What geeks talk about at Websummit 2017
And why the conference is not for everyone.
As my former company Antavi was part of an accelerator program, I had the great opportunity to go to Websummit 2017 in Lisbon and to see, what (a part of) the tech community is talking about these days. Here are my impressions
In my experience the topic number one at Websummit 2017. With Bitcoin having raised more than 800% since last year and Ethereum having raised 2900%, parts of the community was talking about nothing else during the summit. Numerous start-ups formed to explore new applications of blockchain- and smart-contract -technology. While I heard of many early success stories, I often missed the point of their technology. The point of blockchains is building trust in a publicly controllable manner. Many of the start-ups I spoke with built upon private blockchains. Private blockchains, in my point of view, can be replaced with a properly secured conventional database gaining a huge performance boost. It felt though, like most people on the summit did not yet get how blockchains really work and what they are best at and for this lack of knowledge both, start-ups and investors, just tried to jump on the hype. Best example was a talk about Initial Coin Offers (ICO) I listened to during the first day at the Centre Stage. Joseph Lubin, Rebecca Lynn and Tim Draper were talking about whether ICOs were a hype or a revolution. The talk was a disaster: Tim Draper, an american venture capital investor was not interested in discussing his point of view with the other two guests on the stage but rather interrupted questions from the host and answers from the guests to get most of the time on the stage for himself, shouting a big message to the audiency: ICOs are the future, do not regulate anything, invest as much money as you can in ICOs. Joseph Lubin, himself being a cofounder of the company behind Ethereum, tried to stop him once in a while, explaining the technical background about ICOs and their risks, though unfortunately, not too much of it could reach the listeners. If you are not sure about what ICOs are and how they work, have a read on Wikipedia (or somewhere else). Most important thing about ICOs: They are relevant for companies (only) which have a cryptocurrency based business model.
Websummit, calling itself a “technology conference” indeed covered many of the technological topics that are thriving in recent years. Though almost all of the talks I listened to disappointed me from a technical point of view. Most speakers presented the capabilities of the products they talked about and explained the problems the solved with their companies. Though, none of them went into details of how their technology worked. In that sense the whole summit seemed to me more like a consumer fair than a geeky technology conference, which is why I would recommend to go to conferences covering more specific topics and addressing less people (Websummit had 60000 guests and Lisbon seemed completely sieged by them during the last week).
For me, Websummit was like a big music festival: A lot of young people with similar interests gathering at the same spot and partying a lot. The lack of music and concerts was compensated by talks and chats with like-minded people. It was really cool to see what people are doing these days, what they want to make out of their lives. I got an impression about what the community is talking about at the moment and what interests them. This was underlined by the start-up’s projects: Many of them were working on similar projects in the fields of 3D Printing, Fintech and farming.
I had visited Lisbon once before, two years ago. Though it was this time when I got enchanted from the city. The hilly small streets with the old colorful houses harbor a lot of cozy authentique restaurants offering fresh bacalhau (cod fish), pulpo and good house wine for incredibly low prices. With sunny 21 degrees in November I could escape the upcoming winter in Berlin for a short week and enjoy the southern lifestyle.
If you have been at websummit I would love to here from your experiences. Just send me a tweet @muronglizi.