Tuesday, 3 July 2007

An essentially London take on web 2.0

On June 29th, Library House hosted a one-day conference on the Essential Web to showcase more than 40 web 2.0 products from Europe. Earlier in the week I read in The Independent that the creative sector is now as valuable to the UK economy as the financial sector, and the quality and number of suits at this event showed that powerful synergies are emerging between these sectors. The place had more suits than Moss Bros - even some of the geeks wore them (albeit with a certain degree of discomfort)!

The format for the event ensured an intense immersion into current web trends, with expert panels chairing sessions of selected 5 minute presentations around themes which covered search and identity, building large user bases, trust-based environments, collaboration and mobile web. While a few of the products seemed a tad unimaginative, most were useful, innovative and some were very disruptive.

My highlight of the day was Jaiku. I came to the event with a certain cynicism about the value of micro-blogging but this was swept away with simple use cases and an uncluttered presentation - clearly underlining the value of "less is more". When Jyri, the presenter, stressed the importance of interoperability during the panel discussion, I became certain that Jaiku and Jyri do and will add significant value to the web.

ParkAtMyHouse is another exciting product that offers a green parking solution in urban areas. People can advertise unused parking spaces for rent, and users can enter a location by post code, place etc. and view a map of adjacent parking spaces, including price and availability. As well as reducing carbon emissions from cars searching for parking in congested areas, by teaming up with US-based zipcars, the project can also reduce overall car ownership in urban areas and thereby liberate more parking spaces for the service. Based on a combination of revenue-share, advertising and strategic partners, ParkAtMyHouse has a viable and sustainable business model that could make it a real winner in the future.

Zubka is based on a simple idea that could turn the recruitment industry on its head. Veteran recruiter, David Shieldhouse, started his presentation with a question to the audience; "How many of you have referred somebody you know for a job in the past?". Predictably, all hands in the auditorium were raised. He followed with "How many of you received payment for any of these referrals?" and all hands were lowered. Zubka aims to simplify and speed recruitment by enabling companies to post job ads on their website where individuals make referrals for these jobs and get paid for successful ones. Given the enormous cost and slowness of conventional recruitment, Zubka could be highly attractive to HR experts.

The only Irish entry was from Louder Voice, which provides a review platform for web users. Unlike other online review services, Louder Voice is not a vertical portal for theme-based reviews. The service operates as a hub, where users can enter reviews and then publish the content on blogs and websites. Now with a twitter integration (which, sadly, Conor O'Neill did not present on the day), Louder Voice could and should become a core destination for reviewers both online and on the mobile web. What will make or break the service is whether it can achieve critical mass without seeding initial content by rewarding reviewers, as recently announced by welovelocal.com.

Of the 27 featured showcases, my other favourites included:

  • Trexy - enables users to remember and share online searches as search trails
  • Data Patrol - trawls the web for information about a user which it aggregates into a report that includes advice on managing the info
  • Seatwave - an online marketplace for tickets
  • huddle and Yuuguu - two companies providing collaboration tools who announced that they will collaborate in the future

There was lots, lots more and the panel discussions threw up even more food for thought. The following morning at the Open Coffee Club, I chatted with Sanjay Sharma, Director of Startups and Emerging Markets at Sun. We talked about web 2.0 and the current excitement and high-level of investment and Sanjay wondered if this is another bubble or does it have a more substantial foundation than the dot com era. We agreed that this time round, innovation has become unstoppable because user demand and user-generated content are the drivers rather than the corporate, top-down focus that dominated in the first phase.