IGF – Setting the scene quick review

I don’t know how it happened but Vint Cerf’s on his feet, Paul Twomey is being pulled into the conversation and despite a panel of 16 people, all pretty much determined not talk about ICANN, we are talking about, yes, ICANN.

I’ve not been able to get a feel for how this first session of the IGF has gone as I’ve been in and out of the room trying to find a wireless connection so I can find out what the blogs are discussing. Even when in the room, I’m pre-occupied with hoping that suddenly the network will go up.

But my feeling is this: there are two many people on the stage. It is hard to harrie people if there is safety in numbers. Kenn Cukier is doing a good job in listening and expanding on questions – and also a good journalistic job is not letting platitudes get by. But even so, there are too many people.

The second problem is that the session is too long. It gets tiring about an hour-and-a-half and people starting switching off – leaving only those so driven by one point to get up and make a point. These people are very rarely, if ever, debate expanders.

All that said, there is still a feeling here that something new is happening. I’ve been to alot of conferences over the Internet and after a while, it begins to feel like the same old thing. The razzle-dazzle and star-gazing worlds are gradually subsumed into the fact that for the people in the room, it is also just their day-to-day job.

That sense of staleness isn’t here – make clear by the fact that the room is still full. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many people stick out a three-hour discussion.

As for my job, I am not being helped out either by the moribund wireless network or the fact that the blogosphere is stubbornly retaining its habit of being obsessed with trivia and – especially ironic considering its speed – what happened hours ago, rather than what is happening now.

All the bloggers that can be guaranteed to be interested in what is going on in the room are actually in the room – and because the network is down, are not able to write any blogs. It is with some irony then that during the small windows they have managed to open, they have taken only the opportunity to complain about not being able to write any posts.

This is my overriding thought: people have a very difficult time getting used to something new – especially when it is happening quickly in front of them. There is a gradually evolving system of interaction being built by the volunteers and conference organisers that by the time of the next session will be tighter. The hope then will be that the rest of the audience catches up. I have a horrible feeling that bringing up the rear though will be the very epitome of this new super-democracy that everyone tells us the Net has produced: yes, the bloggers.

But there was a clear oversight which I shall take blame for because it was my job to push it when it wasn’t going to occur to others – there is no crystal-clear method for people online to interact.

I have built a collaborative website at http://igf2006.info, and done my best to publicise it, but even so, there is no email address set aside for IGF comments. The reason is because of the split of authority between the UN and my semi-official role – but no one cares about that outside a very small group.

We’ve solved it: comments@igf2006.info. You live and you learn.