The Best and the Worst of the Web 2.0 Summit

If you were looking to learn something new, this week’s Web 2.0 Summit was not the place to be. However, if you were planning to catch up, make contacts and swap business cards, then the Palace Hotel’s grandiose hallways were where all the action was. It was rare to chat up anyone at Web 2.0 who had anything positive to say about the official content or news. The consensus seemed to be same old, same old; the reason to break out the checkbook and skip out on real work was to mingle.

The only concrete news out of the conference – that Intel was releasing an enterprise 2.0 suite to distribute products from Six Apart, Socialtext, NewsGator, SimpleFeed, and SpikeSource, and had set up options to invest in those it doesn’t already have stakes in, was all but ignored. The only people who brought this up with us were the CEOs of the five companies participating. The startup launch pad failed to dazzle; heavy on the Powerpoint and not on the impressive technology, and far too many of the companies part of the insular crowd, or often the investment portfolios, of the judges.

Speaking of working the halls—Fox Interactive and First Round Capital were especially visible. Every time we saw Heather Harde (SVP M&A at FIM) or Josh Kopelman (managing partner, First Round), they were corralling a startup on a couch (separately, of course) — not attending a session in the main room.

Much more so than last year, the event seemed like a get-together for a homogenous group of friends. The few outliers were treated as cultural exhibits. For instance, talk of the necessity of cooperation with the Chinese government by business-man-to-the-core Jack Ma, the CEO of Alibaba, was fiercely incongruous with the touchy-feely sentiments from familiar figures like Eric Schmidt, Ray Ozzie, and David Filo. GoDaddy CEO Bob Parsons drew nervous chuckles for his brash comments on buxom babes in advertising.

A teen panel seemed all the more awkwardly anthropological with the addition of the teens’ parents. For their part, the specimens were happy to indulge. “MySpace is like on Christmas morning,” said one teen, “and you go downstairs and you see the presents under the tree… I sign on and it’s like, dah-dah!”

When we were in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago, there was tangible excitement about the new age of digital media. The Hollywood types were bursting to talk about this revolutionary age of amateur talent ushered in by YouTube. This week, web 2.0 crowd treated the YouTube acquisition simply as a huge transaction, with the only interesting aftermath being lawsuits. Here, we’re so far ahead of the curve, it’s a race to see who can be cynical first.

Twice at the Web 2.0 Summit, we had funny conversations with people on the topic “what will be the online pet food of bubble 2.0″? Nominees on the floor are social bookmarking sites and mommy-oriented social networks. (These are not GigaOM-generated suggestions, mind you; both nominees came from chats with execs at such companies talking about how much competition they have!) What’s your pick? Tell us in the comments.

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