Web Summit 2016: Part two

> 53,000 people, 21 different conferences and 663 talks – you didn’t think we were just going to write one blog post on it, did you?

Following on from Katy’s first post about the themes covered at the Web Summit 2016, I wanted to share some of my key takeouts.

Working as Lead Consultant at Code with major international non-profits like Amnesty International and Oxfam, I focused some of my time at the conference on the Future Societies track, where the blurb was “bringing together tech companies, industry influencers, leading thinkers, politicians and academics to discuss how our cities, our working lives and our culture are being transformed.”

Virtual reality: Facebook’s future strategy

Facebook talked about their future strategy, which unsurprisingly, after purchasing Oculus Rift, is all about virtual reality (VR) experiences and how that can enhance the overall Facebook experience.

VR is set to go much more mainstream next year. But for that to really happen, one of the key challenges is around the volume of content that is available. The industry’s view is that the more VR content that’s available, the more it will encourage people to purchase the devices.

The big message to brands here was to invest in virtual reality or get left behind.

Helping build emotional connections

One of the big opportunities with VR is that it can help build emotional connections much more quickly between the user and a brand. If you can touch or feel something, you’re much more likely to emotionally invest in it.

Here are some nice examples of how VR have been used:

The UNICEF 360° campaign allows users to explore a Syrian refugee camp via a VR headset, to help people relate to their situation and get a glimpse of life in their shoes.

We Wait VR
The BBC recently ran a VR experiment that aimed to connect users to the reality of life as a refugee, by replicating a boat journey crossing the Mediterranean.

Creating experiences to accommodate a number of users

Another interesting point raised by Facebook, was how they needed to create experiences to accommodate different user groups. At one end of the scale they’re trying to develop the level of experience, based on the latest advancements in Western technology. But for Facebook a lot of their growth is in developing countries like Africa, where they are using much older devices. So, the challenge they face is working out how they can deliver an amazing experience, that’s backwards compatible on old Nokia devices and lower bandwidth?

This is something we’re exploring with some of our global clients like Amnesty International, where growth will come from the global south, an area where bandwidth and older devices are much more prominent. The challenge we’re grappling with, is how can we deliver a cutting-edge experience for those that have the capability, but a the same time, deliver the basics really well for emerging markets.

Online privacy: How to reach your audience

I also listened to a lot of talks about online privacy, something I think is going to be a big theme for next year. We’ve already seen changes to email privacy laws, leading on from the review into fundraising self-regulation led by Stuart Etherington. With some direct impacts on the way we can communicate with supporters, there’s now a real focus on ‘double opt-in’, preference centers and more recently a rise in ad blockers.

Users are looking to lock down their privacy more. So, how can brands continue to reach their audiences? Native advertising within platforms like Facebook and Twitter is an obvious route. But also, sponsored or co-authored content as seen on Guardian Labs or Vice, could be something that grows a lot over the next year. Our client Amnesty International recently worked with AdBlock on an exciting campaign, to promote the important issue of cyber censorship. They ran information on their work with free speech advocates like Edward Snowden, Ai Wei Wei and Pussy Riot to users of ad blockers, which saw real engagement in hard to reach markets like Russia and China. With the clever use of media and a full understanding of the motivations of users, these technologies can help organisations reach out beyond the blockers.

Does digital media have a responsibility to provide balanced and truthful information?

We were at the conference on the day after the American presidential election, so as you can imagine, the reverberations of Trump’s victory were expressed in the digital community.

I listened in to a couple of talks that were looking at the responsibility of digital media in providing balanced and truthful information. The public seem surprised by Brexit and Trump’s success and a lot of this is attributed to the fact that we largely exist in an echo chamber of social media. Our own confirmation bias means we naturally surround ourselves by likeminded people and therefore only tend to hear one side of the story.

There was some discussion around whether there is a social responsibility role for the likes of Google and Facebook to show more balance when it comes to the content we consume. For example, when we search for a topic, should the results show us 50:50 views in the results so we are better educated, or is that media going too far? There have already been some interventions around things like searches for ISIS, where a balanced view of the organisation is deliberately shown to try and stop extremism.

A discussion with much complexity, I think this is a debate that will only get louder in 2017.