Less Could Be More for Would-be Web 2.0 Companies

"Less is more" was one theme of the first full day of the Web 2.0 Expo in New York Wednesday, as conference presenters offered tips to potential Web 2.0 entrepreneurs for creating a useful service out of the dizzying array of free development technologies available to them.

The show was filled with emerging companies, many of them little-known, hoping for an opportunity to introduce their wares to a larger audience. Figuring out which among them might have a technology that was worthy of a larger audience was the topic of some public talks at the show, including ones given by executives of two standout Web 2.0 companies, AdaptiveBlue and 37signals.

AdaptiveBlue, based in New York, offers a menu for Internet browsers that provides links to personalized content based on a user's browser history. The company has been favorably reviewed by the Web 2.0 blog TechCrunch, whose seal of approval is highly regarded in the Web 2.0 community.

37signals, based in Chicago, offers an array of Web-based productivity applications, including CRM (customer relationship management), project management and collaboration, and real-time group chat. Formed in 1999, 37signals began as a Web design company but made a successful transition to offering Internet-based applications in 2005.

There are pitfalls to the proliferation of free technologies -- such as open-source developer tools and open APIs (application programming interfaces) -- that made the new influx of Web 2.0 companies possible, said AdaptiveBlue Director of Business Development Fraser Kelton in a presentation.

"You don't need a data center or a team of individuals [to create a new service]," Kelton said. "You can call Google Maps and build on top of that. By using APIs, you have the ability to stand on the shoulders of giants that have come before you."

While this access to free tools and APIs has allowed anyone with a good idea to join the Web 2.0 game, it also provides some challenges, Kelton said.

Not everyone who uses that innovation to create a new company or service is doing something worthwhile, so it becomes difficult to separate "the wheat from the chaff."

"If you have two people starting an idea in a coffee shop, it doesn't mean the company [deserves] to exist," Kelton said. "Oftentimes, it's a bad idea."

And, when someone does have a good idea, the available technologies allow other people to come up with "copycat" services or software fairly quickly, posing competitive threats, Kelton said.

One of Wednesday's featured keynote speakers, 37signals founder Jason Fried, also suggested attendees take a less-is-more approach when it comes to developing new software.

Fried warned people not to be too ambitious putting features in their software. To help them scale back rather than create "bloated" applications, he suggested companies think of software features as art and the people deciding what goes into the software as museum curators.

"If you take all of the possible features that exist out there -- all of the art -- and put it in a room, it doesn't make that room a museum," Fried said. "What makes that room a museum is all the stuff that's not on the walls." The intelligent selection of pieces makes the difference. Sometimes it's necessary to take away features that don't make an application more useful, he said.

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