Tim O'Reilly advises companies to slow down to tease out the greatest business opportunities in the postcrisis economy.
The theme this year at the Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco is the power of less.
It's a theme forced upon the conference organizers, O'Reilly Media and InformationWeek publisher TechWeb, by the ongoing economic downturn.
But it's also a timely theme because the tech industry tends toward periods of rapid innovation and periods of readjustment. Following the surge of creativity and innovation that inflated the Web 2.0 bubble, it's time for the tech industry to slow down and assess where the business opportunities really are.
In his introductory remarks, O'Reilly Media founder Tim O'Reilly said that following the dot-com bust almost a decade ago, the companies that survived learned how to use the Web as a platform.
O'Reilly pointed to Google as the poster child for making effective use of that knowledge.
Companies that emerge from the current crisis are likely to gain similarly valuable knowledge as the connectivity enabled by technology brings the real space and cyberspace closer together.
As O'Reilly sees it, the conference's theme reflects the necessity for changing expectations in the tech industry. "In the tech industry we take for granted that we get more for less, but it doesn't always work that way in the world," he said.
That's not just the economy speaking, but also the technical reality of an industry trying to maintain a tradition of performance gains as it makes the transition to multicore processors that programmers aren't yet adept at fully utilizing.
There are plenty of fertile areas of innovation, as O'Reilly sees it: the semantic Web, virtual reality, the social Web, and the mobile Web, for instance.
Perhaps the most promising is the sensor Web, the linkage of real-world data sources to the Internet. The so-called "smart grid," the emerging Internet-enabled energy grid, is an example of this.
The task of extracting meaning from the world and making it available online will open up new applications and opportunities, said O'Reilly.
For O'Reilly, the power of less looks like the precursor to growth.
"The baby that we build with technology is growing up and starting to go to work," he said.
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