IGF Nov 15-18 2009 in Sharm
I’ve been involved with the UN Internet Governance Forum as W3C representative since before it was created, and I’ve attended most of the plenaries (Athens, Rio) and most of the prep meetings in Geneva, so for me, the IGF community, inclusive of UN staff like Markus Kummer and his team, is a bit like a second family of colleagues and friends that I take pleasure to meet and work on a regular basis.
This year, it was therefore very exciting for me to have Tim able to participate in the Sharm El Sheikh edition of IGF, not just as opening keynote, but also as active workshop participant in several panels, as driver of our first Web Foundation workshop, and as guest of honor at the various receptions organized around the event. Thanks Tim! Here’s a 2min short video Tim did on the side for the UN team.
This year’s IGF broke some new records in terms of attendance (1800+) and in terms of variety of topics discussed, but also, unfortunately, in terms of security hassles and chaos management. I guess the more successfull an international event becomes, the more it attracts VIPs (e.g. Prime ministers, CEOs) who needs protection against potential terrorism threads and the more everybody has to pay with their own time.. On the positive side, the Sinai weather and the Red Sea corals at the footsteps of our hotels made up for most of these inconveniences!
In addition to Tim, Stephane Boyera and I, all three from WF and W3C, two other W3C staff were present in Sharm: Marie-Claire Forgue and Shadi Abou-Zahra, and we had a nice booth positioned right in the conference hall entrance, so this IGF also set a mark in terms of outreach to this policy-maker audience regarding the importance of open standards for the Web, and more generally in terms of relevance in less technical fora of the multi-stakeholder model used by the Internet technical community to achieve a level of interoperability that allowed and still permit the Web to grow exponentially.
I think more and more people understand that geeks like us not only brought to life important open and free global technologies like IP, TCP, http, Smtp, HTML, XML, etc, but they also designed ways of working together as international and geographicaly distributed communities (using the tools they had built, of course), ways that reflect the very open nature of their spirit.
In his keynote address, Tim emphasized the importance of a single open Web shared and used by all, including on low connections, mobile devices, in all languages, and for people with disabilities. “It has to be one Web“, the same platform for governments, commerce, individuals, ministers and CEO, using technical standards that are royalty free, designed, shared and implemented by anyone, big or small, in an interoperable way, thus keeping the Web universal. Lots of people came to me after the opening keynote to express their agreement and admiration for Sir Tim and his vision for the Web and the Internet.
Just a few words to end this report on the Web Foundation workshop Tim, Steph and I ran on Monday morning.
About 20 people showed up on a very short notice (which means they had to give up something else in their schedule program to be there), coming from Egypt, the Gulf region, Kenya, UK, Germany, Italy, Singapore, US, India, France, etc. Very international to say the least. Some had funders experience, some project ideas, some were academic, open source advocates, NGO.
Stephane who made a great slideshow, did a good job summarising the discussions in his post, and Tim may add some notes when he’s back, so I’ll just add a few words. First, I wish we’d tape the entire session, and take some pictures too, but I was too busy just getting a room, announcing it in the hall, finding and a video cable for the projection, etc, and just making sure we’d be OK with the basics 😉
Capacity building/education came up often in our discussions, the idea that we’re going to have to train the trainers, rather than doing things ourselves. I also remember an interesting discussions about the kind of constraints granters should put onto their grantees, on the project tools they deliver, in relation to using Open standards in particular, using open source licences, creative commons for reporting, etc. Tim said that we didn’t have any such thing at this point within WF but maybe we should be more proactive about it, and say that anything we will fund has be free for all to reuse. Being scalable as a requirement came up as well.
What I got out of this workshop is that our strength with WF, our unique flavor so to speaj, is our Web technical guruness/geekness, the fact that we know the technology we’re promoting better than anyone else, even the big guys from the north, since we’ve designed and are still evolving the Web stack for/with them. We are therefore best positioned to transfer this technology know-how to the south in such a way that not only they will catch-up fast, but they actually may become the real experts on the Web of data and the Web of trust of tomorrow.
My hopes with the Web Foundation societal programs is that they will help emerging economies to seize this opportunity to innovate on this very affordable Web/Internet platform, knowing that the technologies are available for free and that whatever we help create (e.g. a local Web application improving farmers life in one region) can scale to the entire planet.