On Tuesday last myself, Trish and her sister Margaret (there we are in the photo above) visited the Web Summit in Dublin. You might have thought that given our son Daire is a co-founder we would have gotten special treatment. Wrong, but then we never asked for any. So, like hundreds (and thousands) of others we took our place in the registration queue and waited patiently. In fairness, it moved along quite rapidly until we got into the main registration section which reminded me of the check-in area in Dublin Airport, except this was a lot more efficient and faster.
So, there we were finally, our IDs proudly dangling around our necks, with our precious vouchers for lunch at the Food Summit tucked safely away. And then we were off. This isn’t a proper review of the Web Summit, just a few impressions given that I attended the second one three years ago when it was on a smaller scale.
With around 22,000 attendees, journalists and speakers, plus exhibition space for start-ups, media (RTE, the Irish Independent and The Guardian among them) and various stages to house summits from Music to Sports and Film, plus a complex that strained every inch to contain so many people, the organisers placed the food centre in Herbert Park and erected a temporary ‘bridge’ to get people safely across the road.
Apart from the sheer size of the event, and the constant movement of people, what stood out was the palpable buzz in the air. Margaret was impressed by the diversity of attendees and the fact they were a little older than she had expected. The high visibility of the 1,500 volunteers at the Web Summit also stood out, so there was always someone close by if you needed help.
We meandered around, stopping occasionally at several stands to take a closer look. I would like to have had more time to let it all soak in, but we were on our way to the Centre Stage to catch Eva Longoria. I’ve never been to the main hall in the RDS before – in fact my last time at the RDS was for a Bruce Springsteen concert – so the dazzling Web Summit stage took my breath away. Seeing it on TV is one thing, up close it’s just an amazing sight. And there was Daire introducing some of the speakers. Magic moment that.
And then Eva arrived to be interviewed by Jemima Khan, and, from my faraway perch, I could make out a gaggle of people close to the stage taking pictures – and they weren’t all photographers. iPhones and iPads clicked away, and kept clicking throughout the onstage chat. But they couldn’t distract me from Eva. As a fan of Desperate Housewives (I know, I know, how sad) I was curious to know how she would fit into the Web Summit format even if she is a philanthropist and investor. But from the moment she spoke you quickly realised Eva had a lot to say about the empowerment of women, the role of volunteerism and her success off camera. She came across as shrewd, a confident speaker, very confident and witty.
Unfortunately, we never got to meet, but I coped well with the disappointment. And then it was time for lunch. By the time we left and made our way over the ‘bridge’ connecting us to Herbert Park and the Food Summit I was famished. More queues too on a bright sunny day, but all good-humoured as we opted for the chicken, mushrooms, Ballymaloe relish and gorgeous cheese. A roll of bread and a selection of Nespresso, water, Coke, etc, to wash it down and we were fortified enough to head back to the Centre Stage.
We made it back just in time to see Taoiseach Enda Kenny doing an interview just above us and to meet Daire. Yes, the amazingly busy Daire had rung moments earlier to tell me to get to the Centre Stage quickly, and in a couple of minutes I was finally introduced to Enda with a quick handshake and a word of praise for the son. I felt like a groupie.
And then the buildup began for Enda to ring the NASDAQ bell live on stage, surrounded by top executives from Ireland’s tech community and a beaming Paddy Cosgrave who founded the Web Summit with David Kelly and Daire a few years ago. The buzz was electrifying, and as we had good seats a lot closer to the front we hung around to hear a few more chats, including an excellent one on artificial intelligence by Gary Marcus that fired the interest of Margaret and Trish.
But my special moment was the inimitable David Carr of the New York Times interviewing former Apple CEO John Sculley who kept emphasising he hadn’t fired Steve Jobs and that Jobs never forgave him. Unfortunately, I never got to meet Carr either. Ah well.
And then it was time to make our exit, but not before I called into the Indo news office to say hello to Jason Kennedy, a digital journalist who spent some time with the Irish Examiner on work experience a couple of years ago. I also bumped into several friends from Twitter and even a sports colleague, Michael Moynihan, from my own newspaper who was taking a breather from the Sports Summit. Michael also wrote some fine colour pieces throughout the Web Summit.
Oh, one more thing. The dodgy WiFi didn’t bother me. I made the rookie mistake of not checking my phone was connected properly the night before, so spent the day rationing my phone usage as the battery slowly died. Embarrassing.
As I said, this is just a dip into the Web Summit and hardly does justice to the diversity and breadth of the colossal event. There were times when I wished I could bilocate myself to catch talks elsewhere, but next year I hope to make all three days. I might even try out the Pub Summits and sample a 7 Up or two. Oh, and Trish wants to come too. Should be fun.