Ignite lights up Web 2.0 Expo

O’Reilly Media’s Web 2.0 Expo kicked off yesterday in San Francisco, with 10,000 attendees from 59 countries. VentureBeat’s Mark Coker took notes from the day.

The highlight was the evening’s Ignite event: Imagine packing a large conference room with about 600 geeks, giving ‘em all the free beer they can drink, and then entertaining them with a rapid-fire procession of sixteen fast-talking techies who each deliver a twenty-slide PowerPoint on an eclectic subject with only fifteen seconds per slide for total presentation time of five minutes. Add in a huge LCD panel television monitor on stage, facing the audience, displaying a steady flow of the audience’s raucous real-time commentary about the speaker’s performance, transmitted of course via SMS texting.

Notables:

potenco.jpgColin Bulthaup of Squid Labs talked about how his new venture, Potenco, aims to bring electric power to the two billion people in underdeveloped countries who lack access to the electric power grid. He told the audience that 1.6 billion people light their homes with dirty-burning kerosene lamps, which are the leading cause of tuberculosis. His solution? Generate electricity from human beings. We thought this idea had been debunked (see our post about the futile effort of capturing human energy via treadmills; see last item), but Bulthaup showcased a yo-yo-like device his new Alameda, Calif. company has developed that with a few arm pulls generates enough electricity to power interior LED residential lighting or other necessities such as cell phones. Listening to Bulthaup, we get the impression this may become a big business.

Christy Canida of Instructables, a social networking web site, demonstrated how users are using it to share how they make fun things out of ordinary household items. If you haven’t heard of this site, take a look at examples like the 14-year-olds making intricate gunnery equipment with K’Nex toys – a kind of next-generation legos for today younger generation. Notice that the YouTube video (below) by this kid got 35 comments at YouTube’s site, but that the real dialogue takes place at Instructables, where he gets 670 comments. An example of how theme-oriented sites (verticals) are taking more action from broader sites (horizontals).

Jordan Schwartz of Microsoft Corp shared his personal adventures in beekeeping and taught the audience the waggle dance, which is how bees communicate to other bees. He likened the hive mind of bees to how users of social news sites like Digg.com do their own waggle dance about stories they discover. This isn’t just an analogy. Schwartz suggests there’s some real science behind this similarity between the hive — where bees that find interesting flowers come back and report it to their buddies at the hive, who then verify it and spread the news virally — and Web behavior. See his blog.

Jane McGonigal, a game designer at Avant Game, argued that the day we are lying on our deathbeds, we’ll measure the success of our lives by our happiness in the past. Inevitably, therefore, we’ll move away from thinking of the Web mainly as a way to be more efficient. By 2012, she predicted quality of life will become the primary metric consumers use to evaluate technologies, and referred to a rise of the positive psychology movement. She urged the techies in the crowd to focus their development efforts on technologies that hack reality to create more happiness.

Timothy Ferriss, author of a new book, The 4-Hour Work Week, shared his tips on how to eke more productivity out of a workday: Only answer your email twice a day; outsource everything possible to $5 an hour workers in India and Canada; and get rid of less profitable customers who consume a disproportionate amount of your time. His credentials? On his official web site, linked above, it’s difficult to ascertain what this self-described polymath actually does for a living, other than generating a lot of press coverage for himself by break-dancing in Taiwan, cage-fighting in Japan, and acting on a “hit” TV series in China. Nebulous credentials aside, the crowd loved him and voted him one of the two best presentations of the evening.

Web 2.0 Expo continues Monday and Tuesday.

Mark Coker is a contributing writer for VentureBeat. He’s founder of Dovetail Public Relations, a Silicon Valley technology marketing firm. He has no clients among the companies mentioned in the story, nor among their competitors. More on Mark at http://www.linkedin.com/in/markcoker

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