Web Summit 2016: ‘I must say, it’s better than Dublin’

Venue and transport comparisons are already going in Lisbon’s favour

Web Summit: Lisbon’s MEO FIL Arena is a purpose-built facility that is designed to cater for up to 80,000 people. Photograph: Paulo Duarte/Bloomberg

Web Summit: Lisbon’s MEO FIL Arena is a purpose-built facility that is designed to cater for up to 80,000 people. Photograph: Paulo Duarte/Bloomberg

 

“I must say, it’s better than Dublin.”

On the opening night of the Web Summit, the event hadn’t even officially kicked off and already the comparisons were going in Lisbon’s favour. Attendees, it seems, are more than impressed with the new venue for the tech conference, and it’s not difficult to see why.

If you have any delicate feelings at all about the matter, it’s best to leave them at home when you travel. The MEO FIL Arena is a purpose-built facility that is designed to cater for up to 80,000 people. If you want to fit 80,000 people in a venue in Dublin, you’re looking at Croke Park. Not quite the same thing.

However, although the Web Summit has moved to sunnier climes, it hasn’t lost everything that characterised it in Dublin. The industrial-look wooden booths are back, as are the army of volunteers helping register and direct attendees. There seem to to be more of them though, and the whole process, at least on day one and the early part of day two, ran smoothly.

The centre stage also looked familiar with a set that retained a distinctly similar look to the Dublin event. That is where the similarity ends though. The MEO, where the centre stage is located, holds 15,000, and has hosted acts such as the Cure and Andrea Bocelli. The FIL houses the rest of the event, in a series of interconnected halls. Overall, it seems less cramped and more manageable than in its previous incarnation. The wooden Alpha start-up booths are also back alongside the slightly larger Beta versions, although with fewer crammed together in a dedicated hall, it’s less daunting than last year.

The RDS has hosted a fair few acts in its time, but with the main hall and Simmonscourt separated by a brisk walk, it was never the ideal location for an event the size of Web Summit.

Well connected

But be prepared to burn shoe leather. Despite the interconnected halls, there is only one way into the Web Summit, and it’s at the opposite end of the metro station.

There was a minor hiccup at the opening ceremony when co-founder Paddy Cosgrave asked everyone in the centre stage area to connect to the wifi. The idea was to demonstrate the Facebook Live stream of the event, and also that the wifi – a contentious issue in the past in Dublin – was indeed working. Except it didn’t, and he abandoned the demo, promising to come back to it later. Both Cosgrave and the Web Summit’s spokeswoman said later on that it had been a technical glitch with his phone, and once he connected to Portugal telecom’s wifi network, the demo went ahead flawlessly.

That didn’t account for the issues some attendees encountered getting on wifi during the opening ceremony, but on the whole, the situation seemed more positive than previous years.

Rumblings of discontent

Screens were erected outside the MEO arena to show the proceedings to those who had been left outside, although with chilly temperatures at night – particularly given the waterside location of the arena and the fact that it may be Lisbon but it’s still November – there were those who were unimpressed with paying for an event they couldn’t gain access to.

The opening ceremony isn’t the only thing you pay your ticket for though. The centre stage will today play host to everyone from Facebook’s chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer and Cisco’s John Chambers to footballers Luis Figo and Ronaldinho.

A total of 21 conferences play out on various stages throughout the pavilions of the FIL and MEO arena, covering everything from fintech and artificial intelligence to music and sport.