody is dialing it in at this place.

Somewhere between these audiences, these two conferences, these two personalities – I see the future. It’s closing in, over your shoulder.

Run faster.