Home e-g8: “The Future of the Internet Wasn’t invited”

e-g8: “The Future of the Internet Wasn’t invited”

Last week I attended the e-G8 in Paris, France. I arrived with many questions as to the eventual value of the event, some of which I shared in a previous post. Beyond that post my cynicism had grown somewhat, as frankly I was concerned that the event was going to amount to little more than thinly veiled theater intended to push a predetermined agenda at the G8 Summit. I was right to be concerned because it appears this is exactly what it was.

While the event itself was of the highest quality – held in the Jardin des Tuileries near the Musée du Louvre with great food and wines at each break – it was not the “discussion” it was positioned as in the run-up to the event. Very little time was allocated for attendees to engage in a dialog with the speakers and it lacked any semblance of a workshop or forum.

Aaron Fulkerson (@Roebot) is co-founder and CEO of MindTouch, the leader in social knowledge bases, product help, and enterprise collaboration. As CEO of MindTouch, Aaron has grown the company from a small open source project to a widely recognized brand in social business software with millions of users across the globe.

The draft statement from the e-G8 Forum to the G8 Summit appears to have been authored in advance of the completion of the e-G8. Throughout the event, statements discussed on stage would be flashed as summary bullets. These statements often ran counter to the opinions and statements of many in attendance and were more a reflection of the views of large telcos and media conglomerates.

This left the small, but very vocal faction of Internet entrepreneurs, academicians and bloggers scratching their head. It was within this group that I found the most substantive conversations taking place. These discussions often had divergent opinions and views from those being represented on stage. It was this vocal minority that were actively pushing the message of an open Internet at every opportunity.

“The future of the Internet is not here, it wasn’t invited,” Lawrence Lessig

Mark Elliot Zuckerberg (Facebook) et Maurice Lévy (Publicis Group) lors du e-G8 à Paris. Photo: Arash Derambarsh

The message of an open and free Internet was interjected into the conversation by the likes of John Perry Barlow, Jérémie Zimmermann, Jeff Jarvis, Susan Crawford, Lawrence Lessig and Yochai Benkler. Watching the reactions to their opinions was almost as informative as the opinions themselves. A point made by Jarvis – when questioning French president Nicolas Sarkozy regarding a perception by some governments that the Internet is an “eight continent” to be conquered, governed and taxed – was met with Sarkozy’s comment, “Yes, I like this concept of an eighth continent.” This exchange between Jarvis and Sarkozy perfectly exemplified the ignorance of policy makers.

I do not think they have bad intentions. It is simply that they’ve heard the views of special interests like Hollywood, big media and the telcos. Thanks to the Internet, the distributors of media are increasingly irrelevant because the creators of content can connect directly with their customers, without the need for a middle man – in this case the media companies. Media distributors are natural allies to the telcos and make no pretense about their desire to reshape the Internet in their vision. A vision that consists of a centrally controlled, tiered and taxed model that would resemble broadcast mediums of old.

Previously, I asked if the e-G8 would bring solutions or cynicism. I think it’s wise to assume cynicism. However, I want to make it clear that this was indeed an important and historic event. I believe the organizers put on an excellent event with the best intentions. There were many who were invited that did not fit the mold of giant telco or big media corporation. Furthermore, I was shocked to learn they pulled off this massive undertaking in just over two months. Remarkable.

Impromptu eG8 press conference with Larry Lessig, Susan Crawford & others. Photo: Divergence

My advice to the organizers are as follows: Organize this event every year. Do it in conjunction with the G20, though. Also, increase the diversity of attendees, but try to do so without increasing the numbers of attendees. It will be OK if you bump some of those media and publishing industry executives. No one will miss them in a few years anyway. Finally, be creative in how you get feedback from attendees and even non-attendees. There are a variety of ways to provide a ladder of engagement both in and outside the event to facilitate dialog.

When Given a Theater, Make It Your Stage

An event like this has to be viewed as a stage. A stage is what you make of it and many of those in attendance did a great job getting their message of an open and free Internet and intellectual property reform disseminated. Almost all the press coverage of the event was affected by this message. Moreover, a wealth of videos, articles, blog posts and new relationships were forged to strengthen the call for an open Internet as a result of the e-G8.

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