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Chairman of communications award speaks on information exchange in Middle East

Chairman of the World Summit Award speaks on the importance of selecting and promoting creative and social content, answering Ahram Online's Arab Spring-specific questions

Ahram Online, Sunday 29 Apr 2012
Peter A. Bruck
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World Summit Award (WSA) Chairman, Peter A. Bruck, explains the concept behind the award and where it can make a difference within the massive world of the World Wide Web.

Q: What is your reaction to the Information and Communication Technology event and the WSA hosting?

A: The event is a real confidence-builder, and just in time, especially that people are looking for a stable environment to build new businesses. One needs this development so things start up again and people from all over the world interconnect, especially seeing the WSA here, meeting developers, cooperating and coordination for this exchange of knowledge.

Q: What can Cairo look forward to through the World Summit Award event, alongside the Cairo ICT?

A: The World Wide Web is an ocean if information flooded with a tsunami of content. But what is quality; which websites truly add value for users? This is where World Summit Award comes in. It brings to Cairo the world's best e-content producers who have succeeded in a global UN sponsored competition. With their digital products, they demonstrate the richness of content.

Q: What distinguishes the WSA from other awards?

A: In its field WSA is the only global award that takes place in the framework of the UN and its World Summit on the information society. Moreover, it is unique in its focus on content richness. Hence, the WSA categories reflect all parts of social and cultural life.

Q: Why was Cairo chosen to host the WSA celebrations?

A: The WSA follows the UN principle to organise the WSA in the main spots of the world where our work is most appreciated and needed. The need for Arab e-content is quite obvious and we are privileged to bring the best producers and designers from all around the world to Cairo for that reason. Among them are products from Arabic producers, like Monaqasat, the Tunisian Industry Portal, or Erada Portal from Egypt that demonstrate how Arab countries also generate outstanding e-content.

Q: Did you see an impact from the Arab Spring in the submissions?

A: Not yet, but I expect it this year. From Mobile award there was a strong sense of original submissions for women, for example, and also Internet Radio and other upcoming social software solutions. Tunisia, for example, submitted a rare example of electronic mail delivery, mixing physical delivery and web connections.

Q: You argue that the most important digital divided is the content gap. What do you mean?

A: The content gap reflects the fact that the performance of technologies increases faster that the human capacity it use them. ICTs offer more capacity to produce, store and transmit than humans can use, fill, read or consume. Content does not keep up. Moreover, there is a concentration on popular culture and politics in the internet, which reflects the dominant values. WSA breaks the awareness barrier and creates space for people that are creative and entrepreneurial, but that don't dominate the marketplace with money.

Q: Why is it important to showcase local content?

A: The Internet is a huge integration machine for global culture. It tends to eliminate the difference in terms of language as well as idioms. The main language is English, so people can communicate with each other. This is very important. Nevertheless, the internet may not only become a communication medium, but also an expression medium. The internet is a crucial carrier and creator of cultural identity. That is why WSA aims to overcome linguistic barriers and the smallness of national markets.

Q: What do you think is the biggest opportunity for Egypt from the internet and communications?

A: Cairo is the city on the Nile, which 2500 years ago revolutionised media by giving the world papyrus paper, which was rooted in the environment of its Nile delta. The Arab Spring created a new social environment for developing new social media. And it has adopted the social software solution from a college student in the USA, called Facebook, using it to relay a lot of information. It's always one to one, and the challenge is to take the energy of the Arab Spring and create something, in terms of democratic social media, like DemoPyras. Create your own media for your own use for this location rather than adopt what's done somewhere else and avoid getting stuck in the kind of social relations any American college student would have. You have a much more mature way of looking at democracy. This has not yet translated into content development.

Q: Do you foresee any risk to freedoms following potential changes to regulations on the sharing and exchange of knowledge?

A: The net developed in the academic world that was originally text-based and aimed to interlink world documents in a global depository. The enormous jump in freedom came from overcoming the walls of the library and breaking down the walls of the institutions that created these libraries, giving public access to everyone. The web is an interlinked space and gives a whole new sense of being; allowing to overcome distances and create a whole new setup of interconnectedness and new phase of communication. This new phase in global history is starting with an interactive world. People talk about the interconnectedness of societies – which is the technology side - while the interaction side is the democracy side. All the areas and institutions to create walls and taboos and to divide and exclude people will naturally crumble as a result of this new use of technology. In the upcoming phase, it will be most interesting to build new institutions, from the ground up, where people will voluntarily be willing to submit, exchange, investigate and agree.

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