For the European perspective on internet, Le Web is the place to be. For three days in December I attended this meeting place for everybody working with web: Startups, consultants, investors, technology companies. And some web editors, like myself.
The main topic this year was ‘The internet of things’. In addition they ran a parallel track about social business. Google had their own area, where they presented Google+, Hangouts and other products that are important to them. There was also a big exhibition area.
On the first day I divided my attention between the main track and Google, while I focused on social business the final two days. In this summary I will share some of my takeaways from the conference.
The internet of things
On my way home I read the first issue of Wired from 1993. Funnily enough, it contained a short article touching on the subject ‘the internet of things’. The phrase was first coined by Kevin Ashton in 1999, but for years now it has been mooted as the next big thing.
So what is ‘the internet of things’? A well-known example here in Norway is to use your mobile phone to start pre-heating your cabin a before you leave home. Now this technology is becoming more advanced and it will find its way into more products. At Le Web startups demonstrated a lot of science fiction-like technology that merged the digital, social and physical worlds.
Have a look through the presentation from Le Web to get a wide selection of examples. One that stuck out in my mind was Spheero, a robot-ball controlled by your iPad. A level of augmented reality is added by changing how the physical object is represented on the screen through the camera. This feels like an interesting merging of the digital and real world.
I really believe in games as a harbinger of what will be mainstream in the near future. But the big question is how this will be relevant for everyday life. The company SmartThings might have some of the answer. They are not creating just another gizmo, but a platform developers can build their products on. At Le Web they demonstrated automation of the home: Lights, temperature and garage door. Basically a more advanced version of the cabin heater.
It is difficult to guess how well this company will do, but I doubt that ‘the internet of things’ takes off before somebody has created a platform for development of products. SmartThings’ successful Kickstarter campaign is important marketing research among the people where the change will have to start: Developers and innovators.
How is this relevant for Visma? I am convinced that this is important for everybody that communicates with users through web, apps and software. If ‘the Internet of things’ succeeds, the stream of information will grow rapidly. Already today I often feel overwhelmed. With refrigerators, toys, TVs and a host of new gizmos wanting to tell us something, how do we handle, filter and read the data? This isn’t only a challenge for new devices; it is also something existing products in the information competition will have to find a solution for.
Several of the presentations at Le Web were launching a product or company trying to reach out with a message. In the Google-hall it was even more obvious. The presenters were salespeople telling the attendees how amazing their products were. But when it is done well and in a useful way, I don’t see anything wrong with it.
I went to two presentations: Google+ and Hangouts. Both started from the basics, showed examples of how different companies used the services and were able to reply to detailed technical questions. They were very open to suggestions and opinions. I found it interesting, and the information presented was actionable.
During the presentations I realized that comparisons between Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn on the one hand and Google+ on the other isn’t that relevant. For Google this is a platform they are building other services on top of. This is their approach to social media; it is not a separate network service, but a part of their portfolio and a platform to build on. This makes it possible for them to be patient and take the long view regarding the number of users.
It is one thing to use the service or reading comments from other people on the subject. But the distinction became more clear to me after meeting Google’s product managers.
The social business track presented a variety of companies and consultants presenting how the internet and social media can be used to create business. While I read about fun technology on Twitter in ‘the Internet of things’-hall, I felt that social business was more relevant to my job as a web editor.
Martin Oetting’s presentation ‘Word of Mouth: Myths and Reality was particularly refreshing. For some reason I had a feeling this would be good, so I left a Google-presentation about premium YouTube-channels that also sounded interesting.
Everybody that has attended an internet conference, read a book on the topic or followed a blog has heard the same stories repeated about word of mouth. Martin Oetting moved beyond this platitude through, communicating with a very sceptical hand puppet.
This could be perceived as ridiculing the social media digirati (a term I would only use with an ironic subtext), but I think the more important takeaway is that we have to start looking behind the endlessly repeated case studies and achieve a deeper understanding about what is happening on the internet. By doing so we can better understand the case studies, identify specifics, and investigate what the story really means. Only then does the information become relevant for me and my work in Visma.