About an eCommerce roadtrip

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There seems to be a new secret capital of everything Magento-related in Germany, and that – lo and behold – is Hannover. So, when I got to know about an event called Conventioncamp and heard that it took place in Hannover, I knew I had to be there. Which, in hindsight, was not one of my worst decisions. The event was themed „The Future of the Internet“ and was dedicated to social media, ecommerce and online-marketing.

Never having been to a Barcamp before (I hate to admit it) I was excited to see what the so called mixture between a convention and a barcamp would look and feel like. To begin with, the location was quite promising. The Convention Centre is situated right in the middle of the Hannover trade fair grounds and from the outside looks a little bit like an array of UFOs. Each of the almost 1,000 visitors could chose to spend his time in the foyer, attend a keynote in the larger rooms or join a free session in the smaller ones.

Still being unable to clone myself, I had to chose some events. The first one was presented by Stowe Boyd who talked about The Social Revolution: Ten Years Later, Looking Ten Years Ahead. Being a blogger and a consultant in the social media sphere – the official website also called him „Web 2.0 evangelist“ – he did not so much present radical new ideas or views but rather wrapped subjects that make us web workers tick into digestible aphorisms and slides. Since the room was packed early on and I was standing outside, I could not follow what was going on in detail. However, I did not have the feeling to miss much when leaving early and heading for an early lunch with Boris Lokschin from symmetrics. We had a great talk about Magento stuff and discussed issues of personal data security and the role Google plays in all of this. (More about what triggered this discussion on Techcrunch) For me, this yet again brings home an important message: Exciting as all sessions, keynotes, seminars etc. might be – the really good stuff always seems to happen outside and in between.

Next in line was a session on Scalability, Performance and Cloud Computing by Rene Glembotzky and somebody whose name I cannot remember right now (sorry about that). I am not really into server infrastructure and database specifics, but at least it seemed to me that the hosts knew what they were talking about. During their presentation, both contradicted themselves from time to time, which actually made it more engaging, although I am not quite sure yet whether this was planned this way. (If any of you should read this, please let me know.) The outcome of this session was that modern web applications should be planned and produced to scale and that cloud computing is helpful especially when a website needs to account for visitor peaks.

After that we went to see and listen to Mr. ExcitingCommerce Jochen Krisch (who could get a bargain doctoral title in Moscow according to Boris, but that is an entirely different story). In an elaborate and engaging presentation titled E-Commerce 2.0: Innovations and Customer driven Sales Concepts (Social Commerce) he pointed out the driving factors of modern ecommerce and gave a summary of which successful shop concepts there are at the moment. Jochen also reinforced his notion that Magento – unlike any other shopping software on the market –  has already built in the tools necessary to make it in modern ecommerce. He emphasised that especially the MagentoConnect marketplace and the possibility to add new functionalities to the system as well as connect it to third-party software are the deciding factors for Magento‘s continuing success.

Continuing with the „open“ way of doing things, Markus Beckedahl from netzpolitik.org, who beside other things is the driving force behind the Creative Commons idea in Germany talked about this type of licensing and strategies for generating business out of „free“ content. In a very cute presentation (after his PDF had made it from his Mac to a Linux machine to finally run on a Windows notebook)  he explained the different variants of the creative commons license and how content generators such as photographers and musicians can use it to protect their work while freeing it at the same time. He continued by giving example of companies who work as content providers – such as Jamendo – and make a living out of free content. He also mentioned the example of the US band Nine Inch Nails, who benefit from increasing sales of their music even though it is distributed as creative commons.

My last session felt a little like a trip back in time, to an age where the internet was not yet striving for real time and text contributions were longer than 140 characters: one of Germany‘s best-known bloggers, Oliver Gassner, talked about How to Blog. When talking about markers for a blog‘s success, the stated that „if you come before the coffee machine“ (meaning that when in the morning someone reads your blog before switching on the coffee machine) that truly is as good as it gets. Noteworthy was his claim that while it is easier to produce a short tweet on Twitter, the content one generates over time is not retrievable anymore after a while; a search on one‘s own tweets only returns results which are not older than a couple of days. In other words, to be able to read one‘s ramblings in the future, one either has to use one of the freely available Twitter archiving tools (which however don‘t present the old tweets to the public but to the owner only)  or come up with a solution that from time accumulate tweets and automatically turn them into blog posts for instance.

In the closing session, the organisers summed up the event and presented some statistics. The audience – who had shrunk considerably compared to the opening event – discussed what was good and what could be improved and if concept of letting business and geeks collide – as it were –  had been successful.

When heading back to the hotel and fighting with myself whether to invest in a cab ride or take the tram, I ended up splitting the cab costs with a guy from Berlin whom I had a great conversation with for the rest of the evening. If getting to know strangers in a snap and having the most amazing exchanges of ideas is not the essence of an event such as a Barcamp, I really do not know what is (Henry, greetings to Berlin!).

Rather than hitting the after-show party, I decided to make it an early night to be ready for the next morning – destination Amsterdam. Although the Dutch railway system let me down a bit, I caught up with Guido Jansen, the Dutch Magento Community Manager just in time to attend a Magento seminar hosted by Byte, a Dutch hosting provider. About 20 people in the room listened to a couple of presentations about using Magento for ecommerce projects. In my opinion, by far the best and most relevant contribution was done by Jisse Reitsma, maker of MageBridge, which is a connector that integrates Magento and the CMS Joomla. In a little demo session Jisse showed how from the Joomla admin panel one could integrate the Magento content block, calling product- and category-pages and linking to them just by doing some click-work. Amazing. He even integrated ways to deal with the different stylesheets both systems are using and found a way of not letting Magento‘s Prototype JS framework and Joomla‘s Mootools clash. Without a doubt, a lot of thought and work has gone into MageBridge, I can only recommend this connector and wish Jisse and his partners all of success!

And like in Hannover, also Amsterdam was worthwhile mainly because of the conversations that happened after the main event. Enhanced by some snacks and one or the other bottle of beer – or the Dutch version of it – everybody exchanged ideas and got to know each other. I still have to sort through all the business cards to be able to get back to everyone. Unfortunately I had to leave rather early to catch the train back home again, but I will be back, promised!

To sum this all up: It only takes one or two days out of the office to collect a range of new ideas and contacts. The internet is made by human beings – why not try to meet them (a)live in their natural habitat?

Flickr photostream by ConventionCamp2009

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