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In the company of nerds

Spent the day at the first social media conference ever held in Iceland, at which I gave a short presentation about this blog. It was a great day and WOW there are so many people doing so many cool things here. Awesome! [Or as AAH would say: ozm!]

Hard to convey all the things that sparked my interest – I made a halfhearted attempt to Tweet about it as some of you may have noticed in the sidebar, but I was totally lame in comparison to some of the other nerds there [and you must know I use that term in the nicest possible way] who practically tore up the Twitterspere with their play-by-play reports [for those of you familiar with Twitter, the hash tag is #999conf – although most of the tweets are in Icelandic]. In fact one of the speakers, who has been tracking data about Icelanders’ Twitter use [did you know there are 2117 Icelanders who use Twitter?] showed us a graph where the tweets in Iceland shot up between 9 and 10 am – the first hour of the conference.

The conference was a mixture of presentations and panels, and I am being perfectly honest when I say they were all incredibly interesting and totally held my attention [which is probably why I was wasted by the end of the day]. There were panels about the future of music online, marketing in tourism using social media, social media and democracy and the future of online news. Presentations included marketing through Facebook, Facebook for businesses, online “listening”, user engagement, and more. And in each, a whole lot of ideas and thoughts were turned up and hashed out and, well, it was just really cool.

My presentation basically focused on how this blog has changed since the economic collapse and has become one of the main news sources out of Iceland. There is obviously a vast call for information about what is happening here and I broached the question of what the government and other officials were doing to fulfill this need. The short and most evident answer appears to be: NOT MUCH. Granted, I am not privy to what they are doing at the government press office, but apart from the occasional press release that gets sent out in English and vague talk about some PR firm in the UK, there really does not appear to be much that the Icelandic authorities are doing to promote or shape Iceland’s image, or further Iceland’s interests through PR. Which is pretty outrageous when you think about it. With everything that’s gone down here in the last year or so, they should have had PR experts on the case IMMEDIATELY working to communicate with the outside world – and those experts should [and probably would] have exploited the possibilities of social media to its fullest.

You know I can get totally worked up just thinking about it. Some of you may have noticed the brief discussion in the comments to the last post, in which Col wondered if the Icelandic Tourist Board did anything to support this blog. The answer is that no, they do not. I have tried to initiate a collaboration with them on two occasions, and they were simply not interested. I happen to know, however, that they read this blog regularly, and I’m sure it suits them just fine to have someone like YT actively doing their work for free. And seriously, I have to wonder what they are doing down there with all that staff. Not much social-media wise, at least: their website, for example, is completely stagnant and boring .

Similarly, the government could, in my view, be doing so infinitely much more. Take for instance the article that Eva Joly wrote in Iceland’s defense a few weeks ago – which basically presented Iceland’s case from “our point of view”. I published it on this blog in its entirety [not edited-slash-censored, like, for instance, The Telegraph] and it went viral, making it onto the front page of Reddit and ranking high on other social media sites. I estimate that, by now, around 50,000 people have logged on to read that article here. So if I – who am basically a nobody, just a person who writes a blog as a hobby in my living room at night – can manage to further Iceland’s case to such an extent, then what could the government do, with all its manpower and connections??

Anyway – a great day and I really appreciated having the opportunity to participate in the discussion – for as the organizer said when he introduced my presentation, even though this blog is one of the most-visited in Iceland, relatively few people even know that it exists.

And with that, I shall get off my soapbox.

Only that it was cloudy when I went in to the conference, and it was raining when I came out at five. I was desperately in need of a few lungfuls of fresh air so I went out for a bike ride along the seashore, not realizing that there was a pretty stiff wind happening. Not that I minded – I needed the exercise after a full eight hours of physical inertia. Right now 9°C [48F]; the sun came up at 6.32 and set at 8.16.



Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Clement September 9, 2009, 10:53 pm

    Serious points made I realise, but just commenting a big yeah for the wonderful title!!
    Still lurking, still reading my favourite blog. Broke though, will donate soon!

  • Lissa September 9, 2009, 11:17 pm

    I think one of the reasons you have credibility is because you aren’t working for the Icelandic government or the tourist board in any capacity.

    On the other hand, they could certainly do more. Why aren’t the various tourism entities on Facebook (although Reykjavik Excursions is there now), pushing stuff on my wall that makes me daydream about my next trip to Iceland? Why isn’t the government there, pushing out one or two paragraph informational bits a few times a week?

