I’ve just got back from “The Next Web Europe” conference, there’s a good chance the conference is still going on, at least the drinking/partying fun part of the conference. A few of the speakers triggered my thinking so there will be a few more posts in the coming 1-2 weeks but here’s my summary of the conference.
Location: Westergasfabriek is cycling distance from my house, so that scores it a bunch of points on my unscientific scale. But there are other advantages as well, it’s close to the centre, and set in a park. We were lucky to have sunny days so it was a joy to wander outside in the breaks. The venue for the red stage is an old gas storage silo that’s now been rebuilt, it makes a great shell to stage events.
Organisation: Top. A lot of thought had gone into the details, clever branding throughout, lots of exposure for partners, presenters were taken care of, the MC did a great job, clear signage, there were loads of people on the “TNW” team – and all the ones that I spoke to were helpful. Oh, and the wifi was great, and held up throughout the two days. So a big congratulations to the organisers and the event team.
My only minor complaint; a book giveaway was announced to start at lunchtime, but in fact started at the end of the speaker’s talk. So those who believed the announcement arrived at lunch to be told the freebies were all gone, but you can buy a book and the author will sign. No thanks, I like the guy but his signature isn’t worth the 22 euro price differential (from a kindle edition).
Speakers: This is my subjective judgement, I think there’s a big difference in the American style of presenting and the European style of presenting. Americans seem to go for big statements, dramatic conclusions, and value passion as a speaker. I think European speakers structure their speeches to tell a story, provide evidence, and value charm and audience connection as a speaker. Thus there were a couple of speeches that I really wanted to hear but felt like I was being yelled at. The worst in this category for me was Stefan Molyneux, who is very angry with banks and governments. Granted there’s a lot to be angry about, and since I used to work for a bank I’ve probably heard more of such rants than is good for me but it just felt very… 2009.
I think the speaker I enjoyed the most was Dale Stephens, the founder of uncollege. His parents let him quit school when he was 12 and start managing his own education. I’ve felt for along time that our current education system isn’t fit for the future, and the existing university system is increasingly a very middle-class rite of passage rather than a real education. I’ll have more to say about this in a later post.
Audience: Mostly young, digital natives or near natives, hipster beards abounded. Mostly men – it’s one of the few places I’ve been where there was a long queue for the men’s toilet and none for the women’s. Generally they were enthusiastic about good speakers, but also quick to walk if a speaker wasn’t delivering what they wanted (except for me, muggins, who sat through to the end in hope). I’m a little sad that the audiences don’t stay in the room for the various awards and support their industry colleagues, perhaps next year those awards could be between two draw-card speakers to reduce audience drift.
Stuff I didn’t see: One of the problems of these megaconferences is that there is so much going on that you can’t see it all. So I missed out on some great speakers in the green and blue rooms, a hackathon full of brilliance, and talking to some cool startups.
Purpose: I’ve been to the Dublin WebSummit a couple of times, and left feeling I’d heard from people who are building the digital industry, I didn’t get that at TNW Europe.
It felt more like there were more researchers and commentators on digital than practitioners, this may be partly due to my choice of the red room. I certainly learnt from many of the speakers, but for thinking about “The Next Web” – which is after all the title of the conference – I think the Dublin WebSummit does a better job.
Best Moment: coming back into the room and finding anonymous masks on our chairs. It made the point that we were about to discuss those difficult issues of private vs public.
Plus it led to a rash of selfies, that’s my first ever “selfie” on the left.
The first part of this session was the story of Shawn Buckles, who sold his personal data to the highest bidder – for 350 euro.
At the end of which all those with masked stood for a great photo opportunity.
I guess the ultimate test of value (especially as I pay my own way for conferences these days) is would I go to the next one; yes, I would.