For those of us who struggle to stay connected in Lebanon—and that would be just about all of us, thanks to Internet speeds that can make waiting for an image or a video to load feel like waiting for Godot—Friday night’s Geekfest Beirut was a wonder to behold. Never before had so many members of Lebanon’s digerati (insert tongue in cheek here) been in the same room, at least not physically. See the slideshow.
Held in the spacious and airport-retro–bedecked Art Lounge in the city’s Karantina district, the event brought together around 100 of Lebanon’s online innovators, web developers and designers, tweeple, bloggers, artists, NGO leaders, photographers, and other generally tech-enabled folk for a party where it felt good to be a geek. Even if you did find yourself wondering when geeks became so good-looking…
The program for the evening, emceed by Zawya online community builder Alexandra Tohme, included several short talks (video). Leading off was an entertaining media history from SpotOnPR‘s Alexander McNabb, (video 1) (video 2) who burned into our brains that quality becomes less relevant as access to technology improves (but I still need to think about that). Tohme and McNabb co-organized the event, which is an off-shoot of a similar gathering called Geekfest Dubai. McNabb links to photos of the event on his blog.
Next, the lovely and talented dynamic duo of graphic designer Naeema Zarif and illoblogger Maya Zankoul educated us about Creative Commons licensing (video). Then, Elie Abou Jaoudeh (video) from UNDP’s CEDRO program shed some light on renewable energy projects in Lebanon, but unfortunately left us with the message that, for now at least, photovoltaics are still too expensive to implement on a residential scale (but look out for biomass and wind power!).
After a short drinks break, Ayman Itani, of Telephone.com and LAU, extolled the virtues of online communication and explained why we need to cultivate our relationship with information to enhance self-expression and business communication (video below). Ayna Corp.‘s Elie Haddad followed with a brief presentation about mobile applications (video).
And then Cleartag‘s George El Khabbaz a.k.a. Soupboy (probably something to do with his twitter handle @uxsoup) wrapped up the official roster of speakers by beginning the long and tortuous process of informing the audience about the missing link in most web (and other design): Any consideration for user experience (UX). User experience refers to “the sum of all interactions” of a user with a brand or a product, and guess what, he said, it happens with or without design (video).
What to think about to craft a positive user experience? asks George El Khabbaz: Make your product/website/brand useful, usable, desirable, accessible, credible, findable, and valuable!
As a coda, we were treated to a fact-packed lecture on 3-D technology by the trenchcoated Isaac Belton. Not only are he and another Lebanese filmmaker, whose name escapes me, currently producing Lebanon’s first 3-D movie, but they also have plans to set up the nonprofit LebaneseFilm.com (a parked domain at the moment), where local independent filmmakers will be able to rent gear for less, among, one supposes, other things. The grand finale of the evening was the auction of a prototype sketchbook from Joumana’s Malaak comic series in aid of @lebfunraising. The piece fetched $300—not bad at all since much of the crowd had moved on by then.
We agree with @aymanitani, one of the many Twitter users tweeting from the venue, that it was a “great gathering of #geekfest #Beirut. loved the geekology mix.” @samerkaram has suggested that the next Geekfest Beirut be hosted in an unconference, barcamp-style, where people can propose various breakout workshops rather than everyone following the same program. Others we spoke to said they’d like to see the event organized around a theme with more targeted presentations and some real learning and knowledge exchange.
What enhancements would we like to see to the user experience of Geekfest Beirut 2.0? Following El Khabbaz’s model, we suggest the following:
- Useful: Like others, we’d love to see some demos or workshops.
- Usable: Some organized small group interaction would make it easier to meet new people. Loved the space, wished there was a menu of light snacks.
- Desirable: Totally, thanks to the space, the energetic organizers, and enthusiastic audience—and, of course, the excellent logo!
- Accessible: Can you call a venue without valet parking accessible in Lebanon? Absolutely. Art Lounge can be hard to find but it’s worth it (although with the long entrance stairs, it does present real accessibility problems, as do so many other buildings in Lebanon. Another accessibility issue: Language. If we want to expand the adoption of the ideas and tools gatherings like Geekfest promote, we should think about bringing in the Arabic language, in the delivery of presentations or even in the topics covered. Developers and designers and others face lots of challenges when working with Arabic on the web. All that said, the event was free, and it’s hard to get more accessible than that!
- Credible: You bet. Presentations were thought-out and passionately presented.
- Findable: See Accessible. And surely, nobody had any trouble finding Geekfest online.
- Valuable: No question. To see such a collaborative and multifaceted community emerge in Lebanon is a welcome sight.
Now, for the hard part, staying connected.
UPDATE: Also check out Developing Lebanon’s also post about Geekfest.