The (un)conference was a two-day event, with a number of showcases, discussion panels, a pitching session and with only about 50 attendees, the whole conference was actually a great place to make new contacts and possibly even friends.
The first showcase on Thursday was presented by Evgeny Morozov of Transitions Online, who discussed the differences between East and West, which also happened to be the main focus of the whole conference.
Mozorov used a handful of great items to show how distorted the European / Western reality sometimes can get - for example:
The above image shows search engine results for pokemon, a toy / game franchise versus Václav Havel, last President of Czechoslovakia and first President of the Czech Republic.
Pokemon wins by amount of results, whereas the contributions of Havel seem to be a lot less important and since many of the results were from Wikipedia, one could easily assume that Wikipedians love trivia a lot more than substantial facts.
Mozorov continues his talk by pointing out that Web 2.0 actually evolved around LOLCats and even though this statement was made on a lighter note, the success of the most famous LOLCats site, I CAN HAS CHEEZBURGER?, speaks for itself.
Other examples included the use of Google maps in the Western world (mapping chocolate stores) versus the use of maps in the fight against dictatorship and abuse of power in the Eastern world:
During the talk it also became evident that the future of the web will be based around mobile appliances / devices - for example, the OLPC already employs built-in social networking technology that shows any other devices in the vicinity, without having to connect to the Internet.
Nokia’s MOSH, too, is a step toward that kind of development, as is the evolution of phone usage in general: cellphones are used for Sex Ed in Indonesia and for payment services in rural areas as well as monitoring votes in hotzones.
Mozorov then asked a simple, yet powerful question: what is more important? a hundred pictures of a gas explosion in NYC on Flickr, or one blogger discussing the use of technology in Africa? and finally, the talk was concluded with a quote that makes you go hmm:
[...] technology is not a thing in the ordinary sense of the term, but an “ambivalent” process of development suspended between different possibilities. This “ambivalence” of technology is distinguished from neutrality by the role it attributes to social values in the design, and not merely the use, of technical systems. On this view, technology is not a destiny but a scene of struggle. It is a social battlefield, or perhaps a better metaphor would be a parliament of things on which civilizational alternatives are debated and decided
A very powerful talk indeed.
Next up was Vanessa Witkowski from CafeBabel.com. Cafebabel.com was created in 2001 by Erasmus students and back then was already based around an energetic community. The site is based around the principals of participatory journalism and many of the articles are available in up to seven languages.
Their ultimate objective is to help people create an European Public Opinion which basically comes down to giving people a way to voice their opinion(s) in a suitable environment as well as propelling local debates to a European level.
Witkowski states that Cafebabel.com is building bridges between various countries, trains of thoughts and even though they are “just” starting out, the site has performed nicely so far.
The best way to grasp the concept of Cafe Babel however is to just visit their site, no matter if you are a teenager, student or manager - their articles will captivate you either way.
Website skoeps.nl was the focus of the third talk, given by Michael Nederlof. The site describes itself as the world’s first national news site that consists entirely of eyewitness accounts and while I have to agree that the concept (seems to) work well enough - after all, there are more than 14 internation versions of Skoeps, I strongly disagree with Nederlof’s analysis of YouTube and Flickr.
Nederlof claims that Skoeps is totally focused on providing news, news, news whereas all other sites are based around fun, fun, fun.
Yes, YouTube has a strong fun-component, but contributions such as the clips from user asiansociety, guides on how to do CPR or the discussions with political candidates definitely count as serious content in my book. Really makes me wonder how Nederlof defines “news” when clips such as this one are considered news too…
That said, their business model is great: upload a clip and if it gets sold, you get 50% of the total payment. Very nice, mostly unheard of (compare: Google AdSense publishers receive between 20% and 30% of the revenue).
Nederlof concluded the morning sessions with additional information on the future of Skoeps and a look behind the screens - Skoeps, a Web 2.0 site, is powered by the very-much-web-1.0 software PostNuke.
During the short break, I came acrossDorien Aerts from Hasselt Lokaal, a Belgian micro-journalism community. Very interesting project and definitely something more cities should have.
Doctorow talked about blogging in general and offered some great suggestions such as: write about the things you are passionated about instead of the things that others are looking for
He also elaborated on the way BoingBoing goes about their business: hardly no meetings at all keep the editorial overhead (very) low and enable the writers to focus on the important things: writing and discussing great ideas.
When asked how BoingBoing became as famous as they are now, Doctorow simply answered that it is the good taste of our bloggers combined with good writing skills - ain’t that the truth?
Anne Helmond of PICNIC’07 photo booth fame has a lot more on the Cory Doctorow session.
The remaining part of the afternoon was used for discussing the various tracks, such as Securiy Issues while blogging, How blogging affets societ and politics, and viceversa as well as Building Successful Web 2.0 application.
With three very interesting topics, it was hard to choose between the various groups, but in the end, I went for the Web 2.0 discsussion. Interestingly enough, so did most of the Eastern bloggers and contrary to popular belief, they spoke more-than-fluent English - which was great. One generally expects a thick accent - well, “expect again” I’d say.
Our talks ranged from copycats to mobile payment solutions, but I will blog more about that later.
In the late afternoon, after the EJC teams conducted a couple of interviews, we were treated to a boat trip across and around Amsterdam which was not only a nice gesture, but also a great place to network with others and in the end, networking is an integral part of any conference.
The evening programme consisted of an ad-hoc buffet / dinner at an Indonesian place where many of the conversations from earlier on were continued and even a couple of new ones were sparked.