Initially I had no plans to attend India-Pakistan Social Media Mela 2012, but on a friend’s insistence I had applied for the Invite and luckily got it. For starters, it was a wonderful event. The small but vibrant Social Media community of Pakistan once again lived up to its expectations. Although a glum looking blogs on Tribune and LUBP have already been published, but knowing these websites and their hunger for controversy this is no surprise.
Day 1 went good, I reached the venue and entered the hall to catch the last 10 minutes of Venkat Ananth’s session called “How Twitter Changed My Life”. From the looks of it, it was a fun session and I missed out most of it. The second session that I attended was of Viral Video with Nadeem F. Paracha as the moderator and Ali Gul Pir and Ali Aftab were the panelist, famed for being part of Vital Saeen (Wadeiray Ka Baita) and Beghairat Brigade (Aalo Anday) respectively. Although I have some reservations seeing NFP as the moderator, the two panelists were really good as their talent and hard work made it possible for them to come today and share their story with the audience. Viral Video marketing is a strange phenomenon that is constantly being experimented throughout the world and managing it, either through sheer luck or careful planning, and getting million hits in such a short time is a great achievement. At the end of the session, Ali Gul Pir shared the stage for a short dance along with the host of the event Sabeen Mahmud (Peace Niche)
After this, Raheel Khursheed (India) shared his experience regarding Online Activism. He is employed by Change.org in India and he had loads of stories to share. Unfortunately, Raheel’s style was more academic than expected and it felt like we were in class. Naturally, I saw a few faces getting drowsy and some having the glazed look in their eyes, proving that they are day dreaming in a way Raheel wouldn’t notice and would think he has their full attention. The pace remained slow and the fun element remained missing from the session despite some really great information. What saved it were some well-worded and bulls-eye targeted questions from serious online activists who had paid close attention and followed the whole presentation. From information point of view, this was a good session.
I missed out on Saba Haji’s session but attended Corporate Bloggers session right after lunch. This was a much needed topic and had some good speakers, however I believe the real core of it was kept untouched. Samra Muslim, representing corporate side on the panel, clearly acknowledged that brands have so far failed to understand social media and treat it on the lines of broadcast media that can be dictated. Shoaib did a good job of showing the side of bloggers and Imtiaz Noor did great as the moderator with Shehryar and Raheel Khursheed as the other two panelists. Despite the frankness and open-ended discussion on paid blogging, the core questions were never asked nor answered by the participants like ‘what is the future of blogging as a PAID profession’ or ‘how can a blogger avoid becoming a selling pen like journalists’. I say this because it was repeatedly stressed that bloggers need to develop credibility and only after that people trust them and what they write. From what I see, the process is no different than any other journalist who have to spend years if not decades to make a name for himself/herself and finally reach to the likes of Hamid Mir, Kamran Khan, Talat Hussain etc. When trusted journalists like these turn out this way, who is stopping Bloggers from NOT repeating history?
Next session for me was Laal Band’s that took place in the Board Rooms and it was really great to finally meet Taimur Rahman upclose. I had interacted with him on Facebook, CMPK’s Yahoo Group and a couple of other pages of Facebook but it was a completely different experience meeting him personally. He has no look or indication of a professor at a prestigious university like LUMS, in fact he looks like one of us who simply stood with a guitar and made our day with his music. Taimur Rahman told us about his music, how it started, what they did to reach more people through social media, where social media finally took them and what else they are doing to promote their message. The followed it up with two great performances, including a Beatboxer who provided background music for one of the songs. I had recorded all of it but unfortunately my cell phone hanged and I lost that video completely.
