Highlights of Arabnet Riyadh 2013

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending Arabnet Riyadh conference and it was a great experience as I anticipated, as I have attended almost all of of Arabnet's conferences so far, and have written about them in my blog, and it was always worth it!

If you have attended the conference, you would've benefited from the great connections you make during as well as the useful content and knowledge you learn. If you didn't attend, then you would have probably benefited from the live coverage via Twitter through the hashtag #عرب_نت. If you also didn't catch up with the live coverage, then you can at least get to know what went down in the conference by reading my article on Wamda: 

Women's entrepreneurship and social media: the two hottest trends at Arabnet Riyadh

Did you attend Arabnet Riyadh? What did you think of it? What other conferences have you attended and liked? Leave your opinion and recommendations below, and please share this post for your peers to pitch in as well.

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Arabnet 2012: The Afterthought

Do you follow me on Twitter? Then I must have spammed you a week ago for five days tweeting about the largest digital event in the region: Arabnet Digital Summit

I had the pleasure of attending Arabnet 2011, and a greater pleasure returning to Arabnet 2012 as an official blogger among some other great bloggers. This year’s event was bigger, with more workshops and talks, and more focus on details! Read on to know what you've missed ;)
Starting with the Developer Days on March 27 – 28, there has been a great focus on the mobile industry. It’s not a surprise since the world is going mobile, more precisely 80% of the world already owns a mobile phone and 84% of them use it for internet browsing and 59% of them use it for social networking. Other interesting statistics can be found in The Smartphone Usage Statistics 2012 [Infographic]! And according to Google’s 12 Mobile Prediction for 2012 at Arabnet, one million small businesses will go online with a mobile website, and Arabnet made sure it included enough talks and workshops to help pave the way for them. 
This year’s Developer Days were better planned with more room for more people and better networking, at the Metropolitan Palace. The most interesting workshop was The Facebook Developer Garage: Open Graph and Mobile Apps by Stephane Crozatier, Partner Engineer at Facebook who gave the developers some hands-on tips and answered the audiences’ question regarding the social networking giant. Stephane was clearly pushing for less fake accounts, but sadly, it doesn’t seem that Facebook has yet developed a strategy to combat that. Which leaves you wondering: Of the 800+ million accounts on Facebook, how many are the real users? Most of the friends you know have probably more than one account, not to count the dozens of brand accounts that agencies create, and the fake accounts that prize hunters create to vote themselves up in a Facebook competition. The first day ended with an Overnight Developer Competition that encouraged developers to compete over the course of 12 sleepless hours to build a web application or a mobile app.  
 What was different this year was the addition of Industry Day on March 28, which had workshops and talks covering 4 industries: Healthcare, Education, Travel, and Banking. Although I loved the micro-focus on each industry separately, but it made things confusing for me and other people I talked to at the event because it was difficult to choose which industry workshop to attend, given that we can’t be in more than one place at the same time. However, following the hashtag did make it easier to get bits and pieces from all workshops. I personally attended some Travel and Education workshops, the most interesting of which was Leila Khauli’s case study of The Use of Social Media in the Classroom. Check out the hashtags of her classrooms to see how she helps her marketing students apply their social media skills in their class: #mktg225 #mktg350b
The Forum Days on March 29 – 30 are usually the most important and most crowded, especially since it featured the Ideathon competition where multiple contestants presented their ideas to appeal for funding and of course the Arabnet prizes. Winning first place was Mahmoud AlDwairy with his Influsense idea which you should ask him about because it’s interesting :D It’s mostly like Klout but with a gamified competition where influencers need to perform certain tasks to get influence points in certain topics, making it easier for brands to target them as promoters. The Forum Days were filled with too much great content for me to restate here! But just to recap, some of the presentations that stood out were The Social Bakers’ Measuring Social Media with Jan Rezab and the Augmented Reality demo by Omar Tayeb Gilles Fayad. 
Overall, a prominent feature in this year’s Arabnet was Sociatag which allowed attendees to register their Facebook accounts on a Sociatag card that they could use in various checkpoints in the event to “check-in”, “like” a workshop, or take a photo and post it toArabnet’s Facebook Page album which is fun to browse even though the image quality is a disaster hehe
On a side note, Mike Butcher, a correspondent from TechCrunch and a feature speaker at Arabnet, co-hosted a meet-up (#TCBeirut) alongside Wamda and AltCity. I was looking forward to that event like many others. To my disappointment, the meet-up, which was supposed to be a gathering of intellectual minds discussing the future tech in the Middle East and the digital ecosystem in Lebanon, took place at a small pub in Hamra where drinks and loud music buried any potential for intelligent conversations. In my humble opinion, which I am sure is supported by the general global professional standards, a meeting with any valuable input should never be held at venues that do not facilitate networking and discussion, and certainly does not defer most of its conservative target audience. The meet-up should have taken place at a more appropriate bigger space where everyone could have enjoyed it and benefited from it, then, those who wanted to grab a drink could have gone altogether afterwards… Just my two cents! 