    Why is that Icelandic Tourist Board web page so static? It is difficult to get information in English about what is going on in different places in Iceland at different times of the year, especially in the off-season (which is when I tend to visit).

  • Paul H September 10, 2009, 1:29 am

    Iceland is going to shine.
    I don’t have to add to that, I just know it, period.

  • Stephen Cowdery September 10, 2009, 2:08 am

    When I was planning a return visit to Iceland in 2004, I tried using the usual tourist sites and came up short on information (especially in the off-season as Lissa noted) but when I discovered a few Icelandic blogs in English it was as if a door had been opened for me. Those of us who interact on line regularly tend to forget that most people still don’t have a clue to what the internet is. There was a “manifesto” published recently by some top German Bloggers:


    which addresses this and other issues concerning how the internet can be used to a greater extent, and how traditional media is fighting a losing battle – a must-read. In a related note, Google Translate is now available in Icelandic. For what is is, it isn’t too bad, very helpful for reading Icelandic commercial sites. It is not quite as good for blogs- a lot of idioms and slang don’t translate well, although if you break the longer words apart and try again it often works surprisingly well.

    I don’t need to tell you how highly Professor Batty and I value your blog.

  • tom joseph aka tj3 September 10, 2009, 2:26 am

    Iceland will be like ——??—— in 5oo years?

    The tourist board of the future will say what?

    It could be the best possible Iceland or the worst or maybe something realistic, who knows? Now there is a topic for a conference, if just to see what people today think past the immediate.

    Iceland has an image in the world and a reality at home waiting to unfold.

  • John Hopkins September 10, 2009, 4:51 am

    Iceland is essentially a place that likes to present itself to the outside world in a certain way, and, indeed, part of its survival strategy is to remain mostly inscrutable to the outside except for ways that can bring profit to the few in powerful positions. They have successfully hidden the inner workings of their social system behind their language until this economic thing blew up and they had their hands in someone else’s honey-pot, someone else who was not Icelandic. The blowing of that cover was a huge incident and traumatic perhaps more than the actual economic woes (evidenced at the reality that NO ONE has been indicted on any counts in the scandals!!! the society hasn’t the internal mechanisms to cope with the corruption as it was simply the way things have always been done in Iceland all along). Naiveté and a certain sheep-like behavior has been a characteristic with respectively external and internal social affairs. I’ll never forget when I first moved there, reading (as I slowly learned some Icelandic) the headline of Lesbok, the weekend magazine of Morgunbladid, the dominant national broadsheet of that time, “Icelanders are the smartest, strongest and most beautiful people in the world.” I at first thought it was some parody title for some kind of article, but then as I started reading, I understood it was dead sober and “factual.” Anchored in the “facts” that the “World’s Strongest Man” (who went on to die under suspicious circumstances at a very young age, (steroid abuser??)) was Icelandic; Miss Universe for a couple years was Icelandic; and some Icelander won a prize in an international math contest in Europe. This article, of course, would NEVER have been exposed to the wider world, and yet, the internal operations of the society are predicated on such distorted views.

    A year or so later, I was stunned to discover another dimension of social sentiment also more-or-less hidden from the outside world. Again, in Morgunbladid, presented as editorial content, a series of articles over a month or so, MANY column-inches of text starting out quoting Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” and among many other things, calling for all foreign-Icelandic marriages to be immediately annuled and all foreigners be deported from the country. AS EDITORIAL COMMENTARY!!!!!!! I was stunned. A friend unsuccessfully tried to bring this to the attention of the UN Commission against racism (Iceland being a signatory), but he had no luck.

    Anyway, just a couple stories, perhaps reflecting on this issue of internal and external image presentation in Iceland.

    Oh, and another one. I was the first person to establish the website for the Icelandic Academy of Art (MHI it was known then) back in early 1994, and I was really considered a lunatic — why would you want make information easily accessible to anyone? I think information is seen as a strategic holding of those in power in Iceland, something quite human, but it’s hard to imagine the Althingi ever passing a “Sunshine Law” like the US did which make ALL proceedings except national security things open for public assessment.

  • Peter Reeves September 10, 2009, 7:07 am

    Well done. Talking of social networking and sharing news, can you link to some of the other great sites pushing English news out there? I’m thinking Economic Disaater Area and Iceland Talks, both excellent!

  • Ljósmynd DE September 10, 2009, 7:28 am

    The Icelandic Tourist Board may be spoilt by the large number of tourists visiting Iceland in summer. In high season all the touristy places are so heavily overcrowded, that I think, there can’t be many more tourists without severe impact on the environment.

