From 8 to 10 December 2010, Google organized a 3 days event in Egypt. it was Google’s first time to organize an event like that in Egypt, and it looks like we will see Google getting more active in the Middle East as a similar 3 days event will happen too in Jordan from 12-14 of the same month. it will be a start of Google’s presence as a company in the region and will start to work more on winning the market and building a community of Google fans between software developers and business people. I think this comes after Yahoo’s acquisition of Maktoob. Google won’t leave Yahoo! to own that part of the world without a fight. but anyway, all this is a good opportunity to see new activities in the region and It’s sure that having 2 big companies like Google and Yahoo! in the region will help in pushing the technological evolution.
This day was targeting computer science students and professors. while I didn’t attend that day; from what I heard from people who attended that day, Google showed its Google Apps for Education service and how universities can benefit from it by providing its students access to many free and powerful solutions like Gmail and Google Docs and how all this can be controlled by the university itself. also, Google introduced the students to many of Google’s technologies and services that they can use to build rich web applications and building mobile applications for android.
Target audience: software developers.
Keynote: Nelson Mattos
Day started by a keynote from Nelson Mattos the Vice President of Product Management & Engineering for Europe, Middle East and Africa. Nelson talked about some points like the lack of Arabic content online and how the high price of DSL and mobile internet can be a reason of this low amount of Arabic content. then he started talking about how Google is trying to serve the needs of the Arabic speaking users by helping in increasing the amounts of information on the Arabic version of Wikipedia and by building other tools and services like Tashkeel (تشكيل) that can add diacritics to Arabic text , Google Chrome’s translation plugin, Google News in Arabic, the Gmail to SMS service (only in Palestine till now), supporting driving and walking directions in Google Maps, Google sites, Google Ejabat the questions and answers website (which a low number of the attendees said that they are using), Google’s Health Speaks Arabic project which aims to translate all English Wikipedia health articles to be available in Arabic, Google Ahlan online (أهلا أونلين) which aims to educate new internet users about how internet works, Arabic Youtube interface, and lastly reaching out for software developers by making events like GEgypt.
Nelson continued talking about how modern browsers changed how software applications work and how they helped in making richer user experience, and like how browsers changed, the advantages of moving to the cloud started to appear too. moving your data to the cloud can make managing your data easier and scaling out won’t be a problem. people start to freak out when they think about how their data will get locked out, but he said that they are working using open standards and you can move at anytime if you want. he talked too about Android and the numbers of Android mobile phones sold daily which reached +250k . and about Arabic support in Android, he said that he still doesn’t have a specific date. finally, Nelson asked the attendees to help by giving their feedback to Google on what should be done to make things better.
Demo of HTML 5 support in Chrome
Sebastian Trzcinski-Clément gave a quick demo on Google Chrome’s current support for HTML 5 by showing some Canvas usage examples like the matrix rain and the Gmail game. also, he showed more demos on using WebGL to make 3D graphics in the browser and the use of the File API to drag & drop files from your system to the browser or even selecting a full directory, and other demos on using the device orientation information, and Chrome’s support for speech recognition.
Google in the Middle East
Ahmed Hamzawi the Head of Engineering ,MENA started by a video showing Google’s history from the its beginning till now. then talked about how Google’s country domains in the middle east (like google.com.eg) provide more features that’s not available on the other Google domains, like translated search and auto-correction of mistyped words, support for converting search queries typed in Franco-Arab to be in English. then he gave a demo on translation support in Android by translating a SMS message written in German to be in English. Hamzawi showed another demo with Sebastian to show how speech recognition works in Android combined with the translation support, Sepastian started speaking in French to the Android mobile phone and then Android started translating what he said to English and then it read the translated text out loud, they repeated this many times also from English to French. then Hamzawi showed the Chrome to phone plugin which allowed him to send information from his Chrome to his Android mobile phone instantly. he continued with showing how to use voice actions in Android to set Alarms, play music, sending SMS and searching in maps. finally, he showed how to use Visual search to get information about any thing you see, by just pointing your mobile’s camera to that ad or sign.
Work in Open Source
Chris DiBona, Open source and public sector programs manager; started by giving a quick introduction to what is open source and talked about the major reasons of why people like to give their code for free for others to use and learn from, and the top two reasons were intellectual curiosity and skill improvement. He then talked about the history of Google’s servers setup and how they are using many open source softwares to power their business like Linux kernel, Apache tools, SSH and many system management tools. open source allowed Google to have full control and ownership of the software it use and it’s easy to modify a software directly when you have its source code, instead of waiting for longtime till the original software company to modify/fix it for you. Chris then talked bout Google Code and said that it’s now the 2nd big code repository online with 300k projects. Google is always contributing to open source and till now Google created and contributed to ~900 open source projects. Android and Chromium projects are two of Google’s biggest open projects. WebM/WebP are two open media file formats developed by Google and Google’s goal is to get it into HTML 5. Chris continued by talking about how Google is always encouraging software developers to contribute to many open source projects through Google’s summer of code project. there is 76k projects and 94 countries in 2010’s Google summer of code project.
