A few days before the actual event, I heard about London Web Summit (LWS) and a student ticket giveaway they were running. I applied for a free ticket – giving a brief reason for why I wanted one – and a day or so later I got an email saying I'd been selected for one. I was pretty ecstatic, especially considering the usual price of tickets, and the size & reach of the event.
I woke bright and early to be at The Brewery (a spacious venue near Moorgate) for 8:30 sign in and 9:00 sharp start. The train wasn't as packed as I thought for rush hour so I even got a seat. Fuelled by a questionable station bacon sandwich and coffee, I was ready for the day ahead.
On arrival I got a name badge, wrist band, and ventured through the networking room to the exhibition space. Some startups I'd never heard of, and some bigger companies I had. At Microsoft's area I saw they had hired a barista to make complimentary fresh coffee, so grabbed myself a cappuccino (with a milk art heart no less, classy touch).
While at Microsoft's space I recognised Ben Nunney, who is a lovely developer evangelist I've met at events before, so we had a nice chat (before he got back to showing people how to click, snap and slide Windows 8 laplets). I also got a Microsoft BizSpark chap stick – because all business people need soft lips. I do wonder if there is any logic behind the free promotional items businesses give away, I assume the intention is just to get their logo into your pocket any way possible so that you remember them. Playing with some of the tabtops they had on display I'm happy to report that they worked, and I didn't manage to crash a Surface like the last time I touched one. I find Windows 8 devices very quirky; I'm please Windows 8 has inspired device manufacturers to get creative for once, but I have to wonder if the reason some of these designs haven't been done before is because they aren't particularly useful or beneficial over traditional designs. Still, even if some of these devices are gimmicks, they may be just what Microsoft needs to get some cool status.
Next to Microsoft was KPMG. They had a huge sign which was mainly a blue squiggle with their logo small in the corner and the caption "Cutting through complexity". Perhaps they cut so much complexity they forgot to communicate to people what the hell they do. Their leaflets were worse, with endless paragraphs of figures and marketing, but no description. I gave up. Something to do with business and numbers… I think. Latter in the day I heard a quote, which I think could be applied very aptly to KPMG
“If you’re a founder and you can’t explain what you do to normals at a dinner party, you’re a bad storyteller” - David Tisch (2013-03-01)
The main stage upstairs was large, with fancy lighting and projectors – I heard whispers it was designed by Coldplay's set designer, but don't quote me on that. Speakers talked about numerous interesting topics, and were varied in format; from newspaper interviews (the Guardian) to blog talks (TechCrunch's Mike Butcher) to investors and startups. Moreover all the talks ran pretty much back to back, with just a short break for lunch, so there was never a chance of feeling bored. In the brief moments when there were gaps between talks, a live band played a short snippet of music for the next speaker to walk on to. This gave a really polished feel to the stage and it was refreshing to have a blast of music before the next talk. LWS had something for everyone in the startup web tech bubble.
One of my favourite talks was by Wordpress Dan. He had an unusually calm and 'open' persona (especially since Wordpress is all about open source). Despite being an interview with a blog on stage, it sounded more like a conversation with friends. I think Dan's public image and approach to speaking is one other startup owners could really aspire to reach
Another interesting talk came from a hacker who attempted to demonstrate credit card scraping using audience member's cards. He then went on to talk about biological hacking of mosquitos – using computer vision to detect just females (the ones that bite) and direct a laser to burn off it's wings so it can't spread malaria. It wasn't particularly web related but cramed with interesting snippets and delivered by an enthusiastic speaker so it was a nice change of pace.
I went over to DYN's stall, and they gave me a pair of oversized (for my head) yellow plastic sunglasses, and a black shirt with their bold logo in white and red. I include a photo of me wearing this comedy apparel as I find it rather amusing. They might not be renowned at fashion, but they are experts at DNS, as I then found out from talking to them.
DYN had more to talk about than clothes, though. They had released their expert developer David Grange from his code dungeon and allowed him to come to the show to talk to nosy people like me who are more interested in the tech side of what the business is doing. I'm in no position to be buying enterprise packages of DYN such as those that Twitter, CNBC and gosh knows how many other big companies use. But I am fascinated by clever technology. At first I was a little skeptical ("Don't you just get DNS free with a domain name?") but David was more than enthusiastic about what they do. He was happy to spend a good while explaining things to me such as IP anycasting and hard bounce rates. This is what I love, companies who know what they are doing, and are happy to tell you about it, while leaving the marketing waffle at the door. I was seriously impressed by DYN, and hearing what goes on behind the scened backed up their claims of being the leading DNS provider. I only feel bad that I don't actually use them, preferring CloudFlare's simplicity and plethora of features. Perhaps one day, if any of my ventures grow to need real tuning, I'll give DYN a try.
Later I spoke with a Basho employee about RiakDB. I won't detail it here, but it was great to hear about an interesting new technology from another engaging developer.
Overall, the stalls were more interesting than I thought, with many happy to engage in one to one conversations. The main stage had pollished deliveries, and the general atmosphere was empowering.
My friend Chris Leydon posted a highlights video that gives a good feeling of the event and it's patrons (plus I make a brief cameo at 2:07). Well that was a long post, now I know why blogs like TechCrunch write many smaller posts about an event. Oh well, if you read this far have a gold star, hopefully I'll start blogging more, and shorter!