It’s the first time in a long time that I haven’t been at the Highway Africa conference but I watched the award ceremonies on SABC Africa lastnight. It’s brilliant that this part of the conference is being aired on TV. The set, camera work and general production was world class and Yvonne Chaka Chaka was excellent — but the quality of the actual content was poor. Generally there were long babbling speeches that all went on for about 5-10 minutes too long (Tawana Kupe, Guy Berger and Vincent Maher’s speeches weren’t bad, but the others, including the presenter himself, just droned on). These are speeches we have to have, but why were they not shorter and more choreographed? Could it be that content is taking a back seat, for the need to please sponsors?
There needed to be more cutaways during the speeches to illustrate what was being said and provide some spice for the TV audience. Even when the presenters were talking about Rhodes or Grahamstown — there wasn’t a single shot of the university campus or town itself (surely an easy thing to do?), it was just left to the presenter to explain away on TV, the most visual medium on earth. I didn’t see shots of the actual websites that won the awards, or the runner-ups. (Although I did see a shot of last year’s winning website, Balancing Act). There was a relentless cutaway of some guy clicking some mouse on some computer during the odd speech. It was always the same guy and the camera seemed fixated on him. This really let, what is otherwise an excellent initiative, down.
Also the old Highway Africa website url — http://www.highwayafrica.org.za/ or http://www.highwayafrica.co.za/ — doesn’t work anymore… I see it is now http://highwayafrica.ru.ac.za/. Come on guys — what about people who bookmarked that url or are still linking to it? What about Google who still refers to the old url? What about your Google pagerank?
Although I am a big Fan of Highway Africa, I have always criticised the conference for not inviting enough big South Africa or International online players or commercial online players in general. I understand that it is a pan African conference and we don’t want it to be dominated by South Africa, but how can an online conference in Africa run without the big commercial SA online players such as News24 and IOL and others? They are probably the continent’s biggest news sites. South Africa’s online population accounts for half of that of the African continent as a whole put together — so why leave them out? Also, where are representatives from Google, or New York Times, or MySpace, or Craigslist, or Wikipedia, BBC, or Guardian Unlimited… surely not all would require payment to visit Madibaland and build strategic contacts in Africa and South Africa? We all know Google is opening an office here… they might have jumped at an opportunity to be here and establish some contacts? I don’t know how you can leave out big international players in a major online conference….
It looked like a good conference this time with a debate that is close to my heart — the rise of citizen media and how it affects mainstream media. Pity I missed it this time. Will be at the next one!