Winner of ArabNet Digital Summit & Other PITAPOLICY Observations

“Internet has democratized the concept of content and distribution.” ~Omar Christidis, Founder of the ArabNet Digital Summit

On Tuesday, March 27 2012, ArabNet Digital Summit convened over 200 MENA professionals to kick off the first of the Developer Days. Before I get into my thought of the week, I want to congratulate the Winners of the ArabNet Digital Summit’s Overnight Competition. These bright individuals are as follows:
~ Hasan Arous (Syria),
~Bilal Itani (Lebanon),
~Abdelmohimen Alagha (Syria)
~Ata Alqadi (Jordan).

Integral awarded the four winners prizes!

I am participating as entrepreneur, blogger, consumer…yet I still get the question: “What brought you here–you’re not in the technology field…”

I couldn’t agree more with this observation, but there’s more to technology than making sense of ‘zeros and ones’ or imagining the next innovation. When I say MENA professionals, I need to look beyond engineers and ICT experts because I am neither of those. However, their fields intersects with two of my interests: entrepreneurship and knowledge sharing. PITAPOLICY represents the social entrepreneur side of PITAPOLICY Consulting, which represents the business side. For instance, please review this 10 minute survey on technology…Thanks for your time pita-consumers!
Click here to take survey

In a nutshell, both concepts complement each other because I am a new entrepreneur providing a needed service…and I am a female who wants my work and thought to represent PITAPOLICY. My tweets represent the PITAPOLICY observations, not my gender. My blog represents my platform, not my personal life story. That’s where technology enters the picture: technology serves as my marketing and public relations tools. That’s why I am an enthusiastic attendee and decided to register as an ‘Entrepreneur’–and to support my fellow bloggers as we continue our knowledge sharing from online to face to face communication. For example, PITAPOLICY has met with Lebanese Blogger, Assaad Thebian: @beirutiyat. I have also met a blogger who blogs in Arabic: Alaa Chehayeb.

I also see the benefits technology provides to my third interest–I should have mentioned that earlier…but it’s on the periphery of today’s main theme. My third interest is development. We have seen how mobile devices can facilitate development goals by providing access to lower-income families and women in lower-income countries, like Afghanistan.

The Summit will last through March 31st as it tackles the latest in web and mobile with panels hosting top executives from the digital sector, numerous hands on workshops covering the hottest platforms in addition to highlighting the 20 most anticipated startups and ideas with the Ideathon and Startup Demo competitions.

Trends on MENA’s Technology Ecosystem
The ArabNet Summit reaffirmed some trends and statistics regarding MENA’s Technology Ecosystem, as my fellow PITAPOLICY pita-consumer, Ramy Ghaly, shared in his piece a few months ago. According to Ziad Matar, Qualcomm VP of the MENA region: there are around 5 billion mobile subscribers worldwide, a number much larger than that of people who have access to water or the number of screens. The panel highlighted the importance of mobile and web devices in connecting the world. In Tanzania, 190 babies were born last month using a special phone application, Matar said.

Also, 75% of time spent on smartphones worldwide is not on voice or text, but on web and apps. She also estimated the average amount spent in mobile ads to USD 600 billion.

Omar Christidis, who moderated the session, had started with a quick review of stats: 77 % of users have liked a brand on Facebook, 50 % have received customer service via twitter, 100 million Youtube video are played every day and 85% of mobile internet users have downloaded apps before.
The panel also discussed the issue of mobile security and protecting the user’s privacy, which “some people are willing to sacrifice, to stay connected,” Christidis said.

“We used to go to main sites to read content, today destination sites are losing importance, people are reading articles through their social feeds, or articles shared by friends,” Omar Christidis said.
 “We used to have excessive campaigns. Today push advertising is replaced by forums that add value to the clients and involve them in decision making,” he said. “New media can be a tool to build a relation between governments and their citizens, by creating initiatives to enhance transparency and communication channels.”

 “Smarter Planet: An industry view of turning Information into Insight” was the title of the second session, presented by Ali Munawar Zakaria, Director of Demand Programs, Middle East and Africa, at IBM.
According to Zakaria, we are all linked economically, socially and technically: economically via wars and oil prices, socially via uprisings, and technically via the web for example.
“We have become very empowered consumers and citizens and everything has some kind of technology build into it,” he said.

According to Zakaria, there are “1 billion mobile camera phones, 2 billion people on internet, 4 billion mobile phone subscribers and 15 petabytes of information generated every day.”
Zakaria highlighted the importance of introducing monitoring, analysis and action to smarter health, education and government sectors.

Zakaria’s “Smarter Planet” was followed by a short talk on Technology and Industry by Firas AlFanney, General Manager, Levant and North Africa, at Intel. AlFanney highlighted Intel’s programs in emerging markets. Intel is working with Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine, Morocco and Watar on programs that give people access to technology, with a focus on education.

“In the 21st century, we should have the student center model, and the teacher should play the role of a facilitator,” he said. “Student can manage their own time; access the internet, do critical thinking, etc…”

AlFanney suggested developing special curricula which target students, help train teachers to adapt technology in the classroom, implement information communications technology and tablets for higher grades.

The session was followed by a talk on social media and consumer relationship with Fawzi Rahal, Regional Digital Director at Grey MENA and Mustafa Bilge, Founder and Managing Partner at Semanticum.
During the summit, Egypt’s Ideavelopers announced investing USD 1.3 million dollars in Dr.Bridge health care company.

The Developer Days started off with the “Mobile Hour” which gave an inside look at the hottest upgrades & tools in the mobile industry. Ahmed Adel, Developer and Platform Evangelism Sales & Operations Director at Microsoft, said “the average number of text messages (sms) sent in 1998 per person was 4. Today, 6.1 trillion text messages are sent worldwide.”  William Kanaan, New Business Development at Google, said mobile devices will outnumber PCs next year. Gilles Fayad, Director Products & Services, MEA at Qualcomm said that new devices will learn from users and that in the future everything will be connected.
The “Mobile Hour” was follow by “Trends in Mobile Consumption in the Saudi Market” by Mr. Sebastien Marteau, VP of Mobile at Integral. Marteau highlighted the best practices of developing mobile digital products and insights into the global app industry. According to Marteau, Saudi Arabia is a very young market with very high penetration rates, with 2 SIM cards per person in the kingdom. Marteau also said that 47% of people in KSA use apps provided they are in Arabic.
In addition to technical sessions on Google Web Toolkit, Developing Windows Phone Apps, SEO for web developers and “Mobile Phones getting Smarter”, “Developing with Security and Privacy in mind” and “UXHour”,  Amina Belghiti and Stephane Crozatier from Facebook, gave a talk in which they highlighted some key stats and figures regarding social media.
***The day was followed by a night competition, “Overnight”, that aims to test the skills of developers and identify the best engineering talent in the region. The competition started at 8PM on Tuesday, till 8AM on Wednesday. Competitors were challenged to build a simple web application or a mobile app in just 12-hours.

(Note: PITAPOLICY asked Christidis why there were no female competitors this year. However, it wasn’t for the lack of trying to reach out to this underrepresented gender with respect to the tech industry as Christidis acknowledged this challenge.)  

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