For the fourth year, some of the world’s top digital leaders gathered in New York Wednesday to exchange ideas and map out the future at The NEXT Web conference held in Brooklyn. Metro sent tech CEO and writer Grace Schroeder to the confab to report on what we have to look forward to in the digital landscape.
Here’s her report:
Most Provocative Presentation - Make Love Not Porn
British advertising executive Cindy Gallop opened her presentation with, “I date younger men,” and went on tell the audience that she created her company to address the fact that people don’t talk about sex. Juxtapose that with the easy access to porn online and porn has become, she argues, the de facto sex education platform.
In an effort to present sex in a more realistic way, Gallop has launched Make Love Not Porn, where users can demystify the sexcapades one might encounter watching porn by seeing the parallel non-porn realities that are shared by members. Her hope is to improve human relationship by normalizing conversations that might otherwise never have happened.
But that’s only the beginning. Gallop has recently launched Make Love Not Porn TV in beta where you can submit videos and earn a 50 percent revenue share or rent a video for $5.
“Make Love Not Porn engages and connects people around the social sharing of sex for better communication, better sex, better relationships and better lives," Gallop said.
Silicon Valley’s Favorite Unicorn - Slack
While Facebook and Twitter dominate the social media sphere, people have been waiting for the next big software platform and it might be here.
Slack, the messaging system that has started to dominate in the tech and media world, has grown from 16,000 users in February 2014 to an average of 5.8 million weekly users today, making it the fastest growing application in the history of enterprise software.
Cal Henderson, CTO of Slack, appeared in his customary attire — shorts and a plaid shirt — to tell the Slack story.
“I don’t know how many people know about the history of the company, but we are twice failed video game developers," he said. "We were trying to build a video game, and Flickr came out of that. We tried to build another video game, and Slack came out of that.”
Slack was a messaging tool that the team built to interact with one another while they tried to build their first game. Where the game failed, Slack found its sea legs. Even as they entered a world with a lot of chat apps, none had taken off in the business space.
Slack is in the process of becoming an operating system for the workplace. In Slack, work teams create channels that define the topic to join all chat activities in one searchable place. The longer term view is that Slack will be the interface for all transactional interactions — replacing email for starters. They are also building an enormous eco-system of “bots” — mini applications that will respond to plain language. Instead of laborious clicking in multiple applications, users will be able to, for example, ask the bot to “fetch Mark Smith” and see Mark’s contact information in Slack.
Most Helpful to Humanity - Duolingo
Hailing from Guatemala, Luis Von Ahn is keenly aware that the path to a better future is paved by the English language.
“In developing countries,” he noted, “the wealthy can secure an education that enables them to make money. Meanwhile, the only path to a better job for most people is by learning a second language, predominantly English.”
Von Ahn, who helped digitize the print version of The New York Times and is considered one of the pioneers of crowdsourcing, has started a new venture called Duolingo, a website that offers language courses for free, a service that promises to disrupt the second language business such as Rosetta Stone, which costs roughly a month’s salary for the average Guatemalan, Von Ahn said.
Today, there are more people using Duolingo to learn a new language than there are students in the entire school system in the United States.
Teachers actively incorporate Duolingo into their curriculum, which frees them to support the accelerated learning with higher value conversational exercises. Plus, students can stretch at their own pace on the site.
Longer term, Von Ahn believes that helping people learn each other’s language is critical to overcoming the friction we see in the world. Since Duolingo gains 50,000 users every six hours, they are 150 million users strong and will be a company to watch.
The Show for Large Companies Striving to Evolve - The NEXT Web
Finally, let’s look at the conference itself.
Boris Veldhuijzen van Zanten, co-founder of The Next Web, began his company ten years ago in Amsterdam where he commands audiences in excess of 30,000 per show. The format has evolved to include top-notch speakers, predominantly in digital technologies, network roundtables, exhibitor tables (cocktail tables with laptops) and has a level of intimacy that is in stark contrast to the cavernous trade shows that still haunt many industries.
When asked about the size differential between the Amsterdam shows and the relatively small New York shows, Van Zanten said, “We are patient.
"In the early days, our shows were in Amsterdam were small, too. We were growing a nucleus of high profile technologists that bonded a community. At one of the shows along the way, I noticed a pool of 11 people, all from the same large company. That marked the turning point for our growth, when the larger companies discovered The Next Web innovation experience was a place their people could immerse themselves in the forward thinking activities.”
You can find out future plans for The Next Web here.