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As tech leaders take the stage in San Francisco, harsh reality of economy quells usual enthusiasm

SAN FRANCISCO

Oh what a difference a year makes.

Last year when Mark Zuckerberg took the stage at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco to talk about his wildly popular Web site Facebook, the excitement was palpable and the expectations high. Microsoft was set to invest $240 million for a tiny stake in the social networking site, which valued the company at a whopping $15 billion.

On Thursday, Zuckerberg skirted the question of whether Microsoft overpaid, given the gut-wrenching drop in stock values over the past year. And rather than fielding upbeat questions about how fast he could expand Facebook's work force -- it has grown from 300 to 700 employees as he predicted last year -- Zuckerberg was asked if the company had implemented a hiring freeze because of the downturn.

"We're continuing to hire good people," Zuckerberg said, but without much enthusiasm.

The Web 2.0 Summit, which is a gathering of the Internet's most influential personalities, had a noticeably more grim mood than last year's. It is co-produced by Sebastopol-based O'Reilly Media and San Francisco-based TechWeb.

Typically, these tech conferences are full of eager entrepreneurs vying for the time of well-heeled venture capitalists who can inject millions of dollars with little more than a "yes."

And while that certainly was still a part of this year's conference, the over-caffeinated giddiness so common in past years has been noticeably absent at the three-day conference, which ends today.

Instead, topics focused on how the world can dig itself out of a global-warming disaster and how some of the Internet's fastest-growing tools, such as Twitter, can become profitable.

Evan Williams, CEO of Twitter, hinted at how his micro-messaging Internet tool might cash in on its rapidly growing user base. He suggested that Twitter might charge businesses to set up authenticated accounts.


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