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Mobile technology on the move


SAN FRANCISCO — The Internet is no stranger to rapid innovation.

But the pace of change today is unprecedented. People are turning to their iPhones, iPads and other mobile devices to access the Internet at an incredible pace.

"It's a monster market trend," said John Doerr, a celebrated venture capitalist and partner at Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers. "It is just getting started."

The impact of that change was the most consistent topic at the Web 2.0 Summit in San Francisco, where some of the most powerful leaders of the Internet have gathered for the three-day conference.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive and founder of Facebook, was one of the few who largely steered clear of the mobile topic.

Instead, he responded to criticism raised by Google's chief executive Eric Schmidt, who the day before sat in the same chair at the Summit and said Facebook was hoarding its users' data.

Schmidt had criticized Facebook for not letting users take all the information in their profiles and export it to other social networks.

Zuckerberg responded by saying Facebook's Connect is the largest and most advanced system at any social network to let people export information from their profiles. He acknowledged that it might not be perfect, but right now the company was more focused on giving users better control over how they share information.

"I think we're not 100 percent right on this," Zuckerberg said. "But we're trying to think through all of this."

In five years, people will become more interested in being able to export information from their profiles, but right now they are more focused on privacy issues, Zuckerberg said.

"A lot of people right now are just on the side of having better user control," he said.

Tim O'Reilly, founder of Sebastopol-based O'Reilly Media, which co-produces the conference, cautioned Zuckerberg to not let privacy concerns overly impede innovation.

"We have to push boundaries," O'Reilly said. "If we set boundaries too early, we won't figure it out."

Facebook's influence in the tech sector continues to grow, as evidenced when Carol Bartz, chief executive of Yahoo!, was asked to describe the social network in one word while onstage at the conference.

"Competition," she said.

A day earlier, Facebook had announced a new messaging system expected to compete with the popular e-mail services provided by Yahoo, Google and others.

While Zuckerberg was the rock star of the day's influential speakers, the hottest topic was the mobile Internet.

By 2012, more smartphones will be sold globally than computers, said Mary Meeker, a long-time Internet analyst with Morgan Stanley who provided her annual trend update at the conference. People have started using Apple's iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch at a far faster pace than they began using Netscape Navigator and AOL in the mid-1990s.

The public's appetite for wireless access to the Internet is booming, and has been an enormous challenge to telecommunication companies, said John Donovan, chief technology officer for AT&T.

"It's an insatiable appetite," he said. "There is not enough capital in the world to build a network to meet peak demand."

Jim Balsillie, chief executive of Research in Motion, which makes the Blackberry, talked almost exclusively about how his line of phones will provide people the best experience accessing the Internet. And he made it clear that it was not in a closed system like Apple's iPhone.

"You can bring mobile to the Web," he said. "You don't need an app for the Web."

Zuckerberg, who was the last speaker of the night, finished his remarks with a few thoughts on the mobile Web.

Facebook already has 200 million mobile users, he said.

"The mobile platform is just getting started," he said. "It's going to enable really good things over the next few years."