Was at the EmTech conference at MIT today and suffered through a panel led by Robert Scoble with four geeks (Facebook, Six Apart, Plaxo, Twine) talking about the future of the Web. No prepared remarks, just totally random conversation. Basically they all just spewed whatever came into their heads, at top speed, interrupting each other and oblivious to the fact that an audience was sitting there, glazing over. A few people got up and asked questions and the geeks did manage to (sort of) address one or two but then they forgot about the questioners and just started rambling again, talking to each other and forgetting about the audience. It was like watching five college kids with ADHD and an eight-ball of coke trying to hold a conversation.
One thing that struck me is that in trying to explain what Web 2.0 or Web 3.0 is all about, the geeks kept coming back to this example of how they had been trying to find a good restaurant in Boston and how their cool social networking tools and collaborative filters had enabled them to do such a great job of this restaurant hunting task because, like, Facebook and Twitter are so much better for this than just a Google search because, like, I don’t need a Google search bringing up a list of every restaurant in Boston, I want a filtered search relying on people I trust, people in my network.
My first reaction was that in the greater scheme of things (economy in free fall, war in Iraq, global warming, energy crisis, not to mention the old reliables like cancer and poverty and AIDS, etc.) this challenge of finding a good restaurant seems like a fairly trivial and unimportant problem for our big geek brains to be trying to solve. If I were funding these guys I might go home scratching my head about what those kids are doing with all of my millions. Maybe there is a point to what they’re doing, but honestly, what great problem are these companies trying to solve? Sitting there watching this spectacle — watching these guys unable to simply explain what they do and and how they are going to make a business out of it – it was staggering to think that someone has entrusted these people with very large sums of money. But someone has. I weep for those people.
The real kicker was when I ran into Owen Thomas of Valleywag after the panel and he told me where he and the uber-geeks were having dinner tonight after all of their glorious collaborative filtering and scouring of their trusted online networks — the Union Oyster House. Anyone who lives in Boston or knows Boston will realize why this is hilarious. For everyone else, let me explain: incredibly bad food, appallingly slow and rude service, and ripoff prices. Lots of fake “ye olde Boston” charm and it’s close to Faneuil Hall but seriously, it’s a total joke of a tourist trap. Boston has plenty of good seafood places but this is not one of them. Not even close. So, um, great work, Facebook and Twitter. Those trusted networks sure work great. Seriously. Well done.