Just like the first edition of The Next Web conference, this year also provided an area for up-and-coming start-ups. The team of the conference selects a group of companies and or people who get to showcase their product during breaks.
Unlike last year, the 2007 edition of the conference was held at the beautiful Tushinski Theater in Amsterdam. While the venue in itself is a great spot for conferences and provided great seating for everyone, the start-up arena had to suffer from one problem: too little space.
In 2006, the venue had multiple stories and all stands had ample room to set up shop and present their products, this year, start-ups had to stand back to back with competitors. Not really a problem for visitors, but probably annoying for the companies that hoped to get a great spot.
Be that as it may, the start-ups I saw had some interesting ideas. All the stands I visited seemed to be doing one thing or another with crowds and that special community feeling.
The first start-up I saw was tipit.to. The site basically provides a way to compensate artists, bloggers, charities and others for the work they do. The idea behind the system is simple: you pledge to donate a certain amount of money and once the pot reaches a certain limit, the person / charity that is eligible for the donation gets it. tipit.to doesn’t charge commission and they hope to get you to sign up by relying on micro-payments. The site most certainly is capable of processing huge payments, but the real idea is that many small contributions also can make a difference. On a sidenote: this site is not a substitute for services like PayPerPost that pay people to blog about a product in a very distinct manner. tipit.to has no affiliation with manufacturers that I know of.
The second start-up I saw was Respectance. If I were to describe it in one sentence I’d say that it’s a mashup between Flickr, YouTube, TypePad and an active community. The idea is simple. Your direct environment will get fed up fairly quick when you “still” have to cope with the death of someone close to you for more than a couple of weeks. Respectance.com provides you with an outlet for your feelings. The site let’s you create a kind of profile for the person (hey, what about pets?) you lost and you want to remember. Sure, you could do the same with YouTube and Flickr, but then again, those sites aren’t really the environment you are looking for when you want to remember someone as good as possible. You don’t want to be looking at a clip of your passed-away grandmother and be greeted with a few childish comments from those who haven’t had a chance at experiencing the sorrow you are going through. While talking about the idea during the The Next Web Dinner party, someone mentioned that the site was like a remix between scientology and Flickr but I’d have to disagree. For what it’s worth, I’d much rather see people upload their videos to a site I won’t accidentally come across when I’m looking for home-made entertainment in the form of short video clips. This way, the users of YouTube won’t disrespect the death of a person and those that have to learn to live with their loss, have a community of supportive voices.
The third and last start-up I went to was Wakoopa, Boris’ newest project. In simple terms, Wakoopa is the last.fm of software tracking. The site provides users with a client that tracks how long you use any given application and lets you view stats about the software habits of your friends too. Too really monetize the content of the site, developers can get a special (for pay) account that lets them track how people use their application, when said application is used, how long it is used. Think of it as Urchin Analytics meets last.fm. Simple concept, good idea and you can even select which applications should or should not be listed on your profile.
All in all, it’s great to see that companies in and around Europe were able to come up with interesting and good ideas over the past year and I wish all of the start-ups best of luck for the future.
After a short break and some, very healthy, lunch, Boris kicked off the afternoon sessions with a Video chat with Kevin Rose of digg fame. Like last year, Rose promised to be attending in person and as a speaker, but once again, other issues seemed to be of higher importance. His absence notwithstanding, Rose probably gave the talk that garnered the most (international) attention in the web world.
Next up was the one reason that made me not want to miss “The Next Web 2007”: Dick Hardt, CEO of Sxip, a company that focuses on creating a working platform around (online) identities.
Hardt is well known in the web community for his numerous contributions, such as porting Perl to Windows (which led to the forming of ActiveState) but he is also known for his very refreshing presentation style.
First shown at OSCON 2005, Hardt manages to cram I-don’t-know-how-many-slides into a 30 minute presentation and still make the information stick. Just about everyone I talked to liked Hardt’s presentation the most. Not only because of the style, but rather because the topic he choose to discuss really hits home with most of us and proves to be a major annoyance for most internet users.
As far as the content goes, the presentation was basically an extended version of the OSCON 2005 talk, spiced up with new information, two funny product placements (with total disclosure) and some additional thoughts as to what Hardt hopes to achieve with his product and how he wants to achieve it.
The speaker sessions were concluded with Rod Beckstrom author of “The Starfish and the Spider” who offered his own point of view on how old, web 1.0 businesses work and how, according to him, web 2.0 businesses should work.
For his talk, he makes use of an interesting analogy which includes starfish and spiders. In essence, Beckstrom told the audience that centralized command structures are bad. They were the downfall of such “great” businesses as Napster, because all that needed to be killed off was one main point and all the satellite locations would die too.
This is not unlike a spider, if you remove one leg (satellite location), you’d still have a working system, but if you’d remove the head (headquarters), your system would collapse.
With new businesses and organizations (Beckstrom referenced the Taliban which was refreshing, to say the least) the command structure more and more starts to resemble starfish. If you remove one leg (satellite location), you’d still have a working system, if you were to remove all five legs, something incredible would happen.
Due to the nature of the body of the starfish, all five legs would start to grow on their own and form into five starfish. The central part of the body would die off, but the satellite locations would continue to function. Naturally, this process can not be repeated indefinitely, because eventually resources (human, financial in the case of a business) would wear thin and new satellites would have too little material to start with, but at least the whole system wouldn’t collapse right from the start.
