If there is one thing from the past year that keeps coming back, it is most probably PICNIC’07, the place where I met Marc, who then became my boss and mentor.
Apart from Marc, I also met a number of other, interesting people there, such as Luca Conti, Paul Bradshaw, the team from EJC and, last, but certainly not least: Dorien Aerts, who spearheaded the use of citizen journalism in a beautiful town called Hasselt.
Since first meeting her, it has been a joy to follow her journey and various projects and that is, how I discovered the mobile Webcamp, a barcamp’ish event that is to be held on Saturady, 26th of April at Kaai 16, which sounds very much like a Belgian version of my favorite hideout, Pakhuis de Zwijger.
A week or so ago, while reading through the(un)conference website, I toyed with the idea of, just for kicks, doing a presentation there, after all, that is one sure-fire way to get your name out there, the only problem was that I had no clue if I should actually be giving a presentation, considering that I am not (yet, anyway) an authority in any field.
However, as these things always tend to go, there is a point when you just gotta realize that sometimes, jumping into the cold water tends to be very rewarding (an attitude that was, in part, fed by my experiences at XOLO) and I signed up to present on the topic of social networking with mobile phones.
With PICNIC’07, Luca invited me, rather ad-hoc, to join him on-stage to talk about the divide between East and West and while I relished the opportunity, I actually considered my performance sub-par, mostly due to the fact that I was not able to prepare myself adequately.
With a week to go, I have a few good thoughts on what I am going to talk about and also started working on the technical side of things, such as arranging travel and a place to crash, but all in all, I am very much looking forward to sharing my views with a moderately sized audience, about 120 people, on social networking.
Someone just asked me what the best thing about the whole (un)conference was and while this is a tough choice to make, I would most probably have to say: equality.
No matter if you were a student, like Anne, Rina or me, a Web 2.0 business owner from Uzbekistan, like Serhiy, an A-List Blogger like Luca or a journalist like Dorien, Paul or Nick - you were as important as the next person.
Background ceased to matter during any and all conversations and people just took you for what you were, no one showed any arrogance at all and in that kind of setting, conversations can keep going for hours - like they did with us.
Dear EJC Team, thank you very much for a great two-day conference. You did a fabulous job with speaker selection and, incidentally, managed to attract a great audience and I will certainly be back next year!
On a related note: the EJC team is finally starting to upload some of the video clips their Austro-American Team shot at the conference - the first part is available here - while all the interviews they did are available here.
And for those that are interested, my interview, on censorship, embargoes and politics can be viewed right here.
The stage was cleared and everyone interested was offered a chance to pitch his / her project or evangelize a service they believed in:
Luca Conti started out with his presentation of Buzz Paradise, a service that is not unlike to Buzzer.nl. The site provides influencers and evangelists with access to (yet) unreleased technologies, media and the likes in return for coverage.
However, contrary to what other services do, members of Buzz Paradise are not getting paid (at least - not in a financial form) and are not forced to write in a positive way.
Serhiy Danylenko, co-founder of the Ukrainian news site h.ua, gave a short presentation on his project as well and was followed by Bektour Iskender, creator of news service KLOOP, more explanation on this service can be found on Wikipedia.
Paul Bradshaw of the Online Journalism Blog
gave some insight into what it takes to be a Journalism student. actually invited attendees to share their experiences with blogging and citizen journalism so that Paul, in turn, could share them with a Western audience.
After the Idea Bazaar was concluded, Gabriel González gave an introduction on the subject of the International Weblog Awards, powered by the Deutsche Welle.
The awards are available in a number of different categories, such as Best Weblog, Best Podcast, Reporters without Borders, the Blogwurst Award as well as national awards for a number of different languages, all the while Vanessa Witkowski kept (live) blogging for CafeBabel.com, that is what I call motivation.
After a short break, the three groups from Thursday met up again to conclude the various tracks and more or less prepare some kind of presentation.
Our group, led by Luca Conti, was so lost in the application that, in the end, we had no time to create any slides at all, but thanks to Kathlyn, we still managed, and managed well enough. I was invited to join Luca during the presentation, which is an opportunity that I just could not resist.
All too soon, the first annual European Bloggers (un)conference ended and we all went our separate ways, which just happened to be a restaurant at the Westergasfabriek that provided ample opportunity to discuss anything from Web 2.0 to Identity 2.0 to the upcoming xolo.tv service.
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.
Once again, Mediamatic and a huge number of partners are holding a “festival for geeks, marketeers, bloggers, web 2.0 aficionados and the likes” - yes, PICNIC’07 has officially started.
PICNIC’06 was great and everyone who went there loved every single minute of it so it only makes sense that many of last year’s visitors will be taking part again this year.
PICNIC’07 features great speakers, great opportunities for networking and, certainly, great experiences and while I would love to attend the whole week, including the most awesome Red Bull Soundclash, I still have to go to college every now and then, so I decided to only attend one, event:
The European Bloggers Conference - a session that will focus on topics such as how and when citizen journalism works and how one can build successful web 2.0 applications. Apart from interesting information, this unconference will definitely spark some interesting discussions and I am hoping to gain some new insight into the workings of the blogosphere.
So, uncork your brain and if you are in the city, stop by the Westergasfabriek for some cross media-enlightenment.