The Next Web Conference happened today in Amsterdam. It was a one day event hosted by Scott Rafer of MyBlogLog fame and was a mix of presentations from startups and keynotes from various people in the industry. Marc Canter from Broadband Mechanics and Jeff Clavier a VC from the valley assumed the role of "Grumpy Old Men" to the left of the stage, to shoot down any of the speakers that might start talking nonsense.

The VCs

First up to the podium was Saul Klein from Index Ventures. Saul was also an angel investor in Last.fm, which was acquired this week. He opened with a talk on "why europe needs to seed the growth of it new startups". He showed us pictures from the humble beginnings of Microsoft, Google, Amazon etc. Young fresh faced guys standing in their basements and garages with little else than a computer and an idea. It was an attempt to draw a comparison to the many startup people here today at the show, and that all the good ideas on the web started from humble beginnings. Saul clearly stated that in Europe we have the talent pool, we have the infrastructure, we have the investment companies, we have success stories like bebo, netvibes, betfair, and joost and we have the big exits such as Skype, Last.fm and LastMinute. One thing he thinks we possibly lack is the ambition. Silicon Valley is an ecosystem that is primed for success. They are the world leader at commercializing "what's next" on the web. And they have that tight relationship between their universities, VCs and startups.

Next we heard from Jeff Clavier, who is a managing partner at SoftTech VC. Jeff talked for a while about the differences between investing in 2004 at the very early stages of the web 2 idea, compared to now. With rising costs, a somewhat flooded market in certain areas, and the difficulty in finding good staff for startups, it is becoming harder to invest these days. But there are still lots of opportunities, such as in online advertising, and a lot more new ideas to come. He singles out FaceBook as being the most exciting company since Google in his opinion. For the future of the web, he feels that its all going to be about deportalization and building new platforms; the blurring of online, offline and virtual worlds. He feels that personalization of services will reach a point of "total freakiness"(!), where automation is pushed to a new level and services are delivered to you as if they were built for just you.

Both Jeff and Saul repeated what is regularly said when VPs talk at these kind of events in Europe: Startups here need to think big, take risks and not be afraid of failure.

Silverlight and Apollo meet Marc Canter

Microsoft were on hand to give us a demonstration of the media capabilities of Silverlight. They showed a HD movie being sliced up, rearranged and played through Silverlight. Adobe got up next and showed a media player built on the Apollo platform. Marc Canter said after that he believed Silverlight could be the one to take on Adobe Flash and beat them. He charged Adobe with locking in users content throughout their range of products, from Flash to Acrobat. And if Microsoft open up Silverlight and let users grab applications and paste them into their own content then Silverlight will become a clear leader over flash. [Ed: for those of you not familiar with Marc's background, he co-founded Macromedia in the 80's, but then subsequently fell out with them.]

Deborah Schultz from SixApart [Ed: correction: Deborah is no longer with 6A] was on just before lunch, focusing on our social relationships with the people around us, and that how they work are living examples of how these relationships should be conducted online.

Tariq Krim

After lunch Tariq from Netvibes came along to talk about what his vision of the future is. Of course its a widgetized future! Tariq said that our digital life is growing at an astronomical rate. Every day we have a growing list of many different websites that we go to, to get different data such as news and email. Sites like Netvibes are helping to aggregate that data in one location and therefore streamlining the process. He said that in future the web will eliminate the need for us to own applications. This of course is already happening with the likes of Gmail, Google Docs, Flickr and YouTube. All we need to think about is our data and who we choose to use to create, store and digest it.

Surprise guest by video link

Kevin Rose from Digg jumped onto the conference screen as the surprise guest for the event. He said that Digg are currently working on a big project and in the next 6 to 12 months there will be some changes on the site. They hope to provide a system whereby people can Digg just about anything, from restaurants, products, images and not just news and videos. With so many stories being submitted to Digg at the moment, they feel that it is getting harder for their users to find interesting articles that don't make it to the front page. They hope to look at what kind of stories you have previously dugg and suggest similar stories to you that they think you will like. This is in contrast to the current system of showing you stories that everyone likes. He was then unceremoniously dropped from our screen at this point, never to return!

Rod Beckstrom

Rod Beckstrom, co-author of the Spider and The Starfish, talked at length about the power of decentralized networks over centralized networks and drew comparisons between the Spanish and the Apache Indian, Napster and Kazaa, and of course the spider and the starfish. The analogy is an important one. Cut off a spider's head and he dies. Cut off a starfish's leg and he re-grows. He says decentralized business and networks will always win out. This is fascinating stuff. You need to read his book to get the full effect.

Startups Present

Here is a list of the companies that showcased their products in booths on the conference floor. Some of them also gave us demonstrations of their products on stage during the conference.

PutPlace - Find, Organise, Secure and Share your Digital Life
Widsets - Mobilize your web
Quintura - See & Find
CVwarehouse - Where candidates meet companies
Respectance - share your memories
Tractis - We mean real business
bliin - YourLIVE!
Wixi - All your media in one place?ñ Share it anywhere!
Zooof - The Family Network
Mailemotion - ideo mail communication web2.0
Wakoopa - Use it, track it, share it
Fleck - Web Democracy
Tipit.to - Like It? Tip It!
Heeii - Smart Surfing
Zyb - Bring mobile data to life!
Swoot - Giving internet a new face!
MobiLuck - People and places close to you
Twones - What you play is what you are
Mobiya - Next Generation Classifieds advertising

The Next Web conference has been an interesting show. There was a good mix of attendees from various corners of the web and a varied selection of speakers. There is a party later tonight for attendees so no doubt the drinks will flow and the networking will begin.

Pics by Marjolyn