PRESS RELEASE: Blogging Lebanon, a Success

L-R: Loulwa Kalash, Dean Talal Nizameddine, Aline Chirinian, Mohammad Hijazi, Ambassador Frances Guy and Michelle Macaroun
Check the rest of the photos from the event: AUBOC, Hibr
 On Friday December 3rd 2010, AUB’s Online Collaborative hosted the first “Blogging Lebanon” convention at the American University of Beirut. The event attracted around 150 people that included guest speakers, Lebanese and Arab bloggers, students, professors, journalists and people who are interested in social media and blogging in general.

The event started at 3:00 PM with an introduction by Mohammad Hijazi, President of AUB’s Online Collaborative. Hijazi introduced briefly the organizers of the event as well as the mission of AUBOC. Hijazi thanked the audience for coming, especially the British Ambassador to the republic of Lebanon Frances Guy, the bloggers, media and journalists.

Dean of Student Affairs at AUB Dr. Talal Nizameddine followed Hijazi with his a welcome note and shred his personal experience and reluctance to enter the technology era, especially that he used to mistakenly call the Blackberry Blueberry.

Ambassador Guy giving her speech
The first keynote speaker of the afternoon was Her Excellency Frances Guy who is one of the few diplomats who own and maintain a blog. Guy spoke about the challenges of diplomatic blogging. She noted that “politicians manipulate the media all the time” and how challenging it is to “keep up the global conversation.” During the Q&A session that followed her speech, Guy pitied CNN’s firing of Octavia Nasr, its former senior Middle East correspondent, over a tweet relating to the death of Grand Ayatollah Fadlallah and added that some British media demented that she be fired as well after a post Guy posted on the same topic. Moreover, Guy refused to comment on wikileaks because they were leaked illegally.

The second speaker was Designer Mohamad Shawash who came especially from Amman gave an overview and statistics about social media and gave tips for individuals and companies on using social media tools efficiently. Shawash said that on the web, there is “no more privacy” and that “it is time to stop playing around.”

Imad Bazzi, Executive Director of CyberAct and journalist, was the third speaker. Bazzi spoke about blogging activism and freedom of speech online. He said that he aims to “change Lebanon one Kilobyte at a time.” Bazzi also demonstrated the power of bloggers when he noted Lebloggers coverage of the the Lebanese elections last year.

Art Director Naeema Zarif was next and spoke on behalf of the Creative Commons Community in Lebanon and Middle East region. She introduced the need for a more flexible copyright system and the different copyright licenses that Creative Commons offers. She presented several Lebanese blogs that have used Creative Commons Licenses. Zarif got positive feedback from the audience about the necessity of flexible copyright.

Architect & Filmmaker Meedo Taha and Designer & Photoblogger Loryne Atoui presented a joint session entitled “Blog Out Loud.” In their presentation, Taha and Atoui presented the ten Blogger Personas which includes Hobby Bloggers, Personal Bloggers, Citizen Bloggers, Business Bloggers and Fill-in-the-blank Bloggers, etc..They also explained the basic components of a blog.

Johnny El Hage, Event Planner at AUB, spoke about his personal experience with blogging in the native Lebanese language. “Bloggers in Lebanon are actually numerous,” said El Hage. “It is a medium where you can express yourself.”

After El Hage’s session, the audience broke into intermission where snacks and juice were served. After the break, the conference moved from Bathish Auditorium to Auditorium B in West Hall.

The event recommenced with a statistical video about social media in the world. This served as an introduction to the Arab Social Media Forum briefing that was made by Darine Sabbagh and Mohammad Hijazi, both ambassadors for the forum which will be taking place in Amman on December 11.

Another conference was introduced by Abdelkareem Niazi from Arab Thought Foundation. The 9th Fikr Conference is taking place on Wednesday December 8th and Thursday December 9th in Beirut. Niazi was inviting bloggers and students to attend the event which is aimed at shaping the future.

Sherif Maktabi, AUBOC’s member at large, introduced the concept behind HelpLeb, which allows users to share issues while having an active role in making things better.” It's a web deployment that receive reports from web, mail, twitter and SMS and plots them on a live map,” said Maktabi.

Marc Dfouni, General Manager of Eastline Marketing, accompanied by Yasmine De Aranda spoke about Online Marketing and Search Engine Optimization. They discussed several case studies of companies that used social media and blogging in their marketing campaigns.

Farah Abdel Sater, President of the United Nations Youth Association of Lebanon, discussed blogging as a tool for dialogue. Abdel Sater also introduced Blog4Dialogue in spirit of the year 2010 being the International Year of Youth.

Arek Dakessian, Online Content and Community Manager of Shankaboot and Toni Oyry, Project Manager spoke about promoting and managing content and user-generated content. Dakessian and Ovry screened an introductory video about Shankaboot as well as a video about the rights of immigrant workers in Lebanon (featuring the Lebanese comicblogger Maya Zankoul). They also discussed Shankactive, a section of Shankaboot dedicated to user-generated content within the Shankaboot spirit.

Elena Korban from Hibr (which was an official media partner for the event) briefly announced the imminent re-launch of their website.

Business Owner and Writer Diana Nemeh Afif spoke about the Benefits of Blogging. “In Lebanon, there is more relative freedom of speech, but within limits,” Nemeh said. “You can speak about almost anything except things like defaming the President, especially on Facebook.”

The final speaker of the night was Ayman Itani, Digital Media Strategist, who spoke about Arab Pop Culture and the Internet. Itani presented statistics relating to the MENA region and presented the effect of technology on terminology localization. He also featured short video sketches that relate to the effect of social media on the Lebanese culture.

The event concluded by Hijazi thanking the audience and guest speakers for being there. He also thanked the team which worked very hard to organize the event: Loulwa Kalash, Aline Chirinian, Eman AbdelKarim, Abed Salam, Weam Al Awar, Sherif Maktabi and Joseph Saba.

Overall, the event was successful and beneficial for most audience members. Many students have expressed their interest in starting their own blogs or improving their existing ones.