Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jon Lebkowsky of Polycot Talks about the Early Days of Web 2.0

Jon Lebkowsky talks about the early days of Web 2.0, how Austin is evolving in the digital media space, and what he proposes to grow it.

So you were one of the early pioneers of Web 2.0. What was it like in the early days?

We didn’t call it Web 2.0. Back then we called it social software iIn the early 2000s, we started talking about social software. We had formed a Ssocial Ssoftware Aalliance that was a nationwide group. It was, though based primarily in Silicon Valley.

Was it made up of blogs and wikis?

Yes, the major blog companies at the time, like Blogger and Six Apart, were on board. The wiki part was byPete Kaminski of Socialtext, was the instigator of the Alliance. I was close to SocialText because I knew Adina Levin, one of the principals, who at the time was based in Austin.

What is Socialtext?

It’s a company which touted wikis as a social software for the enterprise. We formed the Ssocial Ssoftware Aalliance in 2002, before at the Emerging Technology conference for that year, which was in San Jose. But we didn’t hang together for too long because everyone went off to do their own thing,. We were going to push for and we realized the kinds of standards we were discussing were better supported through a standards body like the IETF -- the Internet Engineering Task Force which tends to generate a lot of the internet standards. The key issue at the time was that the blog companies (Blogger, Sixapart, and some others) were not crazy aboutanted more robust syndication than RSS. They thought it was a too limited format. They were working on something called Echo which later became Atom. It’s a pretty common format now. It was one of the key accomplishments of the Social Software Alliance.

What was it like in Austin in those days?

Austin didn’t have much happening, and people here weren’t very aware of social software or social media. I came back from the Emerging Technology Conference where we had solidified the Ssocial Ssoftware Aalliance,. And oOne of my partners said that nobody would ever pay us to set up a social network siteblog. The vision hadn’t sunk in quite yet, though it wasn’t long before our work was mostly social software development, and people relabeled that movement “Web 2.0” after Tim O’Reilly and Dale Dougherty wrote their famous paper. At Etech, Tim had been talking about the Internet as an operating system… the thinking that went into the Web 2.0 paper and drove even more innovation. LiveJournal was one of the first to promote a standard way to present the information.

There’s a group of companies here in Austin that would like to see a more robust ecosystem behind the Web 2.0 space – Demand generation, SEO, and SEM companies. What can be done there?

Last night we had an Entrepreneur’s Town Hall meeting at IC2, which was developed by Kevin Koym. One of our brightest guys in the Bootstrap Austin group is moving to Palo Alto because he wants to do the semantic web and - there’s nothing substantial going on here now in that space, what they’re calling “Web 3.0.” That’s one thing. We really need to support cutting edge web R&D, testbeds etc., so that we won’t lose talent to other parts of the country – we want the key creative talent coming here, not leaving. The other thing is that in 2001, I was working in Whole Foods. WI was involved in e started an economic development initiatives with IC2, beginning with and a clean energy initiative. I helped them with that even though it wasn’t related to my web stuff, because there wasn’t much web business happening, and we needed to focus on economic development in several areas. After that, they I managed IC2’s Wireless Future project, which was a real boost for the wireless industry locally. Then they wanted to do digital convergence.have a project focused on digital media and digital convergence, the Digital Convergence Initiative, That waswhich was started by Alex Cavalli while he was Deputy Director of IC2. We filled the room with over 50 people.

The digital media Digital Convergence Initiative at IC2 was partly focused on the digital Digital media Media laboratoryCollaboratory, which still exists. Alex had a vision of doing a project, related to thatinitially focusing on digital media. Initially, we did a wireless futures project. We wereWireless Future was a first step, and was pretty successful in getting the wireless sector together into a trade association. That all came out of that year of development we did.We spent a year in meetings, working on a report, and developing a track for SXSW Interactive. We involved the city and we did well with that. That was the first step in what Alex called the Digital Convergence Initiative. They did a body of research where they inventoried the companies in the area related to digital media. As all media became data, it was quite disruptive. They found that it wasn’t just media that was going digital, but everything is going digital including medical, energy and most- pretty much any kind of data.
Back then wireless wasn’t well installedhad limited penetration, but today it’s in every coffee shop.

DCI is not working on an Electronic Marketplace, a technology If you can with which you can pull the various companies together and get them working effectively so they can have the capacity they need by being aware of each other and collaborating. My interest is to try and make this region competitive and it appears to be working at the moment.

What would you do for the Web 2.0 sector?

We have had an earlier initiative in which we’ll to build a web test bed with advanced web services. We need to revive that, and bring in more Web 2.0 and semantic web thinking, collaborative research and development. We think we can enhance the productivity of companies by getting companies them to work together creatively. We had a party at SxSW in 2004 and demonstrated some success. That later fell by the wayside and DCI had to rethink it. The history is that we did that web services piece and then we started talking about creating a network of web developers and web business people. From that emerged projects in which entrepreneurs worked together. DCI’s approach now is now looking at creating ist to build anthe electronic marketplace to allow companies to see available capacity in the region and come up with collaborative agreements. So if you are building a certain kind of widget and you lack some capacity, you can find the capacity hopefully find the capacity you need in through athe database that the Marketplace will evolve. There also will be structures for to support collaboration with technical and legal frameworks.

What is needed to get it going?

It’s an incubation thing. The traditional incubator takes a company that’s already pretty far along. What about the guys back in ideation that are basically in the kitchen trying to figure out what they can cook? How do you support those guys?
We need to create support ideation among those who have a passion for technology and connecting them with others in the same proximity a context where they can rub shoulders, do creative thinking together.

DCI is at a point where it needs some funds to get an electronic market place up and running. It would benefit collaborative companies who would join and pay dues.

Best regards,
Hall T.