The cool and not-so-cool of LeWeb

by on December 10, 2009 at 8:53 am

This week I traveled to Paris with a consortium of fellow bloggers, the Traveling Geeks. We’ve been meeting with tech companies and French entrepreneurs all week. The tour ended with attendance at LeWeb, a two day tech conference produced by tech entrepreneur and Seesmic founder, Loic Le Meur. Here’s my summary of the best and the worst of the event, plus I included some other stuff experienced from the Traveling Geeks tour and Paris in general. For a summary, make sure you watch my end of day show reports from LeWeb (day 1, day 2) and my other end of day report from the Traveling Geeks tour.

CoolAccordions, Accordions, Accordions – There are plenty of street performers in Paris. Most of them are carrying accordions. On my first day I saw four sets of performers hop onto a train car, play a few tunes, and jump off. On one train a duo jumped on with an accordion and a stand up bass. My favorite was the karaoke accordionist that would also take a mic for a solo himself to sing “Just a Gigolo”.

Not-so-coolThe first day, the conference wasn’t about real-time web – The theme of LeWeb was heavily advertised as being about real-time web. That didn’t seem to be the case with most of the companies demoing, and except for a presence of Twitter and Facebook, and some mentions, there was no major discussion about real-time web on the main stage. After day one we all started asking ourselves, “Where’s the discussion about the real-time web?”

CoolOn the second day, finally the real-time web – If you were interested in the real-time web you could have completely skipped the first day of LeWeb and just come on the second day. Obviously everyone was eager for the real-time discussion because the deep discussion room in the back of the hall was packed for the event’s eventual real-time web agenda. I was very eager to learn more since I just published an analyst report this week on the subject (“Real-Time Search and Discovery of the Social Web” 20-page PDF). The presentations and conversations on real-time were truly excellent, beginning with some great actionable advice from Jeremiah Owyang. On the main stage, Queen Rania of Jordan, who has become an Internet celebrity, spoke about the real-time web, specifically making a call out to the audience to use the real-time web as activism to change the world.

Cool/Not-so-coolModerators not agreeing with the topic – Andrew Keen, Author of Cult of the Amateur, led the panel entitled “Content vs. Conversation: The Debate over Real-Time Search.” His attitude towards his panelists from TweetMeme, Netvibes, Collecta, and OneRiot was pretty much “Why the hell do we need real-time search?” While I think it’s a good idea for a moderator to create some controversy (see article: “More Schmooze, Less Snooze: How to Deliver the Most Talked About Conference Session” 6-page PDF), Keen didn’t seem to be too savvy on the real-time search market and he didn’t let go on his opinion. There is a ton of value of real-time search (see business models section in my real-time search report), and until the end of the discussion he kept saying “Why would someone want real-time search?” He was constantly putting the panelists on the defensive.

C0olDouble-sided name badges – One of the most irritating conference annoyances is name badge flip. Wear a lanyard with a name badge and inevitably it will twist around hiding your name. I must be a master because I think it’s more often than not for me. LeWeb is the first conference I’ve been to where they smartly printed your name on both sides of the badge. Brilliant.

CoolOur former President is wrong. The French are unbelievably nice – This entire week has been fantastic and the Traveling Geeks have been treated unbelievably well. Everyone. From the people who invited us to any random Parisian I ran into, I’m very impressed with how nice and welcoming everyone has been. Thanks.

CoolThe French speak English – It’s been a while since I’ve been to France and I was amazed at how many people speak English. LeWeb is a conference in Paris, but it’s completely in English. The all-English conference is an obvious incentive to draw people from 40+ countries, most notably the U.S., to the conference.

Not-so-coolI don’t speak French – I’m a pathetic single language learner. Most people in Europe know at least two languages. And most of them have learned English for lazy clowns like me that haven’t bothered to learn another language.

Cool?Non-stop photo and video recording of the Traveling Geeks – I think this is cool, or just unbelievably dorky so it’s become cool again. For the Traveling Geeks’ first dinner in Paris everyone was taking pictures the moment we sat down at the table. There were probably 500 photos published from that dinner. And that’s continued throughout the trip. Guilty myself, here’s a video I shot of all the geeks on the Metro with all their digital image recording equipment. For more, here are all the photos taken by the Traveling Geeks crew (full screen).

Not-so-coolLeWeb is overhyped – Back in San Francisco, I had heard so much about how fantastic and wonderful LeWeb is. I had a lot of hope for this conference, and was overall disappointed mostly because of the hype. The number of demo stations of new companies was anemic and didn’t represent real-time web as I had hoped. While there were heavy hitters on the main stage, they weren’t revealing. But that’s always the case. The bigger your presenters at your show, the bigger the hype. But the bigger they are, the less they’ll talk openly. Often that has to do with working at a public company. But I think the issue is millionaires stay millionaires by not telling their secrets to a group of more than a thousand strangers. There were a few exceptions.

CoolCredit card scanning on your mobile device – Jack Dorsey of Twitter demoed his new project, Square, a small box that connects to your mobile device’s audio out port and allows you to scan your credit card allowing for quick and easy credit card transactions via mobile devices. While cool, and can work on a huge number of devices, is it really practical? Are people really going to carry around this little black box wherever they go? I think the next step will be to embed this credit card reader in new mobile devices.

