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Miles Gilburne and Web 2.0

Kim Hart

Miles Gilburne has been on many sides of the technology industry. He's best known for his leaderhip during the heady days of AOL, but his former lives also include stints as a high-tech lawyer, a venture capitalist, and a member of Time Warner's board of directors.

He's now returning to his roots to fund young Internet start-ups through his firm, ZG Ventures. He rarely makes public appearances, but on Monday he hosted a panel about new so-called Web 2.0 companies that he's helped finance along with other local venture capital firms, including Novak Biddle Venture Partners of Bethesda.

Gilburne said "digital forces" continue to develop the Internet into a platform where people connect, share and build their own personalized Web--the concepts behind the Web 2.0 movement. This isn't anything new, of course, but the companies he talked with on the panel are pretty interesting.

One company he invested in is called InGrid, a home security system that works over the Internet. You can install the system in your home, office, vacation home and the homes of elderly relatives and manage the system through handsets and Web sites. Lou Stilp, the company's CEO, said he plans to market the security system as an add-on to telecommunications bundles offered by phone and cable companies.

Gilburne also invested in Clearspring Technologies, an Arlington company that makes and tracks widgets--mini Web sites that people can paste onto their personal pages or blogs that also have advertising potential. Hooman Radfar, the founder of the company, calls it "the Web a la carte."

Clearspring works with Freewebs of Silver Spring, which helps people create their own free Web sites and is also getting into the widget space. I wrote about both companies in this story last month.

Gilburne also asked questions of a fourth company, eMinor, which is based in North Carolina. Mike Doernberg, the CEO, launched the site Reverbnation.com, which helps bands manage and distribute their presence on the Internet. As sales of compact discs continue to dwindle, the company aims to leverage fans to spread music across the Web.

"The record business is dying, but the music business is just confused," Doernberg said. "When people buy music these days, they don't go to Best Buy; they go straight to iTunes."

He said 20 of the Top 40 artists are distributing music through the sites. He's also using widgets to spread songs.

All of these companies are still trying to figure out how to make money from the Web 2.0 model. Right now, the most promising bet is to capture a share of revenue from advertisers that slap their brand name on widgets, hoping they will build brand equity as they circulate around the Web. There's plenty of content out there now, but someone has to start paying for this model in order to survive, they said.

"Only advertisers are willing to pay for this stuff," Doernberg said. "Or else somebody's going to have to start charging for services."

Gilburne said these types of companies enable people to be heard on a global level. "When all media goes digital and more users can be reached with broadband, it will be very empowering to individual creativity," he said.

By Kim Hart  |  May 2, 2007; 3:15 PM ET  | Category:  Kim Hart
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