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Next Web 2010 wrap up

April 29, 2010

The now ubiquitous mashup of delegate-generated-content seen at most IT events might make the idea of physically attending The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam an odd proposition on paper.

With live streams, aggregated twitter feeds, cartoon visualisations of keynote speeches and photographers uploading material to Flickr as it happens, some might assume the considerably more cost-effective alternative would be to consume all that material from London.

And yet there was one distinct advantage to going to Amsterdam to attend conferences such as these: intensive days spent listening to keynote speakers and pitches provides a far more efficient overview of the direction the web is believed to be going compared to ploughing through an RSS feed.

So what is The Next Web?

The Next Web is a glittering concoction of web-chic, industry speak, and seductively cool positive affirmation. Everyone is welcome. It’s a groovy thing.

The web is cool. It’s suits we’d never consider wearing ourselves and yet they seem to look good on the people who do wear them. It’s high heels and blonde hair. Sweeping display boards. Exposed brickwork and flattering lighting.

Oh .. and this year’s Next Web was all about the iPad too. If there wasn’t someone on stage with one then someone was giving them away. I didn’t get one. I’m not bitter. Really. I expect I’ll buy one eventually.

But more than that, the Next Web reflects the web as I perceive it to be. Compared to the dotcom boom of the late 90s, the ever hopeful web entrepeneurs of 2010 seem more grounded. I’ve not spoken to a single person under thirty whilst I’ve been here and every single one has a look in their eye that makes it obvious how hard they work. They work hard because they have a passion for the medium. They see the investment in their time as nothing in comparison to the benefits they’ll reap in terms of pride/money in the future.

And on that basis the web is different now. It’s not just building HTML pages. It’s not coming up with original ways to lay stuff out on a page. The web is a doing thing now. It’s a doing code stuff. Back end stuff. It’s going to hackdays and doing mashups and doing all that young people stuff I don’t understand, or just assume is really, really difficult to get my head around.

Overview

If The Next Web was a question, the answer was quite simple taking a straw poll of what everyone was buzzing about during the week.

This year the headlines seemed to be that mobile devices ruled, that geo-location based mobile apps seemed to be the future.

Mind you, one delegate was heard to say that in previous years Twitter seemed to be belle of the ball. Before that Facebook apps were all the rage. This year’s is geo-location. What will next year’s be?

For my money, the issue of privacy wasn’t discussed anywhere enough about the geo-location based apps. They sound great. The theory is interesting. It’s taking social engagement to the next level. But still I can’t get my head around the idea that I don’t want people knowing where I am.

That web browser thing – that’s history

But, what did totally make sense was Adam Richardson’s polemic on the death of the web browser. The browser as we know will soon be a thing of the past. As more of us get used to life through mobile devices, the idea of returning to a web browser will seem antiquated, clunky even. The browser technology will remain the same (the stuff which delivers web stuff to the user will be the same) but that browser technology will appear in different guises than we’ll soon forget we accessed the web via a browser.

Make my life easier

The other main theme to emerge how internet users are crying out for some kind of killer web-based tool to consolidate all of their messaging tools.

For most, messaging is via Facebook, email, SMS or – shock horror – over the telephone. But for delegates in the hall the myriad of different ways to engage on the net does present some organisational problems. Inboxes get overrun. Twitter follower lists become unwieldly. Some Facebook messages get missed. Opportunities for conversation missed. Guilt ensues.

So, a number of startups as well as a presentation from one of The Next Web’s sponsors Microsoft, focussed on social aggregation tools. Some were simple – like Inbox2. Some haven’t launched yet – like MailSuite. Others looked pretty and are definitely worth a bit of a try out – like the Flickr-esque style of web based social media aggregator Pip.io.

But these tools – just like the playlist sharing services like 22 Tracks and the impressive Playlistify.org – have a far bigger challenge than just securing funding. They rely on users becoming accustomed with a different way of doing things. Where shared playlists are concerned this depends on user buy-in. The content on offer is only as good as the people who have shared it initially. And that content is only as good as the data which describes it.

