Summery of the Harvard Internet and Society 2004 Conference

Because I was travelling in Asia, I was not able to attend the 2004 Harvard Conference earlier this month. I had a personal interest, given my work in China and other Asian 'democracies', to explore the landscape of individual blogging with regards to issues like freedom of speech, self- or state-censorship and potential for bottom-up reform.  But alas, I was hovering in physical space via the plane rather than chatting about cyberspace via the conference. 

However, I chanced up a few blog posts of personal experiences at the conference. In particular, Jon Garfunkel, a software developer, gave a summary of his personal experience of the Internet and Society 2004 conference. What I found delightfully interesting was the fact that he was not the typical Harvard conference attendee. In fact he claims that media exploration is a 'hobby' and said in his post, "What were people's first impressions of me? Well, I picked the right outfit: a blazer was the choice of academics and businessmen, and this conference was mostly men.  The ... baseball cap was left where it should have been... in New York"

Of his summary, I'm most glad to hear that
  • I "digital divide" is slowly fading like a rock band- "The term "digital divide" should be shown the door. No one's happy with it. The problem that I (and perhaps others) always had with "digital divide" is that it simply masked other, more substantial divides."  Ditto. 
  • How blogging has exploded, especially in developing countries with autocratic governments, and how, because it is still new, that there is still a lot of room for experimentation before we will see any patterns of impact. 
  • That there is a 'bottom-up' movement in almost everything: software, blogging/news reporting ethics, community building and networking, and peer-to-peer reputation management systems. (I'm a proponent for a balanced approach- we need both top-down and bottom-up, but after the many top-down, one-way eGovernance projects I've witnessed recently, as well as the overdose from WSIS last year, it is wonderful to hear about the resistance at the grassroots.)
  • That there are new and fresh projects like, and Oh My News, and I know, from previous conversations, that there are many new project ideas bubbling into reality.   
I hope, though, that with time, Harvard's conference series will see more women, as well as more men like Jon with their baseball hats. 

Harvard Conference Day 2 Track: “Global Voices Online"

Global Voices Online: Blogging for Independent Journalists, Concerned Citizens and Activists” - One-day Blogging Conference 

From the announcement page (page has since moved here)
Oct 26 2004 by Rebecca Mackinnon:
Global Voices Online" is part of a larger conference, Internet & Society 2004: Votes, Bits & Bytes, scheduled for December 10 and 11, 2004 at Harvard Law School. Hosted by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, I&S2004 will examine the use of information and communications technologies in the transformation of politics. The “Global Voices Online” track is made possible with help from the Open Society Institute Information Program and Spirit of America.
The conference's first day on Friday Dec. 10th will take on a more formal structure, with meetings attended by all participants. (We”ll link to the schedule here as soon as it goes online.) GVO Saturday participants are also invited to attend all I&S Friday events. 
Day two on Saturday will be organized into smaller, more freewheeling workshop and discussion “tracks.” “Global Voices Online” will be one of four tracks. This day-long discussion will focus on the use of weblogs and other new technologies to enhance online global dialogue and political advocacy. Participants will include an international webloggers, journalists and activists with an interest in online communication techniques. A major focus of the meeting will be to develop strategies for spreading the use of online participatory media by civil society, activists, and journalists in places generally ignored by the mainstream international media. We hope that the meeting will lead to more extensive dialogue and mentoring relationships between international political bloggers and journalists/activists who are considering using weblogs and other new technologies for advocacy in their own regions.

Harvard Conference on Internet and Society 2004- December 9-11, Harvard University

Votes, Bit and Bytes- Blogging the Vote: has the web changed politics?  December 9-11, Harvard University (Conference site:

How are technologies changing politics, both in the U.S. and abroad?  The purpose of this conference is to take a skeptical, results-oriented look at the current state of politics after the 2004 election and from an international perspective in terms of issue-based campaigns, emerging business models, and new tools that affect politics both online and off.

(This is the 5th in a series of conferences called the Harvard Conference on Internet and Society, which are high profile events held every few years at Harvard University. Attendees are leading thinkers, policy makers, prominent IT geeks and businesses that debate freely about key issues about the development of the internet. The first conference was in May 1996- read more here about the early years of the Harvard Conference on Internet and Society series.)

