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Following success of Collision From Home, Web Summit to go online(ish)

Web Summit, an annual European tech event described alternately described as “Glastonbury for Geeks” and “the Olympics of Tech,” announced plans on Monday morning, June 22, to proceed as both an online and offline event.

The show is traditionally held in Lisbon, but with the coronavirus pandemic shutting down conferences around the globe, even the event’s December 2 date may not be soon enough to return to normal. Adding a virtual component to the show may allow its hosts to have the best of both worlds. After all, the event company’s Collision From Home online show, which kicked off on Tuesday, is a remarkable feat of engineering.

It took Web Summit’s engineers just 12 weeks from conception to execution, explained Paddy Cosgrave, founder and CEO of Web Summit, thanks to a decade of work in the space.

“Ten years ago when we started out, we had a small idea that a little bit of software applied to conferences could go a long way … It seems over time it has worked,” he said during a press event at the Collision show. More than 50 engineers, product managers and designers, and data scientists have built the “missing features” in creating a compelling online experience mostly over the last eight weeks, he said.

The online event will resemble Collision with its “very heavy emphasis on video and networking,” Cosgrave said. Networking is at the core of Web Summit events, he explained. “We asked ourselves, how could you replicate some of the magic that happens offline in an online environment?” To that end, a new feature is rolling out to Collision today, a networking feature called Mingle. “It’s a really neat way to interact with people and I’d encourage all of you to use it,” Cosgrave said.

While the virtual show will likely resemble Collision, the physical event is still hazy. It will likely be spread out across a variety of locations in Portugal beyond merely Lisbon, Cosgrave said, to highlight the disparate beauty of the country. And for the first time, there will be a dedicated Portugal stage to interview people and companies from the country, but details about the physical event including the number of attendees have yet to be worked out. That fact will be dictated by health situations and determined at the start of October.

Web Summit has grown from 100 people in its first iteration to just over 70,000 attendees last year, Cosgrave said.

Cosgrave noted on Twitter and repeated at the press conference that he hoped his company’s software may prove useful for other large events, citing political agencies and non-governmental agencies as well. There are about 100 partners and sponsors Web Summit is already in talks with, Cosgrave said.

“If we could build this in eight weeks, we think by the time we get to Web Summit in December the experience that people will have will be something else.”

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