There were other great sessions to attend but I had to dash to prepare for my presentation in the evening. The next day I was slightly late (again) but managed to catch completely Connecting Ideas, People and Capital with Faisal Kapadia, Sana Gul and Jeremy Higgs as panelists and Kulsoom Lakhani as the moderator. The panelists shared their experiences how through social media they connected with different people, generated different ideas and carried out projects. Faisal Kapadia shared his SA Relief’s experience which was relevant to the topic. Despite the fact that the session went well, there was potential for it to be even better had the organizers tried. This was a great topic that could have included much more than what was shared by the participants (most of which we either already heard at other events or got to know through social media long ago). Compared to this session, the other two sessions (Fight Club: The Rise of the Online Troll and Cut The Crap: Building Bullshit Proof Brands) seemed to be much more interactive and a lot enjoyable if the constant tweets from those two sessions were any indication.
The session after this was The Rise of Online Comics, one of the most awaited sessions of the day as it had the famous comic artists/illustrators Ramish Safa, Adil Hussain, Babrus Khan and Jugal Modi (India) as the panelists while the (in)famous Jahanzaib Haque as the moderator. From my point of view this session had a major flaw, the moderator. Jahanzaib Haque has had considerable fame due to his J-Toons and it therefor warranted him place as a panelist. Since he claimed he has retired, he could have been left out altogether though I would have preferred him to be on the panel. Although he kept talking animatedly, his style left little space to talk substance. These views were also expressed by some friends and acquaintances after the session. Ideally, a professional artist should have been the moderator or at least someone who was curious to know their stories rather than J-Haque’s musings. The experience shared by Kachee Golian’s Ramish Safa, Babrus’s experience as an illustrator and Adil’s input about what he thinks when making the comics were great insights into the online comics scenario of Pakistan. This session could easily have been the best of the day if only the above mentioned problems taken care off.
Facebook Food Furore was the next session topic which turned into problem-sharing and problem-solving session of SWOT website and that remained the case till the end of the session. Despite the fact I enjoyed the talk by Syed Ali Raza Abidi (aka SARA), there was little for me to gain by listening to the whole group and I believe the session did not do justice to the potential of the event and the session itself.
The next session was the one many waited for and it should be an ‘In Your Face’ for LUBP blog that criticized the event for not giving coverage at all to Shia Killings and Ahmadiyya persecution. This was the first time that an Ahmadiyya community representative (Imran Jattala) was taken live on an event to hear their viewpoint from Social Media perspective, Irfan Ali represented the persecuted Shia’s and Anthony Permal clearly said he represented not just the Christian community but all communities in Pakistan that are targeted and persecuted. This was a much needed doze of stark reality though a better moderator was needed as Yusra Askari couldn’t do justice to the session.
The real deal of the day came after lunch when stand-up comedian from India, Sanjay Rajoura, took the stage and literally made the audience fall down in a fit of laughter. This easily was the best session of the entire day when barely 10 seconds would pass without at least one person laughing his/her belly out. Sanjay easily kept the audience entertained and despite his rather rapid way of talking, he was audible enough for everyone to listen and understand his punchlines that kept coming non-stop and we laughed and laughed and laughed. Twitter hashtag #socmm12 for the event was full of laughing tweets and that made for some great Twitter frenzy.
In the next session I went for Faisal Shaikh’s and Tim Receiver’s Metrics That Matter session. This could have been a huge session with some great information shared with the audience, but the panelist style with Imtiaz Noor as moderator (who had presented his own research regarding Social Media the day before) didn’t go down well. This was an academic topic that was presented just like any other session and barely any participant walked out with any more informative than he/she already had. I knew much more than what the panelists were telling, as I had read about it during a course at university.
The last two sessions, Art of Story Telling and Twitter is the New Newsroom seemed more like fun sessions than they should have been. Although they remained on track, it was clearly evident that two days of sessions and hearing so much as to fill the whole brain with buzzing voices, these last two sessions were more fun and give relaxation to the audience before the concluding concert by Laal Band. The event ended at a positive note and it was really great. One only has to look at the Twitter hastag for the event to know how much people liked it. There will always be dissenting voices, but stupidity is not appreciated at all.