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Web Summit Brightens up Dublin

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The seventh Dublin Web Summit kicked off this morning with some of the biggest names in the online world in attendance, including the founders of YouTube, LinkedIn, Skype, 4Chan and Angry Birds.

Entrepreneurs, investors, and techies gathered in "the Hub" before the talks began, where they could "tweet for a treat" at the free Tweet Cafe, and browse the stands of new startups.

The optimistic mood may appear at odds with the gloomy economic environment in Ireland, but it may in fact reflect a broader trend. Barely a year after the country was forced to take a bailout with deep austerity measures attached, it is beginning to turn around. The Irish economy expanded 1.6% in the second quarter of 2011, after growing 1.9% in the first, and Irish 10-year bond yields have plunged.

The IT sector is one of the greenest shoots in this nascent revival. Given that the sector is responsible for a quarter of Ireland's total turnover and represents a third of the country's exports by value, its rude health is providing a huge boost to the economy and attracting the attention of international investors. Al Jazeera even ran a story about it on its English language TV channel this week.

The dynamism of the sector was clearly in evidence among the dozens of local startups showing off their services at the Summit this morning. Crowdscanner is developing mobile applications that enable event organizers to maximize the social potential of their event.

I answered a few questions on their iPhone app, which then informed me that I was a "pragmatist," and one of the crew handed me a card which suggested I look for a "hero." It struck me as a fun way to break the ice. Soon after setting off to look for my hero I came across Zinc Software, which makes biofeedback apps for smartphones. An innovative bionsensor earpiece lets your phone display biofeedback, such as your heartbeat, to help you relax. Other startups offered products and services that were less flashy, but probably more useful. For example, Supply.ie. helps Irish companies save time and money by putting companies in touch with a variety of local suppliers with competitive quotes, and Rentview is a cloud based rent and property management platform for the property letting industry.

The speakers' programme is equally impressive. Organized into three streams - startups, social media, and cloud computing - this morning's talks included a snapshot of trends in mobile computing from Ciarán Norris of Mindshare, and some thoughts by Carla Busazi of Huffington Post UK about, of course, blogging. Panel sessions tomorrow will address topics such as the future of news, women in tech, and "non-profits in a digital world."

The Summit is the brainchild of a Paddy Cosgrave, a dynamic yet disarmingly modest young man who grew up on a farm in County Wicklow and sold his first business at the tender age of 26. The Irish are wary of cultural stereotypes, but their reputation for easy sociability is reinforced by Cosgrave's remarkable ability to attract so many movers and shakers to speak at his events. Rainy Dublin may seem a long way from Silicon Valley both geographically and meteorologically, but culturally it seems right next door.

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