Monday, May 09, 2005

Backpacking the Web 2.0

[file under: An Apple A Day ...]

Last tuesday, I received an email from the good folks over at 37signals that their Backpack service went live. I had signed up previously to be one of the early users. I've been playing with it all week and I'm liking it. Their idea: take Email, one of the bonafide superstars of Web1.0(yeah, i'm sold on the lingo thing), and re-fresh it for 2.0. What's come out of it is a way cool Personal Information Manager. With a twist. You can go to their website and create to-do lists, notes etc, but you can also send the info in an email and they automatically do it for you.

I guess it doesn't sound exciting, but I was in a meeting the other day and remembered that I was about overdue in making a payment. Now, I'm a very forgetful kind of bloke when it comes to these small things. This time, I sent an email to Backpack to test this out and, guess what, I forgot about it soon enough. I got home and logged on to my Backpack account and I was stoked to see it on my to-do list. It's a more than just to-do's though - there's integration with blogs, ability to make your lists public, photos, collaboration, reminders. Give it a spin.

This is just one of the many 2.0 projects that are going live almost on a weekly basis. In the past weeks, I've been playing with, technorati, JotSpot, Rojo, Ta-Da List, and 21publish. I'm very much an early adopter, unlike Steve :), and man I've got to tell you, I am jazzed about the stuff that's going on right now, even from a distance. Apparently, I am not alone. Adam Rifkin writes, in a review of the Web2.0 conference:
Including the gatecrashers there were probably close to a thousand people in attendance, schmoozing each other up and creating the kind of optimistic, wild enthusiasm that I haven't seen since 1999. Silicon Valley is buzzing again -- and the powerful, the influential, and the entrepreneurial came together to trade ideas, to make connections, and to get energized to take the industry and the world to the next level.

I believe that this is an exciting time in the evolution of the web, and everyone ought to take a closer look at what's going on. More specifically, what's driving this. I'm not an expert by any means, but in my opinion the answer lies not in whizbang technology but in the changing charateristic of the web itself. It is no longer a static go-to-a webpage to get information or shop kind of place. It's about conversations. Books selling because of user reviews. mi bookmarks es tu bookmarks. wikis. 'Public' as the default permission for photos. Tags. Blogs. Blogs about blogs. Blogs about blogs that matter.

In some sense, there is Chaos. But it is out of chaos that beautiful things are created. And, that's what is going on right now. How far along are we in this transformation? Jeff Bezos had this to say:
[Our philosophy is] find the useful guts of Amazon and expose them... offer API's and let an ecosystem develop... It's still day one.

It's still day one. Wow. Coming from one of the very few people who really gets It, you'd better believe it. Let me change tracks and pose the question: can we aspiring MBA's make an impact on this evolving landscape? Richard McManus, in this post, opines:
I do believe that Web 2.0 is starting to permeate into mainstream business culture - perhaps from the bottom up, i.e. from business schools.

Personally, I am more pessimistic. I don't believe one will find anything particularly insightful coming out of b-schools today. Allow me an anecdotal illustration. Seated on either side of me at lunch saturday were 2y MBA students - one a McKinsey-bound consultant, and the other a UBS-bound banker. The conversation veered (rather, I veered it) towards Web2.0 and blogs. The banker seemed disinterested while the consultant asked me the question - how do blogs differ from IM? Now, this is not a comment on these guys, not at all. It's just that the composition of the student body at b-schools is overwhelmingly wannabe bankers and consultants. And the entire structure of the recruiting process for them leaves them little time to experiment. Couple this with the aversion the schools have to admitting anyone with a technology background, and I think you can see why I hold this position.

In his comment to Richard's post, Bud Gibson (who, incidentally, is running a High Octane Blogging Bootcamp at Ross this saturday) says:
My experience with MBA students is that about 1-5% are really in it to get deeply into the underlying technology or theory. The rest you have to sell on business benefits.

I tend to agree, and I think it's a real shame for two reasons. One, the need to see money being made or its potential means they miss the early morning boat. And, Two, if Web1.0 has any lesson for us, it's that to really thrive one has to think about building sustainable businesses around these ideas - something that MBA's are, quite frankly, being taught to do and could really contribute if they were interested.

So, let me offer up a carrot to pique your interest: the money is starting to show up. If that's not a good start, consider the Why. Fred Wilson, a VC with Union Square Ventures, invested in recently. On his blog, he notes:
The question everyone asks is "what is the business model". To be completely and totally honest, we don't yet know.
In summary, we believe tagging is important, its here to stay, is a very important participant in the tagging phenomenon, and we are really excited to be part of its development

Deja Vu, anyone? Read back to Adam Rifkin's comments. Can you see why the excitement is growing? Investments in ideas without business models? I-have-to-be-there-first or someone-else-will? This could be the start of something big. Maybe even 1999 all over again, though with much more caution. I, for one, missed it the last time around. I intend to be a part of this one.

And, I want for my school to be too. The b-school which benefited the most from the last wave was Stanford. It's open range again. Why not Chicago this time? We have the infrastructure in place (trust me, we abso-f-ing-lutely do), but not enough of an ecosystem. I was chatting with an alum about my plans and he told me point blank: You are going to the wrong school. Well, given that I don't have much of a choice, I'm going to try to make the best of it. I intend to blog and talk and do 2.0 stuff. I sure hope that there are others who think the same. If we can get a critical mass, it should be a fun ride. We'll see.

Finally, if you should read one blog post today (the proverbial apple, if I may) it should be this. It's probably the first time I've linked to the same blog twice in one post, but this commentary by Adam Rifkin summarizing the Web2.0 conference is much deserving. Good things are happening.

[edit:] So, here's a new idea. As in, an idea that is brand spanking new. 3:08 pm today, to be precise. John Resig has just started work on a new venture, ideaShrub. As with any 2.0 project, there is a blog! In his first post, he says:
It all started as an idea of Julia’s just over a week ago. Preliminary sketching and mapping started just after and will continue until this weekend. Then for the next two weeks development will commence followed by a full-scale launch at the end of May.

In my LBS essay (3 months ago) I wrote about a similar project - an idea sharing workspace - that I had initiated at work. It moved from my initial push to the next set of people and then stalled. It's fun to see these guys try to go from idea to product in a month. Good luck, folks. I've signed up to be a early user once it goes live.

And - Fred Wilson may like this - I found this through - there is something to this tagging stuff ! Followed a tag I created, '2.0', to someone else who had, and their tag called 'ideas' to this website. And now you know about it. Small world, getting smaller with every new tag.


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