A message from the past that’s all about the future

SORRY for being a Luddite. Clearly this shouldn’t be a letter from the Web Summit: There shouldn’t be anything so old-fashioned as a pen and parchment missive emerging from this event to tell you what’s going on here.

Don’t think of it as something you might take out of an envelope but rather a focused stream of electrons from the future, or the past, depending on how and when you read this.

Certainly there are a lot of names to read at the Web Summit. The issue may be your familiarity with them: WondrWorld, HouseMyDog, Questmen. Jumble, and Ghostery. Bundlin.

Don’t feel bad if you don’t know who these organisations are. Many of the thousands who swarmed all over the RDS yesterday were in the same boat, keen to find out what these companies had to offer. Or, in many cases, what exactly they were in the first place.

More than 20,000 people are expected through the doors over the course of the three days of the summit. Yesterday, there were entertaining guests on hand to talk about sport, music, and movies, but there was another side to the gathering.

This is a business environment, after all, one in which companies display their wares and strike deals. There’s a well-established narrative associated with the event, one which can be heard around the various stages of the summit, in which someone with an idea meets someone with the funds which can help them implement that idea.

Because of that, there can be a little uncertainty in the crowds swirling around booths and stages, and a lot of guessing goes on: Is this guy with the check shirt and torn jeans a coding genius or an eccentric millionaire? Is this other guy in a silver suit and snakeskin boots a wealthy investor or a software developer deciding, for once, not to wear a Ramones T-shirt and Adidas sweatpants?

(All of this is not to say that a particular Web Summit look does not exist. When this writer’s boss said a person to be met at the event “wore a beard”, he was informed “I’ll need more than that”.)

Because of that uncertainty, there can be some lightness in the exchanges, such as an impoverished journalist being approached by a couple of budding entrepreneurs who may have immense technological expertise but have a little to learn when it comes to identifying wealthy investors. You can’t blame them for trying. In the space of four years, the Web Summit has been able to create a discrete mythology, an identifiable story of investors agreeing to pour money into someone’s idea based on a conversation in a pub; in some cases, the stories have at least a basis in reality.

Take Kitman, the Irish company which, according to Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave, received investment thanks to the smooth salesmanship of rugby star Jamie Heaslip.

Because of the growth in popularity of the summit, it has spread into areas adjoining the RDS itself, with a sprawling campus encompassing a food village and sports area. Due to the necessity to stroll between the various locations, attendees end up skirting the green areas at the rear of the Anglesea Terrace of the RDS, where a few sheep were keeping the grass in check; as of yesterday afternoon, camera-phone images of those sheep were probably the most disseminated image from the entire summit.

If that sounds mocking, it shouldn’t. A colleague from another outlet, who has loitered cynically with this writer outside many a dusty dressing-room, made a valid point about the tangible energy in the RDS. It was bracing to be met with so much enthusiasm from people who clearly believed deeply in what they were working on.

For a personal highlight, the arrival of the legendary Bill James, the father of modern sports statistical analysis, on the sports stage was akin to Zeus descending Mount Olympus, what with his pithy reasoning behind the likely survival of such statistics (“There’s no shortage of ignorance”).

Whether on paper or by digital means, the summit is doing a good job in making that shortage less pressing.

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