I am entering the large movie theatre hall where the conference dedicated to the social networks is just about to start. A prominent web expert is commenting on the Russian President's decision to launch a Livejournal account and the first post on the Internet development in Russia. Someone is talking about the recent You Tube Success of Susan Boyle and the hot-spot detecting WiFi sneakers invented by the Canadian designer Stefan Dukaczewski.
The atmosphere is properly wired. Six panelists representing the leading Russian media outlets are about to report on how social networks are being used by their marketing departments to promote the media products and shape the image of their companies. Represented here are: a magazine, a TV channel, a web content agency, a headhunter agency, a social network, an advertising agency of Livejournal (the most popular blog platform in Russia), and a niche social network focused at writers and poets. This is one of the round-table shows at the Russian Internet Forum and the Internet and Business Conference, a two-headed leading annual Russian meeting of the web industry workers.
About 7,500 participants came to 'Lesniye Dali' resort, a river-and-forest lodging 30 km west from Moscow to raise discussions on various aspects of the present and future of the internet. Usability experts, bloggers, web designers, start-uppers, multimedia journalists, online reporters are walking around: a speckled group of web professionals scattered around 4 halls, libraries and pavilions. Everywhere there were balloons with logos of the Russian internet frontliners - Yandex.ru and Mail.ru - and the e-tourism company organized a questionnaire with an attractive award: a trip to Morocco for the global gathering of bloggers.
Noteworthy, the Program of the Forum and the Conference was arranged in an interesting way. There were actually two types of program: Program and Program 2.0.
The Program was arranged by the organizers - The Regional Public Centre of Internet Technologies (ROCIT) and the Association of Internet and Business (AIB) - to meet the core challenges and aims of the event. It comprised 30 major panel sessions on such issues as:
- the mobile internet (statistics of growth in Russia, peculiarities and prospects of mobile internet advertising);
- the expansion of the domain space in Russia and the coming introduction of the .rf (Russian Federation) zone;
- Runet beyond the Ru zone - in the CIS countries;
- e-Travel and the patterns of selling travel tickets and tours online;
- Enterprise 2.0;
- Maps and Geo-services in Runet: monetization, trends, and forecasts;
- Children in Runet;
- Online media: 10 years. What now?
- Plagiary and piracy in the Web;
- The prospects of video content monetization, etc.
The Program 2.0 was shaped by the participants, who offered their topics on the site of the Forum weeks before the event, and rated each other's topics, commented on them, or expressed their wish to contribute on the topic. In the end, 58 two-hour mini-sessions were selected. Each one had a moderator who originally proposed the topic and then chose 5 or 6 lecturers to cover the specific sub-topics around the issue in question. The sessions were also afterwards rated by the participants on the site. And the Forum was presented and followed on Twitter. It turned out to be quite an effective scheme of building the content of the conference, which enabled people to flock into interest groups and also provided a diverse and timely program for the Forum. It surprised me though that the conference website didn't have the English version.
The Program 2.0 included such sessions as:
- Wikinomics and the power of the public collaboration;
- Twitter: new opportunities for marketing;
- Safety on the web;
- Internet for the disabled;
- Textual content;
- Distance education;
- How to build a dream team for the start-up;
- The copyright issue on the web, etc.
- Brand communities in the social media;
It seemed like there was much stir at the Forum this year around the geo-tagging and e-mapping. And in hyper-local dimension too. In this regard it was very interesting to read David Sasaki's recent overview of the local community projects which started to display information on maps.
I take high interest in the topic, as one of the core ideas of the SochiReporter project, which we are now meticulously preparing for the launch, is to reflect what is going in the resort town that within next several years will be under huge infrastructural change, preparing to host the Olympics. Map interfaces and geo-tagging are an essential component of the project, (which will f.e. have a guidebook) and my team has worked out a special section of the site - or call it 'rubrique' - to serve the task. It will soon be unveiled. But it's a topical issue where to get the detailed interactive map of Sochi. Google doesn't have it yet. And we have to be imaginative in getting the one.
On the Forum I attended the mini-session called: 'Gaps on the e-maps or Where to get the geo-data?' And it was a lively discussion on how to generate more geographic data. Alexey Sobkevitch, the representative of Tele Atlas in Russia, was talking about the 3D map modeling, and how his company turns the aerial images of the European cities, taken by the Norwegian company Blom for Microsoft Visual Earth, into 3D visualizations. Tele Atlas also recruits users to report if they notice any changes in the cities - so that to improve and update the map data. The company receives feedback daily - it's not because their maps are not ideal (they are fine), but 'cause of the fact that people generally started paying more attention to smaller details and changes, as the web fueled their passion for exploring.
Interesting that in many countries 3D modeling is highly regulated. In Russia, for instance, it's not allowed to give the height of the building on maps, as a means of providing anti-terror safety.
The supporters of the UGC-mapping and open source software aired their views on how to make the maps cheaper, the new geo-startuppers said what they lacked to make better products, the owners of the geographic data gave prices, the lawyers informed each and every one on how the Law regulates the relations of the cartography, 3D modeling and the web.
In the evening, driving back to Moscow with a little help of my GPS navigator, I was in my mind organizing the details of this and other discussions. It was a pleasant weight: my car was loaded with dozens of new business cards.