Paa Kwesi and Ryan Brown, talked about Google’s AppEngine. AppEngine enables anyone to build and host web applications on Google’s servers. they gave a quick overview of how it works and its architecture. till now, AppEngine only supports python and Java. a one more advantage is that hosting your web application on AppEngine is free at first (more about billing). also, they gave a step by step example on how to work with the SDK and creating a simple application using AppEngine’s framework and APIs. at the end of the session, they asked the attendees to try improving that small application and submitting their code before the end of the day to win a Nexus S.
[sorry for not giving more details about this session, I did receive an important phone call at the beginning of the session, so I couldn’t follow what happened well]
Around 18 developers submitted their code to win the stylish Nexus S mobile phone (I knew later, that many other guys quit early and didn’t submit their work). Paa and Ryan chose only 5 of them to Demo their work on stage and then another 5 Googlers chose one of them (competitor number 4) to win the prize.
[if you know the name of the winner, please tell me to add it here]
till this point of the day, I didn’t take more notes and tried to focus more on writing some code for the competition, while I couldn’t make it to the top 5, I did enjoy the amounts of adrenalin that was running in my veins while I was trying to write more code before the end of the competition. my biggest problem was the phone calls that got me behind every one by around an hour, I have to focus in any future competitions -isA-. I did push the sample application with my added modification to my repository on github.
target audience: Technology Entrepreneurs, Small Businesses & Marketers.
Keynote: Ari Kesisoglu – Regional Manager, MENA
Most of the main points in the keynote were mentioned before in the keynote of the 2nd day, except that it was modified a bit for the targeted audience. Ari added that, a challenge can be an opportunity; if there is no big Arabic content online, this doesn’t mean that people aren’t searching for content. he also talked about how the number of new MENA internet & computer companies, registered domain names and websites were increasing exponentially in the last years. Ari gave an example of a Lebanese company (Mosaic Marble) that did start as a small shop in 2004 and then covered USA, Canada and Europe in 2008 and it’s getting bigger now, to tell the audience about the importance of starting early and not to plan huge while they still didn’t anything. just start today.
Internet insight & Trends in MENA
Wael Ghonim is the Marketing Manager in MENA, Ghonim started by talking about how internet changed our world and how many things that took long days, now only takes just a number of clicks to be done. some people were able to change the world using the internet, like Khan when he built Khan Academy to improve education methods. and the thousands of people who are contributing to Wikipedia without asking for money. Ghonim told us a story he had with a young guy from Alexandria who was an active Wikipeida contributor. Ghonim contacted that guy to meet him in Cairo, but that guy told him that he won’t be able to afford getting 30 Egyptian pounds to travel from Alexandria to Cairo. this guy is an example of those many who don’t have money, but still they can change the world using the internet. Ghonim continued, we can help you to know what people are searching for, so you can target them with your products. when you know that a really big amount of youtube video views come from MENA, why don’t you start think about creating multimedia content and putting it online to start profiting from it?!
Ghonim showed many statistics about what people search for online, and he said that, in MENA; more than 10% of search queries comes from mobiles and KSA is leading mobile internet growth in the region. also, did you know that more than 5k Egyptians join FaceBook every day? also, when you know that most search queries in MENA are in Arabic, why you are still building your applications in English while you have to build it in Arabic first?!
After that session, things wasn’t that interesting. there were sessions about the basics of Adsense, Adwords, Google Apps, Google maps. I still liked the technical Google maps session by David Renie. the most interesting demo was when he used the Google earth plugin to simulate a car moving from Cairo to Alexandria.
Be innovators, be entrepreneurs !
Here things started to get interesting again. Walid Bakr from Abraj Capital gave a very good session about entrepreneurship and what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. then Shereif Nassr the founder of Nefsak.com started talking about the experience he gained from starting his own business and the challenges that faced him and still facing, specially online payment in Egypt and people’s slow adoption of the idea of buying online. then, Amr Ramadan the founder of vimov came on stage and shared his experience with us too on how he struggled at the beginning till he made his company a successful example.
Ahmed Alfi the Chairman of Sawari Ventures gave another inspiring speech about how he grow as a young kid and how his father was always preparing him to be a businessman and to respect work ethics, he said that he always work with a safety net, as this makes him to work harder and harder. then he started taking questions and answering them.
Panel discussion: “From product to business”
Ziad Aly, Wael Ghonim, Tarek Saad and Hany Sonbaty were on the panel. and started taking questions from the audience and answering them. Most of the questions were about how to be an entrepreneur and how to get investment and when to start searching for a partner.
At the end, I’m sure that I missed many interesting session specially in the 2nd day because they had many parallel sessions. but all in all, this was a great event that we wish to happen again soon and in more countries and cities in the region to reach more people and give them hints on what can be done using Google’s technologies and services. and sure, in events like that; meeting great people like you is always the best part.