Friday, October 22, 2010

GeekFest Dubai, 1 year on...

What are the chances of losing your Wi-Fi Internet connection at a GeekFest? That is exactly what happened, in good "un-organized" fashion on Thursday night (October 21) at The Shelter. It took a lot of anxious faces and running around to get it back up and running. But precious time was lost in hooking up with the occupied West Bank town of Nablus and talking to blogger Sara.

The sixth GeekFest to be held in Dubai opened its heart and wallets to help save seven-year-old Ola Abu-Jamous. Little Ola, from the occupied West Bank town of Tulkarem, needs urgent brain surgery that can only be carried out in Florence. GeekFest "un-organizer" Alexander McNabb put it this way: on his blog Fake Plastic Souks: "Little Ola will die unless she gets the operation she needs."
He also announced that $1,000 will be donated from the GeekFest Chest. Funds can be donated directly through the Palestinian Children's Relief Fund website.

Sara, who teaches in Nablus, is also helping the Ola appeal through her blog, UssaNabulssiyeh. Unfortunately, by the time Wi-Fi was restored, we couldn't linkup with her.

Gerald Donavan and the Sheikh Zayed Mosque image being auctioned
One of Gerald Donovan's (@gerlad_d) much coveted GigaPan images was auctioned to help Ola's appeal and the bidding is still open on @Twitter (#OlaSOS) for the 3' x 3' ultra-high resolution image of Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi. By the end of GeekFest on Thursday night, the bidding was already at AED 2000. (Update: On Sunday, October 24, with the top-up by Gerald of AED 2000 on the AED 5000, bid GeekFest Dubai raised $2000 for Ola, plus the $1000 from GeekFest.)

But what is GeekFest? I was wondering just that, exactly a year ago to the day, when planning to attend my first GeekFest with trepidation. I was on Twitter for only a month and didn't know what to expect.

But now, excitement and anticipation mount weeks before a GeekFest is held every two months. It peaks once Alexander (@AlexanderMcnabb) publishes the list of proposed talks on his blog Fake Plastic Souks. I even managed to fly to Beirut last February to attend the first GeekFest held in the Lebanese capital and was mentioned in absentia at the second one in May.

Although I'll get rapped on the knuckles by Alex for saying this, GeekFest is the biggest, most interesting and fun tweetup. It’s where you meet virtual friends and catch up with many you don’t see in the two months in between. It’s where the virtual world joins the real world, or as Social Media and Personal Branding expert John Antonios (@johnantonios) put it, the "Now World."

It is difficult to explain what GeekFest is to someone who is not on a Social Media platform (see, I’m already into "geek speak"!!!). The first time I mentioned it in front of friends, they said, "Oh, but that's for boring people, the nerds..."

The GeekTalks, which are an important part of the evening, started as four 15-minute presentations. But they always overrun, because of the interesting subjects they tackle and the Q&A sessions that follow. Last night, there would have been five had we been able to link up with Sara (@sarsour).

Gerald Donavan (@gerald_d) kicked off the GeekTalks by explaining how his 44,876,017,865 pixels landscape of Dubai broke the world record for the largest digital photograph; that his Dubai Fountains video on YouTube has had over two million views; and how every 5.4 seconds, someone clicks play on one of his videos about Dubai. Oh, and he's only been taking photographs for the past year! Speak of going viral -- on which he also gave tips.
DJ RoneJaxx
Next up was DJ RoneJaxx (@RONEJAXX), one of the upcoming regional hip-hop artists. We heard his video and followed up with a discussion about identity of the genre in the Middle East and the difficulties it is facing.
Samer Karam talks Entrepreneurship
Samer Karam (@SamerKaram), visiting the UAE from Beirut and just back from a trip to Japan, addressed the subject of "Entrepreneurship in Risk Averse Cultures," what we can learn from them and what his team at are doing to help startups with his three favorite mottos -- enable, engage and empower.

Yousef Tuqan Tuqan, a foremost figure in web development through his company Flip Media, was the last speaker. His GeekTalk on the fundamental technology changes in the last four years and the future of technology and the Internet triggered a discussion on “where the Internet is heading” that could have lasted all night.

Alex and Liliane
It was great to meet Liliane (@FunkyOzzi) who flew in from Beirut for GeekFest. Liliane was the driving force behind May's GeekFest there and is un-organizing the third event in November together with the team from GigaLb (@GiGaLb), the newly-launched Lebanese tech online magazine. Alexandra Tohme (@alextohme), who got the GeekFest ball rolling in Beirut in February, has now moved to Dubai and was present, as was another guest from Beirut, Hussam Al-Oueini (@sam_lb).

Beirut-based visual artist Naeema Zarif is always with us at GeekFest, although not yet in person. Naeema has been designing the posters for GeekFests since February and never disappoints. I have been collecting them since. (Naeema, I got you some too.)

Abdullah AlSuwaidi
That's not all!!! There was a "Beanbag Workshop" given by Abdulla AlSuwaidi (@Aabo0), who shared tips on how to create and produce professional podcasts. Abdulla produces that UAE-centric You There, Speak! podcast and explained some of the technical requirements of podcasting. He used the occasion to record an episode of You There, Speak! with many of those present, including, among others, Wajiha Said (@wajihasaid), Kamal Binmugahid (@binmugahid), Uzma (Lhjunkie, exhausted after a week of showcasing startup at GITEX and meeting Creative Commons CEO Joi Ito) and Mina Zubeiri (@Zooberry).
Mohammad AlHuraiz and Nick R
There is always a big corner reserved for the Gamers at GeekFest. The games are provided by gamer site LochalArchade, whose founder, Mohammad AlHuraiz (@asatiir) also writes, edits and hosts.

@Lhjunkie showing off the hand that shook Joi Ito's at GITEX
Oh, and the Emirates Wildlife Society (EWS) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) were there talking turtles and the work they're doing to preserve turtle habitats and reverse the decline in turtle populations in the Gulf and Indian Oceans. They had "Adopt a Turtle" packs on sale for Dhs200 each (and you got a nice little stuffed turtle as a bonus in exchange).

It's getting late. I, as many others, look forward to a second year of GeekFests. I leave you with some of the pictures from earlier tonight...