Sniffy Oxford Internet Institute holds IGF meeting

I’ve just been reminded, by one of the main speakers, that the [tag]Oxford[/tag] Internet Institute is holding an evening discussion over the [tag]IGF[/tag] tomorrow evening, followed by an all-day invite-only event on the Friday.

In fact, I wasn’t even reminded. I had a vague notion of there being an [tag]OII[/tag] event on [tag]Net governance[/tag] in my home town some time before the first IGF meeting in Athens in late October, but hadn’t picked up a word of it – which is extremely odd since I am only one of about four journalists in the whole world that regularly cover Internet Governance issues.

The reason I haven’t heard is the exact same reason I didn’t hear about it until the day before the last time the OII had exactly the same arrangement (that time for the upcoming Tunisia World Summit). It’s because the OII, for some reason – especially ironic considering the nature of what they cover – is incredibly sniffy.

Only in Oxford.

The OII is seen in Internet circles as a failed UK attempt to gain the kudos picked up by US academic institutions who have carried out intelligent study and review of this revolutionary new medium. Despite bringing in Jonathan [tag]Zittrain[/tag] from Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society for a six-month split shift, and doing everything it can to bring in big speakers like Tim Berners-Lee, the Institute has had absolutely no perceivable impact on Net discussions. And that is despite Nominet being just up the road, Oxford University having some great Net people working for it, and Oxford being full of Internet companies.

The reason for this is the OII’s superior attitude, something that is the antithesis of Net culture. But it continues on, convinced that the Oxford name alone will bring the mountains to Mohammed. Which is a real shame because the potential on this side of the Atlantic for a really good academic body picking apart the Net is enormous.

As it is, despite living in Oxford, having followed Net governance issues for years, and having met several of the main people at the OII, I find out the day before the event that it is happening and am now waiting to see if I am allowed to attend Friday’s session (last year, I was told I wasn’t). If this is my experience, how on earth does the OII expect to get the interaction and credibility it craves when all those people that might attend and spread the word are effectively shuttered out?

Just to check, the middle word of Oxford Internet Institute is “Internet”. The public Thursday meeting will be webcast – that uses the Internet, maybe that’s what they mean.

Update 5pm: The OII has got back to my email requesting they stick me on the list for tomorrow and requesting an invite for the Friday session. I pointed out that I have been writing about Net governance for years for The Times, The Guardian and The Register, and I have been asked to play a formal role at the IGF (what the whole meeting is about) and they should contact Markus Kummer if they want confirmation. The response:

“Thank you for registering for this event, we look forward to welcoming you to the Said Business School. If, at any point, you decide that you will be unable to attend the event please let us know so that we can offer the place to someone else.

“I am unable to confirm your attendance at the Friday event at the minute as numbers are extremely tight. I will get back to you tomorrow.”

It’s not so much the snub (I have to news edit most of tomorrow anyway), but the extraordinary pomposity. There just aren’t that many people out there interested in Net governance. I know because I have been desperately trying to get more people involved (as have many others) for years.

When will the OII learn that elitism on the Internet means irrelevancy?

Update II 10pm: I have received an invite for the Friday session, thanks to one or two people with greater clout than I who read this blog post and interceded on my behalf. Thankyou very much, you know who you are. Although this process has caused me to reflect on what I post on this blog. I’ve always viewed it as a sort of quiet, non-official outlet that may be read but not really taken too seriously.

I had been planning to ask people to get me an invite tomorrow and would have done so in far more diplomatic language than what appears above. And then there was the fact that the New York Times pulled a quote off a blog post of mine last week and stuck it in their story (I subsequently found out this was because they had got the story wrong, and were advised by ICANN’s top PR man to read my blog to get an understanding before speaking to the organisation’s official spokesman. For some reason the NYT then decided to quote me rather than the spokesman).

Maybe I need to start writing two blogs: one professional and one personal.

Anyway, I will hopefully manage to blog about the OII meeting although it is under Chatham House rules, I am told. Which, to my mind, is more fun anyway because you can meld different views into threads without having to go through the formal structure of naming and quoting.

Another update:

The public Thursday debate is available on the OII’s website. As such, I have stuck it below, although you will need a Quicktime plug-in to watch it on this screen.
[mpeg width=”320″ height=”240″]http://webcast.oii.ox.ac.uk/download/oii/20060831_157/20060831_157_small.mp4[/mpeg]

  1. Why not set up your own internet discussion forum, you might do a better job, and I reckon you’re qualified 🙂

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