Dublin Web Summit


THIS WEEK, the real “smart economy” came to Ireland, as Dublin played host to some of the most influential and successful entrepreneurs in the 21st century’s most dynamic industry.

With commendable initiative, the organisers of the Dublin Web Summit managed to get the founders of YouTube, Skype and Twitter, along with many more of the world’s biggest internet companies, to come here to discuss the issues facing their businesses. The event also offered a welcome opportunity for Irish internet start-ups to network with potential investors.

By now, most people know what Facebook, Skype, YouTube and Twitter are, even if they don’t use the services themselves. For the hundreds of millions of people who do, these and other technologies are transformative tools which are changing their lives. Skype can connect people on opposite sides of the world via live video link. Twitter allows information of all sorts to be disseminated instantly across interconnected networks comprising millions of people. YouTube democratises the production, distribution and consumption of television and movies. Hundreds of other services take the opportunities offered by the internet to connect people, to share information and to do business in entirely new ways.

The people behind these household names are at the cutting edge of social, economic and cultural change. Their technologies challenge many fundamental concepts in our society, and threaten traditional business models in many industries, while offering a brave new world of commercial opportunities.

For some, new technologies raise troubling questions about Orwellian surveillance and the dangerous blurring of the public and private spheres. Most of these businesses, after all, are based on the premise that you, the user, are the product, with your personal data mined for the benefit of advertisers and other commercial interests. Such concerns are legitimate, but they are not the whole story; new technologies also offer potential for positive social change, greater accountability and transparency. They require governments and organisations to engage in more meaningful ways with their citizens and clients, and they can harness the power of the crowd to make sure that this actually happens.

There is a sense of exhilaration and of creative ferment around this industry. At a moment of collective national gloom, we should be happy to see its optimism and intellectual energy celebrated on our doorsteps.