Edgelings

Live-blogging: Web 2.0 NYC -- Day Two

 5:01 p.m. — Keynote Quotes

I gotta cut out to the Expo and see some products, but wanted to quickly drop a few quotes gathered from the keynote speakers over the last couple hours:

Jennifer Pahlka, O’Reilly Conference Host and native New Yorker, talking about a taboo subject: “We had envisioned this conference as a place for Web 2.0 to meet Wall Street.  But then the market crashed.  Again.  But…there’s still an incredible enthusiasm in this room.”

The other Conference Host, Brad Forest, originally from New Jersey:  “What I see in this room, I don’t call enthusiasm.  I see it as hunger.”

Fred Wilson of Union Square Ventures, leading things off, talking about NYC Internet Company History 1995-2008:  “Let’s bury the name Silicon Alley once and for all.  Please.  We are not an alley.  We are New York.”  (Crowd breaks into loud applause.) 

Cue a slide show of New York Tech that, sorry to say, is overwhelmingly underwhelming in terms of convincing the audience that New York has not lagged far, far behind Silcon Valley for a long, long time.

And then, to conclude his talk, Mr. Wilson dreams big, “I think there will come a time when New York will be…70 or 80 percent of what Silicon Valley is.”  Wow Fred, don’t get too ambitious!

Next up, Deborah Schultz, a blogger personality who said some unmemorable stuff.

Next up, New Etsy CEO Maria Thomas, talking about what her Greek grandparents taught her about running a company: “They always talked about Filotemo, a word that doesn’t have an exact translation in English.  It means, roughly, acting with integrity.  Acting with a social purpose.”

Etsy is a very cool Brooklyn company that allows individuals who make things to sell them in a sort of virtual flea market.  They’ll do $100 million in sales this year and Thomas sees them as an example of what Filotemo can be in the modern tech world.  She wrapped up by saying, “Keep it human.”

Then emerged, wearing a T-shirt and green wristband, a whirling dervish of a man named Gary Vaynerchuk, owner/operator of Wine Library and host of Wine Library TV.  Finally, somebody who reps the East Coast with some—pardon my French—balls.

Lots of quotes from Gary, so let’s get started:

“There are way too many people in this room doing shit they hate.  There is no reason in 2008 to be doing shit you hate!  Stop!  Please!  I’ll give you each like eight dollars.”

“Stop crying, keep hustling.  We’re building businesses, this isn’t about parties.”

“Legacy is greater than currency.  I want my grandkids to be proud of me.”

“People are the people who are gonna help you.”

“Niches can go crazy!”

“We are witnessing a gold-rush for brands.”

“I don’t want to hear anymore about this 9-5 bullshit.  Seven until two in the morning is plenty of time to do damage.  Stop watching fucking ‘Lost.’”

Bravo, Gary Vaynerchuk!  Check out his work at WineLibrary.tv.  The guy’s hilarious.

2:29 p.m. — Top 3 Topics Buzzing at Web 2.01.       Twitter.  Everybody’s atwitter about Twitter, a social networking service that lets users “tweet” each other about what they’re doing at any given moment.  Messages must be 140 characters or less.  Probably 7 of 10 speakers have explicitly and admiringly mentioned Twitter and I see people on it during every session, tweeting away.  I personally don’t know anyone who uses this service and couldn’t imagine that anyone would care what I’m doing at any given moment.  Does that mean I’m officially old?  Or do I just not yet “get” the business applications of this revolutionary technology?  I’ll have to think about it, and then continue to not use it. 2.       Open API (Application Programming Interface).  If you or someone you know are building anything on or with the Internet, you or someone you know should be ready to at least consider sharing your API with the world.  Your API is, to put it in a non-techie way, what allows your stuff to work with other people’s stuff.  Google, for example, gives developers the API of Google Maps so developers can build other applications “on top of” Google Maps.  Likewise, be willing and able to borrow other creator’s APIs for use in your own ventures.  Don’t try to be a hero on Web 2.0.  There truly is no reason to reinvent the wheel.  Put some different rims on existing wheels.  Stand on the shoulders of giants (i.e., Google) when and if possible.

