IGF: The good, the bad and the psycho cleaners
If you want to get on in Athens, steal a waiter uniform
- People are talking and learning: particularly the developing countries. In *some* rooms, the relaxed atmosphere has allowed people to ask those stupid questions they are too afraid to ask but which 50 percent of the room secretly want to ask.
In the anti-spam session, an African ISP asked “so, how do I apply a spam blacklist?” Suddenly, out come the links, the presentations, the business cards - problem solved in five seconds. In other meetings, countries are asking questions about opening their networks, sorting out their basic Internet infrastructure, and the people that have been through the experience five or ten years ago can immediately explain the best way to do it, and so avoid all the pain they went through. The value of this is extraordinary.
It’s not just the developing countries that are learning - one grizzled Net veteran said he had no idea until the meeting about what a poor job the Net community had done in communicating with others.
- Falacies flattened People just haven’t been talking to one another. A lot of people from a lot of countries have widely inaccurate views about what others think and how the system of the Internet works. The Africans sometimes think the West are to blame for a lack of networks in their countries. In fact it is often because there is a massive shortage of qualified engineers in Africa. But after a bit of brushing up against one another, a business card is exchanged, and the details of a previously poorly attending training session in their country are handed over. The same is happening across the conference.
Even Valerie D’Costa - a highly respected government official from Singapore who no-one can claim is unaware of Internet issues - told us that she was taking back alot of ideas to her government about how to improve their approach to the Net. Ask to give an example of who she had learnt from, she was unequivocal: “Taiwan. They have a strong and active civil society that contributes to ICT. I hope we can emulate that.”
- Questions: Questions are often more powerful than answers. And the one thing the IGF is allowing is people to ask questions? Difficult questions, forgotten questions, thought-provoking questions. This is the first time that the tight-knit Internet community have been shoved into a wider Net world of people. The average Net user is still nowhere to be seen, but a lot of people that who do attend IETF meetings, ICANN meetings, RIPE meetings are here - and it has opened things up. There are also a lot of questions being asked.
The truth be known, the answers have not been as good. And that leads to the cons.
- Moderators: The main session is too much work for one moderator. There are too many people on the panel, there is too much information being fed to them from a variety of sources, and they have to do it for three hours straight. It’s just too much and the debates suffers because of it.
In the workgroups, the moderators are too weak. They do not have the journalistic edge required to move things along, extract information and move on. Put bluntly: they are too afraid of being rude, and too intellectual to cut off a stream of thought once the main point has been made. The result has been that many workshops, border on boring.
And the real indication: workshops have consistently run out of time before the audience has been able to interact. And that was the WHOLE POINT of the workshops - discussion and open debate. In too many cases, the workshops have been taken over by the experts on auto-pilot. And it is only the moderators that can fix that.
- Powerpoint sedatives: There should have been a ban on Powerpoint. Make no mistake - Powerpoint is evil. It encourages people to get out the old presentation (fresh in 2001), stick a new front page on it and give the self-same talk they’ve given to a dozen different meetings and then settle back. As soon as those slides appear, it is death to discussion and free, innovative thinking. One attendee sitting through Bob Kahn’s Handle presentation (I don’t mean to pick on just Bob Kahn - there are plenty of offenders), confessed that she had fallen asleep. It was early afternoon and she had had a full night’s sleep. This is not an approach that will solve the Internet’s problems.
- Top-heavy panels: Too many people on the panels means less dialogue, not more. It has also resulted several times in people that don’t know what they’re talking about being up on stage, sat next to an expert, who should have been given more time. The 16-people panels is a disaster and the IGF is a success *despite* them, not because of them.