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The Next Big Thing: thoughts from the Dublin Web Summit

By David Wong · DWS Event

It’s the sign of an impressive tech conference when you can walk past the top guys from Skype, Sequoia Capital, 4chan and Stripe without thinking too much of it. The Dublin Web Summit, which took place over two days last week on 17 and 18 October, had a stellar line-up of speakers and it was attended by around 4,000 people from the web tech scene. It was a gathering of enthusiastic minds all driven to make a difference, whether it was to change the way we travel, the way we search or the way we shop – and in their company, it was easy to forget the gloomy sentiments dominating the front pages of the news.

The Next Big Thing Panel at Web Summit

Photo Credit: Sociable

Although the Dublin Web Summit is less brash than its US counterparts, there’s still a lot of noise (and there’s just as much sleep-deprivation). With the benefit of a week’s distance from the event, I’ve tried to thread together the topics that rose to the surface.

One of the sessions was a panel of investors discussing The Next Big Thing. It gave a useful overview, but because each slot was only around 20 minutes it meant that points were raised without pursuing them for long enough to uncover real insight. Nevertheless, it was good to get the investors’ perspective on what areas they thought would take off.

There were many who looked into the crystal ball for the next big thing and saw mobile, mobile, mobile. It became a bit of a stuck record throughout much of the web summit overall, but as Mattias Ljungman from Atomico pointed out, mobile is deservedly hyped.

The news yesterday that 14% of Facebook’s ad revenues in the third quarter came from ads served on mobile devices underlines the opportunities presented by mobile.

Not every sector has been affected yet, and Megan Quinn from KPCB thought that there was another 5 years’ worth of potential. Mobile has the ability to serve as the glue between the online world and the real world. For example, from the perspective of ecommerce it means that customers can see something online and buy it in the physical store, or they can buy something online if it isn’t available in-store.

The panel also highlighted the fact that technology can disrupt any industry and they drew attention to traditional, real-world industries. Hailo was an example. It’s an app which you can use to get a London black cab “in just two taps”.

Another area that the investors wanted to see more of was startups working on hardware. The falling costs and the increasing speed with which products can be made have opened up this space. There’s a palpable sense that there is a resurgence of interest in hardware, and commentators and investors are paying attention. The New York Times recently had an article on it.

Wesley Chan from Google Ventures picked computational biology as a field with big potential. I suspect that this is something less readily accessible to most of us and that the progress will be made in university corridors with collaborations between computer science, biology, medicine and mathematics departments.  Wesley Chan’s view was that it would revolutionise personalised medicine.

Last of all, and certainly very much the least… there were cupcakes everywhere at the web summit. Bear with me. There’s a (tenuous) point. I’m not sure that devotees of the Great British Bake Off and Mary Berry would consider cupcakes as the next big thing anymore, so I’ll leave you with this final thought from Megan Quinn. “You can’t listen to the hype too much but equally, you can’t wash your hands of any sector because there’s always opportunities for disruption.”