"This has grown into a festival."
That's what countless TNW Conference devotees told me.
And although this is my first year attending, I'd have to agree. This is a festival in the best and not-so-great sense of the word.
With an estimated 15,000 people piled into Amsterdam's Westerpark, food trucks abound. They surround the speaking, workshop and exhibition areas, and offer a fantastically ecclectic food and beer selection while the owners of them embody the same startup spirit as the TNW Conference attendees they're serving.
Stepping back, how cool is it that there's a massive outdoor festival where startup leaders and tech enthusiasts from all over the world can come together, connect, and share ideas?
As the first day of the event is winding down and the evening meetups are about to begin, I wanted to share a few insights. Here goes:
Held at the incredible Gashouder, the intro to TNW Conference 2017 felt like a futuristic rave. Beats and strobe lights woke us all up, and then the room went dark as this video came on:
The video was meant to inspire while mentioning but not getting too deep into the world's harsher realities. From there The Next Web's co-founder, Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, took the stage and gave an equally inspiring talk. His take-home quote:
"We must remember the humans and humanity behind everything we do."
Amber Case won me over. The author of Calm Technology, she spoke brilliantly about technology's need to "empower our periphery" without overtaking our primary focus. In other words, when we're focused on our most important task, products and services should not pull us out of that zone. Or if they do it should be as gently as possible so that we can remain productive.
Case emphasized the point that our attention is increasingly becoming a scarce resource, and that the tools we surround ourselves with should treat our attention with care and deep respect. This means, in part, that we must have smarter, common sense-based alerts and notifications.
I haven't been this excited to read a book in a long time.
I've been following Viacom's Kodi Foster on Twitter for some time, but I truly grew into a fan of him during his talk titled, "Using Data for Content."
Foster focused not so much on the how-to-do as on the what-to-avoid. He spoke on the problem of creating marketing strategies based purely on the deeply-flawed algorithms of social media platforms. Content creators must not go the route of Pepsi, Foster says, by seeing that many Millennials are interested in activism and Kendall Jenner and thinking that pairing the two of them is a good idea.
Foster spoke of the need to create better relationships between product dev and content creators, and to have cleaner data sets coming in so that we can make more accurate human-assisted predictions.
"Nobody in here markets to human beings anymore," he said. "We market to the machines in the middle."
Foster also asked the audience a tough question:
"Are we living in a post-factual world where truth and authenticity no longer matter?"
If so, he said, what's our role as marketers in bending such a world back to embracing truth?
TNW Conference 2017 has been an incredible event so far, but as my reason for being here was to learn as much as possible (and share these learnings with a wider audience), I also felt quite disappointed that I was unable to attend several sessions I was excited about. Hundreds of others felt the same.
Even those who queued up 15 minutes prior to an event were unable to get in. Why? There simply wasn't enough room. Sure, this was a great chance to brush shoulders with new people, but I actually felt heartbroken watching so many people spend much of their day in line and yet still unable to attend the session they've likely been looking forward to for weeks or months.
Here's a video of one of those lines. A session had just started, and none of these people (in line for 10-15 minutes) were able to see it.
That's all from day 1 at TNW Conference 2017. Tune in tomorrow for a recap of day 2. And let me know if you're here and want to meet up!