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Le Web 2010: Review

If you’re looking for the adoption rates and growth numbers shared by Facebook, Foursquare, Twitter and Google or the insights I got from Le Web 2010, I covered that in my Best of Le Web 2010 podcast with Andrea Vascellari.  This is my review of the conference.  It’s just one man’s opinion, so take it with a grain of salt. I was invited to attend as an official conference blogger, and here’s what I have to say about flying to Paris in the dead of winter to attend one more tech conference before the end of the year.

wordpress meetup in paris with matt mullenweg
When it comes to fashion, aesthetics and food, the French have always been a cut above the rest.   They take their time and sip their coffee slowly from a delightful little cafe, while we take it to go in a paper cup.  To them, the visual design of a building is as important as its square footage.  In the US, form follows finance.  They’re passionate about preserving their cultural heritage.  For us, culture is largely about movies and consumption.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m no commie and ketchup is definitely a vegetable.  But when it comes to arts and cultural, the French have us beat, hands down.  And that makes for a tech conference like no other.  From the fast-paced 20 minutes sessions and the well-heeled presenters to the elegant stage design and never-ending trays of scrumptious patisseries, Le Web 2010 was the most fun I’ve ever had at a tech conference.  This photo by Teymur Madjderey gives a pretty good feel of what the vibe was like.  They drew a really great crowd.

The French really understand and value the concept of public spaces.  Paris is full of gardens, squares, museums and cafes which are designed more for intimacy than headcount and through-put.  At any venue, if the objective is to make sure people have a good time, ambiance is just as important as floor space.  This is something that seems to evade our national consciousness, where public space are, for the most part, shopping malls. Le Web’s organizers brought that sensitivity to conference as well, which made it more comfortable and easier to meet people.

Roughly 2,500 people from across Europe, the US and Asia attended, but the room layout with the central coffee bar made it easier to connect with other attendees than at big Las Vegas trade shows, because you had a reason to rub elbows with the others without being a shill. It’s easier to meet someone while they’re getting a cup of coffee than it is while they’re manning a trade show booth.

At most of the US shows I attend, SXSW withstanding, there is pretty much nowhere outside of the exhibits and the sessions rooms to meet people. Introducing yourself to someone in a trade show booth or at a session is a more direct business come on, whereas meeting someone at a coffee bar brings a degree of humanity we miss out on in The States.  And Le Web it’s smaller, it’s also a great opportunity to connect with high-profile, Americans who may be too overwhelmed at events like CES or SXSW to spend quality time with.

The presenters were also first-rate.  Well known online media executives such as Google’s Marissa Mayer, Twitter product development VP Jason Goldman, Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley and Facebook ‘s head of business development Christian Hernandez all shared adoption and growth rates, and some even broke news.  And to mix it up, the organizers added some lesser known but no less worthwhile innovators like Solar Impulse CEO Betrand Piccard who built a solar powered plane that flies without a drop of oil, Ariel Garten, CEO, Interaxon who is working on developing a headband that will allow you to control your computer with your brain waves and 18-year old entrepreneur Richard Sousa who shared his inspirational message of how to connect with, motivate and mobilize teens.

But what was perhaps most important for me — an American in Paris — was the chance to develop a broader, more global perspective.  It’s wasn’t my first time overseas or anything, but in the internet age, cross cultural communications skills are more important than ever, and traveling abroad frequently is a great way to maintain that awareness.

In the digital age, where organizations reach global audiences, the prospect of tapping world markets requires a practical understanding of not just the differences between Facebook and Twitter, but the nuances between how different cultures view and use these channels.  Sixty-one percent of the world now has access to the internet, versus 54% for TV, 36% for radio, 32% for newspapers and 14% for magazines.  And a whopping 86% of the world’s population is social networking, TNS reported in their Oct. 10, 2010 Digital Life Survey.

Le Web is a chance to get out of the bubble and see firsthand just how far ahead of the US the world is with respect to technology.  The internet is fast and reliable throughout Paris, and I learned about killer apps like Waze and Viber, both developed off US shores.  In Paris, there are a strong cell phone and wireless internet signals on the Metro. In NYC, the subway is wireless dead zone. Roads are critical to sustaining commerce and the wireless internet is the highway of future.  I hope you patriots out there won’t miss the point I’m trying to make but unless we’re careful, we’re going to fall woefully behind.  I’m just saying…we got work to do.

Coca-Cola, an American original, now does 80% of its business outside of the US.  And how are they marketing? They’ve got a team of goodwill ambassadors traveling the globe Facebooking and Tweeting smiles.  Are the ready to tap into global markets via the web?  If the answer is yes, Le Web offers a practical, efficient and fun opportunity to broaden one’s scope on how social media is evolving outside the US.  Success in a digital future means understanding and adapting to how different cultures use technology, and Le Web is a great place to get the European perspective, and if that is important to you, this is conference is for you.

PHOTO: Teymur Madjderey

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