Was the eG8 Forum a waste of time & resources?

Before the eG8 Forum even kicked off, I was actually frustrated that so many people were criticising, or even choosing to boycott, the event claiming that it was “a farce”. They said it was simply a white-wash and platform to promote anti-freedom of internet policies.

Those who have this view about eG8 (and argue instead for the relatively unfettered nature of the internet to continue) should be less naive about how one can affect change.

If you disagree, you shouldn’t hide or run away from the fight. That’s not going to help your cause.

What ever you think of his views on copyright, IP and internet control, President Sarkzoy should with out question be congratulated for organising eG8 Forum.

Credit should be given to the French Government for doing a reasonable job of the actual event. A glance at the “Making of eG8″ video on Europe reminds us the logistically effort and cost involved; and even the wifi worked pretty well -aside from an occasional hiccup.

I believe this event was vital and needed. The only surprising thing is that someone from the internet side of the argument had not tried to organise it already.

Who attended?

Peter Sullivan, a semi-retired publishing magnate from South Africa, said that he’d first been invited when the eG8 was slated to be just 150 people. Now that would have been a mistake on the part of the organisers.

Allegedly, Maurice Lévy said it should be a much larger event, drawing together a wider array of attendees. Thankfully, it thus grew many time larger (and I got an invite!).

A stellar cast was complimented by an smorkers board of politians, activists and digital entrepenuers. Not all were internet titans either, some attendees being on their first start-up.

Whether by accident or not, this was a stroke of brilliance. The conversations in the corridors and in the sun drenched garden outside were varied and stimulating.

How was the conference content?

Perhaps inevitably, many of the panels despite (and possibly because of) being populated  by the leaders of large corporates, were rather pedestrian. Some contributors sounded more like they were reading a press release than engaging in debate.

Sometimes that was the fault of the organisers: i.e. you don’t get a debate if you have a panel with 5 people who all agree. On other occasions the pannelists were to blame.

I was wholly unimpressed with Sheryl Sangberg’s contribution. Being surely one of the top internet executives in the world, not just Silicon Valley, she gave packaged replies you could almost have read straight from Facebook marketing material.

“We are moving from information retrieval to social discovery” she said; and  “what is interesting for us…” was a repeated sentence.

I suppose I just hoped for much more from someone I’ve admired at a distance for some time. I had to leave before Mark Zuckerbergs conversation .

What was good, was it really a debate?

However some of the debates were excellent; the IP and Copyright discussions as the last panel on day 1 was almost literally on fire, most thanks to @JPBarlow who at the last moment was added to a panel of 5 media execs who all agree with Sarkozys clamp down on copyright theft. The addition was a moment of clarity from Spencer Reiss, one of the eG8 organizers.

“I extend my enduring gratitude to Spencer Reiss for embedding me like an IED in #eG8.” John commented afterwards.  I only wish more of the panels on day 1 had more IED’s in them. You can watch the whole of the IP/Copyright panel below, or skip to 28.5 minutes in to hear John’s brilliant rebutal of the media giant’s opinions.

Walking through the Paris streets at 3am between parties on the first evening, I couldn’t but be struck by John’s grounded and impassioned temperament. He is, if you didn’t know, one of the reasons for the success of the band The Grateful Dead ..read more here.

Old Dog, New Tricks

Another surprisingly inspiring speech was by Rupert Murdoch. I found myself agreeing every word he said – a new experience for me. He was empassoined about the need for change in the education system.

He described our failure to fundamentally revolutionize the way most students are taught in our schools as “a colossal failure of imagination” and that “we must begin by exciting the imagination of our young people … the key is not the device [e.g. mobile, tablet or laptop] … the key is the software”

+1 to that.

He described how if you wanted to teach 10 year olds about Benugi’s principle, then teaching that “speed is high, pressure is low .. is dry; but what if you can link this to a famous footballer’s goal, or to aviation? … we need personalise education .. as we’ve personalised our newsfeeds and social streams” he said.

Too true.

In an earlier debate, chaired by the charismatic character of Ben Verwaayen, Klaus Schwab (Founder and Executive Chairman World Economic Forum) said that “the delema between the old and the young will be pivotal … we have to co-operate together” and that  “internet is becoming part of our DNA”, talking of the future of the web.

Tom Glocer said “the notion of life long education, using the internet, will become a distinticve feature of society”.

Andrew Mason (Founder and CEO, Groupon) was there, talking about where his company was headed. “Groupon is becoming more about discovery, not just dicsounts” ..something I blogged about a few weeks ago.

Jimmy Wales was another speaker who rose above the average.  “..before there was never an encylopedia in Swahili, now they have one .. and there’s almost 30,00 entries” he said.

David Rowan (Wired UK’s Editor) was as ever well prepared and briefed, interlacing quick fire stats with questions to the pannelists at a fast pace. Commenting on the concept of inplants under the skin communicating with your mobile device to improve your health or report on problem he pointed out “there are issues with who gets access to this personal data” … that data rather makes  social web issues of releasing what movies I like or who’s photo I’ve commented on look entirely trivial.

