In the interest of transparency, this was not simply the first Web Summit that GOOS3D attended. It was the first major tech event we visited at all and boy oh boy did we luck out here, in attending what was an amazing, insightful and eye opening couple of days. There was already one draft of this article prepared after our first day. Not sure what we had witnessed, or what to make of it all, a panicked article was put together but ditched at the last minute, because something wasn’t right. That something became glaringly apparent today. Everything is connected. I’m not talking about the “Internet of Things” here either. Instead, events such as the Web Summit take time to achieve this, but they highlight the trends in technology while also shining lights upon the unmistakable path that technology is on. That path is clearly one which is seeking to democratise the tech world in every single aspect. If you don’t consider yourself a techy person, please do keep reading, as this is relevant to everybody.
The tech industry has largely been dominated by those with the largest bank account for many years. Even with the immeasurable growth of a free resource such as the internet, it was the big bucks which decided success. For a moment, imagine a rather large ship trying to turn… It’s slow isn’t it? Eventually though that slow turn, becomes a swing, and everything suddenly moves in a different direction. We are currently at the apex of a swing, and boy is the direction of things about to change.
Just what caused this change is very hard to pinpoint. It may have been crowd funding. Not so long ago (see Something Ventured on Netflix) the only thing that could move an idea forward towards success could be a large investment from someone with a lot of money. Nowadays, however, sites such as Kickstarter and Indiegogo allow anybody with an idea seek out the masses to back their idea. Danae Ringelmann, Founder and CEO of Indiegogo, has witnessed the funding process complete a full circle. Initially, venture capital was the only way to get a startup company off the ground. With crowd funding, venture capitalists could be ignored. The unexpected side effect came about when crowdfunding became more of a starter fund while also validating the product as being in demand with a substantial market.
Certainly, crowd funding has gone a long way towards democratising the tech industry, but has it been alone? Certainly not. 3D printing has made prototyping easier than ever. We must pause for a moment and be honest here. Everyone’s grandmother can’t walk down to the local tech store, pick up a 3D printer and suddenly be able to print out all the items that have been missing from her life. Instead, the likes of Makerbot, Formlabs and Mcor Technologies are providing the means for a new era of garage startups to build “rapid prototypes” of their ideas. As Liam Casey of PCH highlighted in his talk on Thursday of Web Summit, if you are coming to pitch a startup to anyone, don’t simply bring an idea or a powerpoint, bring something physical – something that works. 3D printing certainly goes a long way towards making this a much more accessible goal for startup companies.
Now I can already here you. It is hardly complete democratisation of technology if it is still limited to the few. This is where both crowdfunding and 3D printing fail. While they make progression easier for those who are already somewhat skilled, they do little or nothing to help those who have no skills whatsoever. In the technology world, there are two main approaches which need to be addressed in order to make technology more accessible to the average Joe – these are from a software and a hardware perspective.
The easiest way to achieve this is by “getting them young”, as code.org has set out to do. Hadi Pardovi of Code.org, informed the Centre Stage attendees of Web Summit on Thursday that over 1.5 million have undergone their “hour of code” and during the 5 or so minutes he had been speaking, over 300 kids had started their first hour. Also important to note is that the hour Code.org is asking teachers around the world to commit to, does require other subjects to suffer, as coding compliments many subjects such as mathematics. Also present at Web Summit this year was a fantastic showing from the Coder Dojo. Coder Dojo seeks to educated those between 7 and 17 in the ways of the code! Again, get em young is the philosophy here and rightly so, as there is little or no reason why coding should be viewed as being any less important that the wide variety of languages that are currently on the curriculum.
This is the section I have been looking forward to writing, even though I know it’s unlikely I will be able to do the product justice. Little Bits is perhaps the most excited GOOS3D has been about a product in quite some time and for good reason. Ayah Bdeir, Founder and CEO of Little Bits delivered the first talk in which GOOS3D witnessed the crowds laugh and gasp in a strange silent awe at the power of a new tech product. Little Bits utilises modular technology, so let’s stop and discuss what that is.
Modular technology means you learn all the small parts of something first. For example, you would first stop to understand that any electrical components would require power, hence your first module would be a battery. From there on, you build block by block like a sort of digital Lego building set. Everything is colour coded to make everything a straight forward and there is no danger that putting something in the wrong place will end up in loss of body parts. First of all, Little Bits does feed into the “get em young” philosophy and there will be children’s kits available, but the company goes further, which is where Bdeir’s genius shone through.
Imagine you have a problem. Going on holidays but there’s no one to feed your fish. You wan’t your neighbour to accept your package while your at work, but you forgot to tell An Post. Who would you turn to for a solution? Large companies who invest millions into problem solving? Afraid not, as the majority of problems we face on a daily basis are local and precisely relevant to the individual. Now instead, imagine a world where the solution to that problem is through the use of technology and that the ability to solve the problem was in your own hands. This is exactly what Little Bits seeks to achieve; the democratisation of tech. By simplifying the tech, the everyday Joe can now learn the functionality of several modules and combine those to create a “product”. The examples Bdeir gave on stage at the Wednesday’s Web Summit were a doorbell that texts the creator with notifications and a unit you can text to feed your fish. These are solutions which are created by the average Joe. The power of the unit became blatantly apparent to me the following day while visiting the PCH Stand.
While listening to a little about the business plan and learning that the kits would be available on Amazon within two weeks, a guy walked up, quickly informed himself what the kit was about and started messing about. Without exaggerating, the guy couldn’t have been there for five minutes and he had combined several modules to create a musical synth kit, before proceeding to play Axel F. If you don’t believe me, just look below!
If you are still with me, I hope you are beginning to share that passion and feeling of excitement that’s come over me. The final great hurdle that tech needs to overcome is the average Joe grasping the ability to understand and develop technology. Once this has been overcome, we will soon see the higher end tech push on further, with higher end tech being represented by the other big buzz word of the Summit – Drones.
Considering we’ve gone over one thousand words, here is the TL;DR. Tech is fast becoming more available to the masses. The masses, just to be clear, is literally everyone. We are attacking both hardware and software inabilities hard, which will eventually lead to tech on a wider scale becoming much more accessible to everyone.
Were you at the Dublin Web Summit 2014? What did you think? Even if you weren’t there, maybe you have witnessed some of the items covered here? As always, get yourself over to @goos3dblog and get the conversation going. Don’t forget to include #websummit
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