The web is evolving fast from a simple web page/website destination model to one of distributed data (which is synonymous with content) and applications that appear wherever the user needs them the most - whether its on a social networking profile page or a merchant page where you are about to transact.
This may seem like a simple shift but the effects on the ecosystem are profound and new winners will be created. A web publisher can no longer think in the paradigm of a website only and driving traffic to a destination. Sure, you have to have a destination - but in many cases its becoming a showcase site vs where the real action is. The extreme examples are widget businesses - and Mayfield has made several bets here from Gigya (providing widget distribution infrastructure to anyone with content or apps) to Slide (vertically integrated network of widgets - now the largest in the world). Both have significant momentum (billions of impressions per month) which would not have been achieved in the old paradigm.
Why is this happening? Very simply, because the user is pulling the web in this direction. More deeply, because publishers want to take advantage of traffic and context on other sites and present relevant info when the user needs or wants it most - and both sides of the equation - publisher and data/app provider - are playing nicely. A website is really nothing more than data and applications on a page so it makes sense that a publisher puts some structure around these items, makes them discrete, and "atomizes"/redistributes it everywhere. Web services, APIs, and to some extent the standards set forth as part of the "semantic web" effort are making this possible - along wth an important general shift to openness in all businesses. The destination owners (like facebook) are realizing they can't satisfy all their users needs but have great context (in their case a powerful social graph of people you care about) for others to use.
What does this mean for investing? Well, there are a lot of new infrastructure needs (like Gigya) but there are also new opportunities for disruptive content providers. A content provider needs to think of themselves as a database provider now more than a text or media publisher. I think there will be big companies created that own the most important databases in verticals - the new wave of publishers embracing concepts like crowdsourcing and UGC. One example is an investment I made called Fixya - where users provide tech support and tips for consumer products to other users. It's now the largest user generated tech support site in the world - with over 7M unique visitors and growing like a weed(thanks to Google SEO'ing all the solutions - kinda like wikipedia).
What makes the Fixya database so valuable? It can scale infinitely as more products are launched, old ones remain on our shelves, and users generate the content. The data is categorized (by product SKU and category) and can be cut up in many different ways providing deep knowledge where the consumer needs it. It is self policing (like wikipedia) as the expert community is rated and the best content rises to the top (like youtube). Since it's treated like a database, this info can be presented to users where its most relevant - at a manufacturer site, in a shopping search engine, discussion forums or a merchant page.
I think every publisher of content or applications needs to change their mindset and think like a database provider - it's no longer optional. I'm looking for other "fixya"'s out there in large consumer and b2b categories - let me know if you have one!