Tech CEO Parade Slated for Web 2.0 Summit

Simon Montford has high expectations for this week's Web 2.0 Summit, which he will attend for the first time after years of wanting to come to this emblematic conference about the Internet economy's challenges and opportunities.

As he gets ready to launch his Vibio.com social trading tool, which is now in private beta, Montford decided that attending the Web 2.0 Summit, a considerable expense for his London-based startup, is worth it.

The company, which has a sales office in San Francisco and its development team in Scotland, is now putting the finishing touches on its Web application and moving into customer acquisition mode.

"My primary objective at Web 2.0 Summit is knowledge acquisition to see what others are doing in this space, what complementary companies are attending the event that we could work alongside, and what quality people would like to work on the Vibio project," he said.

Montford will be among 1,000 other entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, industry pundits, technology honchos, and business executives gathering at a hotel in San Francisco from Tuesday until Thursday.

High-wattage speakers will include Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz, AOL CEO Tim Armstrong, Twitter CEO Evan Williams, Web luminary Tim Berners-Lee, Intel CEO Paul Otellin, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Adobe CEO Shantanu Narayen, along with high-ranking executives from SAP, Microsoft, Nokia and MySpace.

At the event, produced by O'Reilly Media and TechWeb, conference moderators John Battelle and Tim O'Reilly will hammer on this year's main theme, which they call "Web Squared." The idea is that, no longer a gee-whiz set of novelty online services, Web 2.0 applications, technologies and sites have become an integral part of the world, woven into the fabric of people's lives, and as such carry a bigger set of social responsibilities.

"The new direction for the Web, its collision course with the physical world, opens enormous new possibilities for business, and enormous new possibilities to make a difference on the world's most pressing problems," reads a recent essay penned by O'Reilly, CEO of O'Reilly Media, and Battelle about the Web Squared concept.

It's a logical progression for Web 2.0 Summit, the seminal conference that chronicled the first signs of the Internet economy's resurgence and explained its causes. Now in its sixth year, Web 2.0 Summit has since analyzed the transformations and disruptions on society and the economy of Web ventures that have become financial powerhouses and mainstream consumer tools.

"If we are going to solve the world's most pressing problems, we must put the power of the Web to work -- its technologies, its business models, and perhaps most importantly, its philosophies of openness, collective intelligence, and transparency. And to do that, we must take the Web to another level. We can't afford incremental evolution anymore," the essay reads.

This message resonates with Yvonne Marie Andres, who feels that educational institutions have been slow and reticent to embrace Web 2.0 technologies that can energize and boost classroom learning activities through improved collaboration.

"Everybody aggress with the concept of Web 2.0 and collaborative communities but it has a long way to go before it's part of the school system, in the U.S. and around the world," said Andres, president and CEO of Global SchoolNet Foundation, a non-profit organization that tries to bridge the gap between schools and Web 2.0 tools.

A big obstacle are school IT departments that, as knee-jerk reactions, block access to online learning and academic collaboration services and sites, for fear that students will get in trouble and create a liability for the institution, she said. Instead, IT departments should work with the curriculum teams and find appropriate, safe Web sites and online tools that are out there.

A previous Web 2.0 Summit attendee, Andres is skipping the conference this year but will follow it via webcasts, Twitter feeds and other social media outlets, to share and discuss ideas on the intersection of Web 2.0 and education.

"We should be focusing on infusing this [Web 2.0 technology] into the school systems in a systematic way so young people can start to understand how to collaborate on a distributed environment," Andres said.

We'll see whether at the end of the three-day confab a critical mass of attendees will walk away convinced that as Web 2.0 movers and shakers they now have a higher societal responsibility than before.

What's clear is that A-List type vendors will be talking up their products, like Microsoft, which will offer a preview of the mobile version of its Bing search engine, including some new mobile applications. Online payment provider PayPal will have officials at hand promoting the upcoming launch of its PayPal X open development platform. Representatives from enterprise software vendor SAP will hawk the company's new BusinessObjects Explorer business intelligence tool.

Amidst all the marketing hoopla from vendors, Charlene Li, founder of Altimeter Group, which provides research and advice on social media and emerging technologies, sees Web 2.0 at an inflection point.

"Web 2.0 today is really developed and moving into another phase where people are focused much more on the implementation rather than on what it is," she said.

However, in this phase, companies are grappling with the tension of learning to deal with the changes that Web 2.0 brings to workplaces, especially regarding how companies interact with and relate to their employees and their customers. "Companies are coming face to face with the difficulty of what Web 2.0 really means," Li said. "We're at a big transition point here."

For Montford, Vibio.com's CEO, the main priority right now is keeping his startup on course and getting the most out of his participation in the conference.

"I'm at the point now that I'm willing to take the risk and make the investment to attend and hope I come away with all of my objectives," he said.

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