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What’s next for the Web?

Jul 17, 2008

That, ostensibly, is the theme of this November's Web 2.0 Summit, the excellent conference in San Francisco run by John Battelle and Tim O'Reilly. Actually, the theme is "sustaining, expanding and applying the Web's lessons," and I have a hunch John and Tim are treading on dangerous ground by overbroadening their mission. The conference, which has become the event for mainstream Net-focused business types, this year will include "leaders in the fields of healthcare, genetics, finance, global business, and yes, even politics," according to its Web site.

But I digress from the more important business at hand, namely the outstanding dinner the duo threw Wednesday night at the Foreign Cinema restaurant in San Francisco's Mission District. They took over the entire restaurant -- people in the food biz call that a "buyout" -- which is impressive given that the very Web 2.0 company Slide hosted a party the same evening at other end of town. I'm guessing that the crowd at Slide's party was younger and slightly less male, but again, I digress.

So what is next for the Web? Judging from my conversations, two topics are front of mind: Apple's (aapl) iPhone platform and resolution of the Yahoo (yhoo)-Microsoft (msft) debacle. The former has got the tech crowd excited; the latter has it depressed and wishing the drama would end.

In terms of who's doing what, here are a few people I bumped into. Ellen Siminoff has become a half-marathoner. Go Ellen. Former Ask boss Jim Lanzone is looking really relaxed after three years at IAC/Interactive (iaic). (Jim has been dabbling in VC-dom at Redpoint Ventures, among other things.) I bumped in Ram Shriram, an early investor in Google, who told me he'd read my feature on Kleiner Perkins in the current issue of Fortune. That reminded me of something I'd left out of the story, namely how starkly Kleiner's China strategy contrasts with its approach to India. Basically, Shriram is Kleiner's India strategy. It has done seven deals there with him, one of which, Naukri.com, already is public.

I saw Twitter's Evan Williams but didn't get to say hello. That company certainly seems to be hitting an inflection point, no? (I've been experimenting with Twitter, primarily as a distribution tool for my posts and articles. Follow me, please.)

I also bumped into Google engineering brainiac Matt Cutts, who is unusually interested and conversant in business for a guy whose specialty is fighting spam and other in-the-weeds tech stuff. There were Googlers galore. I had dinner with Bradley Horowitz and Irene Au, both Yahoo refugees. Both seemed really happy to know how much I love PIcasa (I do) and kind of horrified to find out I've been having bad experiences recently with Google Maps (I have). Googleconomist Hal Varian was there too. He told me he'll be on Thursday's earnings call, which is interesting. He sat with VC (and backcountry hiker) Ann Winblad, whose firm invested in Omniture, which got me thinking ... Why doesn't Omniture make a business out of providing third-party audience-measurement data to the public instead of leaving it to Google to stick it to comScore? Ann thought that was a good question and suggested I ask Omniture CEO Joshua James. Joshua?

Let's see, there were so many others. I met Brad Burnham of Union Square Ventures, which shows that the little VC shop in New York has the world covered as Brad's partner Fred Wilson presently is busy hoovering up knowledge about Europe. Brad and I dined with former top Yahoo executive Jeff Weiner, *executive*-in-residence at two VC firms, Greylock and Accel. (That's right: unique title and unique arrangement.) Jeff's going to be at the Fortune Brainstorm conference next week in Half Moon Bay. We at Fortune sure are looking forward to seeing him. My buddy Mark Pincus was doing his thing at dinner. I shook hands with his pal Bing Gordon, one of the newest partners at Kleiner Perkins (oh, and a co-founder of Electronic Arts (erts)).

Just before leaving, I talked big picture with Reid Hoffman, one of the most engaging big-picture thinkers in Silicon Valley. (He founded LinkedIn, helped start PayPal and is one of the most important angel investors around.)  Reid was at Allen & Co.'s gabfest last week in Sun Valley, Idaho, and he told me he spent a lot of time discussing the relative decline of the U.S. I told him I thought we'd get through this rough patch just fine because for all our faults we're still the United States. He said that's exactly what Warren Buffett said in Sun Valley, but that he, Reid, isn't so sure. That, in turn, made me kind of nervous. So I decided to go home.

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