Monday 24 October 2016

Michael O'Doherty: We can't even sort the Wi-Fi, so it's no wonder that Web Summit may move

Paddy Cosgrave

It was, perhaps, the most Irish of Irish jokes.

Last year some of the biggest players in the world's technology community came to Dublin for the annual Web Summit. Guess what? The Wi-Fi broke down at the venue.

The event, founded by three Irish men, has rapidly become Europe's largest technology festival, contributing millions to the Dublin economy as up to 15,000 foreign visitors descend on the capital.

Not only that, co-founders Paddy Cosgrave (right), Daire Hickey and David Kelly have capitalised on the success of their idea to hold conferences in Las Vegas, Hong Kong and Belfast this year, with further expansion planned in 2016.

But accompanying this Irish success story, as inevitably seems to happen, is negative publicity in the shape of rumours that the Summit may not be held in Dublin next year, and negotiations have been taking place to move the event to Portugal in 2016.


The infrastructural cock-up which dogged last year's event is not the only thing that will have prompted the organisers to consider moving abroad.

If the Web Summit does decide to relocate, many of the people who lose out will only have themselves to blame.

With all those delegates coming in from abroad requiring accommodation, the Dublin hotel industry was no doubt licking their lips at doing what they do best - fleecing visitors by hiking up their prices by as much as 500pc.

Elsewhere, there is the sheer Irishness of thinking that just because the event was founded by Irish people, they are obliged to hold it here each year.

This same small-mindedness rears it head when the likes of U2 or Ryanair consider basing their operations anywhere other than Ireland.

The revelation of negotiations with the Portuguese suggests what this move is really all about, of course.

It's not about Wi-Fi, it's not about taxi fares or hotel bills. It's about money.

Because when you read that the organisers are "understood to believe that State resourcing for the Web Summit falls short in funding compared to other conferencing events held in Ireland and abroad", it does rather suggest one thing.

Why, rather than spending money to hold the event here, are the Web Summit organisers not being paid by the Irish Government to do so?

This would be much like the F1 Grand Prix circuit, where countries get to hold races based on how much they pay the organisers to let them do so.

The Web Summit boffins are entitled to ask: if the very companies that make the Web Summit happy - Google, Facebook and Twitter -receive enormous incentives from the Government to locate here, why don't we get a piece of the pie?

For all the lofty talk about the Web Summit, it is, ultimately, a purely commercial enterprise.

It's a long way from geeky programming in unheated Rathmines bedsits that its founders have come.

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