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O'Reilly Media is launching a consulting division to help Fortune 500 companies adopt new tools to reach customers and clients and improve internal communications in the evolving Internet age.

"Large companies were calling and asking how to apply the Web 2.0 principals into their businesses," said Laura Baldwin, who runs the Sebastopol company's day-to-day operations as chief operating officer.

In 2003, O'Reilly Media coined the term Web 2.0, which is now commonly used to describe how the Internet has evolved into a social freeform community where people share ideas, photos and videos, and chronicle their lives.

People also are using the Web to search for businesses, read product reviews and ultimately form relationships with companies.

O'Reilly Media, which made a name for itself by publishing computer manuals and producing technology conferences, now intends to provide Web 2.0 training for employees at large companies.

Many companies are scrambling to connect with the hordes of people moving their lives to the so-called social Web, which includes blogs, social networking sites and other sites where users are generating the bulk of the content.

Starbucks launched the social network www.MyStarbucksIdea.com last week, and during the holidays Wal-Mart started www.checkoutblog.com where its employees write reviews of the inventory they buy, ranging from video games to milk.

Wal-Mart employee Tifanie Van Laar confessed on her blog: "I am the video game software buyer for Wal-Mart, but before starting this role, I did not own a single video game or video game platform."

A customer wrote a suggestion on Van Laar's blog: "Any chance Wal-Mart might get any more games from NovaLogic (the makers of Delta Force series)? It's the most realistic series EVER!"

Employees previously hidden deep behind corporate walls now have more access to customer feedback. In the past, that video game enthusiast likely would never have connected with Van Laar. The feedback would have gone to an in-store employee who has little influence on what video games the store carries.

With Wal-Mart's new social Web site, the video game enthusiast was able to provide Van Laar direct feedback.

"You have to communicate with customers like they communicate with themselves," said George LeBrun, who was hired this month to head the consulting division. "The face of the customer has changed so much in the last 30 months."

O'Reilly Media established itself in the late 1980s by publishing computer manuals that targeted emerging technologies, and diversified the business in the late 1990s by producing technology conferences. It co-produces the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, which attracts business executives such News Corp. and the founders of Facebook. The company rang up an estimated $75 million in revenue last year and employs 127 people in Sonoma County.

Its conferences now contribute about 20 percent of its revenues, and Baldwin said she hopes the consulting business will grow to be an even larger component of the company in 10 years.

"We're leveraging our technical knowledge and our vision of the future of technology and how that plays into the enterprise world," Baldwin said.

O'Reilly Media plans to train employees at some of the world's largest corporations on how to incorporate these new tools.

"Companies need to evolve. They need to understand how to apply the social Web to themselves," said LeBrun, who previously ran his own consulting business, Rule13.

People under 30 are increasingly using text messaging and social media such as Facebook and MySpace to communicate and stay connected.

"If companies ignore that trend, they are at risk of becoming irrelevant," LeBrun said. "I look at the music industry and the publishing industry as to where things can go for companies that sit idle."

O'Reilly Media wants to become a repository and source of Internet usage data and trends, and help its clients understand data collection techniques.

It also will help companies understand what online social tools will be most productive.

"Not every company needs to have a blog. In some cases, it will create more heat than it is worth," LeBrun said. "They need to do internal analysis to figure it out. And that is what we help them do."

You can reach Staff Writer Nathan Halverson at 521-5494 or nathan.halverson@press

democrat.com.