New Web entrepreneurs sure they will find a home

SAN FRANCISCO Mon Oct 22, 2007 11:49am EDT

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Web 2.0 summit in San Francisco, California, October 17, 2007. REUTERS/Kimberly White

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Web 2.0 summit in San Francisco, California, October 17, 2007.

Credit: Reuters/Kimberly White

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - From an online travel organizer to a real estate pricing game, the ideas of the newest Web entrepreneurs are still finding attentive ears.

Start-up companies at the Web 2.0 Summit this week displayed confidence that the Internet has become a big enough home, with hundreds of millions of users, for many of their projects to find a market.

While skeptics question whether Silicon Valley is again on the brink of a bubble burst, veterans say they no longer question the fundamental strength of the Web -- even though the failure rate will still be high for new companies.

Executives of some of the world's largest corporations came not only to seek new opportunities, but to court approval from the Web elite. For one, AT&T Inc Chief Executive Randall Stephenson was keen to show it was rapidly moving into Internet services from its declining base of traditional telephony.

"We all want the exact same thing. We all want this Internet thing to flourish," Stephenson told the crowd in San Francisco. "We want it to grow dramatically and rapidly."

The year 2007 has been a boon to some Web businesses, from a $10 billion consolidation of online advertising technology companies to the record $600 share price surpassed by Web search leader Google Inc.

Within a year, Wall Street watchers have raised the potential value of online social network Facebook from about $1 billion to a breathtaking $15 billion.

"The velocity of company creation has gone up so it becomes hyper-competitive. The success rate will not be high," said Steve Case, a founder of the AOL Internet service and now chief executive of a new payments company, Revolution Money. "Twenty-five years ago, we were dreaming of a day like this where (the Web) would be taken for granted."

New ventures pitching for investment this week included Web site TripIt, which helps organize travel itineraries; Realius, a fantasy game for guessing the sale price of actual homes; and G.ho.st, a virtual PC that saves all of a person's files online to be accessed from any computer.

Yet in their own words, the industry's youngest executives do not think they are part of a revolution anymore, but rather building on what already exists.

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg describes his social network as simply adding a layer of communication to what most people already do with friends in the real world.

"There's quite a bit of misperception of how we think about this," he said. "What we're trying to do at Facebook is take the social graph that exists in the world and map it out."

Others said they were not looking so much for "The Next Big Idea" as for just a good idea.

"A lot of the products and businesses on the Web are being commoditized, are becoming features," said Andy Yang of video game developer GarageGames. "What you used to build a business around are now becoming components."

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch described himself and fellow News Corp executives as "trainees" in Web land, his latest period of study in a history that began in the newspaper business and moved to television and film.

"We are going through a period ... of incredible innovation, it's getting faster and faster and this is the center of so much of that innovation," Murdoch told the conference. "I'm sorry I don't spend more time here meeting more people."

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