SAN FRANCISCO--So there was Marc Andreessen, scaring the bejeesuz out of the crowd at the Web 2.0 Expo here with talk of a "nuclear winter" descending upon techdom. Maybe it was the Lex Luthor resemblance that made it seem extra sinister.
For the record, this line is becoming old hat for Andreesen--in a blog post he wrote after Ning raised $60 million net in a private round of funding, Andreesen said the money would "enable us to keep scaling given our accelerating growth (more than 230,000 networks on Ning now, growing at over 1,000 per day) and to make sure we have plenty of firepower to survive the oncoming nuclear winter. At current growth rates, we don't need it to get to cash-flow positive, but having lived through the last crunch, it's good to be conservative with these things."
Nothing controversial about being conservative in uncertain times. Still, a nuclear winter? Author and Oxford professor Jonathan Zittrain followed Andreessen onstage--via a recorded transmission --by pondering grim Internet scenarios lurking just over the horizon. The odd thing is that I've heard similar hedge-your-bet comments all week. This is a crew that survived the last bubble and they know from firsthand experience that a lucky rabbit's foot won't be enough to get by in case lightning strikes twice.
The knock against Web 2.0 is that it's chockablock with me-two, doodad makers, companies fated to blow away like prairie grass at the first sign of a storm. Some of that is true. But when you walk the floor at Web 2.0, you see that this year's conference is dominated by serious companies with serious products: Disney, IBM, Intuit, Microsoft, Cisco-Webex, Oracle, Juniper, Google, EMC--well, you get the idea. (You can find the full list in the program guide.)
Barring a real nuclear winter, I expect they'll still be around for quite some time.
So why the lingering insecurity?
"I think it depends on your perspective--that is, where in the market you are in terms of the growth curve and users," said Kaku Srivastava, general manager at Flickr. "From where we're sitting, we're bullish."
That's true. It's also true that many of the smaller companies are ready to grab the first good offer that comes their way.
"You look at CPMs for a lot of the social-media platforms we work with and you wonder about the CPMs," said an executive who asked to remain unidentified. This guy was one of the smart ones: he took the money last year and decided to hang around the mother ship--at least for the foreseeable future--and run the division. "Unless they run a very small shop, it's going to be really hard for them to make serious money. But that's the dream that drives everybody so, why not?"
Why not, indeed? After all, it worked for Andreessen.