In one word – huge. That’s the impression you get when 50.000 tech people come together for the annual Web Summit. I visited the conference and of course I want to share my experiences with you. But there was another reason for me to pack my bag and head over to Lisbon, Portugal.

Surf Summit

Before the Web Summit there was Surf Summit, a ‘conference in the conference’ for entrepreneurs, innovators and all other people interested in design and tech. We met in Ericeira, Portugal for networking and surfing. To register, you had to give a twitter style reason why you want to attend. I don’t know if there was a real competition to get in, but I still was happy enough when I received my confirmation. After arriving in Lisbon, it took me one minute standing in the lane for the sign up until I met Charles, the only other guy with his own surfboard and CEO of a company that makes online hackathons possible called Agorize.
If surfing brings people together, it’s even easier if everyone shares the same passion for technology and the web. So it didn’t take long to get to know more people from Google or GitHub, startup CEOs from all over the globe as well as pro surfers like Anastasia Ashley or big wave record holder Garrett McNamara. The conditions for surfing were horrible because of the wind but we still had a bunch of fun and a great weekend.

The actual Web Summit

Back in Lisbon for the Web Summit, I honestly first got a bit annoyed about the pure size of this conference. It took so long to get anywhere because the area was so huge, and together with hundreds of other people I had to follow the opening keynote from outside the hall because it was already full. Bonus points for the Portuguese weather here which made this very bearable. Anyway, the following days were full of interesting talks about the newest developments in the web world.
There were three halls with fair style exhibition points, where hundreds of startups showed their product. In between you could find many different stages with interesting speeches in many different topics. My favourite stage was of course the design stage. But there were also topic stages for web development technologies, medical research and even fashion. One other interesting thing were the pitch stages, which offered startups to present their ideas to an investor committee in a ‘Shark Tank’ manner.
But certainly the most impressive stage was the main arena. It was actually more a kind of stadium and the lighting was outstanding. Must be crazy to give a speech up there. In this hall you could see talks of CEOs from the most influential tech companies like Tesla, BMW or Hanson Robotics. In the last case, it was actually their latest AI robot ‘Sofia’ doing most of the speaking. So I had three days with a lot of impressions and, luckily, a lot of good food which you could buy everywhere in the area.

Web design is dead

I have to admit that I went to Web Summit quite spontaneous, so I did not really know what to expect. But deep inside I hoped for some new insights on web design and development, maybe some principles or new concepts on interface design. It was so not that. Most of the talks and also most of the startups aimed at defining new ways how people interact with a machine or even with each other, which to me is the most important point about this development.
It seems like nobody is talking about how people deal with a screen anymore, because it has somehow reached its peak. There are good practices for interface design that can be looked up everywhere, and if you are honest most web pages have a quite similar, but actually professional look – yes, there are still bad examples.

Long live interaction design

So to be innovative, I actually see two directions. One is finding new ways of computer interaction like augmented and virtual reality, artificial intelligence, the internet of things or self driving cars. From my own experience, I can say that it can sometimes still look a bit playful and it is not easy to find business applications for these technologies. But some of the most useful tools we use today emerged from gaming or entertainment industries. Also, solutions making very good use of it can be spotted already if you look carefully.
The second direction I see is reimagining the way people interact with each other. ‘Classic Social Media’ (sounds funny if you still remember your first sign in to Facebook) is starting to loose ground and I found lots of startups that offer new possibilities for sharing things with each other. And this not only refers to images or experiences, but also objects, rides, flats, food, you name it. Is this Web 3.0 already?

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