Since i'm the host & co-chair for the conference, my blogging will be a bit limited (and likely a little disjointed)... however i'll try and post a few thoughts throughout the day.
Keynote: David Hills, CEO of LookSmart kicked off the conference with a perspective from someone who went through the launch and "verticalization" of cable TV channels. He observed a number of parallels with that industry's emergence, and how the major networks watched the emergence of HBO, and then other cable channels.
Investing in Vertical Search: Jeff Clavier moderated a panel with VC speakers from Sequoia, Redpoint, Accel, and DFJ. Notable interest from the panel in vertical investing, however they all mention there are plenty of no-VC-required (read: angel or self-funded) vertical startups that are being acquired for $20-30M. That said, they all seemed to drool visibly when an audience member got up & mentioned he was a Stanford grad starting a vertical in the dining & entertainment space... i thought they might actually leave their seats to get the guy's contact info in the middle of the panel). After the sessiong the panelists were mobbed by entrepreneurs in the audience pitching their new verticals... the more things change, the more they stay the same in the valley :)
Local Search: Charlene Li of Forrester Research moderated the Local Search panel, with speakers from all the major engines (Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AskJeeves). These guys were a bit mum on what the startup opportunities were in the Local space, however Charlene definitely indicated all of them were active in partnering, investing, & acquiring in the Local space, at least in startups that provided related data & customers (ex: Google's acquisition of Dodgeball). From the audience, Mark Sherman of Battery Ventures asked a question about monetization alternatives. Paul Levine from Yahoo said that traditional yellow page advertising models could still make sense online. He also noted "pay-per-call" models were developing, but were still pretty early. Charlene mentioned that personalization data (which each of the majors have access to) mapped onto Local could also help increase relevance to searchers. Geographic data integration still developing as well, but getting better (Google Maps, Microsoft Virtual Earth, etc). Audience member asked "who's truth?" regarding opinion on local service offerings -- (i think the question is around authority / reputation for content reviewers). I just asked/translated the question to inquire how they get to authority / reputation data...
Shopping Search: Gary Stein from Jupiter Research moderated this panel with speakers from Yahoo Shopping, PriceGrabber, and Become.com. (ok, my apologies -- had to handle some other conference coordination... hopefully one of the other conference bloggers picked up the rest of this session).
Travel Search: Niki Scevak, also from Jupiter Research, was the moderator for this panel, with speakers from SideStep.com, Mobissimo, Yahoo Travel, and cFares. This session covered data fragmentation of the market, and related data acquisition issues. Travel like Shopping is also a proven segment, although the revenue opportunity for meta-search in travel is still emerging. Scott Jampol from Yahoo noted they had acquired FareChase last year & is in the process of integrating the FareChase vertical search business with the overall Yahoo Travel property. Quote of the session "even travel agents don't know if they got the best deal!" :) Metric given that 20% of the travel market is wholesale, and not typically accessible to the consumer; possible that via travel vertical search this market may be opened up. Many future transitions coming; definitely advantage to online providers / search engines who can provide better metrics to travel provisioners. Metrics & Analytics appear to be significant competitive advantage. Some good detail on big search engines buying customers @ $5 vs travel search engines buying/valuing @ $25-30 per customer. Would appear to be a traffic acquisition opportunity there...
Jobs/Classifieds Search: John Zappe of Classified Intelligence moderated this session near & dear to my heart. Speakers include our own SimplyHired Founder/CEO Gautam Godhwani, as well as Craig Donato from Oodle, Konstantin Guericke of LinkedIn, and Garrett Price of Kijiji (part of eBay). Since i'm a biased party on this panel, i'll leave the analysis & commentary to other bloggers... however i would say this panel was one of the more interesting of the day ;)
Blog/News Search: surprise! we were fortunate to have Steve Gillmor fill in as a guest moderator for the first ten minutes (since Om was taking public transportation), before Om Malik took over thereafter. this panel was a geek's delight, as each of the panelists brain was bigger than the average water buffallo ;) seriously, some of the discussions were a bit over my head... i think i'm gonna have to turn in my geek credentials! Om challenged the panel to define a successful UI for their services -- and stated his own feeling that they were not so easy to use (and i would have to say i agree, tho my growing senility could be the cause there too). Regardless of what these guys are discussing, Om is definitely funny as hell :) Lots of good quotes: "There are only so many telecom executives to convict..." UI seems to be the continuing controversial issue.
The Future of Vertical Search: Barney Pell of Mayfield moderated this panel including speakers from PubSub, Glenbrook Networks, RawSugar, and Snap.com. (apologies, was managing event details during this panel... will link to other conference bloggers).