I had a great time in Paris and at Le Web last week. Here are my top 7 highlights and 3 lowlights:
- The Women Stole the Show. Keynote speaker Her Majesty Queen Rania Al Abdullah of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan (quite the title!) bowled me over with her progressive use of social media tools for connecting with her citizens and leading social change. Her delivery of her talk was utterly human and warm, her stories were rich and passionate and her humor was amazingly casual for a Queen. I'll be sure to get behind her awesome project 1GOAL. Other highlights included danah boyd, discussing what we are missing with all of the radical transparency today (i.e. the pain, bullying and bad home lives we could detect through teens posts online and help them out). Incredible message. I also loved (and always love) watching Marissa Mayer being interviewed by Michael Arrington. Her passion and enthusiasm for the experience of Google users is amazing and she has an amazing grasp on the future.
- The Company was Divine - One of the most important things about a conference is the hallway conversations. In order to maximize the interestingness of those conversations, the 'right' people have to be at your conference: the smart, the cool, the innovators, the creatives, the thinkers, the sideways thinkers and the fun seekers. I can wholeheartedly say that a great mix of those people were at Le Web. The brainiacs like Kevin Marks were present to make me think, the cool kids like Cathy Brooks were present to add prestige (that woman knows EVERYONE), the innovators like Stéphane Distinguin were hanging about, the creatives like Donna Jackson brought a fashionable air to the event, I'm always happy to see Dave McClure, who always makes me think, and Paul Carr, who brings his unconventional thought to the table, and, of course, I like to think of myself as the fun seeker at every conference (especially after a few glasses of champagne - dancing until 4 am anyone? ;)). It was a great mix of people.
- The Venue was Fabulous - I heard that it was a little chilly in there last year, but OMG...what a beautiful venue! Acoustics were pretty decent for something of that size, too. Only one suggestion: put a barrier up (maybe a curtain) between the audience and those chatting at the top of the ramp. Otherwise, it is a creative and interesting space that seemed perfect for the event.
- That Wifi was Flawless! Thanks goes out to the team at BT (especially Gary Shainberg who worked with Meraki to make the mesh impeccable), whose mesh network was so solid that there wasn't a single blip the entire conference and we used only 10% of the bandwidth. As Loic points out: " there was a 1gb line financed and paid for by LeWeb that’s why we never exceeded 10-20% of the bandwidth available". Impressive! In fact, I could have gotten on Bit Torrent and gone crazy without causing any ruckus. Fabulous job!
- Streaming is the Key to Future Conferences. I think Loic told us that, though there were 2,300 people physically at Le Web (and it was sold out), there were 100x that number who tuned in at some point over the duration of the conference. Wow. This made the live tweeting from the sessions far less irritating for the Twitter followers of the delegates (most of the frustration from those watching a livetweeted conference is that they can't tune in real-time and find out more, leaving them feeling left out) and probably attracted many of those remote observers to want to register to be there next year. Great move and fantastic idea. (p.s. it was also helpful for me as I was moving slowly one morning after dancing in Paris until the wee hours - I could still watch what was going on from my hotel room)
- You Can't Go Wrong with a City like Paris. More conference organizers should think about this. Picking cities where people really want to go (or haven't been) is a good way to attract a diverse audience. I think that Le Web saw participants from 46 countries in total. Paris is a great destination for bringing people from all over. I'd love to see a conference in Istanbul or Marrakech or Tokyo or Buenos Aires...somewhere I've been dying to go forever. It would give me a great excuse! Having it in English is also a bonus, being the Lingua Franca (for better or for worse).
- There Were Multiple 'Accessible' Ways to Attend. Yes, the conference was pricey, but there were alternative ways to attend. Students paid 1/10th the cost and there were 100 spots for official bloggers. I also heard through the grapevine that if you appealed to Loic and Geraldine and could show that you brought value to the conference with your attendance, you would get a discounted or comped ticket (but that was never confirmed). I was lucky enough to apply for and get the official blogger pass (thanks for organizing Stephanie!) and tried to keep up my duties by live-tweeting and summarizing as much as I could on my blog.