It’s interesting to see how an analogy to one of the most talked about organizations in the world can be considered the basis of the new way a business should be set up. Distburbing? No. Inspiring? Heck yes.
The morning sessions started off fairly slow, with Scott Rafer of MyBlogLog fame explaining some basic housekeeping things, such as access to Wi-Fi as well as how the day was planned to look like. Rafer also extended an invitation to the audience to take over his moderator job for the “The Next Web” awards show, which was to be held after the “The Next Web Dinner”.
While one might think that this was done to save the cost of an additional moderator, I found it a nice move on Boris’ part, simply because one doesn’t get the chance to hand out an award to the big (or small) players out there every day.
From the, probably 150 people who attended the dinner / awards show, only a dozen actually dared to pitch themselves and naturally, I had to be part of that group. In the end, the CEO from Zyb.com got the part and did a great job in handing out the awards.
After a short introduction from Rafer, Saul Klein kicked off the morning sessions with his talks about the how, why and whats of why Silicon Valley is so much more successful than Europe and how that specific geographical area seems to be a melting pot for intelligent and daring people both from the tech world as well as from the capitalists world.
What I liked most about Klein’s keynote was that he managed to put the finger where it hurts. His speech detailed what exactly was wrong with Europe and the European way of thinking and, indirectly invited us to dare more.
It is interesting to hear that Europe, as far as talent goes, is more than capable of matching the US, but as far as actually doing it, we still appear to be stuck in the past. I guess it’s time to get out there and start kicking some serious butt with great, workable ideas and show those Americans that the “old World” can impress too.
Next up was Jeff Clavier, of SoftTech VC, a French Venture Capitalist and also part of “The Grumpy Old Men” duo. More on that later though.
Clavier’s talk linked up very well with Klein’s topics, mostly because Clavier was able to provide some more insight into the changes that happened since the pre Web 2.0 era of 2004 and the situation as it is now.
He highlighted the fact that, while it was easy in 2004 to hire good talent, the stakes have been upped severely and that the current hiring process would be a lot more expensive to employers.
While this is bad news for one side, it’s great news for those developers, designers and conceptualists out there. It appears as if, finally, the world is beginning to understand the market value of this group of people.
Clavier concluded his speech with some great advice on what European entrepreneurs should and shouldn’t do. Even though the whole set of guidelines was great, the one that made me think the most was:
Out-innovate, go for the throat, forget knock-offs
And he couldn’t be more right. Europe, especially the Netherlands has seen at least two digg clones since the beginning of 2007 and people are starting to get fed up with it.
According to Clavier, those are the businesses that are doomed to fail or keep going on life-support because they don’t bring any innovation into the game.
All in all, Clavier made some very valid points and he might actually be the first French guy that I like.
After all that talking about financial capital, Deborah Schultz provided the audience with a different topic: relationships or emotional capital.
Schultz, of Six Apart fame, talked about the do’s and don’ts of customer support as well as how building relationships is much more important that generating transactions.
Mixed with an example from her time at Six Apart, I found her talk the most touching of the morning sessions, simply because she decided to stray from all the technological and technical stuff and talk about the one core value most people forget about: people
Schultz concluded her talk with some information on what a weaver is and why everyone of us should become one. She highlighted the main skills of weavers, such as being a listener as well as being a connector and showed us how this skill set would empower us to create better, healthier relationships.
After Schultz’s inspiring talk, Tapan Bath, VP of Front Doors at Yahoo! posed the question if the next web really should be considered a web at all. Bath shared his story with the audience and gave some guidelines as to how Yahoo! plans on monetizing the “next web”.
It is interesting to see that Yahoo! chooses to start out with the four Ps of marketing (placement, price, product, promotion) and extend the set with one very important other value: personalization. Yahoo!, for those who didn’t know still hold the title of “most visited personalized start page on the Internet”.
Bath also offered some insight into how Yahoo! views the web and advised people, albeit indirectly, to pay more attention to the most important factor of your application: the user. Bath thinks that the next web will be built around people. Funnily enough, I came to more or less the same conclusion in an interview at “The Next Web 2006”, so I guess that Bath is right ;-)
With the exception of the startups, which will be discussed later on, this more or less concludes the morning sessions.
On June 1st, the European internet community converged onto Amsterdam, the Netherlands, to meet up for a conference that just could.
Before we start out with an in-depth dissection of the day, let me quickly brush over the whom, what and where:
Close to a year ago, Dutch serial entrepreneur Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten invited people to join him at, what I believe is the only European Web 2.0 conference that matters.
While the setting was fairly personal, it didn’t feel uncomfortable. With an array of interesting speakers, startups and venture capitalists, Boris managed to bring together what Europe was longing for: a great setting to be inspired and inspire, to network and socialize.
In fact, “The Next Web 2006″ turned out to be such a great success that the second edition of the event was announced a day later, while most people were still recovering from the effects of the after party.
The following entries will be part recap and part personal opinion. I’m doing this out of my own free will and decided that those who couldn’t attend the conference should at least get a chance to read about it.
Not unlike American Web 2.0 conferences, The Next Web aims to bring together the top influencers with those who are interested in expanding their knowledge and be inspired by some of the awesome success stories.
I’ll be attending with two colleagues of mine, namely Marc and Joep.
I’m quite certain that there will be WiFi coverage, so I’ll try to blog as much during the conference as possible. For now, though, it’s time to pack my stuff and get ready.