Little did I know a couple years back that this post would become an annual practice. Once again, I've attended LeWeb in Paris and as always, I'd like to share my thoughts on what I saw and experienced there.
First and foremost, the conference has become big. When I say big, I mean BIG. Numbers from LeWeb organizers were 2700 attendees or so. I believe it was a bit less (as they like to count staff and people working sponsor stands in these numbers) but even if it was 2500, it was still a lot. The space in all three buildings was always quite full. Only during the second half of the second day did it ween out a bit and get a bit quieter in the open areas. People from all over the place were in attendance and to me it seemed like far more people came out from the States. There have always been speakers from the US but this year I feel that a lot of non-speaker attendees made it over. This is a great sign in terms of how LeWeb is viewed outside of Europe. Loic also said it on stage but you could clearly see it when walking around. Asia was underrepresented. There was hardly anyone from China, Japan or India.
Surprisingly, there were very few hiccups this year. The food was good as always (but extremely European....i.e. not fare for diets....I ate way too many of those amazing chocolate things). The wireless worked most of the time. Sure, there were surges in use when you lost your connection for a bit but generally I was up and running on the wireless consistently throughout the two days. The venue itself was set up well and I particularly liked the meeting points which were positioned throughout the halls. This made it so much easier to pick spots to meet people and they were easier to find. I also liked how there were separate buildings for the start-ups as this made it easier to squeeze all of that in. When I think of the mood, all I can say is that it's clear people are optimistic. I felt that everyone thought things were only going to get better and the general vibe was really positive. I got a real big kick out of this.
Now some of the drawbacks which I truly admit were minimal this year (hats off to Loic!) Right off the bat, there is one drawback which almost every conference struggles with once it grows. Registration was a nightmare at the start. When the herds show up, you will have congestion at the registration desks! Further, it really seemed like the girls running the desks where picked out more for their appearance as opposed to experience. Sure, you stood on line forever and had a long time to check them out but I wanted to be indoors taking advantage of the event (and not enjoying the eye candy). Somehow I believe it just makes sense to have people register/check-in before the event. Let me print out my own badge. I'll put my own picture on it or send me something in the mail. It's probably the same price as the costs of staff to man the registration desks. It really is a shame to wait 30 to 40 minutes in line. LeWeb couldn't do anything about it but the fact that it started snowing while I was waiting and heavily at that didn't help things.
Presdo, the event scheduler, was a great idea in theory. I have to say LeWeb has become really good in integrating technology. The LeWeb app on my iPhone and the Presdo service made meeting and scheduling events super easy. My only problem is that I ended up overdoing it. I had so many requests for meetings and I made an attempt to meet everyone. Hence I had 10 to 15 meetings scheduled per day, all with 15 minute slots. As you can imagine, after one or two meetings, my whole schedule was already off. In between chasing down all these meetings and trying to squeeze in a presentation or two here and there, I was running around somewhat erratically for two days. I would have recommended Presdo integrating some kind of location based technology. I unfortunately also didn't meet people as I couldn't find them. Either I came a bit late or they did. Hence we missed each other. It would have been cool to locate them on a map of the venue and seek them out. This is a minor quip but it would of helped.
Finally logistics were a nightmare. The location itself was really good. I truly did find it well chosen in regards to layout. Unfortunately it was a nightmare getting there and then back. I couldn't find a hotel within walking distance and hence I decided to use the subways. Unfortunately, I managed to pick a hotel which would have required only transferring trains once. Little did I know that one of the stops where I transferred was under construction until January, hence I had to switch trains four times to get to LeWeb. Further, the shuttles ran only briefly and once the snow came, were gone. Taxis.....forget about it. There wasn't a taxi to be found in Paris (now there's a business case). Hence getting to and from the event with a taxi was a no-go. Further, all the evening activities were at other venues so to get there, you had to do some amazing logistical coordination. We were all able to make it happen but I hadn't planned on walking a couple miles home through the snow after the LeWeb party. It was nice but another annual takeaway from LeWeb this year was a cold.
All in all I really enjoyed this event and heard likewise from many people. It was well organized, had great attendees and speakers and really was worth my while.
Now the big BUT!!!
I'm calling the peak on LeWeb. This was the best year by far. My fear is though that like with most events, LeWeb has reached its peak. It may be good for another year and if they're lucky, two. Yet I see it trailing off very soon. People don't like events once they get too big. It becomes too much of a hassle and becomes too "corporate". Somehow I predict less people will be there next year and we may soon see the end of this great conference. At the same time, I am not worried. Either Loic is already thinking about this and will completely re-create the event. I'd for example make it invite only next year and cherry pick people to come. This way, you'd create demand from all the people who weren't invited and you'd get a bit of a TED effect. If the quality of the conference remained high, you could easily ratchet up the prices and just make it a must-attend event, even if you have to pay more than for an open event. Or Loic will simply continue running it as is. Milk it for what it's worth and then move on to the next thing. There's nothing wrong with that and we all know that one doesn't organize these events purely because of the goodness in ones heart.
In conclusion, I'd like to thank Loic for this year's LeWeb. He listened to feedback in the previous years and really managed to put together a great event. I wish him all the best in keeping this event running as is or making it even better. If he doesn't, well it was great while it lasted and you all know just as I do that we'll all find something else to rave (or complain) about!