Keep on the look out for the coverage from the other official bloggers on Arabnet’s Facebook Page and Twitter account, and leave your questions and comments to me below :D

A Synopsis: Webit Congress 2012

In October 10 and 11, apart from the amazing time I spent in Istanbul, I had the pleasure of attending Webit Congress. Seeing many professionals from across Europe & the Middle East gathered in one place for the purpose of sharing and exchanging knowledge of the digital world was quite refreshing.

Here are some statistics about the 2012 Congress, as stated by Webit Expo:

  • Visiting countries: 72
  • Number of speakers: 187 (see all of them here)
  • International and local exhibitors: 50 (see list)
  • Worldwide supporting media and partners: 130
  • With the strategic support of: IAB Europe, EACA, EGTA, OPA, Arab ICT Organization, European Commission.

HE Minister Binali Yildirim (Minister of Transportation, Maritime Affairs and Communications of the Republic of Turkey) opened the Congress on 10 October together with Plamen Russev (Chairman of eAcademy/founder of Webit), Alain Heureux (President and CEO IAB Europe), Dominic Lyle (Director General EACA), Dr. Tayfun Acarer (BTK Chairman) and other officials.

The major conferences within the Congress were:- Marketing and Innovation Conference- Entrepreneurship Conference- Telco Conference - e-Commerce Conference and e-Commerce SEO Master Class- Apps Development Workshops- Free Seminars on Digital & TechnologyThe only global Webit Awards Ceremony for digital marketing effectiveness and technology excellence for the Word's New Digital Markets also took place on 10 October.  

I was of course mostly interested in the Marketing and Innovation Conference, particularly the social media stream which came first. I got in half way through, Facebook's Regional Directory, Diego Oliva's presentation on the future of Social Media where he spoke of the importance of Facebook Fans and their friends to brand pages, calling them "real fans" given the value they present to businesses in terms of sales. The image below showcases some of the percentages of sales from Facebook fans and their friends for big brands on Facebook pages.

 It was Guillaume du Gardier, Head of Digital Media at Ferrero, whom I really liked. He firstly disagreed with Diego on the statement that Facebook fans are real fans, considering the number of inactive, fake and duplicate accounts. He urged for a feature that allows brand pages to discover fans who haven't been connected with a brand in the last 3 months by hiding the updates from their ticker/feed, not visiting the page anymore, and never interact with it, and allow them to automatically take these fans off the page as they failed to provide them with an attractive brand experience. He urges brands to care about active fans, not about "accounts". He explains that having thousands of fans is not as important as having a "scaled" number of fans. Scale is the percentage of fans from the number of consumers reached through sales. So, for example, having hundreds of thousands of fans on your Facebook page is not that impressive if your weekly sales are per millions. He also suggested that Facebook introduces a way that allows brands to connect with fan-made pages in a way that is mutually beneficial for both of them.

Among other interesting seminars at the conference, I quite liked the concept of Wakoopa as presented by its CEO Piet Hein Van Dam, compromising of allowing it to track our own digital footprint (websites we visit, apps we use, ads we interact with, etc.) in return for rewards. Many websites already track our digital footprint and sell it for huge profits and we got nothing out of it. Through Wakoopa, we control what it tracks and when, and we benefit from it.

One presentation I very much enjoyed was by the energetic and lively Rina Onur, Co-Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Peak Games, who spoke about the importance of gaming in our life and how it's getting more and more integrated in other sectors like business and education and will continue to grow into more sectors in the future.