Cool Tim Ferriss on “How to Create a Following for $10K or Less” – One of my major complaints about most of the main stage presentations was the lack of actionable advice or telling the audience something we didn’t already know. I’ve seen Tim Ferriss present before and read his blog and he always delivers on great actionable advice. This was an updated presentation of one I had seen at WordCamp in San Francisco. One tip is to simply focus on the blogosphere and key people in the blogosphere and look for the long haul. Begin by reading Kevin Kelly’s article “1,000 True Fans.”, said Ferriss.

Not-so-coolWho didn’t pay to go on the main stage? – It appears about half of everyone who appeared on the main stage (panelists possibly excluded) paid in some manner to be there. It could be more. It’s obvious because so many sponsors were on the main stage. None of these seemingly paid appearances were disclosed. I’ve been to plenty of conferences where there were paid presentations. Many disclose that information in the printed programs with the note, “Sponsored presentation.” For a community that keeps talking about the need for “authenticity” online, I think it would be nice if there was some authentic disclosure as to who did and didn’t pay to be on stage.

Not-so-coolLeWeb is an old boys’ network – I was thinking this and then I heard it repeated by a few of my colleagues. Loic gets many of the same people to present, interview, and moderate, such as Robert Scoble and Michael Arrington. Since they’re friendly off stage, their on stage presentation has this sense of being an old boys’ network. It’s not the most welcoming feeling for the people in the audience. People were definitely unnerved by it.

Not-so-coolChris Pirillo is the Rush Limbaugh of the Web 2.0 community – Rush Limbaugh, a conservative syndicated radio host, became popular because he’s a credible voice that confirms people’s existing beliefs. This is exactly how I felt about Chris Pirillo’s presentation about community. Better known as preaching to the choir, my sentiment was evidenced by the number of tweets that echoed “I agree with him” rather than “I learned something.” Here’s an edited sample of tweets to prove my point: My favourite quote of the day 🙂, Brilliant!!, i love it!!, Chris Pirillo is right, I’m loving Chris Pirillo’s presentation, The Reverend Chris Pirillo is wrapping up. He actually made be blurt out jesus christ, and Halle-freakin-lujah. One other tweeter saw what I was seeing: Chris Pirillo is Great speecher but only brought self-evident ideas.

I had a conversation with Chris about this last night and I simply said to him that I think he could do better. He has done better. He knows how to educate an audience as a former host of TechTV’s “Call for Help” and in previous presentations. I noted his vision six years ago that RSS would be the Holy Grail. He was right. That’s what I wanted to see at LeWeb and he didn’t deliver. He told us what we already knew which was we need to stop focusing on the tools and think about the importance of community. He didn’t think the audience knew that. The general populous yes, but the LeWeb audience? They know. Pirillo just led a revival to confirm their beliefs.

Cool A scannable and identifiable model of Paris – Forget Google Streets, through a project called Terra Numerica by a research group called CiTu, they’ve completely scanned and identified elements all around the city of Paris. This information is now in a database that’s been used by developers to create fly-throughs, simulate a flood’s effect on the city, and test security cameras around the city. Watch a video of the fly-through and my interview with Maurice Benayoun, Artistic Director of CiTu. This was during our Traveling Geeks tour, not LeWeb.

Not-so-coolEuropeans’ fear of failure – While we were visiting the startup incubators I heard multiple times that there’s a European culture of fear of failure. This is quite unlike in the U.S. where failing is a learning experience. In the U.S. we’ve actually got a conference entitled FailCon where we learn from each others’ failures. For some, failure is a badge of honor. I remember talking to one entrepreneur who proudly told me about his seven failed startups.

Not-so-coolRobert Scoble’s outburst at the French entrepreneurs – Well known blogger Robert Scoble joined the Traveling Geeks briefly for one event prior to LeWeb. At this series of presentations by French entrepreneurs, Scoble sat down and immediately wanted to know everyone’s Twitter address. They didn’t have any and instead of just accepting that fact and listening to their presentations, he started yelling and swearing at them telling them they must get on Twitter. Arguing that it’s the only way he can promote them to his 100K+ followers. Ubergizmo blogger, Eliane Fiolet, asked Robert, “Could you say that a little nicer?” Scoble responded, “No.” It created a pall over the room and the rest of the Traveling Geeks were very unnerved by his behavior, as it spoke badly for our group. I should note that Robert is a really nice guy and it’s not normal for him to behave like this.

Extremely coolThe Traveling Geeks – I only knew a few of the Traveling Geeks before I went on the trip and I was really impressed by the entire group. Everyone was incredibly friendly, nice, and welcoming. I want to say an enormous thanks though to the lead organizer of the event, Renee Blodgett, and also to Sky Schuyler, and Eliane Fiolet for all their work. I look forward to being on another trip with them in the future. Here’s a silly animated video of us, plus a video of Geeks on a Train, and make sure you check out the thousands of photos (full screen) taken on the trip.

Some of my other coverage of the event.

Creative Commons photo attributions Olivier Ezratty, Robert Scoble, Chris Heuer, Matthew Buckland, and Blogowski.

Related posts:

  1. I used to just be a geek, but now I’m a Traveling Geek
  2. Traveling Geeks in Paris: Day 1 video report
  3. Karaoke accordionist in Paris