We interrupt our usual coverage to make mention of a ‘way point’ in the European tech scene which might not mean a hell of a lot to you, but if you’d gone to a Web conference in 2006 that changed the way you thought, then it might mean a hell of a lot.
Around 2005/6 I’d been freelancing around the topic of “Web 2.0” (sounds so old fashioned now huh?). Mike Arrington had thrown up TechCrunch as a simple blog to kick the tyres on startups in June 2005, but within a few months he had crystallised a new startup scene. Back in London I was tracking what was going on on my own blog as a a side project, before joining TC in 2007.
Some time in early 2006 I got wind of a conference ambitiously titled The Future of Web Apps, or FOWA as we all called it. Wow, I thought. Almost no-one had seized the day quite like this idea. I went along. What happened next was quietly revolutionary. Instead of a high-priced conference CIOs and corporate IT suits, this was a low priced one FULL of geeks. Kensington Town Hall in London had never seen anything like it. The primitive Wifi crumpled under the weight of 800 geeks live blogging presentations from the likes of Kevin Rose and others.
Instantly, the creator of the conference, Ryan Carson, became a superstar for the emerging tech world and a champion of developers and designers. Ryan’s ability to attract startup stars form the West coast was, for a time, unrivalled.
We didn’t know it at the time, but he was giving voice to the people who would go on to be the new wave of startup founders and developers that hit Britain first, but later, because London was just a cheap flight from the rest of Europe, other European centres as well.
For the next few years FOWA just got bigger and bigger. I remember walking into Mike Arrington’s house in Atherton in the Valley one year to find him bawling down the phone at Ryan denying he was trying to lure away Ryan’s first conference producer, Mel Kirk, to his new startup event, TechCrunch 40. That was influence quite something for a guy based in the tiny city of Bath in the UK to pull off.
Eventually FOWA moved to the Excel centre in London, hosting a live DiggNation broadcast which descended (or ascended) into a sort of rock concert. With fireside chats with Mike Arrington, Om Malik and many other stars of the scene, FOWA became a big draw. Of course Paul Carr may or may not remember to much from one FOWA day as he was drinking then, famously throwing an uproarious party with many startup founders on a London Bus hired for the MySpace trade stand. Good times.
FOWA didn’t go away, but soon there were plenty of other events to compete with, and places where startups could pitch. But FOWA, which Ryan has since sold to another events company, carried on.
Now Ryan is heading to Portland, Oregon, working on his own startup, Treehouse, and on his whole work life balance, for which he is almost as legendary as Tim Ferris. Luckily this is not anything to do with the UK tech scene – which is booming – but down to the logistics of having a team in the US.
But it’s worth saying at this point that Mr Carson made a very big difference to the tech scene in Europe. He was not the only one. Loic Le Meur’s Le Web originally began as Les Blog before pivoting towards startups. But Ryan championed developers, engineers and designers.
The question now is who will take his place. Many others it would seem. Now, Railsberry in Poland and DConstruct in Brighton seem to be at least two of the better ‘geek’ gathering places. See here for other suggestions.
But we owe a debt of thanks to Ryan, even though I dares say he will be back at least virtually. Remote working was always his strong point.