It has certainly caused debate (just search for #eG8 on Twitter) and brought these issues to a audience.  Jeff Jarvis asked Sarkozy to promise to “Do no harm.” Sarkozy, at best, dodged the question. Jeff explains:

The workshops were, sadly, more akin to mini-panels and there was little air conditioning. I wondered whether it was hindering or accelerating the debating.

So, was it worthwhile?

With out question, the eG8 event was an important milestone in having important issues, which will affect everyone in the world, pushed up the political agenda.

Overall, much of course could be improved but I believe the eG8 is an event which should be held every year.

Aside from the obvious benefits of mixing younger entreprenuers with high level excutives and giving them access to those people in the same room (although some of the heavy hitters disappeared after their panels) the Internet is so game changing in every respect that major issue NEED to be voiced in a more pollicised setting and a rallying point each year could be the eG8.

I think it would be most foolish for the next G8 host –appropriately, the United States—not to grasp the opportunity to repeat the exercise with vigour. Keep the invite list large, keep it varied. It is the differences which have made, in my view, the eG8 very much worth doing and certainly I hope to be invited back to contribute again next year.

Meanwhile, why not sign the petition for keeping the net open and without overbearing government control? click here

Watch eG8

You can watch more from the event on the eG8 YouTube channel and on the eG8 website video section.

Old Europe to open new can of Internet worms at eG8 Summit

My Monday started well as I woke to discover that I’m “an Internet titan“, that is if you believe the Reuters pre-coverage of the eG8 event in Paris tomorrow.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the French President, describes the event on the official eG8 website thus:

“The Internet’s multilateral dynamic, and the driving role that the private sector and civil society play in its development, have led me to invite the major stake- holders of this ecosystem to Paris, so that the meeting of Heads of State can benefit from their vision. The content of your exchanges will be conveyed to the Heads of State and governments of the G8. A new phenomenon requires a new method of consultation, one that recognizes the legitimacy and the responsibility of the actors concerned: hence the idea of this e-G8 Forum.” read more

I’m actually very excited to see how the event will be run and President Sarkozy should at least be given credit for pushing not only onto the G8 agenda, but for organising a consultation prior. The question is, what will transpire?

Previously the President has said:

“Regulating the Internet to correct its excesses and abuses that come about in the total absence of rules — this is a moral imperative!”

..said during a speech at the Vatican in 2010.

Big names speakers (who certainly do deserve the internet titan moniker) include Mark Z, Rupert Murdoch, Jeff Bezos and Eric Schdmit alongside a bunch of smart attendees such as open data proponents like @novaspivack (his blog post on eg8 here)

As the blurb says, the aim is to build a consensus for the key issues are which should be discussed by the G8. The topics likely to dominate the agenda include copyright law, privacy and personal data.

Sarkozy has a poor record (depending on your point of view) in these areas, championing stricter controls. Everyone else (at least from the corporate world) is predictably pushing their own agenda – not based on what is best for the consumer but what furthers their own gain.

Traditional media are pushing for stricter controls – IP blocking, the confiscating of domain names, the right of government to “pull down” websites. These backward steps are a grave mistake.

Even if you agree that (e.g.) piracy sites or copy right infringers should have their websites curtailed, enabling a government (or any entity) to do so at will risks a slippery slope toward at best ever increasing controls and at worse outright censorship.

In fact the UK government has already enacted some of these laws and more of this ilk are on the horizon, such as the recent EU cookies law (there’s a great example here of what visiting a website adhering to the potential new guidelines might be like for you the user) it’s a nightmare in the making. @mikebutcher from Techcrunch Europe seemed very clean on his opinion on the cookie monster.

I concede the definition of “Fair use” as a concept against copyright theft or republication of content presents a raft of problems in itself for those wanting to (quite rightly) be paid for their work; but the very nature of influence and ambassador based endorsement of brands, content and companies via sharing on social media sites means this redistribution of digital content is inevitable.

The charming Tuileries Gardens in the centre of Paris where the eG8 is being held

Other measures recently introduced such as Sarkozy’s “3 strikes and you’re out policy” which cuts off the right to have internet access for repeat copyright offenders, just seem Dickensian. There are also bigger issues. Internet access is fast pervading every aspect of daily life. Not having access genuinely at best would already be inconvenient, at worst very seriously debilitating. “Then don’t break copyright laws” you may cry.

The young giants on the digital age such as Google and Facebook are pushing of course for less or no regulation; arguing everything from freedom of speech to a fundamental shift in the meaning of privacy and the way people share, want to share or should share (Mark is a particularly keen advocate of the latter for very obvious reasons).

I err on the side of these new corporate giants more so than those clinging to an ever more inaccurate perception of the online world. Their hopes of maintaining the status quo are just that: hope, as the reality on the web is already very different.

Ironically, I’m looking forward to meeting some European digital pioneers who I don’t know and many who are attending from the USA who I do.

Hopefully I can add something useful to the debate along the way too. If you have an opinion, please add it to the comments, I’d love to hear from you.

Finally, being in France I suppose the dress code will be predictably formal. I can either wear a suit and blend in, or buck the trend and hang out in my more usual jeans and shirt, the standard internet-entrepreneurial garb.

The one time I need a crowd-source “what to wear” app and there isn’t one.

See you in Paris.