- The Boys Club/Techcrunch Cartel - Although I heard from multiple people, this improved drastically over the previous year(s) (I haven't been since Les Blogs 2, before the 'club' was really powerful), it was still present. I had several emails, DMs and comments (both on my blog and in-person) from people agreeing with my post on this topic. Michael Slattery commented to say,
"This is their web, not mine. It’s the web of millionaires who rise above the crowd, of giant corporations, of cliques and elites who wield influence and power. Let them do their thing; it was a great show. But let’s organize another show for the other web, the web of small companies that stay small, of unsung bloggers, of the army of anonymous contributors to wikis and open software projects. We could call it “l’autre web” or some such (maybe the “alterweb”), and feature speakers like Richard Stallman, Mitch Kapor, Howard Rheingold, Kevin Kelly, Kathy Sierra and Doc Searls."
I like this idea very much. And I loved when Gary Vaynerchuk questioned Loic's statement that Le Web isn't a conference, it's a community with:
" OK, if this is a f****** community, then why are we up here talking and not doing a Q&A? I refuse to come back next year unless my entire presentation is Q&A!" [link]
Le Web is fantastic, but it isn't a community. There is a hierarchy. Gatekeepers. A closed club. And too many politics that aren't part of the wider web community attending.
- The Food. Why is so little detail paid to the food at Le Web (this has been consistent since Les Blogs) even though it takes place in one of the most amazing dining cities in the world? Next year, I vote for my local genius friends from Faber Novel (Stéphane and Louis) to design the food part of the conference (these are my go-to guides to Paris dining and nightlife btw...I suggest you follow!).
- The Panels Were Good for a Bathroom Break. Perhaps this was the point, but there were enough of them that it really detracted from the bright spots in the program. The problems with the panels were that: a. there were usually too many people on them, b. that those people were too homogenous (same type of people with similar experiences and opinions), c. they were given too much time to go on about the same things, and d. the moderators seemed to be picked to bring 'controversy' instead of ask smart questions. If Le Web decides to keep the panels, they should look to create better diversity on those panels, pick moderators who will spend time doing homework on their questions, only put four people tops on the panel at a time and limit the time spent discussing each question. Panels, in general, are difficult to do right, though, so instead of a panel, maybe use Gary's suggestion of audience Q&A with a group of speakers?
Overall, I enjoyed myself very much in Paris and at Le Web. It was a great show and Loic and Geraldine should be very proud of the work they put into it. The production was impressive and I learnt a great deal.
Other Paris highlights apart from Le Web:
I had the chance to speak the evening before at the G9+ Summit organized by Luc Bretones and others, which was wonderful. I was lucky enough to have Mathieu Chereau from Yeasty Mobs (who also presented Tiger Lily at Le Web during the Startup competition) organize a fabulous Whuffie Tweetup with about 30 guests on the night I arrived in Paris. I got to meet the fantastic group who are doing the translation of The Whuffie Factor (to L'Effet Whuffie), including the generous and delightful Rodolphe Falzerana, his wife Morgane, Anthony Webster (who also helped translate live during G9+) and Habib (no Twitter account yet). I even got to visit the Social Media Clubhouse, a gorgeous pad sponsored by Paypal and others and dreamt up by Cathy Brooks, Chris Heuer and Kristie Wells. As I said earlier, I danced until 4am (thanks to my Wingman, Julian Nachtigal who reintroduced me to Bourbon - ouch), I got to stroll around Le Marais for enough time to do damage on my credit card (found the perfect hobo bag), had a date with a local hunk (nothing happened, but the attention was nice), stayed in a lovely hotel I've been wanting to stay in for years (it was everything I thought it would be and more), and took many lovely photos of Paris as keepsakes.
Would I go again? In a heartbeat.