I attended the discussion on open versus closed models which was hosted by Danny Rimer  Jeff Barr, Toni Schneider and Sam Schwartz.  

Tim O'Reilly began the session by talking about openness and how this is a central theme of Web 2.0. However he pointed out that at the end of the day to have value a company must own something. He then asked the various members of the panel what their company owned.

Jeff Barr said that although Amazon has open APIs they do own their customer database, the buying experience, as well as the procurement and shipping process. Toni Schneider responded that Yahoo! wants to own the user's trust so that users have no qualms about placing their data in Yahoo!'s services. Tim then asked if Yahoo!'s users could export the data they have in Yahoo!'s services. Toni responded that there were ways to get data out of Yahoo!'s services and this was mostly provided based on customer demand. For example, one can export photos uploaded to Flickr but this reduces their worth since the user loses the network effects from being part of the Flickr ecosystem.

Tim's next target was Danny Rimer who he asked whether Skype wasn't as proprietary as AOL Instant Messenger since it's IM protocol wasn't based on open standards like Jabber. Danny responded that although the IM protocol is closed they did have a client-side API. He also stated that the main reason the VOIP protocol isn't more open is that they are still working out the kinks. However he did note that the Skype API hasn't gotten a lot of traction.  

Tim O'Reilly then asked the participant where they resided on the continuum of control versus openness. Sam Schwartz mentioned that there was a delicate balance between the old school and new school of thought at Comcast. Toni said Yahoo! believes in opening up their platform which is why they created YSDN, however this doesn't mean throwing things over the wall without support. Tim O'Reilly stated that it seemed Yahoo! seemed more intent on controlling things since the primary list of Yahoo! Maps mashups is hosted on a Yahoo! site while the primary list of Google Maps mashups is not hosted on a Google owned website. So it seems Google's API efforts are more community driven than Yahoo!'s. Toni responded by saying that YSDN is a good first step for Yahoo!. They aren't just about enabling people to put data in their system but also enable them to get it out as well.

As someone who has had to drive developer efforts at Microsoft, first for the XML team and now at MSN, it is a very delicate balance between enabling the community and dominating it. Unlike Tim, I interpret Yahoo!'s efforts as highlighting the efforts of their developer community and also I'd point out that Google does the same as well. It seems weird to criticize companies for highlighting the efforts of people using their platform.

Tim the asked what VC's like him were looking for in today's startups. Danny replied that he is now primarily interested in companies for geographies outside the United States such as China and Isreal. Sam responded that Comcast is looking for people and services who used a lot of broadband resources.

Tim followed up by asking about business models, it seemed to him that the goal of a lot of startups such as Toni's Oddpost was to be bought by a big company. Toni agreed that a lot of people were building applications without a business model. it was also argued by the group that we need better business models for Web 2.0 besides affiliate programs like those used by Amazon and eBay. Danny argued that it isn't a bad thing if what ends up happening is that new startups end up being fuel for innovation at big companies by being purchased. My assumption is that since he's a VC he gets paid either way. ;)