All in all, it was a great event with many valuable seminars, some of which were running at the same time so it was hard to follow up with all of them. It was only brought down by the terrible internet connection which made it difficult for bloggers like me to enjoy the event by live-tweeting and connecting to others during it. It's certainly an experience worth attending though.

Follow Webit Expo on Facebook or Twitter to stay updated with when they make the presentations available for download. However, I think they would only be available for those who have already been registered, in which case I'll be able to get them for you. You just have to remind me and ask me for them! 

What Startups Need: An ArabNet Community.

Photo credit:  imthiaz blog

Photo credit: imthiaz blog

When you work in the social media field like I do, it becomes inevitable to run into startups that are eager to launch the newest idea, the most tech-advanced service or the best-specialized network. As a startup, it is perhaps important to believe that the product you’re developing will be a success, will bring you fame, and help you cash in, hopefully sooner than later.

I do not claim to be an expert on entrepreneurship and startups, but if there is one thing that I can deduce by common sense, it’s that every successful business needs a COMMUNITY!nAn interesting definition of a community is by Michael Wu, the Principal Scientist of Analytics at Lithium Technologies Inc.:

A community (both online and offline) consist of people from all walks of life that seem to have no relationship at all but is a very robust social structure. What holds a community together is common interest. It maybe a hobby, something the community members are passionate about, a common goal, a common project, or merely the preference for a similar lifestyle, geographical location, or profession. People join the community because they care about this common interest that glues the community members together. Some stay because they felt the urge to contribute to the cause; others come because they can benefit from being part of the community (source).

Building a community may or may not be a long daunting task depending on what your product is, but it is a known fact that it is never as easy as “Build it and they shall come”. Growing Facebook from a small college community to the largest global community did not happen in a day. It wasn’t that the idea of Facebook was so revolutionary, in the simplest terms, it succeeded in capturing a fraction of a community with common interests (college students who wanted a social way to get to know each other), then gave way to that community to create other sub-communities with other common interests that others joined in, until everyone else felt they MUST be part of that community. According to Matthew Shampine, a serial entrepreneur, as a startup founder, you should not “be too focused on your product, because if you’re not building a community for it, it may never get off the ground.” He gives 2 successful case studies on how building a community the right way can help your idea or product (Source).

As a startup in the MENA region, your best chance is to find opportunities where early adopters, fellow entrepreneurs and potential investors... For you, that means the digital MENA event of the year, ArabNet Digital Summit. It’s the biggest event for web and mobile in the region! Last year’s summit brought over 1000 attendees, 100 speakers, featured 18 panels and 17 talks, in addition to 20 entrepreneurs pitching their ideas and startups. And this year’s summit is less than 2 months away so you better start working on your pitches and hone your skills in building your community! This year’s event is going to be even bigger. Cutting-edge panel discussions, specialized workshops, exciting competitions, focused networking sessions, social activities and more, spread over 5 action packed days including:

  • Two Developer Days with technical discussions and workshops for programmers. Even though I am not a developer, but I did enjoy this day as you can read in my post from ArabNet Digital Summit 2011.
  • An Industry Day about how web and mobile are transforming traditional industries like healthcare, travel, education and banking.
  • Two Forum Days, the largest gathering of digital business leaders in the region featuring over 100 globally renowned speakers covering the latest trends and technologies in web and mobile.
  • A Community Day raising public awareness about the the power of digital.

The Digital Summit will also include ArabNet’s annual competitions: the Ideathon and Startup Demo. The Ideathon aims at turning bright ideas into functional products will introduce the top 20 entrepreneurs and startups in the region, exposing the latest in digital entrepreneurship and giving entrants the chance to win big cash prizes and the attention of investors, incubators, and developers, not to mention the media! You’ll for sure have a better chance at exposure if you actually participate in the Ideathon. So you put your entrepreneurial hat on and get ready to network!

As one of the official bloggers of ArabNet Digital Summit 2012, I'll be bringing you more news about the conference and will be live covering it from March 27 till March 31. So don't forget to subscribe to my RSS, and follow me on Twitter if you aren't already ;)