The Next Web Europe 2014

We participated in The Next Web Europe conference’s Boost startup programme last week. The conference and the programme were both outstanding. Certainly the best startup experience I have had so far.

There were really interesting talks by awesome tech gurus. Luis von Ahn, notorious for inventing the CAPtCHA, talked about distributing intelligence by harnessing human mental energy. The slightly less annoying variant of CAPtCHA, ReCAPtCHA uses your image recognition skills to actually convert scanned books to text.

A more recent development in von Ahn’s microtasking portfolio is the hit language app DuoLingo, which not only helps millions of people learn a new language, but translates content at the same time.

If this wasn’t enough, DuoLingo also manages to pursue a very humanistic mission, with providing affordable language learning to poor countries. With people like this pushing the boundaries of the tech industry further, the world looks better day by day.

Another awesome talk was given by James McQuivey, the author of the book Digital Disruption. In my mind quite correctly, McQuivey argued that disruption itself is being disrupted. This is well in line with the exponential growth and internal feedback loop of technological development, as well as the law of accelerating returns.

The faster we go, the faster we can go. This in turn changes the very structure of how we go. Although, see here for a really interesting counterpoint.

Another top analyst, Brian Solis, gave his take on the future of business. Entertaining us by demolishing misattributed quotes, like Henry Ford’s “faster horse” and Gandhi’s “be the change”, he went on to show that the future of business is not just about being a visionary. It’s being a visionary in a relevant sense to your customer.

While the stevejobsian idea of averting from market analysis may have a point in a market that keeps changing faster and faster, you still have to have an idea of who’s your customer and what’s the problem you are solving. Otherwise, no matter how awesome your vision is, it’s not going to be much of a business.

There were also more critical notes on technological development. Dadara’s performance gave an important counterpoint to the social media boom, although I felt it fell flat on banality, counterpositioning social media and “good old times” in a way we’ve already heard a thousand times.

Yes, we need more human contact, but it may well be that we in fact have more human contact owing to many of the recent developments in social media, especially such as Uber, Airbnb and Tinder. See here for an interesting take.

Another critique was given by Aral Balkan. He went on to describe the post-Snowden era fears that arose after we found out that everything we do online is copied to NSA’s data mining facilities. Balkan went also to criticize, quite rightly I believe, the open source movement for not producing visionary or functional enough software.

What he called for was open software designed from the UX point of view: “IndieTech”. It was interesting to discuss this with our CTO Timo, who felt that this was in fact precisely the direction we too want to take the technical solutions in the Extended Mind. Keep the code open source, but the customer experience in line with the vision.

The second day we spent at our Boost booth. We had an awesome time chatting with all those hundreds of people who stopped by during the day. Apart from a quick lunch break, there was practically no time to rest, owing to the many people who came to try out the beta version of Extended Mind and to talk about it.

It was great discussing the UI, technology, monetization, future avenues of development and the science behind the Extended Mind.

In addition to Uber, there was another commuting innovation I was impressed with in Amsterdam: biking. The city has the most functional biking infrastructure I’ve ever seen. And that shows in there being an entire traffic system of bicyclers dominating the streets. That was pretty great.

Both Amsterdam and TheNextWeb Europe were really an awesome experience, in terms of new insight, new connections and, of course, lots of fun.

Thank you, Amsterdam!