Digifest Toronto 2012

Last week I had the opportunity to volunteer at Digifest, Toronto’s Digital Media Festival, on its second edition. It was a great experience for which I have to thank to all the other volunteers on my team (the so-called StoryTelling Team – we were in charge of the live tweets and the DigifestTO Storify) and our coordinator Giulia Capodieci, who made time out of nowhere to help us reach our goals.

But the best part of being part of the StoryTelling Team was the access to all the keynotes, panels and demonstrations – because it’s really hard to live tweet if you aren’t there, right? I wish I had been able to go listen to more speakers, but I’m quite happy about the ones I got to enjoy. I can’t talk about all of them here (you can check the Storify account for a complete view of the whole festival!), so here are the ones that impacted me the most – other than the 3D printers, those are just mind-blowing!!

Terry Posthumus, from Humber College
Too bad he only had ten minutes, because I find his presentation should have been compulsory to all the students and entrepreneurs. And he didn’t explain anything that new or went into really deep concepts. He just made clear that open source software works and the results can be as good as with licensed applications, even better since you save money on software than can be invested in bringing in more and better prepared people. He even risked a bold prediction for us: in the next five years we will see a major film production in the theaters created with open source programs. Among the many examples he used to back up such an argument, I’ll take Tears of Steel, a short movie with outstanding visual effects created on Blender.

Michel Elings, from TRVL
Just a couple of quick thoughts: magazine apps on iPad suck because they are ment to be printed. If you want to succeed on the new platforms you shouldn’t be trying to accommodate what you have done in other media, but create something from scratch. So if you want to publish a magazine on iPad don’t waste time trying to work out a nice flipping page animation when you should be working on a new format able to take advantage of all the cool features Apple forked in the iPad. That’s the secret behind TRVL’s success.

Morihiro Harano, from PARTY
To me the best example of how new technologies and creativity get together to make amazing advertising. His ideas go along the lines mentioned by Elings: if you have new platforms to work with forget everything you have done in the old media. I believe he must have a hard time convincing the clients to go with his ideas, but the results are amazing. From a phone app to interact live with a music video on TV to reinventing packaging for contact lenses or building a giant music structure in the forest to advertise a cell-phone. Seems that everything is possible with Morihiro.

Angela Pacienza (Globe and Mail), Derek Chezzi (Yahoo! Canada) and Gary Campbell (Aggregation Magazine)
This was a panel on how the new technologies are changing the media landscape. It was interesting to think about how the role of the journalists is changing to a person able to communicate live what is seeing, and how the journalists have to be able to write, tweet, take pictures and create videos to satisfy the needs of the audience as fast as possible. Also, I heard again about the GoPro cameras, which seem to me like a great tool to create engaging web contents really fast and really cheap.

John Goodwin, from Durham College
The only speaker I got to see on the “Play” branch of the festival. I thought they were just going through game design and development, but his presentation on the game industry was really good, from a marketing point of view. He explained how the PC killed the arcades and how mobile devices are changing the whole industry from top to bottom. Did you know that 47% of now-a-days gamers are women? Around half the audience cheered when he showed that data.

Carlo Ratti, from MIT
Digifest saved the best for the last keynote. Carlo Ratti’s work is amazing on its own, but he is also a great speaker. His presentation as part of the Meet the Media Guru section was mainly about smart cities, how we can use the new technologies to gather tons of information about our environment and use it to improve everything, from our home electrical appliances to the international garbage management. Just collecting what we post openly on the Internet (tweets, pictures, videos, etc.) it’s possible to analyze and understand a city on a real-time basis, thus allowing us to design better strategies and products for our societies.

The example of Live Singapore is amazing, but there are other good ways to understand the potential of these technologies. Lets look at the tourism industry: by analyzing pictures posted with geotags and timestamps we can grasp what tourists are most interested in (what museums, which towns, what restaurants, what streets…), and therefore develop better products / tourism packages for them. Basically we can apply that to any industry.

Of course this is all a little scary. Ratti made obvious what someone collecting and analyzing all this data can do, which makes you aware of the amount of personal information that we are sharing. I’m not sure if I want my washing machine to be sending information out on what programs do I use or at what time I normally do my laundry, but I can’t deny the potential that this technologies have. I believe in the next few years we are going to see new regulations to allow us to take advantage of the best part of it while still protecting our privacy.

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