by Stuart Ridgway, Original Music for Film and Television

This article is Part 4 in a series of four articles about the Web 2.0 Summit 2009.  Make sure you read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 first.

Super-Cool Stuff

I’ve saved the best for last!  A conference is only as bold as its most cutting edge presentations.  There are two that made me say, “that’s cool,” to Sonny.  There are two more that made me say, “now that’s really cool!”  You decide which is which…

Cynthia Warner, President of Sapphire Energy, gave a presentation on converting algae into crude oil.  Really.  Green crude is not an ethanol or any other crop- or sugar-based biofuel.  Nor does it have a direct impact on food prices, the destruction of cropland, fresh water reservoirs and the rainforest.  It’s a completely renewable, carbon-neutral product produced directly from CO2 and sunlight, efficiently generating a new kind of crude oil from one of the world’s oldest, most adaptable plants.

At $80 a barrel it is now becoming cost effective.  Even better: green crude is a drop-in fuel.  It is so similar to crude oil in that it can use the current oil infrastructure.  No specialized Hydrogen pumps.  No refitting pipelines to manage natural gas.  Swap the petroleum with green crude and you’re done.  Algae?  Huh.

Want to become the mayor of your favorite watering hole?  Join Dennis Crowley, the founder of Foursquare, to connect with your friends and start learning more about the places they frequent.  Not only is it a great way to meet up with nearby friends, but you’ll also start to learn about their favorite spots and the new places they discover.  Every time you check in with Foursquare you earn points.  Find a new place in your neighborhood? +5 points. Making multiple stops in a night? +2 points. Dragging friends along with you? +1.

What makes this really useful is that as you start checking-in to more interesting places with different people, you’ll start unlocking badges. There are badges for discovering new places and for traveling to far away places.  Get credit for getting out of your house and socializing.  Spending too much time singing karaoke or been hitting the gym consistently?  There are badges for those too 🙂  One more way to improve upon your flat-screen tan.

And you haven’t seen anything until you’ve witnessed the 3-D printer from Makerbot.  Enter a design and it spits out a plastic reproduction of your object.  Need a special piece of Lego?  Design it and have Makerbot create one for you.  How about a kitchen funnel?  Browse Thingiverse and see if someone has uploaded a design for one.

Makerbot is about where dot-matrix printers were 20 years ago:  the objects are a little rough.  But think about how far desktop printing has come.  In a few years, I have no doubt that Makerbot printers will be able to create an enormous amount of products in a multitude of colors, materials and sizes.  The future of product fulfillment will be turned upside down.

Finally, how about an API for the English language.  Erin McKean, co-founder and CEO of Wordnik, has created a fun and new way for people to learn about and discover words.  Taxonomy, controlled vocabulary, folksonomy, and tagging are all useful to us when we describe the content we use.  But each of us uses our own words in our own slightly different ways.  Wordnik is gathering as much information as possible about how we use those words.  They are tracking definitions, examples, and frequency to build out the ecosystem of each word; anything that would help you understand the meaning of a word.  Their API will allow anyone to derive meaning from any word beyond its definition.  A great example is to use Wordnik to autocomplete the tags a user attaches to a blog article.  Hmm…

As you can see, the web is being driven more and more by the way people use it.  The future lies in the ability to derive meaning from that usage.  The possibilities are endless.

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