I’m at the Seacom event at Nelson Mandela Square in Sandton and I thought I would do a quick post here using the bank of computers lined up for our use. I captured the initialspeechesusing Qik and my N97 which you can watch below here.
There wasn’t any public wifi available but we did get a chance to use the computers connected to some location in the UK to test out the bandwidth. I was expecting something spectacular but the highest download rate I saw was around 7 or 8MB/sec down. I did see some pretty impressive upload speeds (around half the download speed) but that was about it.
A couple of Seacom’s partners were also there showing off their tech, taking advantage of the Seacom bandwidth. I walked around a little with my N97 to give you an idea what is available at the event:
On the whole it was more about Seacom’s promise but as Simon pointed out when we were chatting, there is still a long way to go before people at home can benefit from all this promise.
I did have a chance to chat to Neil Meintjes who is running Internet Solutions’ Plugg, its consumer facing connectivity solution. I gave Plugg a miss when I took a look at it a short time ago because its ADSL was priced at R79/GB. The price has apparently been dropped to about R65/GB which is still a little high compared to Axxess and G-Connect (around R59/GB and R45/GB to R49/GB respectively) and certainly a lot higher than Afrihost with its current special offer of R29/GB but Neil said he is working on a number of value adds which could make Plugg a lot more attractive as an overall product. I also asked him if he has been sued over the logo which looks a lot like Fring’s. He says he gets that a lot.
We’re heading off to the 27 Dinner tonight like half of Joburg geekdom. I’m looking forward to it partly because we are going to hear from Justin Spratt and Google’s new country manager, Stephen Newton (please no Google PR speak??!). I’ll probably be posting to FriendFeed as we go (look for the comments to this entry in my FriendFeed stream). I am also going to mess around a little more with Qik and try shoot some streaming video on my N97.
About 45 people came together in two locations for the inaugural alt.conference events held simultaneously in Cape Town and Johannesburg on 4 July. I came up with the idea for alt.conference a couple months ago during a conversation with Hunter of Genius, Max Kaizen. It was an experiment in a few ways. On one hand I had never organised something quite like alt.conference before and my regular schedule made for an interesting few months. On the other hand, and perhaps more importantly, alt.conference was an experiment in how to arrange something a little different from the the usual conference many of us are accustomed to and, at the same time an event that was appealing to people who were already involved in the social media space.
When it came to briefing our fantastic speakers, I asked the speakers to speak about something relevant to social media and to keep it relevant and engaging for people already in the biz, so to speak. Beyond that I left it up to them to decide what to speak about. I was really curious what they would talk about. I also came up with the idea what I loosely called the “ideastorm” session (not my term although it did seem to fit quite nicely). I asked Gaby Rosario, Allan Kent and Max Kaizen to facilitate these sessions (Gaby and Allan in Cape Town and Max in Joburg). The idea I had for this session was to treat the audience as a panel and stimulate discussions about social media related topics. Aside from that I similarly left it up to them to decide how to run that session.
I ran the Joburg event which was hosted at Vox Telecom (thanks to Lantz Mattinson who helped get the venue connected and set up for us). After a series of small technical hitches (for a change our MacBooks gave us hassles!) were off to a terrific start. I won’t go into the various sessions in any real detail here because I hope to publish videos from the sessions soon (well, as soon as I can get the video off the tapes, edit it, export and publish it … you know, soon!) but there were a couple things about the event which a couple people commented on and which I believe were significant.
For one thing we were all inspired as South Africans working in our respective fields. Between Justin Spratt and Nic Haralambous, we realised (or even confirmed our feelings and thoughts on the matter) that doing what we do here in South Africa gives us a number of advantages. Despite the global economic crisis, we are well placed to succeed in South Africa for a variety of reasons, not least of which a renewal of faith and interest in South Africa as an innovation hub. I have had this growing sense for a while now that nations we usually look to as leaders in tech and on the Web like the United States are, in fact, almost primitive in some respects when compared to South Africa. We are also not as exposed to the world’s financial woes and may even begin to recover a lot sooner. Add increased bandwidth in the years to come and South Africa could well become an even better place to be as a Web professional.
Another important realisation that we came to was that despite a powerful obsession with the tech we use to engage with each other online (whether that tech be Twitter, Facebook, Twitter apps, mobile devices or browsers), when it comes right down to it, social media is more about being social than it is about the media we use to achieve that. Carl Spies and Walter Pike spoke passionately, reminding us that this social media revolution we participate in daily is a hi-tech return to a very human form of interaction that we forgot about. Social media is a celebration of our humanity and of our relationships with each other. The tools we use are just that, tools.
