So what is the state of the Internet in Italy in the year 2008? Armed with an ambitious, varied agenda spanning two days, speakers from Italy and abroad tried to answer this question during the conference STATEoftheNET, held February 8 and 9 in Udine.
We didn’t need to wait long for an answer. Stefano Quintarelli, in the first session, noted that only 22% of Italians are using broadband Internet, by now a requirement for full participation in the world of Internet. This compares with 55% in the United States, not to speak of countries where the broadband penetration is even higher. Effectively 78% of Italians are cutoff from everything the Internet can offer, from basic information retrieval to active discussion of current events. Some are cutoff due to the lack of a universal service mandate – they cannot get broadband access (the so-called digital divide). The majority of the cases are probably due to people who don’t perceive sufficient value in all that Internet can offer.
The rest of the conference needs to be seen in this light – an Internet elite considering the behavior of a limited percentage of Italians. This leads to an interesting topic for the next edition of the conference: how is it possible to help greater numbers of Italians to discover the vast world of the Internet? In reality, there are already some initiatives underway, such as PAAS (Punti per l’Accesso Assistito ai Servizi e a internet) in Tuscany, to cite one.
In one way or another, the variety of the sessions and selected speakers insured that each session offered stimulating points to ponder. Just think of Gaspar Torriero‘s provocations (delivered with very effective pauses – a lesson for each of us who occasionally presents material in front of an audience). Another example was actress Marina Remi‘s discussion of how she recently opened a blog as a communication tool in her work. Mauro Migliavada did a great job documenting some of the various sessions – if you can read Italian, or make do with online translation services, consider consulting his site. Of course, Technorati is the place to find transcripts in English should someone have created them.
The organizers, Beniamino Pagliaro, Paolo Valdemarin e Sergio Maistrello, did a superb job pulling this first edition of the conference together and insuring its smooth running. In this, they made an excellent example for everyone present – in Italy, one can translate an idea into successful reality.
As is usually the case at these conferences, the opportunity to meet new people and meet up again with others makes the overall experience even richer. State of the Net proved to be no exception.
In the spirit of constructive criticism, there are three areas that at least deserve some consideration when developing the next edition.
- The location. Udine was very hospitable and the active support of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region has without doubt contributed to the event’s success. Yet the moment a decision is made to hold a conference outside the Rome – Florence – Bologna – Milan corridor, many potential participants are excluded. That may be just as well as the event is open to people who wouldn’t normally be able to attend such an event. But there were less than 100 people present on the second day, a real shame considering the high quality of the speakers, the importance of the Internet and the hard work done by the organizers.
- The language. The conference was held in Italian, switching to English when a non-Italian speaker was up on the stage. In one case, a speaker presented in Italian despite sharing the session with a non-English speaker. The embarrassing result was the English speaker had to admit that he couldn’t follow a fairly long speech in Italian, and apologized in advance if he was about to overlap with any of the points just made. Speakers who didn’t speak Italian were also unable to follow the Italian only sessions, depriving them of the opportunity to possibly incorporate that information in their presentations or in spontaneous contributions. To this, we need to add the fact that not all Italian participants are fully able to follow a presentation in English. The only realistic solution seems to be simultaneous translation – which, if done well, is expensive. And it does perhaps take away some of the spontaneity. An English only conference might work in some countries, but would definitely be limiting in Italy.
- Segregation. The speakers, probably with the best of intentions, were often segregated from the participants through reserved seats at the front and a reserved space for lunch and breaks – or at least so it seemed. On one side, this is completely understandable. We’re talking about people who are leaders in their field and who made sacrifices to be present at the conference – thus a desire to treat them well. At the same time, there were few questions from the younger people present, despite their strong presence Friday. The informal moments between sessions are a precious opportunity for the shy (which is sometimes just an issue of not wanting to make a fool out of oneself in English) to overcome their shyness and come forward with their questions.
In a sense, each of these three points touches on a common theme – there is a risk that a conference of this type becomes a bit stale if limited to the same few. That would be a great shame given the success of this first edition.
On a final note, it was interesting to hear very little about search engines given their roll as a gateway to finding information on the web. Particularly as Google has a defacto monopoly in west European markets, something that wouldn’t change, at least in the short term, if Microsoft acquired Yahoo!. As a search engine optimization professional, one tends to forget that not everyone, even in Internet, is obsessed with a good rank, to paraphrase DaveN.
Questo post sara’ disponible oggi anche in Italiano.
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