Cool and not-so-cool from Web 2.0 Expo 2008

by David Spark on April 23, 2008

Here’s a list of the cool and not-so-cool events, companies, and moments from this year’s Web 2.0 Expo. Here’s my “cool and not-so-cool” post from last year. Instead of writing multiple posts, I’m going to keep updating this post throughout the next few days. So keep coming back for updates.

Cool SF Expo Ignite II – A series of five-minute presentations where the slides are automatically timed at 15 seconds each. It was a mix bag of quality, but the format definitely put the presenters on their toes and I was really impressed that most of them could maintain their verbal timing with the slides. Below are a few summaries of the good and bad presentations.

CoolDavid Calkins’ presentation on Robots – David Calkins’ is the world’s biggest robotics geek I know. His ring bearer at his wedding was a robot and his groomsmen were storm troopers. Seriously! I believe his father also dressed up as Darth Vader (not 100% sure of that though). Calkins teaches at SFSU and is also the President of the Robotics Society of America. I attended one of his ROBOlympics events and wrote about it for T3 magazine. His presentation talked about all the ways robots have and will continue to help us in our lives: home entertainment, home security, assisted living, SEX!, robotic cars, robotic bartenders and waiters, manual labor, sports (NASCAR danger without the loss of human life), battlefield robots, and space/underwater exploration. While all of this is impressive, it is us humans who will decide what robots will do.

Not-so-coolJames Levy on Medill eats its own dog food – This actually may border on “cool” but for all the wrong reasons. This journalism student had some beef at his school, but couldn’t make his argument or keep up with his slides, until the end. He walks on stage with a beer and a script in his hand and he’s DRUNK. Or is he? Was it some “turn of the century” 20-something Foster Brooks routine? It wasn’t exactly clear. While no one really understood what he was talking about, the big question was, “Was he really drunk?”

CoolWeb 3.0 scares me – Apologies for not remembering the name of the woman who gave the presentation, but she’s the co-chair of the Web2.0 Expo along with Brady Scott. She gave a great presentation on tech anxiety and why Web 3.0 scares her. It’s because the hope of Web 3.0 is that you can just ask a simple question like “Where should I go on vacation?” and through a chain of information and programs, Web 3.0 will deliver an answer. She argued that people are not complete without their social context. She took us through a history of how technology has been trying to “make our lives easier.” From kitchen appliances to pancake mix. We’ve taken it on ourselves to create “food mashups” like sticking things in JELLO. I like to think of “food mashups” as “recipes.” But I’m old fashioned that way. Regardless, the advice, which is also good advice for any fiction writer was, “Leave something for your user to figure out for themselves.”

Cool Kicking ass – Cathy Sierra’s presentation about what it takes to be really good at something. Her advice, which in some cases may seem obvious played like updated “Hints from Heloise” or “lifehacks.” To get expertise, one should practice, get sleep, exercise, watch videos of other experts, interview other experts, and reinvest cognitive resources. Then there was something about a vibrator. lounge – Think “press room” but things are actually happening, and great interviews are constantly walking through the door. The lounge is a creation of “The Conversation Group,” a social media marketing firm. It had the amenities of a press room, but it was buzzing and alive. They had a video interview station, some demos, a Wii to play games, and even a yoga instructor with a bunch of mats (that one I didn’t quite understand). I went to the press room, which was just two doors down the hall, and it was like usual, dead. Watch my “Welcome to the lounge” video.

Not-so-coolConnectivity – Why, WHY, WHY! is this still an issue at conferences? Sadly, in all the preparation for a conference, getting connectivity and enough of it is often the last decision that’s made. And there are always last minute apologies and excuses: ‘We were supposed to get four T1 lines, but we only got one and we’re now sharing it with the people in the hallway.’

Cool TellMe – These guys have been around for a while but they showed off their new voice-activated information system for BlackBerry devices. Extremely impressive and accurate voice recognition by anyone using the device. I spoke into the device the name of a Mexican burrito joint, Papalote, and it found both locations. From there I can easily get an address, phone number, a map, or directions. Best part, it’s free. If you have a BlackBerry you should definitely download and install this application.

Cool Oosah – A Web-based media management application. Sure I can upload all my media and manage it from Oosah. What’s really valuable is the ability to bring in media from all your social media applications like YouTube, Picasa, Flickr, and Facebook (more to come soon). You can edit and upload from within Oosah and the media will be updated on the respective social media applications.

CoolNokia Maps – All the GPS mapping programs are focused on driving directions. Nokia developed a map program designed for walking directions. The quality and usability of the maps is impressive. Watch this video of Lenn Pryor, VP of Marketing for Nokia talk about their maps and a couple of other new announcements including the NGage.

Not-so-coolNot being prepared to present and explain your product – I saw the absolute worst product demonstration in the thirteen years I’ve been a technology journalist. And I’m going to be polite and NOT mention the name of the company because they are new, less than a year old, and it wouldn’t be fruitful to trash them this early on. But I want to tell you the story in this post. Read on.

Make sure to watch all my other videos from Web 2.0 Expo plus my post “The Worst Product Demonstration I’ve Ever Seen.”

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