By the time we reached the end of the Joburg session it was clear that there is a need for these sorts of gatherings. They are a terrific opportunity to get together and talk. Max commented to me that there was quite a bit of conversation taking place in the kitchen during the breaks as people went through there to make tea, coffee or grab something cold to drink. This wasn’t at all intended but worked out well nonetheless!
I was also watching tweets coming out of the Cape Town event and everyone there seemed to have a fantastic time thanks, in no small part, to Paul Cartmel and the New Media Labs team who hosted the Cape Town event (and who I hope will host it again in future). If you’d like to get an idea what happened in Cape Town, be sure to check out Allan Kent’s post. Allan was kind enough to MC the Cape Town event as well as facilitate the ideastorm session with Gaby.
My thinking behind having the two events occur at the same time was to encourage a flow of feedback and information between the two events via Twitter and FriendFeed and I think that worked pretty well. There seemed to be a lag with the Twitter stream into the FriendFeed channel but there was a pretty strong flow of comments, reports and feedback throughout the day which left a pretty rich record on FriendFeed. You can find pretty much all mentions of the event which used either “altconf” or “alt.conference”, certainly on Twitter.
While this post really doesn’t do the events and the people who attended/spoke/facilitated justice, I enjoyed being part of it tremendously. I am constantly reminded that we are surrounded with such smart, savvy and compassionate people who do amazing work. We have access to incredible talent and we saw some of that talent on display at alt.conference.
Once again I would like to thank all our sponsors and all the people who helped make this possible in their way. No contribution was too small and without them all, alt.conference may not have been the success it was.
We have already started talking about the next alt.conference later this year. There are still so many things we would like to explore and experiment with. I’d like you to be part of that so head over to the alt.conference site and sign up. Participate in the ongoing conversation.
I gave you a preview of what you can expect at alt.conference about a week ago. I have managed to finalise the program for the two events. Well, pretty much. I can’t really decide which event is likely to be more interesting. There is a terrific bunch of speakers lined-up for both the Cape Town and Joburg events. I am also really excited about the final session of the day. We will have 3 very dynamic people facilitating a sort of idea-storm session which could be pretty interesting indeed!
So here are more details for the Joburg event:
Welcome and intro
09:30 to 10:00
Welcoming everyone and outlining sessions
10:00 to 11:00
The ISLabs initiative
11:00 to 12:00
Experiencing SA Rocks
12:00 to 13:00
13:00 to 14:00
Enterprise-level social media implementations
14:00 to 15:00
Dynamics in Social Networks
15:00 to 16:00
… and the Cape Town event:
Welcome and intro
09:30 to 10:00
Welcoming everyone and outlining sessions
10:00 to 11:00
Online Reputation Management – not an introduction
Update: I can’t figure out how to add the html code for a banner but you can use this version of the logo if you would like to create your own banner!
Alt.conference is around the corner and there are already over 80 people who have joined the Alt.conference site. So what is this all about? Well, here is a nifty poster I just whipped up which gives you the nutshell details of what I hope will be a pretty exciting event:
Please feel free to download the promo poster and pass it around to anyone who would be interested in attending. I’d love to see more social media pros there as well as their clients who would like to see what else is going on in the SA online space.
I am also interested in anyone who is interested in sponsoring the event (if anyone is interested, I have a sponsorship package which may be of interest).
I’ve managed to put together a pretty exciting lineup for the Joburg and Cape Town events. Both events are going to be really interesting and I am kicking myself that I decided to arrange them for the same time. Next time they’ll run on different days so I can attend both. So here are some of the smarties you can expect:
I have also set up a FriendFeed channel which will update realtime (just include the tag “altconf” in your tweets, Flickr uploads etc and the channel should import your mentions). The channel will probably look a little like this:
I chose FriendFeed as the aggregator because it updates in realtime and has terrific conversational capabilities but feel free to chat about alt.conference wherever suits you best and let me know if the FriendFeed channel isn’t importing your feed and I’ll add it.