Equally, where new social aggregators are concerned there’s an even bigger stumbling block for startups. If you’re a user accustomed to TweetDeck for example, Pip.io is going to be a bit of wrench. When you’re home, are you likely to grapple with a new piece of software or go with something new and grapple with the learning curve again?

In the final analysis these tools will only be as successful as their usability allows them to. It may be the usability which limits their shelf life. And frankly, it doesn’t then matter how popular a vote your startup was or how much money you’ve got behind it, if your users aren’t using it you might as well start work on the next project.

Helpful advice for bloggers from Tim Ferriss

When the startups weren’t on, there were pockets of interesting titbits from various keynote speakers. Of particular note was chiseled jaw bloggers therapist Tim Ferriss.

Author of various books, Ferriss fits the inspirational speaker mold both in the pearls of wisdom he offered up to us needier types in the audience as well as his general appearance.

Of special note (these are the points I’ll be taking away, but you can always get a verbatim account from Mashable – see below for the picture credit):

1. When responding online delay your response as long as possible – just to be safe
2. Focus on people who value relationships rather than transactions
3. If you want to improve, be content to be thought foolish and stupid.
4. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity
5. Focus on impact and not acceptance.

It reads like the chapter headings of a self-help book doesn’t it? Far too personally revealing.

At times however, Ferriss’ performance didn’t underline to what extent the advice he was now disseminating actually helped him love the haters on the web (maybe because he didn’t have enough time or maybe because he wants me to buy his book). He was very good on soundbites, strange given that one core piece of advice he gave to everyone was to never give print interviews because you run a high risk of being misquoted.

That will, I know sound like I’m being a complete bitch. I’m not, of course. I’m merely voicing my opinion about it. And I’m OK doing that on a blog, because Tim Ferriss said it it’s OK for people to do that on the internet and he had no problem with people being negative about him.

So that’s cool then, ey Tim?

Inspiration from Evan Roth

The real star of the two days was without doubt one of the last presentations of the second day.

Evan Roth is new to me. Although judging by the 2 million views of the Jay-Z video he produced in 3 days (he makes the flash video file available for free download – shock horror he’s a goodun for that), I’m fairly certain I’ll find a huge number of people who’ll say to me “hadn’t you seen that?”

His presentation – a guided tour through some of the many projects he has pursued exploring his fascination of graffitti and code (yes really, that’s what I said) – is definitely where the next web.

In fact, in some respects it’s already here. New generation journalists are realising all sorts of different engaging ways to present data to a diminishing audience. Only last week a technical project manager at the BBC and I discussed to what extent the new “creatives” at the Corporation were the technical people rather than the people who wrote the words.

Against this backdrop, the sight of Evan’s brilliantly hilarious ‘Fuck Google’ viral, the breathtaking grafitti pen and his stunning work developing a grafitti computer tool operated by eye movement for a guy paralysed from the neck down wasn’t so much ‘way out there’ as ‘oh yeah, I get what you’re saying’.

And what Roth is saying is the next opportunity for all. It’s the blurring of the boundaries of technical wizardry (in whatever field) and creativity. It’s what happens when two seemingly disparate worlds meet. And it’s exactly the world which doesn’t need to have the question posed ‘what’s your business model’ or ‘who’s your target audience?’

It just is.

The picture of the Next Web Conference was taken by me. Nice, isn’t it?

The picture of Tim Ferriss with his fingers on his face was taken by Anne Helmond and it’s included on this blog under the terms of the Creative Commons Licence which I think I’ve interpreted correctly, but if I haven’t Anne please drop me a line and I’ll take it down.

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4 Comments
  1. great post Jon!

    it was good to meet you, by the way. good conversation on the state of the media. maybe i’ll see you around in London!

    • Likewise Mr Pollak sir. 🙂

  2. Shame I didn’t have a chance to meet you, but post is absolutely great! Best regards!
    Aleks

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