Here are my notes and thoughts (telegraphic style) about the last edition of Le Web 3 I attended this week. I went there low tech: by bike with just a paper notepad, a pen, an embarrassingly old mobile phone and a few business cards.
Overall it was a good event, great organization, nice room, good food, and a setting in size and quality speakers that our american friends might be quite familiar with but which is not that common in France. Actually I don't know if there is a comparable event with the internet as a subject and a 1M€ budget here (as a comparison, I helped in the organization of the conference Paris Web 2007 which gathered about 250 people for three days for a budget less than 23K€, but we're a non profit and didn't provide foie gras poché for lunch :p). If I have one complaint, it's that the program is way too disparate, but it's always been like that since the second edition. But most of the people, myself included, where here equally (if not more) for the networking outside the conference tracks. The real capacity that Loic Le Meur has to bring high profiles on stage in Paris doesn't automatically translate into a consistent program, and this year is no exception, with several panels completely out of track with what was written in the program (exemple : “Making your information social” with Kevin Rose and Sarah Lacy had nothing to do with the subject, same with the chit-chat with Evan Williams). Loic told me he had nothing to do with this year's program as it was all in the hands of Cathy Brooks (mon oeil ;-).
Dan Rose from Facebook claimed that users have “good control on their privacy”. Regarding Beacon, he also said that they didn't listen to users complaints, didn't respond quickly enough and did a bad job of explaining Beacon because of the simultaneous launch of their advertising program (ah, and me who foolishly thought there was a link :p). He also said that “ads work when their part of the experience” (err... I hate the concept of "user experience", even more when it's ad-ridden), that “you can't share personally identifiable information with advertisers” (scoop, Facebook next mission statement will be: “Don't be evil” —P.S. Fake Steve says it's “Don't get caught”) and finally that there is no spam in Facebook because the filter is your friends and they tend not to spam you (ahem, someone needs to tell Dan about the constant, quasi spammy, pressure of requests, as well as the folks polluting any popular group with stupid arguments about the (non-)existence of god, just to cite my two favorite itches with FB). I really don't trust those guys.
Evan Williams gave what's for me the best explanation of what Twitter is: blogging with less features and 140 characters max. But after listening to its creator, I still don't know what the hell I can do with Twitter personally. I liked the approach "Think Less" and ideas that removing featurs or putting limits can lead to interesting sites and effects, such as Fotolog — which limits postings to one photo per day, which incites people to comment more on others' pics —or what would happen if a social network maxed the number of your friends at 20 (I like this idea, it would force people to really think twice before accepting total strangers as friends!). That panel had little to do with its subject though, “persistent communication and being social”.
I was totally lost with Kevin Rose (Digg) and Sarah Lacy. It was just a chit-chat between two friends on how cool Silicon Valley is, and gossiping about the cover of BusinessWeek she made of him (I wonder how many people in the audience had heard about it and why they'd care anyway). Nothing to do with the subject of “making your information social” and almost a total waste of time.
Philippe Starck. Ah, absolutely nothing to do with the web, but at least he spoke about design, and the part about sex in design was totally inline with the subject of “what is social about design” ;-). I happen to own a lamp designed by the guy, that I like. I also heard thinks from folks who've been working closely with him, so I take his nice stance about "no product", "no consumers" and ethics with a healthy truckload of salt. The guy's fun anyway, and it's not common to see sex pics in the middle of a slideshow nor to hear that religion is an insult to intelligence in such a conference (that seemed to rub a following speaker from Israel the wrong way, I would bet most of our American friends too while the French audience applauded, speak about social divide in meatspace :p). I liked his “Steve Jobs is a genius, me I look like a genius because of the leather pants” as well as his “It's almost modern” about the Amazon Kindle that Robert Scoble handed him, describing its designers as “not confident nor humble enough to disappear behind the product”.
Rafi Haladjan (Nabaztag) was under such a heavy attack from both Matthias Luefkens (moderator of the panel on "The internet's impact on design") and Brent Hoberman that it was embarrassing.
Nelson Mattos from Google gave an interesting, although sanitized, speach about Google's corporate culture. The key drivers of innovation at Google are:
- culture — users come first, and the world is a little bigger than Silicon Valley (someone needs to tell Kevin and Sarah :p)
- collaboration — “Some secrets are more valuable when shared” (Ed Mc Cracken)
- speed — “Big will not beat small anymore. It will be fast beating slow.” (Rupert Murdoch).
Some interesting traffic figures: 1 billion people connected from a PC, 3 billion from a mobile phone. 80M emails/IM exchanged everyday on the internet. 130M € spent on e-commerce in Europe (huh, only? I must have missed something, or it's everyday).
Jonathan Medved from Vringo, besides disagreeing with Starck on religious intelligence :p, said that the mobile phone is THE platform for personalization. “A web site is your personality in pixels, but mobile personalization has fallen behind the web”. I started to lose interest when I saw that advertising was at the top of the examples (if not the only example besides ringtones) he gave. If annoying everybody around with Jennifer Lopez is a strong act of projecting your personality to the world, well, so be it. Me I love Bach to much to massacre it as a mobile phone ringtone.
