Two days were enough this week to encompass an industry in the making and in transition. Many participants at the London Web Summit on Monday, as well as at the IXXUS Future of Publishing meeting on Tuesday, would describe themselves as being in the Information Industry (aka media, publishing, information services and solutions etc). I went to both, and as I staggered home on Tuesday night I could only reflect that this is not one industry but a hundred, and the cultural differences between the pieces are now profound. In fact, this industry is a Lilleputian version of the whole world around it, which sounds the way it should sound. But doing the breadth in two days? Very frightening.

For a start there were 1000 delegates in the Old Brewery in Chiswell Street on Monday. Our ebullient hosts, Paddy Cosgrave  and Mike Butcher (TechCrunch), compered it with the energy of a variety show in the Edwardian music halls. And they had a band that provided a 10 bar intro/exit for every speaker. It had something of everything, and, at King Paddy’s command, no ties were allowed (Yes, this is the sort of thing you do have to tell the English). And like a variety show (vaudeville) it was good in parts and not in other parts. The panels, despite some good appearances, were often   so hurried and poorly moderated that it was hard to extract meaning at all. And the audience was very mixed – investors networked less easily here with a vast crowd of start-up hopefuls than they did at last year’s similarly sized NOAH show, but the same messgae was available. The energy is back in the London market, just as it is in Berlin and Barcelona, but London is the place to get the finance and finger the future. My Investor of the Day award goes to Niklas Zennstrom of Atomica: despite the questions from his moderator he came across as someone who had learnt real lessons from Skype and Joost, and knew how to listen to the next crazy and apply the right degree of enthusism, tolerance and sophisticated discouragement. And my Thinker of the Day would have to be J P Rangaswami, Chief Scientist at His observation that we would at last overcome the entrapment of the Qwerty keyboard, and that the future of work was only understandable if we saw it as as massively integrated multi player videogame was delightful, as was his insistence that knowledge work on the network was “bursty” – so we invented the need for meetings to fill the gaps between activities.

Also high quality was the discussion on the future of money. We had two credit card -based services ranged against two chip-based money transfer services. I give the latter my vote, but questions like cost-free money transfer, the death of cash and the removal of some of the key roles of banks played very well, as did the notion that with digital money comes the end of money-handling privacy. Gareth Williams did a great job of persuading us that the Edinburgh – based, Scottish Equity Partners-backed online travel service SkyScanner would break into the Expedia /Kayak marketplace, but in truth its revenues of £2.5-3.0 m per month on a lead gen/referral business model, from 20 million unique monthly users, shows that it is well on the way. Offices in Singapore and now Hong Kong emphasize where the growth is, and 7 million apps testify to the mobile nature of the challenge. But is Google waiting to pounce on all of this?

So what else did I learn? That YAiA stands for “Yet another iPad App”. That 50% of Turkish shopping for consumer goods is now online. That Google only has 20% of the Russian search market, and Facebook is only the fourth most popular online service. That FAB has 3 million members (50% social network, 40% mobile) and sold 111,111 products last month on the way to revenues of $110m this year. So some of the players in the hall were definably big already. But you could not say that of Nick D’Aloisio, aged 16, funded to the tune of £350k , and launching his service ( to provide artificial intelligence support to people doing research online who needed to summarize what they had read. When he said that he was going to take two years off to do his A level school exams, there was a palpable sigh of relief from the 20 year old entrepreneurs in the audience.

It didn’t matter to me , proudly sporting the only grey beard in the room. But I have to admit that I felt relief amongst my peers in the IXXUS event, held in sunshine on the Kensington roof garden, which is improably furnished with ducks and flamingos (live). An audience of technocrats from all of the leading information services players  were looking at the issues surrounding what seems to me the key question of the hour – how do we effectively re-platform in ways that add to our asset value, increase our ability to act fast to change our service dimensions in times of torrential market change and still stay within a broad avenue of standards now established and extending from XML  right through to RDF and SPARQL. We can now discuss these things in London – they are of the present and I was delighted to hear John Powell of Alfresco (a real ornament to the Open Source model) and the IXXUS team under Steve Odart providing practical advice and guidance to real and urgent questions from the audience. Three years ago I would not have been allowed vocabulary like “ontologies” or “triples” in a publishing context: today this is coinage of the conversation and I rejoice in it.

And one last observation. Go to a conference of 1000 web developers and investors and what happens: from breakfast to dinner I never arrived at a boxed food table in time to find a box left to consume. Good for your figure, you may observe. Yes, but I made up for it the next day. They may have their drawbacks but publishers do know how to eat, and IXXUs responded to their proclivities very well indeed.


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  1. Have you heard the one about the investment banker and the tech entrepreneur? | Not 100% Accurate on March 30, 2012 18:17

    […] the recent London Web Summit the organiser Paddy Cosgrove announced that “no ties are allowed“. This caused much mirth on twitter but it got me thinking, what are the differences between […]