A rather last minute decision to attend The Next Web conference in Amsterdam on July 7th paid off handsomely. A colorful cross section of about 160 European entrepreneurs, bloggers, academics - and corporate schmucks like me - were treated to sparking Dutch hospitality, flawless logistics and an excellent old-new venue (NH Hotel). This note summarizes some of my higlights:
Transparent, low flat fees needed before mobile social networking will take off. Hyves are YASNS, but from Netherlands this time, and have some success with going mainstream - most interestingly with cabinet-level politicians joining up and collecting thousands of 'friends'. I asked a question to the “Chief Hyves Officer” (CEO) what needs to be done to improve the mobile experience and he indicated two priorities: first, make the pricing cheaper and second make it more transparent – so low, flat fees for data in a nutshell. He didn’t seem too concerned about platform issues or porting problems to different handsets.
Brand Arrington releases his 10 Commandments. Michael A. - pin-up of the web2.0 chattering classes – blessed and dismissed in equal measure. Refreshing to see that his opinions are not moderated despite having 80,000 feed readers hanging on his every word. He promised to deliver a top ten of European web2.0 companies, and in fact delivered two - a B team also.
His “almost picks” included openBC, cocomment, ebuddy, spotback, licketttship, esnips, vpod.tv, pageflicks, feeds2.0, fleick.
His top 10 were:
- Allpeers - Private p2p network
- Bebo – Next MySpace – founders have moved from UK to San Francisco
- Facebook – 75% of college kids use this daily, and it has more page views than Google. They (foolishly) turned down $1billion
- Last.fm – collaborative music recommendations. Turned down €30m offer
- Netvibes – popular french Ajaxy – make-your-own-portal
- Riya – Scarily powerful facial recognition, a tech story. Turned down Yahoo!, almost acquired by Google, but deal fell through at last minute.
- Wikio - best European hope against digg
- Youtube – video success story - $1m bandwidth bills per month
- Zlango – Israel start up using SMS icons to create a new language
- And at #1: Digg - $1200 dollars to start up this company. Now 9m page views per day, similar audience to NYTimes. Very disrputive to media. Rather ironic in a way - a bottom up voting site receving top marks from the top down Mr. A.
He also spawned a meme-let - as is his wont - with his boycot of the phrase Web2.0 due to the legal attack dogs kerfuffle.
Communities as big as email. Nielsen didn't tell us a great deal new - and conspicuosly didn't have any figures on mobile internet usage - but it was interesting that while 71% of European Internet users use email, the number's almost matched by those who participate in some from of 'member communities' (69.3%). He didn't define the term further.
Companies mentioned that seemed interesting: shopzilla, neuf telecom, videolan, kijij, ogame, buycentral, measuremap, truveo, la fraise (selling customer-made t shirts), red hot tomatoes, feedo, mp3.nl
Guy who backed Skype places his next bets in 5 areas. Mark Tluczsz, co-Founder and Partner of Mangrove Partners identified five areas that he was most excited about new opportunities. His investment rationale was the easy-sounding – thing BIG and follow your passion.
1. Search. Most search engines return similar results, and only 25% of people ever look beyond page 3. Despite Google and Y!’s PhDs, he feels this area is ripe for innovation in user experience, in particular around the empty white box.
2. Human service makes a come back. Customer service: automation has resulted in a broken link between customer and supplier. CRM strategies that include the human touch will become a “business necessity”. Avatars will be big. E.g. Ikea’s Anna.
3. Eastern Europe. Big, hungry and shedding their socialist tendencies quicker than you can say Polish plumber.
4. Mobile experience. Derision and disgust for today’s expensive, patchy and uninnovative mobile experience.. “Look at WAP - we are paying for the industry’s R&D”. The one thing they’ve done well is to embed the address book. 2bn phone uses vs. 1bn Internet users = opportunity.
5. Power of the many. How to benefit from the collective intelligence of a group. collective power. Digg etc..
Kevin Kelly - da man. The founder of Wired was on great form. My favourite quote - "The Web is only 4000 days old! Give it a chance." Andy Grove apparently said that, already “everything ever said about the internet is happening”. Physical production is growing 7% per annum, while information is growing at 66%. So, information about X increases at the rate of 10X. The next web will be the convergence of real and virtual. E.g. RFID tags in clothes, place notes, PLAZES embedding info. Any screen will look into the web. Managers should do well to treat every product or service as if it was free. The hyperlink and the tag are two of the greatest inventions of the 20th Century. We now need an open source “hardware” phone, camera, TV, car.
Overall - a great success. A lot was packed into a few hours. The organizers of the event are onto something – an appetite for European innovation and slightly more homely, relaxed feel than similar conferences in the US - I hope this remains. Nokia was there with its Widsets venture, and I hope we'll be back next year in force.