This year #LeWeb focused on discussing the future of the Internet. Leaders shared their views on what they believe will drive the next generation of digital businesses. Girls in Tech London was there (see our tweets here!) and here’s a first recount of the ideas bounced around during the prestigious 3-day event by Josephine.
I will start by a quick not on the concept of “the internet”. I find difficult to understand it as a comprehensive object or concept. I have a hard time putting in the same box Snapchat, Ebay, Microsoft and Uber. Of course, all of them are connected because they relied on the world-wide web infrastructure. However, the business models and the products/services that they offer are dramatically different. Therefore I think it’s hard to find consistency and to identify trends & patterns across all of them.
Guardian’s columnist Oliver Burkeman once wrote that the internet is about everything now, and so does no exist anymore as such. His article presented a valid point and at the time it was visionary because they were still were boundaries between online and offline. However, today, when I go home with a Uber cab, when I look for directions to a new address or when I tweet pictures of friends, it is no longer clear what offline life is. So what do we talk about when we talk about the Internet? Technology conferences too often focus on presenting tech as one thing consistent when I think what they describe more and more nowadays is the implementation of computer technology into businesses. Said differently, it is not anymore about tech, it is about innovation in businesses via the use of computer technology and people’s daly use of it. So to speak: the internet is no longer for geeks only.
This however, did not prevent anyone from speaking on stage and make predictions on the future of the Internet in general terms. Many speakers went on to discuss how their domain of the Internet is going to evolve – following the big common trends. They illustrated that without context and the sort of technology on which this future projections are built on.
The idea of the Internet that was left in me after #LeWeb was not clearer: crypto-currencies like Bit-coin will play a bigger role, more will choose entrepreneurship as their career path and of course mobile will be increasingly essential along with cloud-based technology.
Everyone seemed to be blind to the fact they were talking for the people that use tech and see internet as part of their lives. No one asked about the internet as an experience and hard-ware technology at the very source. It was assumed that new internet user consume internet like geeks do. My problem with that is less ethical or social, but really demographical. The people that will use internet tomorrow in bigger numbers will be from Asia and Africa, not the West. As such they will have a dramatic influence over the way the internet stretches and develop, no? So no one talked about what will be the impact and take up of the internet in countries and from people that do not have access to it yet. Or that use a common computer or same mobile phone for a whole family.
Except for one speaker – the very first to open the conference – Fred Wilson, venture capitalist at Union Square Ventures.
He laid down the macro trends pushing people and societies that will direct and drive the internet. He summarised them in 3 categories with concrete examples.
1 – Bureaucratic hierarchy is being replaced by digital technologies and networks. Twitter, Youtube or Airbnb are changing media the entertainment and leisure industry. The pyramidal hierarchy in business is being challenged by quicker communication and lower transaction costs. Bureaucratic process won’t be needed anymore and will be replaced because of inefficiency.
2 – Unbundle of services. Before, services were provided by one business (i.e. Royal Mail, or banks). It was expensive to produce and deliver and that’s why businesses were structured as a single full-service entity. Nowadays, with network and communication technology, it is cheaper to set up highly targeted services such as Netflix to buy movies, e-libraries to access books and Tinder to find love.
3 – Personal involvement in the network. Everyone of us is now personally involved in the network because enabled by mobile devices. From Uber, Tinder to Taskrabbit, people are using the internet more often for local search, to assist them with their daily life.
In a few words, he concluded that the internet just follows life, not the contrary.
That for me smartened the evening discussions: humans are shaping the future, including the internet, not the other way round. We are restlessly asking technology to answer our crazy imagination and desires, so ultimately the future of the internet will be what the most of us want and make it be.