Friday, November 03, 2006

IGF 2006: Reflections on IGF Athens 2006

Well IGF 2006 is over and done with. It has been an interesting week. My impressions? Well for the most part (a consensus agreed to by just about everyone I talked to) IGF has been the same people saying the same thing all over again, except in a different city. A lot of the same old agenda's were being pushed by the same bunch of people. Perhaps what is needed is some fresh blood and some new faces to bring about some fresh ideas (and hopefully real and practical progress).

The concluding session was basically a round of thank you's to all and sundry. Speaker 1 thanked everyone and said what a great week it was, Speaker 2 thanked Speaker 1 and everyone else and agreed what a great week it was. Speaker 3 thanked Speaker 1 and Speaker 2 and everyone else and agreed what a great week it get the idea.

Did IGF achieve anything? Yes and No. I'll do the "No" bits first. The workshops were pretty much a disaster. There was a complete lack of focus and speakers were drifting all over the place with what they had to say, except of course the workshop theme. There was just way too much drift from what the published workshop theme was, and what was actually discussed. Also alarming were some statements being made in workshops, one of which was that content should be censored not at the edge but within the network and a further supporting statement saying that NGN was the way to achieve this. There seems to be a concerted attempt to add credibility to NGN from this context of content regulation (which I consider to be plain marketing gimmick - it does not really offer anything what the Internet does not already have - see my earlier post on NGN). There was also the China bashing and an attempt by a workshop moderator in the main session (I can't remember his name but I think he was from The Economist) to draw Vint Cerf into the old ICANN debate. The biggest issue I guess is that IGF has "no teeth" so I am uncertain as to how things are to progress. It will require a helluva lot of co-operation, consensus, goodwill and flexibility by all stakeholders to make real and meaningful progress.

Now to the "Yes" bits. From an ISOC perspective, the various side meetings during IGF did much to forge new relationships between Chapters and to reinforce old relationships. What was lacking from ISOC was focus on what Chapters should be doing at meetings such as this, and there needs to be a strategy in place so optimum use of Chapter resources are made. Indication from other (non-ISOC world) delegates suggest side meetings with other participants probably achieved (for a good number of them at least) more than what the IGF itself did. These include commercial and non-commercial collaboration, which is great IMO. One thing IGF did achieve was a lessening of the demarcation normally seen at UN-type meetings – there were no specific tables with country names in the spotlight, however there were designated “government” seats in the prime location during the opening, but at least overall this is a positive move towards the red herring called “open multi-stakeholder process”. There is also the issue of IGF having “no teeth”, which has a good and bad side. Bad because there is no “outcome as such” to follow, but good that if there were an outcome, it could have potentially been hijacked by one group. The key now is to nurture the development of IGF as an entity to become a real and recognised forum which stimulates dialogue, collaboration and consensus, and promotes and works toward practical and not philosophical thoughts and actions.

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