Monday, April 28, 2014

The trouble with San Francisco...

The Next Web conference in Amsterdam always manages to attract an interesting mixture of people who care about the future of the Internet. Often it's because they want to make money. Sometimes it's because they want to build a new kind of shop to sell us something. Increasingly it is because they have an idea that could disrupt an incumbent and change the world. Many in Europe keep looking across the Atlantic as though New York and Silicon Valley have found the answers. As Kevin Rose pointed out at the Next Web, San Francisco is becoming increasingly less attractive for creative startups. Crazy pricing from landlords in Silicon Valley makes me wonder why the West of Coast of Europe doesn't step up to the plate.

I'm concerned that the story from Brussels and the European politicians is not in a language that many entrepreneurs understand. Neelie seems to like us, but the dialogue platforms currently in place are clumsy. It's not clear at all whether views you express as an individual or small enterprize are really influencing any of the decisions at the EU. Neelie looks rather fierce, speaking to us from the autocue, rather like a newsreader. This means that the message gets lost because she doesn't connect with the audience. Opportunity missed, I believe.

Three presentations stood out for me. And it is great that The Next Web conference makes these available to the rest of us through their YouTube Channel.

1. Eze Vidra is Head of Google for Entrepreneurs Europe and Campus London. He is master of understanding the startup culture, based on his work in Israel and at Campus London in TechCity. Having been to the campus a couple of times, I know that facilities wise it is nothing out of the ordinary. But the key to its success is the way the build an inclusive ecosystem which extends well beyond the standard incubator or accelerator we see elsewhere. There are some important lessons learned here. Like startups in the US are getting 5-10 times more capital from VC's that we're seeing with similar startups in Europe. That seems to explain why so many original startups are struggling.

2. Of course, companies like Google and Facebook promise us free services in exchange for the right to watch and study us; to mine and farm our data. Like quarries, like livestock, we are natural resources to be exploited in a brave new digital world of corporate surveillance that threatens our most fundamental freedoms. It reminds me a bit of commercial media. The audience is the product being sold to advertisers.

There are open alternatives but they are too difficult for most of us to use. Aral Balkan says its time to bring design thinking to open source and build beautiful, seamless open consumer products that are easy to use and which respect our fundamental freedoms. Wish they had edited out the false start. But if you only watch one video, look at this one.

3. And the third presentation was by Brewster Kahle of fame, though it hasn't been posted in the TNW channel yet. So I'll wait with my comments about that one. Glad to see that a lot of Brewster's projects are progressing well, despite setbacks they had with a fire at the scanning centre in San Francisco in November last year. Update: As of May 4th, Brewster's video is still not part of the TNW 2014 coverage. Not sure why.

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