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Revolutionaries Wanted: Thoughts from #DEF2012

I am writing this post as my train pulls out of the Santa Lucia station in Venice, where I’ve had the pleasure of spending the past two days as part of the Digital Economy Forum (#DEF2012). Sponsored by the US Embassy in Italy, the DEF organized a series of events, all geared toward a more robust digital ecosystem in Italy. This evening, as Venice fades into the background, I wanted to share my thoughts on what has been an interesting couple of days and a very well organized, timely conference (a special thanks to Sandy Polu):

Italy and the digital world, part 1: Despite what people may believe, Italy is home to a large pool of quality software engineers and entrepreneurs. While the program was filled with interesting new companies who have worked hard to raise capital in hopes of becoming the next Glancee (an Italian company bought by Facebook), I expected to see a greater representation of the programmers and hackers among the “entrepreneurs to be.” At similar events, this group usually outweighs the MBA types, and, as a former programmer-turned-MBA-type, I’d like to see more Italian coders making their voices and ideas heard at these meetings.

Italy and the digital world, part 2: Despite Italy’s vibrant tech industry, I’m afraid that real understanding and support for our industry still lags behind at the government level. The speech of Minister of Economic Development (and former banker) Passera was more suitable for the general electorate (promises of solving the digital divide,open government data and updated websites), than for the crowd of Italian digital entrepreneurs who want inspiration, and concrete signs that those at the top understand our new world. While I appreciate the government’s acknowledgement, I had hoped for more signs that, like the Obama administration is constantly trying to do, our government is perceptive to the needs of this important and growing sector. For me, this was a missed opportunity.

The Speakers: Speakers included a nice mix of Italian and international companies, and the big guys were there too. Google spoke first, but instead of showing this international audience of entrepreneurs, investors and startuppers why they should see Google as a partner (which I would expect and hope to see given the discussions about privacy) and not an enemy, Google spent a lot of time explaining and promoting Google+. I know the days of “don’t be evil” are gone, and I’m not in a position to criticize their strategy, but as an old fan of the company, their transformation into the next IBM is impossible to ignore.

Instead, Facebook did a great job of showcasing companies who have made the most of the assets Facebook makes available, and called for revolutionaries (“Che Guevaras”) to join their movement. I hope this will translate to more and different applications rather than time-wasting games…

Among the most interesting companies and products who took the stage, I definitely suggest following Applix and Vertical Response. These companies offer a potential innovation boost for small- and medium-sized enterprises by providing them with innovative marketing tools and apps to help put them at par with bigger companies. My favorite presentations instead were those of Andraz Tori of Zemanta (they have a great product; try it if you’re a blogger) and Eleonora Viviani of Stereomood. As a music fan, I’ve spent years creating the perfect mixtape for every situation, so I understand the solution they’re striving for. From now on, their “Sunday morning” selection will be at the top of my weekend rotation.

But until then, I’ll go with this for the next two hours.

Author: Luca Scagliarini

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