3.       Cloud Computing.  Data storage is free or cheap and getting freer and cheaper because of cloud computing.  As a non-engineer, I am not quite sure why.  But that’s what I’m hearing.

Bottom 3 Topics Dead on Arrival at Web 2.0

1.       IPO (Initial Public Offering).  Haven’t heard one peep, or even one tweet, about an IPO being even a remote possibility for anyone, anywhere.  Seems to me that the new American Dream when it comes to starting up a tech business is to be bought by a large corporation.  Gone are the days where companies with no chance of ever making a profit but look how cool we are could predictably rely on being bought by a frightfully ignorant Joe Public.  Kind of sad, really.

2.       Venture Capital Funding.  The costs of starting an Internet business are quite low nowadays (see “Cloud Computing,” above).  Also, the financial system of the United States is crumbling into the sea.  Startups are looking for money, but there’s not much talk of anyone finding any from venture capitalists.  There’s just not much talk about venture capitalists in general.  The only firm with any buzz in New York City, far as I can tell, is Union Square Ventures.  So hook up with them or do it on your own.  Eventually, someday, try to get bought by a large corporation.

3.       The Meltdown on Wall Street.  Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch, AIG, Fannie, Freddie.  No one here is talking about any of that mess.  Nobody seems to care.  The Javits Center is a safe zone.

1:52 p.m — Best Internet Business Advice Ever: Make Friends With Bored, Crazy People Jonah Peretti co-founded Huffington Post and therefore he should — and does — know something about dealing with bored crazy people.  Now he runs BuzzFeed, which touts itself as “24/7 popularity contest” and measures and monitors the “viralness” of web content.  Having built a career on seemingly ludicrous behavior that catches huge audiences on the Internet, this dude qualifies as an expert on how to spread info like a disease.  His top recommendations for marketers who want to be viral like him? Make friends with bored people, and make friends with crazy people.  But most especially, make friends with bored, crazy people.  It’s the best quickest way to Internet marketing success!Jonah Peretti is a great illustration of the power of humor, both in person and on the Internet.  The guy’s funny, and that’s a big part of his success.  This was immediately apparent as Jonah began his talk by naming a group we all know exists (and are often part of) called “The Bored at Work Network,” or the BWN.

Hahaha.  But seriously, they’re vital to viral.

Smart marketers know how to interact with this group and use their boredom for marketing purposes.  The BWN, after all, is the ultimate hothouse for viral distribution.  The Internet—augmented by services like Twitter, RSS feeds, etc.—permits instant diffusion to millions of people.  Add to that the millions of bored stiff desk jockeys staring at these millions of machines all day and there you go.  Have at it.

“Make media perfect for the Bored at Work Network,” Jonah advises.

Jonah has numerous highly publicized triumphs in this area.  Years ago, as a grad student, he ordered customized shoes off the Nike shop site that had the word “sweatshop” printed on them.  Jonah didn’t think much of it, only that it was funny — but a viral cascade ensued, with organizations using him as a poster boy for the cause.  Jonah ended up on The Today Show, debating a Nike exec about work conditions in Vietnam.

Then came RejectionLine.com, which Jonah developed with his sister, a stand-up comedian.  The site gives you a fake phone number that you in turn give to people you don’t want to give your real number to.  They then call the number—(212) 479 – 7990 is the original—and get a rejection message. 

Simple and kind of stupid, right?  Exactly.  But pretty funny.  And it got Jonah into People magazine.  “Journalists are part of the Bored at Work Network too,” explains Jonah.  Tell me about it.

 BlackPeopleLoveUs.com was the next one, a story-based website starring two fictional “really white people” who are inordinately proud of the fact that they have black friends.  This simple and kind of stupidity also went viral, covered in The New York Times and landing Jonah another appearance on The Today Show.  Bingo, Arianna Huffington knows who Jonah Peretti is and wants to work with him. 

I give Jonah a ton of credit for not bullshitting a room packed with marketing people who (no offense) sling bullshit for a living.  Viral marketing is simple and kind of stupid, he says, don’t overthink it.  Take advantage of the fact that millions upon millions of Americans are bored at work and looking for something simple and kind of stupid to look at on the Internet, and rest assured that if they like your content they’ll share it with their friends, and they’ll share it with their friends, and so on. 

