If you are not yet aware, there is to be a new [tag]Internet[/tag] Governance Forum meeting for the first time in Athens at the end of October where the world will gather to discuss what the problems are with this Internet thingy and what can be done to eleviate them.
The [tag]IGF[/tag] has been a while coming, having been decided upon at the World Summit in Tunisia in November last year. In world government terms, less than a year is a blink of the eye and so perhaps it’s not entirely surprising that a number of questions still exist over exactly what will happen at the IGF, what will be discussed and who will get what input into it.
There have been a number of prior meetings (including one last week in Oxford which I have failed so far to write up but will do very soon), but the big final meeting of the IGF Advisory Group is taking place today and tomorrow in the [tag]UN[/tag]’s Geneva headquarters.
What do they have to discuss? Most fundamentally, what to discuss. The Internet is a pretty broad subject with lots of no-go areas for various countries. The result of being unable to get a large room of people from across the world to agree on precise topics has been what the man in charge of the IGF’s secretariat, Swiss diplomat Markus [tag]Kummer[/tag], has called “creative ambiguity”.
There are four topics areas: Openness, Security, Diversity and Access. But what do you actually discuss under these headings, and how do you discuss them? The exciting and novel thing about the IGF is the fact that it brings together people who would never normally meet – governments with techies; business with NGOs and so on. But each of these groups has their way of discussing things and so each, naturally, thinks their way is best.
You are also talking about only four hours or so for each vast subject for the whole world to offer its opinion and solution. Even though the IGF meeting goes on for four days, it is all too possible that people only just start getting into it when it is all over.
For that reason, the entire last day has been handed over to individuals feeding their own take into the meeting. The man in overall charge, Nitin [tag]Desai[/tag], is a wise UN old-hand and he knows better than most how to get something out of loose and free-ranging discussion. There is also an increasing mantra from those at the centre of discussions: the success of the meeting will be in people learning from one another, talking to one another and sharing things like best practices.
Normally I would laugh at such floppy ideals and language. I have heard the same thing from companies and that usually means they haven’t got a clue what to do. I have also heard this coming from inside the UK civil service covering the National Health Service (when I did editorial work for the now defunct Health Development Agency), and that was truly terrifying – huge resources aimed at months of work all of which everyone from the outside knew would have next to no effect on anything.
But I feel differently about the IGF for the simple reason that the issues are still so broad and so varied across countries that everyone in the room – at least for the first IGF meeting – will be sizing each other up. As such, the great victory of the first meeting will be if people simply talk to one another and understand their perspectives better.
I doubt very much if anything solid will come out of the meeting – and I know that lots of people are on hand to try to make sure none of the looming issues turn into arguments – but I’m tempted to see the whole thing as a terrific music concert.
You always remember the best concerts/gigs you have been to and they stick with you for years. Very little is actually achieved at a concert but at a great one, an extraordinary sense of comaraderie can build up – to the extent that you end sharing a joke with a bloke you would normally cross the road to avoid.
With the IGF, there is going to be a concert each year for five years so with luck the trust and understanding built up will do alot to break down the barriers both between groups and countries and then by the third, fourth meeting in 2008/9, we end up with real changes that make the Internet better for everyone.
In fact a better analogy is a music festival (although I suspect less than five percent of the people going to the IGF will ever have been to a music festival). The hope is that the IGF will become Glastonbury – a long-lasting and much-loved festival that has changed thousands of people’s lives. Of course, it may become Woodstock – a glorious, appalling one-off of never-seen-before international madness that ends up eating itself.
Either way, I’m going and I’ve got backstage passes.