The Internet Governance Forum has done an admirable job setting up in very short order a number of means for remote participation at the meetings, which conclude tomorrow. These include webcasting, a discussion forum, live text chat, email, SMS, blog aggregation, and even submissions via video!
All admirable and welcome to see.
The question being: Does anyone out there care? I’m not hearing about anyone actively participating remotely, sending in questions, offering their views, reacting to the developments here, etc. Only one video has been posted so far, for example. This is a problem if the IGF wants to project itself as a new kind of open framework for dialogue on internet governance.
It’s not like there aren’t important topics being discussed here: freedom of expression, cyber-crime, multi-lingualism on the net, surveillance, spam, etc. Certainly there is lots of expertise and experience out there that could be integrated into the discussions here.
The problem being that "if you build it, they will come" doesn’t work for remote participation. It’s more the case that "if you invite them, and then invite them again, then 10% of them might come." That doesn’t really scan very well as a maxim, but is probably closer to the truth.
What would I have done to increase e-participation in the IGF?
Enable Multiple Modes / Concentrate on One or Two: I would have concentrated on one or two means of participation, maybe a live web conference on the first day and a discussion forum during the entire conference. Make possible other means, including email and blogs, etc. But your outreach should point people to a couple of clear means of e-participation.
Outreach to Specific Networks, Constituencies, Events: I would concentrate on outreaching to specific constituencies that you wanted to invite, i.e. people with disabilities and indigenous peoples. Then I would outreach to their respective communications networks, listservs, gathering points, etc. I might prepare nicely designed flyers, posters, even video messages that would encourage people to participate. Hell, I might even give away an iPod to the 5,000th registrant or something.
Recognize e-Participation as Part of the Agenda: The organizers have done a pretty good job of clarifying the means of remote participation. But I would make it even more apparent that these remote participants are welcomed and recognized as truly part of the gathering rather than just a nice addition. There are easy ways to do this, i.e. projecting onto a screen behind the main plenary the latest contributions from the web or SMS.
There are obviously issues with e-participation, i.e. dealing with irrelevant or unconventional contributions. But careful moderation and clear guidelines can help mitigate this.
The larger goal of beginging a global conversation on the future of the internet is too important to leave to a bunch of stuff shirts (myself included) who can manage to get to Athens this week.