Page last updated at 12:36 GMT, Thursday, 11 December 2008

Love, loss and the world wide web

By Ewan Spence, Paris

Eiffel Tower, BBC
Paris is not just for lovers, it is for web entrepreneurs too

"Starting up a business is similar to falling in love," said Loic Le Meur, organiser of the Le Web conference that brought the cream of Europe's web developers together in Paris this week.

"When you start a business you're obsessed with it," he said. "When it goes well you are very happy, but if it goes bad you fail with it. By learning about love, you can use that passion to help cultivate your ideas and improve your own businesses."

That love for entrepreneurship was the theme of the conference - now in its fifth year - which was upbeat about the prospects for new firms despite the economic downturn.

Seen and heard

Many speakers rejected the notion that tough times were bad. Instead many reflected on why the downturn was a good thing for entrepreneurs.

"Markets fail, but they are rebuilt, and in this there are great opportunities for entrepreneurs," said Dan'l Lewin, corporate vice president from Microsoft, who pointed out that a number of successful internet companies, such as HP, Apple and Google, were founded during previous recessions.

Nikesh Arora, Google's senior vice president, also had words for those building their businesses, He said: "If you can ride out the next twelve to eighteen months, then your business will be in good shape."

He added: "The economic climate does not determine success or failure, it creates a way to focus your mind."

Screenshot from Erepublik, Erepublik
Erepublik lets people use social media to lead a nation

But he also issued a warning to European start-ups to evangelise themselves and become more visible around the world.

One company using Le Web to gain that visibility is Erepublik.

Based in Ireland, developed in Romania and managed from Spain, Erepublik mixes social media and strategy gaming to meld the real with a virtual world.

"We started Erepublik with a mirror of the real world, but with no rule book," said Alexis Bonte, head of Erepublik. "Where many modern games are scripted, we are letting the players decide where to go next, and the worlds have drastically diverted."

Soon after the game started, America invaded Canada, which promptly formalised an alliance with Spain to supply mercenaries who successfully repelled the marauders from the south.

Those joining the game choose a country, and through the publishing of social media, communicating with other players, working for gold or hiring others, they build a power-base in their chosen nation and can then declare war on other countries. Provided they can prove their worth to lead the country be that through fair means, or foul.

Erepublik brings together many tools people love to use. By aggregating content in the same way as the real world, it gives a depth to the gaming world that Mr Bonte and his team hope will lead to more players joining the game.

Site seeing

Another company that can help bestow that visibility is San Francisco based Techmeme. Founder Gabe Rivera was one of many American delegates who flew in for the conference.

"It's nice to get out of the San Francisco bubble," he said. "This is my way of meeting the European side of the web."

What's next for Rivera? He gave nothing away but did admit that the next news vertical he'll curate will "probably be a site with an international flavour".

Screenshot of Twitter home page, Twitter
Posting anonymously to Twitter could unleash big changes

Visibility is all well and good but often what people are saying needs to be managed - not least because that public output, such as comments made on blogs and in discussions groups, can easily found on the web.

This transparency is often seen as one of the strengths of the internet and Web 2.0, but can sometimes hold back the free exchange of ideas (especially if you know your parents, employers or significant others read your comments or blog).

Gabe MacIntyre is looking to address that with his anonymous Twitter project. By allowing people to post messages to Twitter without being identified as the author, he hopes to answer the question of what it means to Twitter, and to hopefully see how these social tools are used when the results are not tied to a digital identity.

"When people can post anonymously, interesting things start to happen," said Mr MacIntyre.

"This isn't for myself, it's an outlet for anyone to let off steam. Twitter is more interesting than blogs, it boils everything down to short, concise, ideas," he said. "This project is for the love of people."

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