SAN FRANCISCO -- Since its launch in 2005, TechCrunch has been closely identified with the rise of the Web 2.0 era. The site became enormously influential in the tech scene by being the chief chronicler of ascending social superstars such as Facebook, Yelp, YouTube and Twitter.
That's why the TechCrunch Disrupt conference, held this year in San Francisco, is always interesting: It often serves as a reliable barometer of emerging trends in Silicon Valley.
But this year, what made it most noteworthy is the almost total absence of social media and social networking from the conference.
With the exception of such upstarts as Path, the mobile social network, the lineup was dominated by companies defined by mobile, big data or cloud technologies.
And three days of startup talk reinforced for me the notion that Silicon Valley appears ready to close the book on its Web 2.0 era.
Consider these panel topics: "Education + Technology: But Where's the Revolution?"; "How Enterprise Got Sexy"; "Disrupting Yesterday's Disruptors: Paving the Way for the Millennials," the latter featuring a host of young entrepreneurs working in several decidedly non-social businesses.
This was the first Disrupt in San Francisco since Eric Eldon became co-editor of TechCrunch last year. I asked whether the shift I detected, away from social, was as pronounced as it seemed to be. He said, "absolutely," and noted that the trend had emerged by the time
"For the last half-year, as we've been organizing this, I've been hearing from a lot of venture capitalists and entrepreneurs that there's more willingness to look at the enterprise," Eldon said. "People are also looking at hardware a lot more than they have in a long time."
Naturally, part of the change is that TechCrunch itself has grown up, expanded from its social startup focus, been sold by founder Michael Arrington and seen new staff and new resources under its current owner, AOL.
And I would be wrong to say there was no social networking presence. Perhaps the singular moment of the conference was Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg's first post-IPO appearance on Tuesday. That problematic public offering hung heavy over attendees, with many guests asked on stage for their take on what the Facebook IPO meant, what went wrong, and what the company should do now.
The discussion of Facebook felt more like a post-mortem, a search for lessons learned, than a look ahead.
Eldon said the string of social IPOs that produced a mixed bag of results -- Zynga, Groupon, Pandora, LinkedIn -- have been somewhat disappointing, but the results have provided some evidence that these companies can be real businesses, even if they're never going to be as big as many once expected.
"The IPOs established a floor on what these companies are worth," Eldon said. "It's not nothing. And it's not everything."
Rather than becoming the driving force of Silicon Valley, it appears social is destined to be just part of the background, a feature that you assume will be there on everything you use. For instance, mobile e-commerce applications now have social networking features built in.
I was particularly struck to hear one-time Web 2.0 poster boy Kevin Rose discuss his waning interest in social. The former co-founder of social news aggregator Digg.com is now a partner at Google Ventures.
"I think social will always be this layer we put on top of our content," Rose said. "I don't know that I'm seeing a lot of desire for new social networks. There is a lot of fatigue going on whenever there's a new app that wants me to redefine my social graph one more time."
Perhaps nothing highlighted this shift more than the seven companies that were finalists in the Disrupt competition. Each year, startups are selected to pitch their idea from the stage, with the numbers winnowed down by judges until a winner is picked at the end of the conference.
This year the finalists included MindMeld, an app that analyzes real-time conversations; Gyft, a mobile app for storing gift cards; Lit Motors' C-1, a new "gyroscopically stabilized, two-wheeled all-electric vehicle"; Veritable, a smart database for application developers; and Saya Mobile, a messaging app for emerging markets.
The winner? YourMechanic.com, a startup that offers to connect people with car mechanics who will come to their house.
That choice seemed to fit with another observation Eldon made about where Silicon Valley is heading: "There's a focus on companies that solve real problems."
That may not sound like the greatest of rallying cries. But it's no less a noble calling for entrepreneurs, and one that promises a different, if more grounded and practical, era of innovation in Silicon Valley.