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The Next Web Conference in Amsterdam

Publication date: Apr 17, 2009

The Next Web conference in Amsterdam was held on April 16/17th. Obviously it covered Web 2.0, but also its successor. To me the Next Web has the following features (discussed during the conference): Open data, the allways-on mobile internet and personal publication channels.

One of opening keynotes was Jeff Jarvis, about "what would Google do". In his talk (and the book of the same title) he applies a Google-type thinking to all sorts of industries. One of the key issues (to me) was that he pointed out that the philosophy of Google is based on "Open Data" - data which is made available to anybody, regardless of how the data will be used for as yet unknown useful purposes. There is no way that one can know ahead of time what purposes the data will serve.

Andrew Keen (of "Cult of the Amateur" fame) was invited to hold a contrarian "Web 2.0 is dead" type presentation. Certainly a speaker who is well able to express his opinions in an intelligent fashion. During his entire presentation he had just 1 slide: a picture by Vermeer (a Dutch master from the 17th century). Quite a change from the slick and commercial presentations done by the other keynote speakers.

Andrew actually agrees with Jeff about the need for the Googlization of many industries. Again he declared the demise of Web 2.0: user generated content models don't work, because there's no economical incentive nor reason for participation. Hence the success of Twitter, which switches the focus back to the individual.

The conference is well attended by Mac using, iPhone-swaying Twitterati. Not exactly a representative group of internet users. Nevertheless one has to study the reasons as to why Twitter has become so popular in certain circles. What does it offer that blogs don't? Is this somehow the end of blogging as we know it? Andrew suggests that we'll go to a model whereby the 'elite' bubbles up from the noise, to be followed as an individual with a voice. His warning is that this is not democratic (nor egalitarian) in nature, and my lead to misuse of communication channels by charasmatic (yet devious) personalities.

Source: Flickr. Some rights reserved. Image by marketingfacts

The speaker of the final keynote on the first day had read all Twitter entries tagged as being related to this conference, and he changed the contents of his presentation to fit with the sense of the conference. This reminds me of a Wikimania conference (years ago) where two LCD-projectors were used side-by-side: one with the Powerpoint presentation of the speaker, the other showing an IRC-channel - anybody in the room could post updates to that channel. The speaker was quite often corrected, or his words were documented, by a stream of live commentary.

There are two lessons to be learned from (or: reinforced by) this conference:

  1. This shows a kind of web 2.0 live-feedback loop into a conference or a presentation. That's probably a good thing - it avoids repition of content being covered by multiple speakers, and allows a speaker to get a "sense of the room" and connect in an optimized fashion with the audience.
  2. Always-on mobile access to the internet is the way of the future (this feels like stating the obvious - I hope you realize however that mobile internet usage hasn't reached mainstearm adoption) . As publisher of content one has to be aware of this and make content available in a way which lends itself for browsing on mobile phones. Combine this with the "Open Data" philosophy and we're looking at "The Next Web".

An example of the second issue is Twitter. Twitter isn't a new technology: If, as in the case of this conferente, Twitterers are encouraged to use a standard tag for their Tweets, then Twitter effectively emulates a decades-old technology: the IRC-channel. Twitter effectively creates an e-mail list for each and every Twitterer - an e-mail list one can sign up to (i.e. follow). Given that the technology isn't new - what has changed however is mobility - access to the internet on mobile phones, anytime, anyplace. That, and the human tendency to wish for communication, for one's own voice to be heard, seem to be the driving forces behind the success of Twitter.

I'll have to think a to how this translates into my activites: use a live feedback loop during Training and Speaking engangements? Make the HL7 or DICOM standards available through an open API, or optimize them for viewing on mobile phones? The nice thing about the "next" web is that we get to shape it ourselves...

-Rene

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