Jonah is still at it with BuzzFeed today, where a “penis size chart” and “Maria Sharapova’s crotch” are winning the 24/7 popularity contest by a mile.  Hey, it’s not his fault that’s what people are into.

The next group of people Jonah recommends taking advantage of, often overlapping with the BWN,  are People With Personality Disorders.  “The Web is ruled by fanatics like Perez Hilton, Ron Paul, Apple Fans, and other crazy people,” Jonah told us and we all know it’s true.  “Use your audience’s craziness to your advantage.”  Somebody should teach a class on this.

Jonah is probably the chief candidate for that job, insofar as the final quarter of his talk included actually reading from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, most often employed by clinical psychiatrists to treat troubled patients but Jonah uses it as a tool for evaluating Internet businesses.

Histrionic and Narcissistic Personality Disorder?  Fantastic, let’s get you a blog and put you on YouTube.  Obsessive Compulsive?  Super, let’s introduce you to Wikipedia and del.icio.us, so you can make everything perfect just the way you need it.  Histrionic and Narcissistic Personality Disorder, plus you’re OCD, plus you’re bored at work and have many friends (or virtual friends, at least) who are bored at work too, and you all spend multiple hours forwarding each other utterly inane top ten lists?

That’s terrific!!  Are you looking for a job?  Not like a paying job, but something to do while you’re bored at work?  You are?!  Nice to meet you then, I’m the VP of Marketing at Procter & Gamble.  Shoot me an email, we’ll get you all set up, you’re just the type of grassroots genius we like to be involved with…

The beginning of a beautiful friendship.

9:30 a.m. — Often Underrated: Customer ServiceAfter dealing with Time Warner all week, where clearly NOBODY CARES, I have a new appreciation for customer service.  So the first stop this morning is Lane Becker’s talk, “Customer Service is the New Marketing.” 

Lane, who is the CEO of Get Satisfaction, a customer discussion site, holds up shoe seller Zappos as the #1 customer service company on the web.  Zappos is on track to sell a billion dollars worth of shoes and apparel this year.  A billion.  Its sales growth looks like a skateboard ramp and they’re one of the only e-commerce players giving Amazon a run for its money.

Lane cleverly connected Zappos corporate success to a woman who ordered shoes for her dying mother, whose feet were shrinking from illness.  Her mother died right after she ordered the shoes.  Busy and distraught, the woman understandably didn’t get around to returning the shoes on time.  Zappos still took them back and paid for the shipping (they always pay for shipping, even on returns—you can literally order shoes, try them on, and then send them back for a full refund, on its dime).  Zappos then took it one step further and sent the lady a bouquet of flowers and a sympathy card.  Consequently, on July 7, 2007, the lady wrote a post titled “I Heart Zappos” on her blog.  Read the whole thing at http://www.zazlamarr.com/blog/?p=240.  But here’s the nutshell:  It was a beautiful arrangement in a basket with white lilies and roses and carnations. Big and lush and fragrant. I opened the card, and it was from Zappos. I burst into tears. I’m a sucker for kindness, and if that isn’t one of the nicest things I’ve ever had happen to me, I don’t know what is. So…IF YOU BUY SHOES ONLINE, GET THEM FROM ZAPPOS.With hearts like theirs, you know they’re good to do business with.

That post has been read 3.5 million times.On the other end of the spectrum, you’ve got the Time Warners and the Comcasts of the world, those NOBODY CARES monopolists.  But even they are starting to try, according to this morning’s speaker.  After noticing that the first page of Google image search results is comprised mainly of pictures of angry customers holding up signs like “Comcast Sucks” and “F*&% Comcast,” that company now employs 12 people whose job it is to follow Comcast talk everywhere on the Internet, and chime in.  

In fact, Lane says that the best way to get through to customer service at Comcast these days might be to put a blast on Twitter or your blog stating that you too think Comcast sucks.  A guy named “Frank” will track you down and attempt to prove that Comcast doesn’t suck as bad as you think, and gee, please don’t say bad things about us.  Now that’s innovation.