President’s Conference Looks at New Media of Tomorrow

by Florence Broder

One of the most anticipated sessions of the President’s Conference was a two-hour plenum titled ‘New Media Making Tomorrow‘. The panel was impressive, spanning the range of top CEOs of global companies innovating new technologies in telecommunications, computing, graphics, social media and more. The double session was moderated by Yossi Vardi one of Israel’s top leaders and innovators in the hi-tech industry.

While having so many industry leaders sharing the same stage in Israel awed me, I don’t think anything they said was especially groundbreaking. There were however, recurring themes that emerged in the presentations, including the importance of cyber-security and Israel’s role in developing those technologies. Vardi eloquently said, “What’s a threat for the world, is an opportunity for Israel.” By 2020, over 40 billion household items will be connected to the Internet making security a priority as well as a global technology standard, such as 4G. Another innovation touted was cloud computing. If you ever used Google Docs or OpenOffice then you already know what cloud computing is and the benefits. Slowly all the legacy systems will shift to this service model where your company does not need to maintain or update software; it will be done automatically by a service provider. However, this is not a new innovation but one that was a long time in the making.

Two of the awaited keynote speakers included Jimmy Wales, CEO of Wikipedia and David Fischer, VP of Advertising and Global Operations for Facebook. They both addressed the importance of technologies being social. For instance David Fischer, talked about Facebook being the largest photo-sharing site in the world even though it doesn’t have as many features as Flickr or Picassa. The success of the application was the tagging feature, making photos a social enterprise. Similarly, Zynga’s games on Facebook, such a Farmville, have low-resolution graphics similar to those on the Atari, but the reason they are so successful is because of the social component allowing users to play online with their friends. The entire gaming industry is now rethinking how to make games more social. Jimmy Wales also emphasized the social component of Wiki technology both for Wikipedia and his for-profit company Wikia, which enables anyone to create a Wiki on any topic. He was quick to point out that the technology is now being used for more than just an encyclopedia; as an example, it’s being used to police plagiarism. The future possibilities are endless as once a technology is developed it takes a few years for the masses to understand, and develop, its potential uses.

For a conference that was supposed to showcase innovations of the future, it should be noted that the double panel consisted of nine men and no women. It seems in the future, women are not to be perceived as future leaders. Did you know that two prominent senior managers for Facebook are women? Randi Zuckerberg, VP of Marketing and Sheryl Sandberg, the COO. During the special blogger sessions it was also noted that most bloggers in Israel are women. If you check out the demographics on SocialBakers, a site that tracks Facebook statistics around the world (soon Twitter as well) most of the consumers are indeed women (55% in the United States and though lagging a bit behind 46% in Israel).

Beyond the glaring absence of women on the panel, the focus of the speakers was on how the emerging consumer markets help determine the new technologies that are developed. Surprisingly none of the speakers addressed the needs of social innovators in the Third Sector and how the technologies are working. During the opening plenary Jimmy Wales addressed the fact that Wikipedia is indeed a nonprofit organization but that theme was not revisited over the course of the panel. It is well-known that all of the companies represented on the panel do indeed work with the Third Sector.

While all the speakers brought out interesting points, nothing they said was an epiphany. Their points emphasized current technologies and trends and were not in keeping with the theme of the conference – Facing Tomorrow.

Florence Broder provides social media consultation services to nonprofits through her work as the COO of IsraelGives. She was formerly the social media manager at the Jewish Agency for Israel.