The Next Web, brainchild of Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, secured its position as the leading European tech conference with its 2018 instalment. Two intense days with seven topic tracks and 15,000 visitors provided clear insights into where our digital society is headed. We put our finger on the pulse of TNW and found five trends to take notice of:
1. Data is everywhere, changing everything
Data has been a buzz word for years already, but it keeps spurring new interesting discussions as the ”oil of the future” is quickly seeping into an ever-growing number of industries. James Whittaker of Microsoft held an invigorating talk about how the world is being reduced to data, and that this is true for people, places, and things alike. If you don’t have an understanding of your data or a plan for how to use it to improve your operations, you’ll most likely end up on the losing side of your industry.
It’s also evident there is now a growing focus on action when it comes to data. It being a complicated area to master, many TNWtalks focused on how to get started with value-adding data analytics. David Arnoux of Growth Tribe was one such example, showing the audience how to do marketing machine learning without knowing how to code.
A third discussed aspect of data was, not surprisingly, what humans should do once the robots and artificial intelligences have made us obsolete in the workforce. Though a clear answer to this seems yet to be agreed upon, one interesting point made by Pamela Pavlicsak was that as machines increase their emotional intelligence, so will humans. Thus, a society run on machines may actually be a more emotionally developed one than the society we currently live in. Food for thought.
2. Don’t believe the hypes
At the same time as the data gospel filled the halls of TNW, a contrasting message of almost equal volume could be heard among the myriad of workshops and panel discussions.
Tech ethnographer Tricia Wang pointed out that ad tech is a $35bn industry, but that 70% of marketing executives are unhappy with their ad tech results. She claims big data has gotten us further away from our customers and that collecting eyeballs at any cost is not the way to build brand relationships. Just because technology changes doesn’t mean people do. A similar message came from Pernod Ricard CEO Alexandre Ricard who stressed the importance for brands to create trust if they are to survive in the long rung.
SendGrid’s Len Shneyder made the case for email being more relevant than ever, in spite of the rise of the Slacks, Messengers and Whatsapps of the global communication landscape. Email as a marketing tool is still delivering an unmatched average ROI of $38 on every dollar spent, and with GDPR, its place in any communication strategy looks stronger than in a long time.
So overall, there is a ”back to basics” wave in terms of what and how to communicate as a brand.
3. Blockchain will be the new internet
As expected, blockchain played a major role at TNW2018, with a multitude of talks, panel sessions and workshops on the matter. For the next few years, it looks like the cross-section of disruption will be found somewhere in the combination of blockchain, artificial intelligence (AI) and Internet of Things (IoT). There were numerous discussions around how blockchain technology could potentially be used to disrupt entire industries (banking, insurance, communication etc.) but one of the standout sessions was held by CryptoKitties founder Bryce Bladon, who showed how blockchain might come to create an entirely new structure for the art industry, where digital art pieces finally could avoid the problems of piracy and lack of value.
Blockchain was a dominant theme at TNW, but also a new one, which means we’re still in the infant phase of the technology, and the main insight from the various sessions on the topic is that blockchain has tons of potential but we don’t yet know exactly how it will be used.
4. China is taking over
Another clear trend is how China is slowly starting to take over from the US as the leader in tech. Sure, Silicon Valley still reigns supreme in many ways, but in recent years, some of the global break-out apps among teens are Chinese (e.g. Musical.ly and Tik Tok), and the Chinese focus at TNW was more present than ever this year. Chinese tech companies have moved from being copycats to acting as true disruptors in tech, and with their culture now seeping into western culture, we can expect a tech industry power shift over time.
5. Mindfulness is the new techie life goal
TNW has always been on the forefront of the ever-changing digital world, but this year showed a clear shift to also include personal development and mindfulness as a key part of the future of tech. With an entire track devoted to the theme, one can sense how the entire tech industry is starting to transform to also cover personal transformation. With tech’s overall promise to improve the world and the life of humans, this transformation makes sense and the audience seemed truly inspired by Jason Silva’s keynote on change as well as Headspace’s CEO Richard Pierson’s message that the world is finally “coming out of the meditation closet”. The tech world is now actively trying to deal with the anxiety and stress of modern society.
In conclusion, TNW2018 showed us the ever-ongoing rapid change, but at the same time also the counter-effect of more people looking backwards and inwards to make sure we don’t get too caught up with all the rapid changes.