Thoughts on Le Web 2009

by on December 23, 2009 at 4:28 pm

ewanspence_by_joiitoHere’s the summary – Le Web 2009 was like a diamond, a few flaws but on the whole brilliant and sparkling and deserving of its place in the Conference Crown Jewels of tech land.

And now for a little more detail…

Cards on the table, I think that the Le Web from 2007 is still the Le Web to beat – let me say why. This was the Le Web after the “Sarkozy” year; the Le Web where there was no choice but to actively involve the community; the Le Web that kept up a solid two way discussion before, during and after the event; the Le Web that had to not only succeed, but hit it out the park.

I think that forced Geraldine and Loic to look critically at every single area of Le Web, and everything was on the table, nothing was guaranteed to make the next conference. In other words, an almost regenerative effect on every single area of Le Web, from the catering and location, to the speakers, guests and organisation.

This year’s Le Web was very similar to 2008, and I had a strong sense of deja vu at a few points during the day. Now in a way that’s a good thing, but I think that rather than a positive decision to be an identikit conference, this was a result of momentum; the majority of the speaker and host line up; the flow of events in and around the conference; the discussions coming from the stage; that all led the me to feel the event was going through the monitions.

Pic by Kristie Wells

Of course it wasn’t… It’s hard to put on any conference, let alone one that is (a) financially successful and (b) has 2,300 delegates from 50 countries. Geraldine and Loic continue to work hard to make this a success. But I think in 2007 they had to take on a little bit more humility, they had to make people want the event to succeed, rather than have them turn up because it is a success.

Like a snow globe, Le Web needs shaken up again – and it’ll be harder in 2010 than in previous years because the impetus will have to come from within. Classic group dynamics are forming, storming, norming and performing. I always add dorming to the end (as in becoming dormant). My fear is that Le Web is perilously close to slipping out of performing and into dorming. It needs to be pulled back to a mix of storming and performing for 2010.

In previous years I’ve always added some thoughts of my own that could improve Le Web, and this year is no different…

The Venue

Like all good arguments, the contrary point first. 104 is a good venue, it can hold everyone, there’s plenty smaller spaces for people to go away for a quiet chat, and with British Telecom, the Wifi woes of Le Web were sorted. Don’t change anything about this. Maybe some more power sockets and RJ45 cables, though?

The layout inside is pretty much fixed given the requirements, but I’d add one more thing. The two spaces either side of the ramp were used for countless video recordings, for podcasts and tech shows. Next year, some background signage and some strong studio-esque lights could turn one of these spaces into the perfect video capture area (and has the added bonus of getting some more sponsor logos out there!).

The Attendees

No complaints here, with a huge cross section of web people from around the globe. Le Web is probably only second to SXSW in getting that certain cross section of people into one place. The true value of any conference is in the networking and Le Web delivers that both in those who attend and the time and space that you can find to interact. On the whole everyone is very approachable for a few minutes if you have something worthwhile to bring up.

Pic by Kristie Wells

The Speakers

A small digression to the Edinburgh Fringe first. For the last five years I have hosted a daily chat show from the Fringe, podcasting out to the world. With so many performers at the Fringe (over 2,000 to choose from this year) I have to pick around 80 to interview. Many performers are new faces, but many of them are returning to the city for another year of performing. And looking for interviews.

In my second year of doing the podcast I made a rule of thumb that I still (mostly) stick to. No performer gets to be on the podcast two years running.

There are exceptions; I like to get the Perrier winners from the previous year on, and that may lead to a second appearance (as was the case with Sarah Millican this year), and Stephen K. Amos managed four years running as a sort of lucky charm. So exceptions can be made. But on the whole by restricting constant appearances the Fringe podcast does not grow stale simply because the same big names are appearing.

You can probably see where this is going. For Le Web 2010 I would not allow a speaker (or a host of a fireside chat) on stage if they had appeared in 2009. Let’s be fair and say that Geraldine can have two jokers for repeat appearances. This would at a stroke force speakers to be found from new sites, companies and people with different views than who we heard this year. And many many more Europeans on stage please!

Pic by dave Cynkin

Program Decisions

This is a silly point and is probably my fault, but I failed to see any notes or blog posts asking for submissions of panels for consideration in the months before Le Web. Perhaps they were all taken up by sponsor presentations?

The Web is Two Way

At many points (okay every point except Gary Vaynerchuk) I felt like I was back at University being lectured rather than watching presentations and panels at a web conference. Where was the encouragement to have a two way conversation? Why did we barely see the Twitter feed on the screens after the opening introduction? Why were there no questions from the audience? Were the 2300 delegates encouraged by the organisers to get involved at any time beyond “tag your posts and tweets?”

I abhor the idea of “fireside chats” in a program. If you have to bring back Marrissa Mayer and Michael Arrington (* that would take your two jokers by the way) then rather than an almost scripted talk, send Michael into the crowd to take questions from the audience to the Google VP. Same goes for any of these softball opportunities.

Pic by Dave Cynkin

Evening Events

This needs serious work. The night before has a Speakers Dinner, but most people are left to find out which events have been organised by individuals around Paris. perhaps consider an official party the night before? And while the idea of a reception at City Hall after the first day was nice, it felt more like “squeeze everyone into a room” which barely had enough capacity.

Someone asked me if it was always like this, and it took me a few moments to realise that yes, it has always been like this. With more and more people at the event, the different cliques all went their own way leaving those new to “the scene” pretty much on their own.

Summing It Up

The points above aren’t drastic, because on the whole the nuts and bolts of Le Web 2009 worked. But what was missing was the emotion, and the heart. I’ve seen Le Web soar in previous years – this year was more like an aircraft on a gentle approach to landing… safe, secure, and as little risk as possible. The event could be so much more, and I hope that a bit more swashbuckling, danger and risk are present in the 2010 event.

Rest assured I’ll be there.

Pictures by Dave Cynkin and Kristie Wells via Flickr.

(From an original article by Ewan Spence)

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