Page last updated at 10:40 GMT, Friday, 11 December 2009

Looking to the future of Le Web

Twitter on mobiles, AP
For many Twitter is the poster child of the real-time web.

By Ewan Spence
Technology journalist, Paris

The venue may be a former morgue, but Le Web, one of the largest conferences looking at net-based businesses and technologies, proves the web is very much alive and kicking.

Hosted by Geraldine and Loic Le Meur, the 2,300 attendees spent two days in Paris looking at how the internet has developed and what technologies are likely to shape its evolution.

The Le Meurs spotted the rise of the "real-time web" when planning this year's conference - with so much information being created every minute on-line, the ability to know what is happening with your friends, business that you follow, current affairs and cultural events is becoming ever more pervasive and expected.

With the timing of Google's recent announcement that it will index Twitter and Facebook in its search results, the reputation of Le Web as an early-warning radar for online technologies is growing.

As well as the "now" of real time, Mr Le Meur took to the stage, saying his vision of a future is going to have a focus on two areas: being able to use your geographic location, and connected devices that interact with the real world and the internet.

He demonstrated the latter point, with typical Gallic bravery, by stepping on a pair of scales that "Tweets your weight" to your followers on Twitter.

Hose job

For many people at Le Web, Twitter represents the real-time web. With 50,000 third-party applications already using data from Twitter, the firm's platform director Ryan Sarver announced that any developer will soon be able to read the "fire-hose", the feed of every single message posted from close to 20 million active users.

Naturally, it will be provided in real time.

What will they do with it? Twitter didn't know what developers were going to do when they started opening up Twitter, and Mr Sarver knows the same is true of the fire-hose.

Le Web is like a microcosm of the internet as a whole
Chris Pirillo

"We don't mind that people use our search and data, third party sites are part of our success," he said.

Le Web is not just established companies, but a showcase of new start-ups and endeavours as well.

Twitter creator Jack Dorsey presented his new company, Square. Taking a mix of web technology to solve practical problems in the real world, Square is a small credit-card reader (initially for the iPhone and iPod Touch) that allows anyone to take a credit card payment with their smartphone.

Dorsey is typical of the entrepreneurial spirit on display, of doing a project even though many people are questioning the rationale.

"The hardest part of any idea is getting started," he said.

Once you launch a product, especially one with a financial angle, you can be sure that many people will have strong opinions and a huge number of questions. That's before you have the Tomorrow's World effect of your demo failing on stage. Sometimes it doesn't quite work, but you just pick yourself up and start again.


Another small company in the Le Web community is Tell Me Where. Already a success in France, it is ready to take its Urban Guide mix of social network and city guide to the rest of the world. The application not only knows where you are in the world, but couples this with a personal search engine looking at what places nearby your friends think are cool.

Sketch Nation art, Engineous
Sketch Nation lets players draw their own units and game elements.

Tell Me Where also allows venues to promote themselves through digital vouchers that are offered to users as they pass by. This mix of online information being passed between the real and the virtual world is something that many people are looking to.

Designing a game yourself was Engineous Games' goal. Winners of the AppsFire developers contest, its Sketch Nation app starts life as a basic arcade game, but every feature and graphic in the game is created by the users - but not using a graphical application.

Players sketch out ship, enemy invaders and other objects on paper, and then the smartphone's camera takes these pictures and places them into the game. Not only is it a great game, but it also releases the creativity of the user in a simple way.

Le Web is full of passion, and nowhere is that passion evident than in Chris Pirillo. Based in Seattle, Washington, he can see the differences between European and US perspectives.

"But we all share interests," he said. "Technology is increasingly pervasive, and getting easier, more affordable and will continue to get better.

"Everyone here in Paris is doing the best that they can do... that's what we as a community do. And Le Web is like a microcosm of the internet as a whole."

Le Web attracts a formidable cast of characters and companies from around the world, and many of the tools on show aren't going to reach the mainstream for some time.

Some will reach the market in a matter of weeks, others will be radically different to what the delegates saw this week. But the health and vitality of these ideas and the influencers and dreamers, infused with their can-do spirit and fearless optimism, will continue to drive our online world for the benefit of all.

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