    I agree with you, that the website of the Icelandic Tourist Board is often not very helpful. I don’t find a regularly updated list of events or links to events, the accommodation listings often don’t have any prices at all. And providing email addresses of hotels and other tourist related businesses, who don’t bother to reply to inquiries, is not promoting Iceland’s cause (this has improved in the last time a bit, though). First time visitors, interested in the usual Golden Circle stuff, may find enough helpful information but there it ends.

    I am used to planning my trips to Iceland as well as to other countries with the help of the internet. And I find my way around those problems. I’m not familiar with the question, how Facebook or Twitter could be helpful here, as I don’t use them. But personal accounts of tours and events as provided in your blog are always inspiring. And given the many positive comments on your posts in the MY ICELAND category show, that there should be a potential.

    And – just saying – I am glad that Iceland is not like many other countries, where you find a pay booth before any local attraction, must register for hiking tours and have an excessively commercialized tourism.

  • alda September 10, 2009, 9:54 am

    Everyone: thanks for the input, as always!

    Clement – thanks pal! and no worries …

    Lissa – I think one of the reasons you have credibility is because you aren’t working for the Icelandic government or the tourist board in any capacity — point taken! I think you’re absolutely right.

    Stephen – thanks for the link – will have to read when I have a bit more time. As for the Google translating tool – you would not believe how much attention it has received here. People have been amusing themselves for days on end just putting random stuff in there and having it translate (apparently “ég er hoppandi kátur” was one of the better ones – it translated as “I am gay” or something). The general consensus here is that it’s just terrible.

    John – I totally agree with your analysis of Iceland hiding behind the language and there is SO MUCH cleansing going on right now. I think the kreppa may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. – But as for the reports in Mbl that you mention, I find that very hard to believe, I’m sorry. The first one I think MUST have been irony (or if not, it was in very bad taste) — but I really believe that there would have been a public outcry with the second one. No newspaper in Iceland that wants to take itself seriously would publish something like that in full earnest. C’mon – we may be corrupt, but we’re not THAT uncivilized, at least not in the 21st century.

    Peter – I’ve had on the agenda to set up a links page for some time now but other things have tended to take precedence. But it’s on the plan!

    LDE – I am glad that Iceland is not like many other countries, where you find a pay booth before any local attraction — actually, this is very much under discussion here right now. With an ever-increasing number of tourists, the different sites just cannot handle being unrestricted – or would require substantial set-up to protect them. Hence the idea of charging a fee is once again up on the table (but that said, it tends to crop up regularly, and then go away again).

  • hildigunnur September 10, 2009, 1:00 pm

    John: WHAT? Can you please find out when this was? I haven’t bought Morgunblaðið for years so I might have missed this but as Alda says, it would have raised hell here. There is racism here, yes, (isn’t there some, everywhere?) but the only political party that has ever tried to promote those ideas is basically dead now and only ever got under 10% of the votes – way less than in most other European countries.

    I really must see this before believing. Morgunblaðið has allowed reader’s articles like this before in the name of free speech, but normally with a footnote, claiming that the paper doesn’t support this sort of thing.

  • elín September 10, 2009, 1:27 pm

    Great post as always, Alda. It is very uplifting to feel this mood of creativity and hope. Especially on the heels of another wonderful My Iceland.

    I’m not clever enough to provide a link, but in your July 10th post (Just when you think things can’t get any more corrupt … THEY DO!!), several readers wrote in the comment section what other sites they follow for news in English re: Iceland. Thought this might be helpful for Peter Reeves and others in the interim of you finding a moment to set up a more organized link on your homepage.

    Thanks for all you do to keep us informed!

  • Ljósmynd DE September 10, 2009, 2:08 pm

    I have seen the discussion about taking a fee for visiting some of Iceland’s major attractions pop up every now and then in the past. It might be necessary, at some not too distant point, to limit access to some of the most popular hiking trails, like the Laugavegur, to protect the frail environment in this area. But the imagination of a fenced Seljalandsfoss or Skogarfoss with a pay booth, limited opening times, possibly supplemented by a row of souvenir kiosks is pretty dreadful. If additional budget is needed to pay for supervision of the sites or for some other tourist infrastructure, I wouldn’t object to a general tourism levy, payable, e.g., at the time of arrival in Iceland.