Alt.conference is being run by my impromptu event business which I am calling Its All Geek To Me (aka Leo Archer CC). The cost to attend is R250 and payments must be made into the following account:
Account holder: Leo Archer CC
Bank: Standard Bank
Branch: Sandton (019 205)
Account number: 42 096 219 0
Very important: Please include a payment reference using the following format: First_initial Last_name C/J (depending on whether you are attending the Cape Town or Joburg event)
In a way our trip to Mtunzini to visit the Seacom landing station on 28 May 2009 was a great analogy for the Seacom cable’s impact on South Africa’s degree of connectivity to the Internet. It took us about 2 hours to fly from Johannesburg to Durban and back again and about double that amount of time in a bus travelling to the presentation in Ballito, the site itself and back to Durban International. Put another way, South Africa is poised to boost its bandwidth more than tenfold from its current capacity when the Seacom cable goes live in the coming months. This is a big thing for South Africa although it isn’t quite what the hype has led us to believe.
The hope has been that when someone flips a switch at the end of June 2009 we will see prices drop by an order of magnitude; we will all be able to view YouTube videos without buffering first; Telkom’s monopoly will be thwarted and we will have abundant bandwidth, government will operate efficiently and honestly and all will be right with the world. Unfortunately many of these hopes will be dashed and the immediate effect of the Seacom cable going live will be more gradually felt in South Africa.
That being said, the Seacom cable will eventually facilitate a very different Internet experience for a great many South Africans who should see prices for their data drop noticeably. There have already been a number of price reductions, probably in anticipation of Seacom’s arrival, so we can realistically expect prices to drop a further 40% or so from their current levels in the coming months and years. The shift to a fibre connection from a predominantly satellite connection should mean better quality connections which more technical people can explain using terms like latency and so on.
Aside from the eventual benefits, I found Seacom’s CEO Brian Herlihy’s talk about open access particularly appealing. While some of his presentation is what you would expect from a marketing pitch, he spoke quite passionately about how the Seacom cable’s tremendous bandwidth could help under-serviced communities leapfrog older connectivity options and reap the fruits of a high-speed Internet connection. He talked about communities in Rwanda laying fibre optics cables inland which will help transmit the cable’s 1.28tbps (terabits per second) to schools, villages and cities. This kind of connectivity could be the catalyst for an African Google and create a truly level playing field where Africans can better compete with the rest of the world.
Another thing the Seacom cable may well help achieve is a shift in mindsets about Africa and its data usage. Africa is apparently perceived largely as a “voice” market because data is traditionally too expensive for widespread adoption. The cable could help change this through reduced data prices. It also helps that the African countries who will be fed by the cable have committed to its success.
In South Africa powerhouses such as Tata, Neotel and Internet Solutions are “anchor tenants” and our mobile networks are in the process of establishing the infrastructure necessary to tap into this firehouse when it turns on. We may not see price reductions right away but the industry is definitely about to change dramatically. This degree of broadband will also mean a different experience of the Internet. As Herlihy put it, “real broadband is about dynamic media”, not just web pages and embedded videos.
There are a number of unrealistic expectations of the Seacom cable and, at the same time, a tremendous amount of promise. It will change our Internet consumption patterns (barring even more collusion from the networks and more rampant profiteering at any rate) and quite possibly change the South African economy itself.
… something, I am sure. I don’t like predictions for the new year. People often think they have a handle on what will strike it big in the new year and they are rarely right. Industry analysts in particular don’t really have a clue and probably pick predictions from a hat and add a couple new buzzwords in an effort to sound knowledgeable. Bah humbug!
Here are a couple things I would like to see happen this year. They aren’t predictions but if I turn out to be right, I told you so.
My son will smile at me and he will start to sleep for the 5 or 6 hours (or more!) he sleeps at my mother in law;
I’ll start my new part-time gig in just over two weeks and that will prove to be a challenging and life-changing experience for me and my family;
This year’s iCommons Summit is in Sapporo, Japan and I look forward to going;
I plan to build stronger ties to people in the iCommons/Creative Commons ecosystem (there are some really amazing people working in this space) and become more vocal about the possible uses of Creative Commons licenses in many areas of our culture, not to mention contributing towards a greater awareness of legitimate uses of content subject to copyright;
The emphasis of my law practice will change from more run of the mill stuff to a stronger new media advisory role;
We’ll see Google Android devices and I will start thinking of things to sell so I can buy one, just before I come back down to Earth and decide to wait a couple months;
Neotel will talk more about the stuff it has under wraps while other providers surge ahead and present a decent alternative to Telkom;
Did I mention my son will start sleeping longer hours?
There you have it. The things I’d like to see happening this year. They might happen, they might not. This list may also grow and shrink depending on how I feel about things. Other than all this, I will continue to blog, try out new services, develop my ideas about the Social Web (and whatever else pops up this year) and work harder at building a better life for my family.