For Tarik Krim of Netvibes “everything will become a widget”, the iPhone being the perfect example (but of course when you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail, n'est-ce pas Tarik :D). Patrick Chanezon who was representing Google (I was surprised and delighted to see him here, we're friends and both former employees of Netscape) explained what Open Social is about: i.e. nothing to do with social networks portability as everyone seems to think it is, but just a common API for social applications. Tarik calls it "Open Widgets" (Open Nails for Social Hammers :p). Marc Canter asked VCs to stop funding business models based on lock-in (good luck Marc). Someone said that people within businesses want to use social networks but senior management doesn't grok it, saying that Michel-Edouard Leclerc (a famous French CEO who's been blogging for years) is an exception to the rule (I personally disagree with that common perception, it's the middle management which is the problem, not the upper one).
I was quite disconnected during the Fraunhofer presentation on MP3. It was as sexy as German TV :p. I got off during the music tracks, not willing to hear why the music industry is broken (it's the industry moguls who broke it, stupid, nobody else).
I missed most of the argument between Andrew Keen (author of The Cult of the Amateur) and Emily Bell (The Guardian) about “Social Media: Is it killing our society?" just to see them try to find some common ground on most subjects and kiss each other at the end. Loic seemed disappointed that it didn't turn out live into a polemic or at least a stronger disagreement.
Reading my notes, I realize that I attended Joi Ito's presentation but I have such a vague memory of it that I don't know what to say. MMORPG and their players seem cool, I'm just not interested. I'm still completely out with virtual reality worlds à la Second Life so I didn't attend the other panels about that. May be I haven't enough time on my hands nor dough on my bank account to care about it :p.
I missed the beginning of day 2 (Nokia, compensated by the fact that I could play with a N810 later, a promising but disappointing device in its current design if you ask me), arriving at the end of the VC/investors panel.
Dan Dubno from CBS said “People here have no idea what their job is gonna look like in six months. Those are the kind of people I want to hang with.” I want to hang with this kind of guy too ;-) and I absolutely despise those people who ask what you think you're going to do in five years (those are good candidates for a post-dreaming reality wake-up call in their 30s or 40s).
J.P. Rangaswami from British Telecom was brilliant, definitely the best speech of the entire conference from my perspective (I'm too business oriented nowadays). He's using Ripplerap (Tiddly wiki) for his slides, practical for publishing online but not that great for a slideshow. Some tidbits and quotes:
“The empowerment of the individual is at the heart of the web 2.0.”
“Two ways to predict the future: invent it, or prevent it to happen.”
“Enterprises reduce standard deviation instead of allowing individuality.”
“Individual incentives kill team work.”
Enterprise apps for him are of 3 types: search, change alerts (RSS) and fulfillment (services).
“Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.” (David Weinberger)
The new generation comes already trained, you don't have to tell them how to use the tools, but learn how they use technology and import it in the enterprise.
The Company Pen: 100 years ago in banking, you were only allowed to use the company pen. This is still the same today with the company IT tools and policies.
The "Premier prix" of the startups competition went to Goojet.
Dave Winner gave a very simple definition of RSS I quite like: “automated web surfing”. He showed an interesting application of RSS he's working on, pulling a flux of photos to a TV set (someone in the audience said it was irresponsible to let your TV set burn electricity while you're not watching it).
Note on interaction with the audience: it's really too bad that we couldn't ask questions to the most interesting speakers, or that there was only one mike for a giant room of 2000 attendees :-(. Your chance of being able to ask a question at Le Web 3 were:
- 0% if you sat on the second half of the room (stairs)
- 50% if you were sitting in the front and on the same side of the only hostess holding the mike
- 99% if you were sitting in the front row
- 100% if you are Robert Scoble!
Jason Calacanis gave a quite interesting speech about web pollution (spam) and hope this can be a wake up call for VCs about putting spam protection into startup development. Not sure he'll convince them, apart by the fact that when you seek to sell your land, it's better when it's not filled with toxic waste (good imagery!). Of course, Jason claims that his new human-powered search engine, Mahalo, is entirely spam free. I like his response to some question about clueless managers: “We shouldn't waste time with people who don't understand the internet, they'll be dead soon.”
Martin Varsavsky and Loic showed some mutual entrepreneur love for 15 minutes.
Shahram Izadi from Microsoft showed MS works on the Surface and horizontal screens. Very interesting glimpse at new directions in I/O interfaces that have otherwise not changed much in the past 40 years.
Yossi Vardi gave a hilarious presentation on “new and improved methods for organic data transfer”. I can't wait to replace my ADSL 2+ link with snails (warning, research insanities wrapped in PDF ;-p).
I did not attend the panel on TV reborn, television interests me even less than the future of music industry moguls.
Janus Friis and Loic showed some entrepreneur love for 30 minutes.
Tom Raftery from the Cork Internet Exchange gave an interesting (though at time obscure, e.g. I fail to see why burning diesel to make electricity is any green) speech on how to build a greener datacenter. Lots of food for thoughts about using the wind as an alternative power supply, and why electricity utilities may start to pay you for consuming electricity at times of weak demand to properly manage the grid.
I was very disappointed to see that David Weinberger was here and ready to talk but couldn't, because of some "misunderstanding" as Loic said. Too bad. David says it's his fault (and Loic apologizes in the comments).
Finally the UNHCR presented the Nine Million initiative to help giving refugee youth the chance to learn and play, recognizing that education and sport can improve their lives. They're asking the tech community to help: you can start by a simple link to the site, and tag it with "ninemillion".