Last Friday, a few of us bloggers were invited to panel a Web 2.0 session at Microsoft’s ReMIX conference held at The Art House at the Old Parliament building. With conference fees topping S$199, the event was intended for web developers, designers, as well as business professionals. Here’s what went down…
On our panel on “Web 2.0 in South-East Asia” were James Seng (Investor / Tomorrow.sg), Jeff Ooi (prominent Malaysian blogger), Choon Keat (developer of SharedCopy and RSSfwd), Lucian Teo (designer / developer of WebSG.org) and me (trendspotter / researcher). Incidentally, Nic Fillingham named it State of Play, which is actually the name of a huge academic conference on gaming coming to Singapore later this year (19th to 22nd August) :P
Since I’m quite familiar with my fellow Singaporean bloggers, meeting Jeff Ooi was of particular honor to me, since he is well regarded for writing about politics and technology in Malaysia. As you can guess, he’s had his fair share of challenges relating to his efforts. His Screenshots blog even won the Asia category of the Freedom Blogs Awards given by Reporters Without Borders in 2005. To many, he’s seen as a pioneer in Malaysian’s blogosphere.
With Microsoft evangelist Nic Fillingham setting the stage for us, James took over as moderator and started by informing the audience that in “Web 2.0″ fashion, they too should have a say in how the session went, by adding on to the discussion, rather than feeling excluded from the panel.
Given our diverse backgrounds, the first question was thrown regarding our interpretation of Web 2.0 (or whatever you call it). Jeff Ooi gave his take that it’s really about the ability for the layman to use sophisticated media easily. For instance, Youtube lets bloggers simply embed codes to share videos on their blogs. There’s an overarching term we use for this called the democratization of technology.
At this point, a question came from the audience. Lynn of ZDnet Asia asked about where the money is made from all these free services, such as blogs and video sharing web sites. I chimed in because I had recently faced a similar question from my “Youtube and beyond” talk. Most corporations are concerned with the bottomline (where’s the money) because social media is filled with intangible benefits (as well as pitfalls), but they need something concrete to track their efforts with.
I explained this in three ways: 1) Valuable content can be monetarized (thanks to Jeremiah Owyang), 2) Web services can make money without charging users (think marketing, co-branding), 3) Web startups focus on building communities (thereafter huge user base = massive business opportunities). James then arrowed Jennifer Lewis (Editor of Straits Times STOMP) to try answer the question to which I believe she replied that they do try to woe more young readers to the site first, then consider making money later. Rightfully said, having a community is at the heart of everything STOMP does.
Lucian of WebSG then took to the mic and simplified this notion by translating the idea of community into users. Web services can only exist when there are users. He added that for STOMP, their value lies in the aggregation of Singaporean content, which would otherwise be difficult for the average person to find for themselves. For web services, he said that if it’s something good, he’d gladly pay for it (e.g. Flickr Pro account).
Choon Keat’s turn came when he made known that there was a lot of representation for content, so he wanted to share the technological innovation end of it. His take on Web 2.0 was one of humility, where he knows that he as a service provider could not possibly know everything a user wants, thus the need to open and share his web service such that users themselves can participate in the development process, by building on useful applications on top of what he provides. James added to this by explaining how Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Google has APIs which savvy users could use to build custom apps to better serve their needs.
Since we were talking about opening and sharing online services, a guy from the audience (Nic says he’s Paul Soon from XM Asia) made a wonderful segway into the issue of copyright and the jurisdiction of Creative Commons in South East Asia. James wanted Peter Du (of The Digital Movement) to answer his question, so Peter explained the unique attribute which Creative Commons affords to the creative netizen.
Lucian remarked that software piracy is infamous in Asia (Jeff Ooi joked that Microsoft Vista could be found as low as $5 Ringgit). He believed that because of this awareness, Asians tend to be protective over their work, not wanting to share in the creative culture (of mashups and remixes). He noted a negative environment where corporations would rather hoard content and services so that they could profit from it, rather than to let someone else out there take that chance.
Jeff Ooi spoke as a photographer about the significance of Creative Commons and how we shouldn’t lean toward greater control, but with every step, figure out a way to make rights more liberal, yet respect fair use. James added that there’s an effort being made in Singapore to establish the Creative Commons locally. I added my proclamation that there is no such thing as an original idea (see Intertextuality), and while such a concept might be debatable, my goal was to have everyone reconsider these prior notions of where ideas originate from and how the human race could benefit by sharing instead of hoarding information.
Nic Fillingham moved the agenda forward by asking each of us to share any personal projects we were working on and how it is related to Web 2.0. In my case, he wanted me to explain my sousveillance backpack. I gave my elevator pitch about lifecasting, but ended with the participatory element by saying that I’m sharing my life just as anyone else could, thus offering people another window to the world (Preetam Rai’s quote about the voyeuristic nature of Youtube). Lucian spoke from a web designer’s standpoint, where he focused on web standards which allow for content to sit separate from code, so that either could be changed without mudding each other. On a bigger level, standards such as microformats then allows us to share information more ubiquitously on the Internet. Choon Keat spoke from his web developer perspective by explaining how Web 2.0 to him was about giving users more control of his web services, thereby allowing users to innovate on it. Jeff Ooi noted how consumer awareness has immensely increased thanks to blogs. A single blog post which featured a personal account of public service dispute had led to the news media picking it up, and eventually by the government themselves. Web 2.0 would mean having powerful feedback mechanisms, which is what Jeff sees as a useful tool for citizens.
As you’ve notice, we covered a lot of ground at the panel session. However, there were a few more interesting questions raised, though the above were the main highlights. I have a video feed from my sousveillance backpack, but uploading it is such a pain especially from Singapore. Hopefully Nic will share the conference videos on his Microsoft’s Channel 10 blog so you can see what else I missed out. In the meantime, you can see the rest of my photos.
Note: Having been invited to speak at a decent number of blog-related events this year, I’ve told my peers how weird it feels to speak as if I were some social media expert. How would I know that I’m qualified? My favorite answer came where Coleman said that no one is qualified. If I share my personal experiences and they make sense to you, then perhaps that’s all one needs. I am no expert, just someone who deeply enjoys what he does.