10 years NEXT – NEXT 10 years

We’ve been exploring ‘What’s next?’ for ten years now, always longing to know how digital technology impacts us and what our resulting behavioural transformation means for businesses.

When NEXT first saw the light of day exactly ten years ago, we were living in a completely different digital space. We were humans without superpowers in our pockets. The smartphone, much as we take it for granted today, wasn’t invented yet. Digital still meant desktop.

Over ten NEXT Conferences we have celebrated fantastic digital forward thinkers. We switched locations from Hamburg to Berlin and back again. And we saw trends come and go – like our NEXT shirts – some glamorous, some essential. What hasn’t changed much is the focus we’ve put on our annual event: We’ve been exploring ‘What’s next?’ for ten years now, always longing to know how digital technology impacts us and what our resulting behavioural transformation means for businesses.

2006: next 10 years

Exactly 10 years ago, on 11th May 2006, NEXT kicked off as the 10th birthday celebration for SinnerSchrader. The first NEXT Conference introduced the term ‘Web 2.0’ and topics like ‘The I Online – the Beauty of Digital Self-representation’ (Das Ich im Internet – vom Reiz, sich digital darzustellen). Johnny Haeusler (who co-founded re:publica a year later) played guitar live on stage, StudiVZ was introduced to a wider audience and Lars Hinrichs announced the initial public offering for Open BC, which later turned into Xing, one of the first German unicorns.

2007: Alle Macht dem Konsumenten

A year later, we proclaimed:

All power to the consumer.


Qype founder Stephan Uhrenbacher explained how to build a symbiosis with platforms like Google – still very much a challenge for brands of all kinds and sizes today. While Google was already an established player, Twitter was still to conquer the German market and NEXT attendees saw their own tweets on a wall for the first time.

2008: Realtime

Young, Berlin-based founder Alexander Ljung pitched his start-up Soundcloud at NEXT08 long before Berlin was proclaimed Germany’s start-up epicentre. And Gunter Dueck gave answers to questions that no one had even asked yet.

2009: Share Economy

While the first car2gos hit the roads in Ulm in 2009, NEXT took a closer look at the ‘Share Economy’ and the impact of mobile innovation on sharing information, creativity or even objects. Fantastic speakers like Stowe Boyd, Tim Leberecht, Jeff Jarvis, Itay Talgam and Brian Solis shared their insights with us.

Jeff Jarvis: Rather than charging what the market will bear, you charge as little as you can bear to grow the network as big as it can be and have a piece of something that’s much more valuable as a result. 

2010: Game Changer

With Berlin evolving into an attractor for the international start-up scene, NEXT moved to the German capital to showcase game changers in the digital space. One who definitely changed the game for the music industry was mp3-inventor Karlheinz Brandenburg. Also amongst our speakers at NEXT10 was Cindy Gallop, who made it very clear that she wanted to see more female entrepreneurs on stage – and in the audience – at tech conferences! Andrew Keen did not shy away from confrontation either and granted us exciting provocations on the downsides of digitisation.

2011: Data Love

NEXT, however, has always seen technology and digital transformation as a huge opportunity to create new value and a better life for the people. So it was no surprise that we committed ourselves to ‘Data Love’ in 2011 and invited data enthusiasts like Amazon’s CTO Werner Vogels to look at the topic without a dose of German angst.

Werner Vogels: It is still day one in terms of how we are going to use data and data analysis. 

Further speakers like Angry Birds inventor Peter Vesterbacka thrilled our audience. And some continue to do, like Tim Ferriss, whose online video of his NEXT11 talk ‘The 4-hour body’ is still amongst our favourite – and most-viewed – ones.

2012: Post-Digital

The digital revolution was over in 2012. Digital was no longer unique, but self-evident – like electricity. Or as our new NEXT blogger Adam Tinworth found out about our NEXT12 motto ‘Post-digital’:

Post-digital is the state of being in which you assume the digital instead of marvelling at it.

At the same time we began to realise that this was not the end but the starting point of a radical change. It led big companies to realise that rethinking their business models was crucial to their survival. And that they had to open themselves up to start-ups and agile thinking. This is a major reason why many started accelerators or incubators like Deutsche Telekom, who launched their incubator hub:raum at NEXT12.

2013: Here be Dragons

Google Glass was freshly shipped, and Robert Scoble brought one of the first specimens to NEXT13. People followed him around the Berlin Congress Center in droves, hoping for a chance to try out the new shiny object and for him to help them understand the Age of Context a little bit better. Data security and privacy issues were raised in connection with Glass. And we pointed out that when you’re on the internet, well, Here Be Dragons. The revelations of Edward Snowdon in The Guardian proved there were dragons none of us had expected.

2014: This is the New Normal

In 2014 we learned about the consequences of self-driving cars and their impact on city planning, insurance, health and media through one of the first dot.com players Brad Templeton (now at Singularity University and a consultant for the Google Self-driving Car Project).  

We also learned that our Federal Minister of the Interior, Thomas de Maizière, had a much smaller entourage than Peer Steinbrück, who visited NEXT as chancellor candidate a year before.

2015: How we will live

In 2015 we decided to return to Hamburg from Berlin to become less ‘suit-and-tie’ and more ‘entertainment’. As contradictory as it sounds, it worked. NEXT is now part of the vibrant Reeperbahn Festival and we zoomed into a focus on the consumer and on ‘How we will live’ in the near future.

A major technology that reached the consumer market last year was Virtual Reality. How this will transform the way we live, work and play was Robert Overweg’s topic at NEXT15.

2016: It’s me, your digital ego

With Artificial Intelligence finally arriving in the consumer internet, it’s time to again rethink everything – behaviour, digital product design, platforms, or business as a whole – from a deeply human point of view. AI forces us to think deeper about our human nature, about what it is that makes us uniquely human and differentiates us from machines.

At NEXT16 we will be looking forward to the next 10 years. Today is still day one!