    And I would agree, that credibility and authenticity of social media like your blog don’t seem to go very well with the work of Tourist Boards, who in the first place try to sell an image or a dreamworld.

  • Simon Brooke September 10, 2009, 3:37 pm

    So if I – who am basically a nobody, just a person who writes a blog as a hobby in my living room at night – can manage to further Iceland’s case to such an extent, then what could the government do, with all its manpower and connections??

    What makes you think that they could improve in any way on the job you do? What makes you think that if they tried, they would have the credibility you do? What makes us, your audience, read you is that you voice is authentic, honest, passionate, and unmediated by the needs of diplomacy or the ‘government line’. And, probably, the government should not pay you – because if they did, your independence and authenticity would be in doubt.

    That’s tough, I know, especially when times are tight. Which means you need us, your loyal readers, to contribute more. Come on, everyone, dig your hand in your pocket. There’s a little donate button up there. And I sincerely hope, Alda, that the BBC and all the other ‘big media’ organisations that have been using your work over the past six months also putting their hands in their pockets.

    Thank you, once again, for what you do.

  • Kris September 11, 2009, 5:35 am

    I have been reading a lot of the blog posts recently and I think they are great. Iceland is now enjoying (or not) international notoriety and getting a lot of interest. On the outside it seems to be a modern European country with all the trappings of cosmopolitan life along with a scenic countryside. But deep down inside, it is very provincial. The tourist board has a limited ideas about attracting tourism because it has limited interest in tourists (a.k.a. foreigners).
    Iceland is best understood as a tribal or clan based society where the family and your status in relation to powerful clans is all important, much life Navajo society.
    If you can trace back your family to the mid-19th century, most likely your clan had been living there for about 1000 years. So, what does this mean? It means that events and actions that seem confusing and sometimes preposterous are due to the way that the society works. Think clan and you are half way home. Bone up on some social nathropology. Read Knut Hamson. He’s Norwegian, but you’ll get the picture. PS I hope none of my cousins are reading this 😉

  • Dora September 11, 2009, 10:24 am

    Kris; I agree. We are a clan based society. We need to increase the population to at least a million to begin to function better. And we need people from all over the world to settle here. We have all the institutions of a developed society but they are weak and insular – lack of professionalism is being exposed in this crisis.

  • Col Matheson September 11, 2009, 11:58 am

    Re.my comment that the tourist board should make a donation, which you touched upon above, perhaps I should have added “anonymously”. But seriously,after following this blog for some years now, I don’t think for a minute that your integrity or your credibility would be brought into question, no matter who you did work for.You do what you do,end of story,anyway ,who would dare!!

  • Kris September 11, 2009, 7:32 pm

    Dora: Bigger is not necessarily better. Look across the Atlantic! I think Iceland is fine for the most part. In small (island?) countries that’s just how things are. If countries are like ice cream, I want there to be lots of flavors. Not just multinational corp heavy and multinational corp light like in..cough, cough… other places.
    I talked to my Dad about the corruption problem and he was of the opinion that the laws were not mature enough to defend people. That may be a benefit of EU membership in the future. The rest of the EU I can leave behind.
    Tourism: I think to get big results, you need to think big. In the US, there are two campaigns that hugely successful; the “Worlds Most Interesting Man” (Dos Equis) and “What happens here…” (Las Vegas). Fuse them together and you get “The Worlds Most Interesting Country”. If you follow this stuff (advertising), those two are absolutely killer! Steal from the best and forget the rest.

  • John Hopkins September 11, 2009, 11:36 pm

    The two articles I mentioned were from 1990, possibly 1991 (I moved to Iceland in 1989, though I had been there several times before that as well, one of my best friends in engineering school was Icelandic-American). I’m in Sydney, Australia right now, otherwise I could hunt in my archive for more details, I did file copies of the racism articles, it was a series of three written by (so I was told) by some ‘farmer.’ (Whatever the connotations of that are). Actually my wife and I did write a letter of protest to the small English-language newsletter “Foreign Living” that existed in R’vik at the time, but otherwise. Oh, wait, I just found a digital copy of that letter, here’s the info on the article: “July 29, 1992, Morgunbladid, page 30, entitled “White Mans Holocaust” written by one Magnús Thorsteinsson from Grimsnes”

    I suppose one could research back issues of Lesbók from 90-91 to find the other article. I can’t recall the byline or headline text off hand. Since my language skills weren’t so good, I couldn’t really judge the reaction of the population…