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Paris hosts Europe's largest digital convention, with this year's edition focused on the "social" and "mobile" Internet


Focused on LeWeb (via Flickr)

By Nicolas Rauline

PARIS - Silicon Valley is making its annual trek to Paris. For the seventh consecutive year, Géraldine Le Meur and her husband Loic Le Meur, a French-born San Francisco-based blogger and founder of Seesmic, are hosting ‘Le Web 2010," a Paris tech conference on Dec. 8th and 9th. This year's theme: platforms.

As always, top bosses -- like Renault's Carlos Ghosn, Stéphane Richard of France Télécom, and Foursquare's Dennis Crowley – will mingle with venture capitalists, angel investors and entrepreneurs from around the world to discuss and exchange ideas on the hottest tech trends. Here's a preview of what will be on everyone's lips and laptops at this year's Le Web, as France (ever so briefly) becomes the center of the digital world.

A More Mobile Internet…

A quarter of French Internet users now access the Web from their mobile devices, according to figures from the first half of 2010, compiled by Ipsos market researchers. In the first half of 2009, by comparison, just 14% of French web surfers did so from their phones. According to Cisco, mobile data traffic surpassed voice traffic for the first time in 2010, and is expected to double every year, until 2014. Research from Gartner shows that the mobile phone will become the primary means of Internet access by the year 2013. This projected increase in traffic, however, has raised concerns about the reliability of mobile networks.

… A More Cluttered Internet

The explosion of online video, in particular, threatens to saturate mobile networks. Cisco projects that by the year 2014, 66% of all data sent across mobile networks will consist of videos. Providers have already sounded the alarm, and are calling for new and more efficient ways to manage their networks. American operators have already promised to put an end to unlimited data plans. In France, the debate among regulators, telecom operators and Internet service providers rages on, but a consensus seems to be emerging.

…A Faster Internet

This year saw the advent of real-time Internet, led by Twitter. The microblogging site now has more than 175 million members, and could finish with more than 200 million by the end of 2010. (In January, it had just 75 million users.) And the mass of data sent across the network (including some 30 billion tweets since the company launched in 2006) is of particular interest to search engines, many of whom have signed agreements with Twitter, to integrate tweets into their search results. This also happens to be a major new source of income for Twitter.

…A More Social Internet

Alongside Twitter, the other big winner of 2010 is, of course, Facebook. This year, the social network's business model paid major dividends. According to ComScore, the site is expected to generate over a billion dollars in revenue, and it has already surpassed Google in the US, measured in both page views and average time spent on its platform.

…a More Closed Internet

It may seem paradoxical, but one of the biggest questions at this year's Le Web conference will revolve around the potential "death" of the Internet.The debate first took off thanks to an article from ‘Wired," and has recently regained steam, with an article in ‘Scientific American," written by Tim Berners-Lee—the man credited with inventing the Internet. In the piece, Berners-Lee vehemently defends the idea of an open and free Internet, which, in his opinion, is currently under threat from closed systems, including social networks and the cottage industry of apps development.

What About France?

Despite its rich business environment, few French companies have been able to compete with the American giants of the tech world. One entrepreneur blames the discrepancy on France's "administrative obstacle course," and a political regime that taxes start-ups before they even begin to generate revenue.

Venture capitalists, however, have managed to find channels of investment, and are now structured in different firms, including Isai, Kima Ventures, and Jaina Capital. Yet the funds they raise are still modest, compared with those raised overseas, and tend to focus on emerging projects. Some start-ups are even passed on to international companies: PriceMinister, an online auction site, which was bought by the Japanese firm Rakuten; and real estate listings giant Seloger, targeted for a takeover by Germany's Axel Springer. In a different way, Le Web itself reminds France that the Internet knows no borders.

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