Thursday, June 6, 2013

Social Web at Pavilion Downtown

I've been attending the Social Web events at Pavilion Downtown for the last couple weeks. It's been pretty interesting so far - some sessions more than others, depending on how deep the moderator and audience probed. It's a commendable series, nonetheless, and the upcoming topics look exciting.

The first session I attended was supposed to be about trending. Tala Samman of the MyFashDiary fashion web channel and Clive Azavedo, Lavanya Narayan and Kunal Bilakhia (who, incidentally, all met each other on Twitter), the team behind the @WeAreUAE curated twitter feed, described how they use social media, in a discussion moderated by Leah Manasseh, the founder of the My Dubai My City web video channel.

We learned a few things about "catfishing", Wild Peeta's now famous pre-launch social media engagement and other topics, but the discussion was otherwise mostly generic. Since I study social networks as a science, the actual dynamics of trending were of more interest to me; unfortunately, this was not really covered in any depth. It got rather entertaining towards the end, though, with an animated debate about the effectiveness and attractiveness of online video as a medium.

The next session, about Instagram, featured guests Melina Mitri of s*uce and Elliott Brown of Moloobhoy & Brown moderated by blogger and social media manager Saad Naamani. A few case studies of image campaigns were discussed first, including #WHPdearphotograph, #LiveLoveBeirut, and #friskissthlm.

Mitri's really cool #WeBuiltThisCity social image campaign and its resulting music video were discussed next, and Brown talked about his daily image tag #MB365, along with the implications for tag choice (hint: if you decide on something specific and unique enough, it's less vulnerable to hijacking). During the audience question portion, we also discussed tag engagement (organic vs gimmick-/competition-driven) and the difficulty in being silent once one commits to engagement through social media.

The next weekend's first session was about artists using social media to promote their work, featuring The Third Line's Sunny Rahbar moderating a discussion with local photographer Ammar Al Attar and visual artist Khawla Darwish. It was an okay discussion; some of the more interesting phases were the points when they were talking about the etiquette of engagement - dealing with comments, likes, etc - and about the need for galleries when artists can ostensibly use social media to curate their own works online.

The second session that day was about the choice of medium for conveying ideas online: Words vs Images. The panel was composed of geometry-conscious artist and photographer Salem Al-Mansoori, expressionist painter Nasir Nasrallah, photographer Farah Al-Qasimi (who happened to be exhibiting in one of the galleries of the venue at the time) and articulated tweeter Maitha Al Mehairbi, moderated by columnist Mishaal Al Gergawi. It was one of the most interesting sessions. For example, we had a discussion on the importance of the number of followers, in which Al-Qasimi expressed the view that quality trumps quantity, and locked her Twitter account to keep away people who had nothing deeper to say than "good face" (LOL).

Perhaps the most interesting part was the extended discussion on writing online in Arabic, and translating between languages, with Nasrallah and Al Mehairbi having different approaches to the latter. Gergawi also brought up the idea that Arabic falls victim to a colloquial/formal divide, unlike English; because Arabic is predominantly used at home and with older generations of family, it became associated with formality. On the other hand, some were of that opinion that it is now "cool" to use Arabic on Twitter. Also, there was a later discussion of whether usage of Arabic or English is aimed at specific audiences; tweeting political opinions, for instance, in Arabic might provoke a storm that tweeting it in English would not.

There are still 3 sessions left in the series, and I hope to be able to check them out as well. Don't forget to drop by the entrance gallery exhibition of graffiti photography by Rhea Karam too.

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