A couple of weeks ago it was my very great pleasure to attend and give a talk at a conference in Moscow. Yes, Moscow. It went a little something like this... Hold on a sec. How did this come about? Well thanks goes to Brian Green of Editeur, the bibliographic standards body, and the guys at Nature Web Publishing who put him on to me. Of course thanks also goes to Biblio-Globus, the fantastic bookshop who took us out there. Anyway through a complicated series of events I found myself tasked with writing a piece on social networking sites and publishing for a conference on Standards in a Digital Age. Having never done anything like this it was going to be interesting.
So where to start? The talk had three parts. Part 1 looked at what we mean by social networking sites, extending the definition from your basic sites like Facebook (or indeed vkontakte) to social media, including concepts of web 2.0, micro blogging sites, portals for ugc, business networking and specifically bookish activities like librarything or Shelfari et al. In Part 2 I then tried to illustrate why these sites and services might possibly have some relevance to the whole business of publishing by arguing that 1) they have altered the structure of broadcast communication to some extent 2) they are the frontier of marketing, and viral marketing in particular and 3) they are loci of user generated content, the now hackneyed phrase that nonetheless describes a key concept for contemporary media industries. Part 3 then went on to describe ways in which publishers can get engaged, from the mirco scale of building a book group/profile page to the macro scale of building a site like Authonomy or Lovelybooks.
This was the conclusion: "there are no hard and fast rules for publishers and booksellers entering social networking sites. But it does require creativity, engagement, listening and good faith. It can be done cheaply or expensively, it can work or it can fail, but it can’t be ignored. "
The main challenge of the talk was trying to pitch at a level where people both completely new and highly familiar with the sites and ideas would still feel they had gotten something. A further challenge was catering for simultaneous translation into Russian- text heavy powerpoint slides were out, with screen shots providing the bulk of the visuals. In the end I think it went quite well. Well, I hope so anyway. Russia has the fastest growing internet usage of any European country and is also seeing the steepest growth in social network usage. The two biggest, the aforementioned vkontakte and odnoklassniki, have over 26 million users between them.
The whole experience of Moscow was fantastic. Huge thanks to our legendary host, Biblio-Globus owner Boris Semenovich whose hospitality was utterly exceptional. Huge thanks also to Nelly, Zhanna and everyone else who made our stay so memorable and enjoyable. My co-delegates were great fun, hailing from England, Scotland, Germany and Canada. Before going to Russia I had slightly imagined that vodka toast after vodka toast was a slightly mythical ideal of a true Russian dinner. I can happily confirm that it is not. Moscow itself is a vast and vastly impressive city, at once familiar and alien. Awesome stuff.