Web Summit is a major technology conference held annually since 2009, gathering 70,000 attendees from 159 countries, 1,200 speakers and 1,800+ startups this year. One more noteworthy stat: almost half of the attendees were women in 2018. This isn’t the only significant development from this edition and while there was plenty to take in from the exhibition floors and the various stages, there are four topics specifically I’d like to share.
Saving the Web
This year, the inventor of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee, announced that he plans to save the web by launching an internet rights protection campaign. While Jacqueline Fuller, the president of Google, made a very important comment in response to the legislation that has been imposed in recent months: “We have an obligation to look after both parts of the world – the online and the offline.”The European Commissioner for Competition, Margrethe Vestager, called for penalizing actions in the digital world in the same way than in the offline world, pushing for more balanced and fair platforms. “We need to protect fundamental rights and we need to come together to do that,” she said. Vestager added that putting data in the hands of just one company is extremely unhealthy for innovation. “Without rules, you can do a lot of things. The innovation we want is not an innovation around the rules. No need to ask people to give up values such as democracy or privacy in the name of innovation,” she commented.
Agency of the future
While Web Summit is a great meet up for entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and publishers, agency people need to dig deeper to identify the talks and speakers relevant to our industry. One of those was “The marketing insider’s tips for 2019”. When asked about the future of the agency model following the recent ANA report that found that 78% of its brand marketer members have some form of in-house operations, against 42% in 2008, Gail Heimann, president of Weber Shandwick, said: “The agency of the future is one that masters providing an integrated frictionless answer to a problem in a data-driven, human-like way. Marketing services are changing to marketing solutions.” Rosermarie Ryan, co-CEO of Co-Collective, confirmed that “agencies that continue with a push-out, broadcast model will not survive”. When asked about the Google and Facebook digital advertising duopoly, Michelle Peluso, SVP and CMO at IBM, said the two questions that a marketer must answer when choosing a digital advertising partner are: Is it effective? Is it ethical?
Quality of attention
Ev Williams, CEO and co-Founder of Medium and former CEO of Twitter, expressed reservations about the way advertising is evaluated: “Today, what we can measure is rewarded, but not the quality of attention it garnered. We can’t yet measure how people exposed to our ads feel, whether they are getting smarter and if we are making the world a better place. We cannot yet rely on algorithms to determine the quality of engagement, time spent and read-through rate instead of just CTR/VTR,” he said. When asked about what changes would he would make from his days at Twitter, he said that showing the ‘following’ count was detrimental for Twitter as it moved the focus towards popularity. He added the suggested user list was not helpful for Twitter users.
On the centre stage, Cambridge Analytica whistle blower, Christopher Wylie, confidently stated that he had no regrets about coming forward and lifting the lid on 2018’s biggest tech scandal. “It was all worth it, because it started a conversation,” he commented. Sitting on stage wearing a hoodie with the words “Arrest The President”, he talked about how he tried to warn Democrats working with then-President Barack Obama about the way in which Cambridge Analytica was empowering the Trump campaign. “My journey as a whistleblower has also been a journey in understanding institutional failure,”he said. “Our governments are not equipped to handle this. The things that I get asked, particularly in private, are concerning. I’ve been asked: ‘Where in America do we store the internet?’.” He called for more oversight and regulation to make users feel safe using the internet, the same way they do when going to a doctor or getting on an airplane.”If we can regulate nuclear power, why can’t we regulate some code,” he asked.
Web Summit is a great place to get inspiration and closer to the architects of the tech revolution that we all experience as consumers. As a parting thought, here is a quote that really resonated with me: “Purpose is hugely important for brands and their employees. In a world where no one trusts the big institutions, transparency and trust for brands will have to play a bigger role.”