Internet companies are engaged in an escalating landgrab of world-war proportions, involved in vicious battles over many fronts, and the outcomes will have far-reaching consequences for years to come.
At least that's how the current status of the Web economy is perceived by Tim O'Reilly and John Battelle, the head honchos of the hyper-exclusive and highly influential Web 2.0 Summit conference, which runs from Monday to Wednesday in San Francisco.
"We're excited this year to be dealing with the biggest set of transitions in the Internet economy since the dot-com bust. In fact, it's way bigger than the dot-com bust," O'Reilly said recently during a webcast to discuss the focus of the conference.
To illustrate the wrangling for market share and opportunities that is going on, O'Reilly and Battelle have set up an interactive map with clever cartography that includes the Clouds of Infrastructure, the Union of Social Networks, the Land of Search, the Kingdom of E-Commerce, the Oceans of OS and UI, the Subcontinent of Advertising, Location Basin and the Plains of Content.
All those areas are considered "points of control" and will be discussed at length in on-stage interviews and panels at this year's conference, where the speaker roster as usual features industry superstars, including top executives from Yahoo, Facebook, Google, Twitter, Research in Motion and Adobe.
For O'Reilly, founder and CEO of O'Reilly Media, the Internet economy is at a stage now where players have known where the money is, for a while, the period of hyper-growth has settled down and opportunities for expansion involve invading others' stomping ground.
"Companies are focused less on inventing the future and more on what they're going to take away from the competition," he said.
As in previous years, companies will probably take advantage of the industry attention on the conference to make product announcements. Facebook, for example, will hold a press conference on Monday morning in San Francisco to announce what is rumored to be a major enhancement to its messaging capabilities. The company may launch a full-fledged webmail service, with Microsoft involved in a significant way, according to various media reports.
"Getting into e-mail is a natural extension of what Facebook is doing. E-mail is probably the most widely used form of modern-day social networking, and most of us still do more social networking with e-mail than with any specialized tool every day, including networking to get our work done," said IDC analyst Al Hilwa, who hasn't been briefed on the announcement.
"Facebook is already being used extensively as a marketing and CRM [customer relationship management] tool as social and business worlds continue to blur. Moving deeper into the enterprise sector is a natural growth strategy. So, it is about time Facebook started looking beyond its established franchise to leverage its brand and user base for other ventures," he said via e-mail.
In that sense, it's only fitting that Web 2.0 Summit kicks off on Monday with a keynote appearance by Eric Schmidt, CEO of Google, a company whose restlessness and eagerness to branch out from its core business of search exemplify the main theme of the event.
"I think we're setting it up great by starting with Eric Schmidt, because they have so many different plays and so many different points of control," Battelle said during the webcast. In addition to being one of the show's hosts, Battelle is founder, chairman and CEO of Federated Media Publishing.
Attendance at Web 2.0 Summit is capped at 1,000 attendees, a select group made up primarily of CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, marketing executives, entrepreneurs, product managers and venture capitalists.
They come from companies of all sizes: Twenty-four percent work at companies with fewer than 50 employees, while 30 percent work at companies with more than 2,500 employees, according to event co-producers O'Reilly Media and UBM TechWeb.