Web Summit: What indomitable ambition can do

For the tech crowd, Bono’s star doesn’t burn as brightly as Mark Zuckerberg’s

After three days of talks, panels and discussions spread all over the RDS complex, it was hardly surprising that most people attending the Web Summit felt like they had run the tech conference equivalent of a marathon by the close of proceedings yesterday evening.

So it was almost fitting that, when it came to the final stretch, the event rather limped to the finish line – even the star-wattage of Bono on the final panel to discuss technology's impact on the music industry not quite enough to deliver an exciting climax to proceedings.

It also says something about the nature of the audience that there was palpable disappointment when rumours of Mark Zuckerberg’s appearance turned out to be just that.

For the tech crowd, Bono's star doesn't burn quite as brightly as the Facebook founder's.


While Bono was ostensibly sharing the stage with some entertainment industry disrupters, his easy charisma stole the show, particularly when discussing the recent brouhaha over Apple giving away the new U2 album on iTunes, causing significant angst among people who don't like free music.

But on the whole, the panel was too big, too eclectic and too unfocused to really work.

There were lots of people, of course, who assumed the same would be true of the Web Summit itself, spread over a good chunk of Ballsbridge and featuring hundreds of speakers on nine stages – and extending its reach way beyond its traditional bailiwick of technology to include stages devoted to sport, food and music.

At a press conference yesterday, Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave was asked if the thing could feasibly get any bigger. "I think it is not big enough," he said, answering with the confidence of a man who has seen his most ambitious dreams become reality. "I think it can become much bigger and, as it becomes bigger, the network effects get better."

Dublin’s limits

But even Cosgrave must accept some limits imposed by reality every now and then: “However, I will say this, I do believe infrastructurally there is an upper limit to


as a destination.”

Another journalist put it to him that the Web Summit has become "Glastonbury for Geeks", an analogy that he seemed comfortable with, conjuring an image of Cosgrave as Michael Eavis, surveying the huge event that he has swiftly built, with tech talks instead of guitar solos, panel discussions instead of DJ sets.

Later, that musical comparison was echoed by Bono. “One of the things I love about being at the Summit is that all of these people, all of you, remind me so much of being in a band,” he said, summarising the energy that animates the event. “The sort of people who used to be in a band are now creating start-ups . . . You all remind me of being in a band, and I get off on that excitement, that thrill of making shit up.”

And just as Dublin became a global music capital in the wake of U2’s success, now it is undeniably a global technology hub, thanks to the big multinationals who base themselves here, but also thanks to a culture epitomised by the Summit.

At this point, with this many attendees travelling from all over the world to talk tech, the Web Summit’s importance to the perception of Dublin as a major technology hub can’t be overstated.

There is undoubtedly a touch of Field of Dreams to the entire event, an audacious belief that if you build it, they will come. Many of the attendees' dreams will come to nought, sadly, but the entire event is itself evidence of the value of vast, indomitable ambition.