So here we are at the end of Web Summit 2023.
As ever, a hugely busy event jam packed with speakers, food, delegates, food and exhibitors. It was the first time I had been since 2018 and it was quite a different experience.
First of all, kudos to the organisers and speakers for just getting the event live.
Considering the controversy, the withdrawals and the sheer number of people to move around, it's a massive feat. And the fact that there was almost no queueing was - and is - a stunning accomplishment.
It's well known that quite a few big vendors withdrew from the conference this year and in some of their pavilions it definitely felt like it.
There seemed to be nothing in the middle between national organisations and small startups. And that took away some of the pure technical excitement of the event. It felt very much more focused on thought leadership and entrepreneurship than on technology.
That being said, there were many great talks. Lisbon was the leading capital of the world for this week.
As ever the schedule overlaps and the distance between pavilions can be quite large. Sometimes it is a case of being too much, and you end up missing the first 5 minutes of one or sacrificing the last five minutes of another.
The overriding theme this year - no surprise there - was AI.
AI, AI, AI. Web Summit is all about the future and above all to create the spark that will drive innovation and push humanity forward. And outstanding speakers gave us food for thought on this theme that controlled many of the news headlines this last year.
The most dangerous thing about AI, is “us” (Cassie Kozyrkov)
Conversations ranged from how creatives harness AI, how AI will take your/our jobs, how AI will revolutionise dentistry and a thousand other variations of it.
At their most inspirational, these conversations had real world examples and genuine experience. At their worst there were a lot of conversations which were a little wide and more opinion pieces and thought leadership.
Sometimes it did feel like the sessions were too short as people just began to warm to their topics , at other times the topics could be slightly misleading - I went to a great talk on the “Titanic didn't sink”, which was more an opinion piece about news trustworthiness that what I expected as a more concrete example.
As ever, the startup areas were jam-packed with hopeful startups, lots of fashion and health tech innovations, far fewer Metaverse and VR offerings than in the past and the usual smattering of blockchain offerings. Not many cryptos, which was a big difference from the last time I was there.
And that is maybe the thing about Web Summit: it really focuses on the trends that are hot at the moment. Each year things seem to aggregate around a single focus, and this year it was clearly AI.
In some ways the noise drowns out some of the smaller and more adjacent innovators and speaking to people I definitely got the sense a lot of people felt “it wasn't the best” Web Summit.
Last but not least, in an event with this magnitude, networking happens naturally. With such an expansive gathering, you literally bump into spontaneous connections with participants, and the dynamism created fosters this engagement.
It was good to meet other realities, potential suppliers and increase our network. In the end, this invaluable aspect of what “going to Web Summit” is opens doors to invaluable partnerships, synergies, that extend far beyond the confines of Altice Arena.
But - let's be honest - 3 days of thought leadership in a confined space , it's still an extraordinary event and there was never a single moment when there wasn't something to see.
I’ll definitely be back next year but I think I will pre plan a bit better and try to go deeper on some things and see less of others.
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