The recent participation of a team of organised bloggers and social media experts at the Florens 2012 cultural heritage event presented an opportunity to observe the interaction of two distinct systems of cultural information distribution - represented by the conference itself, versus social media and blogging, or new media. In many ways, Florens 2012 was a watershed moment for culture blogging and social media in Italian cultural discourse, amplified on a global level.
The conference panels were numerous, and often challenging to cover. Some were perhaps typically Italian in nature, regularly consisting of elderly gentlemen making lengthy rhetorical speeches with little or no audience engagement. A political undercurrent was to be found at the heart of most of these discussions, the foremost issue in many minds being the allocation of funding and consideration of tax breaks for organisations willing to contribute to cultural projects - which is presently restricted in Italy. Yet despite this, some firm steps were taken to bring an event like Florens 2012 up to speed with conferences occurring overseas and in more progressive industries such as technology and fashion.
Terry Garcia @natgeo "old media companies that don't adopt new media become dead media companies..." fascinating insights #florens2012
— Hasan Niyazi (@3pipenet) November 7, 2012
Of the panels attended, the presence of international speakers added a refreshing diversity to the content being discussed. Notable speakers in this instance hailed from organisations such as National Geographic, the Smithsonian and the Museum of London. Each of these related a clear and poignant message - the success of their initiatives were the result of embracing the diverse array of tools which enabled them to interface with content producers and the public. The use of the web, museum apps and social media were shown to have a quantifiable impact on the range of people that could be reached using these new tools. A fine example of this was presented by David Spence of the Museum of London, who provided a memorable account of the "Street Museum" app which turns London itself into a museum exhibit (link)
Museums are about storytelling, encompassing history,memory & emotion. David Spence @museumoflondon enthralling introduction at #florens2012
— Hasan Niyazi (@3pipenet) November 8, 2012
During the planning of Florens 2012, a decision was made to amplify the message of the events across the globe, in real time and via blogs. The previous conference in 2010 did have a Facebook page, but its social media impact was not fully formed, and without an international team to propagate the message, did not have as significant an effect. The invitation of an international team via competition was an idea orchestrated by Alexandra Korey (from Flod), allowing her to pool the web's best and brightest in diverse areas related to culture and economy. "TeamFlorens" was hence born, effectively forming the first organised and officially sponsored international social media team assigned to a cultural event in Florence (and possibly worldwide). This unique approach was a calculated risk, as forming a team consisting of individuals who had not previously worked together carries an element of uncertainty. Yet in each instance, the bloggers selected demonstrated a great passion for their work and area(s) of interest. The concept of blogging is still shrouded in mystery to many outsiders and members of the public. Even though bloggers in certain fields, such as technology and politics have risen to a status (and salary) equivalent to journalists, this is less discernible in cultural matters. Being a seasoned blogger herself, Alexandra was able to determine the best combination of team members for the task at hand.
The first TeamFlorens toils away in the Palazzo Vecchio. November 2012.
Being part of TeamFlorens, I found the entire experience deeply fascinating, and would often take pause and reflect on the two modes of information distribution - namely the conference versus the team of bloggers attempting to synchronise with it. From a logistic perspective, much was learned in terms of organising a team of individuals of disparate interests. Behind the scenes, team members communicated often, designating which events they intended to cover and collaborating as able. The necessity of having a co-ordinator was highlighted on numerous occasions, with the organisers and presenters often adjusting plans in the last minute. It was the stressful duty of the bloggers' co-ordinator to manage these problems on the fly. Many of these issues may have been avoided with better planning and communication in advance, which will hopefully be factored into the next iteration of the conference in 2014.
Conference lunches and evening aperitifs provided opportunities for TeamFlorens members to network with officials from the Fondazione Florens and cultural institutions.
At the heart of this event was a wish to express the concept of "culture". This is a common, but elusive term, whose varying definitions and implications seem to span the breadth of the human experience. From an anthropological perspective, the definition of culture seems to be expanding. A landmark publication in 2006 explored over 300 definitions of the term. This being said, a neater encapsulating statement about culture was expressed in 1977 by eminent cultural theorist Raymond Williams.
The complexity of the concept of "culture" is then remarkable. It became a noun of "inner" process, specialized to its presumed agencies in "intellectual life" and "the arts." It also became a noun of general process, specialized to its presumed configurations in "whole ways of life." It played a crucial role in definitions of "the arts" and "the humanities," from the first sense. It played an equally crucial role in the definitions of the "human science" and the "social sciences" in the second sense.
This outline of the complexities of defining "culture" may indicate some of the challenges both conference organisers and the blogging team faced. Some of the drier, more technical presentations were difficult to cover - as the mode of information presented was not easily translated into a form that could be amplified across social media. In addition, some of the topics often fell beyond the scope of the team members attending (eg. landscape preservation) and difficulties were also encountered with the simulcast English translations abbreviating much of the content originally presented in Italian, resulting in a fragmented impression of the content to the members of the press/audience working in English. Organisation committees of future conferences should aim to evaluate which presentations are most ideally suited to be covered by social media teams, or alternately prescribe guidelines regarding the nature of presentations, including duration and visual displays.
Despite these challenges, it was apparent that the management of cultural affairs is a vital concern in Italy, and is also a topic which international stakeholders have a vested interest in. Culture is the foremost activity which encapsulates people from all elements of society, and from all nations. It can therefore be validly argued that the use of globally inclusive initiatives and tools to disseminate the substance of cultural conferences is vital.
At one level, it was a triumph for the small team of bloggers to have a quantifiable impact, with a digital impression of "Florens 2012" being radiated around the world via blog articles and real time social media output. Along with this however, is the realisation that a more effective and professional coverage is possible, creating an expanded global interest and participation in Florens 2014 and beyond.
Congratulations to Alexandra Korey and her team. The events of Florens 2012 have created a bond between team members, each sharing a sense of being involved in an innovative and exciting endeavour, despite the obstacles encountered along the way. This year's bloggers and the their respective sites can be found below.
Alexandra Korey - Arttrav
Jenna Francisco - This is My Happiness
Ted Nguyen - Ted Nguyen USA
Simone Massi - Archeologia 2.0 (Italian)
Melissa Pignatelli - La Rivista Culturale (Italian) ; also in English ; French
Sucheta Rawal - Go Eat Give
Nathalie Salas - Perfect Boutique Hotel
Fondazione Florens - Official Facebook Page - features many pictures, videos
1. Baldwin, J. (ed.) Redefining Culture: Perspectives Across The Disciplines. Routledge. 2006.
2. Williams, R. Marxism and Literature. Oxford University Press. 1977. p.17