Some interesting topics (for me):

CitizenshipAre information and communications technologies making it possible for new forms of citizenship? Are new technologies drawing new people into the political process? Are we able to engage in politics in more meaningful ways than before? Is the impact greatest on local, state, federal campaigns? Are we able to become global citizens?

BusinessThe most promising Internet business models have a great deal in common with the most promising political movements. They empower the grassroots and serve as platforms upon which greatness can build. What can the politician learn from the businessperson, and vice-versa?

Case Study: South KoreaSouth Korea was the first country on the planet where the Internet had a serious impact on the outcome of electoral politics. What conditions made this possible? To what extent were these conditions unique to South Korea and to what extent are they replicable elsewhere? What are the differences in the way in which web-based political communities do - or do not - form in different countries? How does this compare to the way in which political communities form offline? What factors (other than the obvious issue of connectivity) enable web-based political communities to develop more readily in some countries than in others?

Case Study: Election 2004 in the United States
What happened here in the United States? Did the internet play a key role in the outcome of any aspect of this election year – local, state, Congressional, Presidential – or was it just another bubble? Did new actors come out to vote? And how, if at all, will the way this year’s leaders were elected change the way our leaders govern? Presume that new participants have gotten involved in the political process, and that longtime political activists are now further empowered to communicate with leaders in power. After election day, can ICTs help those elected to govern better? And whereto from here?

Introduction on E-Governance and Developing Countries - Paper By Michiel Backus

This is one of the earlier papers on e-Governance as a concept that extends beyond technology. While it might have a little taste of technology determinism, I feel that its frameworks in the study of e-Governance is pretty concrete, in particularly the few adaptations from the famous Gartner 2000 study. One of these frameworks is illustrated in this 4-stage model, where governments progress through a serious of technology adoption that allows it to use technology more and more as a tran formative force.

Looking at country laws as an example, 

  • Phase 1 (Information) might be the mere publication of laws and cases- taking into consideration that it is difficult to find the state of laws in many developing countries. 

  • Phase 2 (Interaction) might be the feedback from the general public about the state of the laws, unfair implementation, or a complaints machanism. 

  • Phase 3 (Transaction) might include features like automation of court cases so that transactions can be done online, or submission of formal feedback in parliamentary sessions.

  • Phase 4 (Transformation) is probably the most difficult to predict in terms of  impact on the country, but I can imagine a best case scenario where rampant corruption could be controlled through an comprehensive check and balance system that utilizes a comprehensive system using ICT as a boost. Or, for example in the Philippines during the Estrada demonstration,  where millions of people (using mainly SMS as a mode for rally) massed up at the EDSA Shrine demanding Estrada's immediate resignation. 

Another observation I would like to point out too is that, while I think that the above framework is very useful in thinking about e-Governance, like many other things in life, it is not absolute. 

WSIS "informal discussion" in Tunis about Phase 2 Meeting

An informal meeting discussing the transition phase from WSIS Phase 1 to WSIS Phase 2 that took place from 02-03 March 2004 in Tunis. WSIS Phase 2 will be held in Tunisia in 2005 while Phase 1 concluded in Geneva, Switzerland last December 2003.

This Tunisia-initiated meeting was led by the country's Minister of Transport, Communication and Technology, with assistance from the Secretary of State of Information and Communication Technology. Several government, civil society organisations, representatives from the private sector, other international organisations and the United Nations Regional Commissions participated in the meeting.

Civil Society Bureau (CSB) representatives who attended that meeting came up with a comprehensive report on the issues and concerns discussed. However, Tunisia's government representatives made it clear that the conclusions made in that meeting are of a "non-official nature" because the discussion results, once posted in the different WSIS discussion channels, will still be up for further debate.

According to the CSB report, the meeting sought to a preliminary Phase 2 discussion around three themes (which were divided into working groups per theme), namely: 

1) the implementation of the Geneva Action Plan; 
2) the expected results of WSIS Phase 2; and 
3) the WSIS Phase 2 process.

Many points were considered in the implementation of the Action Plan but concern was how to go about the implementation, process, especially beyond Tunis. Another major concern about the first theme is the identification of the main actors and their respective roles.