Why the Web Sum­mit is never re­turn­ing to Dublin

Irish Independent - Business Week - - TECHNOLOGY - Adrian Weck­ler

THEY now come to Lis­bon, not Dublin. And it is away from Dublin that 70,000 of the world’s most in­flu­en­tial busi­ness peo­ple will re­main.

Be­cause the Web Sum­mit is never re­turn­ing to Ire­land.

This is a shame, es­pe­cially when you see how se­ri­ously the event is now be­ing taken.

Mar­grethe Vestager, the globe’s most im­por­tant reg­u­la­tor (and scourge of Ap­ple be­cause of that €13bn tax rul­ing), is here. So are a dozen other im­por­tant Euro­pean Com­mis­sion fig­ures. And se­nior fig­ures from the UN and Asia.

Most of the world’s big­gest ven­ture cap­i­tal firms are also here, both to look for new com­pa­nies and to talk to one an­other. They don’t all travel in packs like this very of­ten.

It goes with­out say­ing that most of largest tech firms – In­clud­ing Google, In­tel, Mi­crosoft, Ama­zon and Face­book – are here in force. seen in decades-old global con­fer­ence events. (This is a se­ri­ous step change from Web Sum­mits of years past, where pluck­ily startup booths were sup­ple­mented by ex­per­i­men­tal meet-and-greet ar­eas from some of the larger tech com­pa­nies.)

Lis­bon it­self is prov­ing to be a per­fect host city. It’s not just that it has far more de­cent ac­com­mo­da­tion at far more rea­son­able prices. Or that its streets are beau­ti­ful to walk around in the morn­ing or at night (at a per­fect 18 de­grees).

Lis­bon works be­cause of its in­fra­struc­ture and plan­ning. There’s an ef­fi­cient Metro that gets you to the (huge, ex­cel­lent) Altice Arena from al­most any­where in the city. Traffic isn’t nearly as big a prob­lem for at­ten­dees be­cause of this.

Reg­is­ter­ing for the con­fer­ence can quickly be done when you get off the plane at the air­port, just like Mo­bile World Con­gress at Barcelona or CES in Las Ve­gas, the two big­gest, most im­por­tant tech trade shows in the world.

In­ter­est­ingly, there ap­pears to be a star­tling ab­sence of lo­cals moan­ing about the Web Sum­mit. There’s no swipes about event or­gan­is­ers be­ing too big for their boots.

In short, ev­ery­thing works be­cause the Por­tuguese want it to work.

Dublin will still get some scraps. Mon­ey­conf, which is the small­est of the many an­nual con­fer­ences run by Paddy Cos­grave’s firm, will be held in Dublin next year. But that is an event for hun­dreds of peo­ple rather than 70,000.

Dublin de­cided two years ago that it wasn’t in the busi­ness of scal­ing its am­bi­tions to host events like the Web Sum­mit, even when it was a home-grown con­fer­ence with an in­her­ent wish to host it in Ire­land.

The same think­ing is prob­a­bly be­hind the low scores Ire­land re­ceived in the con­test to host the Rugby World Cup: Ire­land isn’t set up to in­vest in com­pet­i­tive in­fra­struc­ture. We pre­fer smaller, in­cre­men­tal re­gional projects, some­times based on a par­ish-by-par­ish ra­tio­nale.

So here it is: the Web Sum­mit is never com­ing back to Dublin.

It’s just too big.

It’s a proper global con­fer­ence now. And that’s not some­thing that Ire­land feels at home with.

The Web Sum­mit is now about do­ing busi­ness rather than a show­case for talks about the fu­ture

At the Web Sum­mit were (above) Paddy Cos­grave; (left) Euro­pean Com­mis­sioner for Com­pe­ti­tion Mar­grethe Vestager; and (be­low) hu­manoid ‘Sophia The Ro­bot’ of Han­son Robotics an­swers ques­tions dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the event

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