5 things I learnt from LeWeb day 3

Some detailed notes from a thought-provoking (and rather contentious) final day of LeWeb last week.

A little tardy on this one, for which you have my apologies. Still, there’s rather more thought in this one than the previous two instalments…

1. It’s still our web – if we make the choice for it to be so

Kevin Marks gave a talk that felt like it came from the mid-2000s, but was very much of today. It felt like the 2000s because he was talking about web underpinnings and technology that makes that happen, but very much of today because he contextualised that beautifully. He gave us a very clear picture of the tension between the corporate interest and the open web / open standards movements that have characterised the development of the web. Now, when so much of our content feels like it’s locked up in silos, the corporate appears to be winning, just as it did with Internet Explorer’s dominance a decade ago.

But there are big dangers in giving monolithic companies the keys to everything we do on the web. On one hand you have the NSA peeking onto it all, and on the other hand, you have companies who have put huge effort into building Facebook Pages seeing their effectiveness wiped away by ranking changes.

There’s plenty of reasons for both the individual and the business to embrace the IndieWeb.

2. Startups are deeply political

Two French politicians, two very different attitudes to startups. One suggested that startups focus on creating news things and not disrupting existing businesses. Another wanted to encourage startups to remain in France – rather than decamping to the US. The impression was of a Government trying to both have its cake and eat it.

I came away with the distinct impression that they want the gain – a thriving, job-creating startup economy – without the pain – the loss of jobs and companies in old economy sectors. That doesn’t work. However painful that process is – and I’m speaking as someone who lost an old sector economy job two years ago – it is for the best. Without it, you’re only pretending to change.

3. We’re going to be super-humans – if we’re not too squeamish

There’s still plenty of buzz about wearables – tech we actually wear like we do clothes, rather than carry with us. At one point, I could see three people using Google Glass in front of me… But the logical stage beyond that is progressively integrating some of that tech into our bodies. Of course, there’s a discomfort factor in that. But, as a very low level cyborg myself (I wear contact lenses, which are essentially very low level bits of tech sitting in my eyes) I’m familiar with that, and how easily it passes.

Ramez Naam’s talk was full of possibilities. What we have to decided, both individually and as a culture, is how much tech integration are we willing to accept for the chance to be superhuman?

This was probably the single most forward-looking talk at this year’s LeWeb Paris.

4. The TV industry isn’t ready to embrace the future

And the tech industry doesn’t like getting up early after a party. In a fairly deserted room, Adrain Monck of the World Economic Forum battled bravely to draw some interesting and forward looking statements from Bruno Patino from France Télévisions Group and
Kenneth “KC” Estenson of CNN.com. I saw many people in the audience wince when Patino described the second screen phenomenon as a “crap experience” and something that should actually be happening on the TV screen itself.

Perhaps the TV industry is in a “Boy who cried wolf” situation: it has heard too many stories of its coming disruption, and thinks that it’ll never happen. There’s plenty of evidence that viewing is shifting to mobile screens, even as what you view on those big living room screens gets more flexible:

The TV industry can’t put its head in the sand for ever.

5. The tech industry needs to get a handle on its sexism

Oh, my. There were complaints that there weren’t enough female speakers at LeWeb – and there weren’t, frankly – but to start off a panel with three women on it with a reference to the fact that they were “three beautiful women” was just dumb. I hadn’t heard a single male speaker introduced as a “handsome guy” before his business credentials were listed, but that’s what happened to the women:

Blogger Ali Wunderman sums up the casual sexism far better than I can:

As a very smart person I know said, “You know you’re doing it wrong when the most interesting part about you is that you’re a woman.” The conversation shouldn’t even be about gender. It should be about tech, because that’s what we’re here for. I look forward to the day when that becomes a reality.

And that’s one for all tech conferences – including ours – to take on board.