Deckchairs, Titanic, etc.

Disclaimer: This post is half rant, half message in a bottle. I apologize in advance for the tone.

As some of you will already know, I’m a big believer in the power of technology, and in particular technology startups, to change the world for the better. Most of the positive change we’ve seen in the past decade can be attributed to better technology, and a big part of the improvement in recent years has been thanks to web businesses.

One of the most distressing consequences of the financial and now economic crisis has been the significant hit taken by the web startup ecology in Silicon Valley and other tech clusters such as Boston and New York. Interest in the so-called web 2.0 is waning, startups have more difficulty finding funding and, most importantly, there’s a can-do, everything’s-possible attitude which seems to have damped down significantly.

This is why I was particularly saddened to see the ongoing feud between two major tech conferences, DEMO and TechCrunch50. Some people have problems with TechCrunch and its founder, Michael Arrington, who is deemed unstable and unethical. Some people think it’s DEMO’s business model, based on charging startups to appear at their conference, which is unethical. Honestly? I don’t give a damn. I’m sitting in a couch in Europe, I haven’t met any of the protagonists, and I don’t care who’s right and who’s wrong. They’re both right. They’re both wrong.

The only thing I care about it the entrepreneurial web ecology which has done so much for the world, which is in trouble right now and which, to be blunt, doesn’t need this shit.

I sincerely believe that the old economy is a dead man walking. In the future, you will get your furniture from some guy in a country you’ve never been to who sells all over the world through the web. In the future, elections in Zimbabwe will be free, not just because of political reform, but because everyone waiting in line at the polling booth will have a camera phone and wireless broadband. We may even get those damn flying cars.

A lot of people know this. But in the meantime, we need more collaboration. We need TechCrunch to do more than just cover what new feature some startup I’ve never heard of has added this week. We need tech conferences that aren’t scratching each other’s faces off to showcase startups that, meanwhile, are hurting and going bust. We need to have deeper, more thoughtful conversations, and not just about macro trends (Oh, you think mobile is going to be big? No kiddin’), but about business models ; not just about cool apps, but about the societal trends that these apps feed on and change. To be fair, this kind of stuff already exists, of course. But it needs to be the focus.

It’s fine to squabble about who’s king of the hill when all the indicators are looking up, that’s healthy competition. But right now, it’s just infantile.

As with Bubble 1.0, I have no doubt that the web will emerge from this downturn stronger and more relevant. But in the meantime, the players need to show some responsibility and dedication to their community.