Social reporting & sense-making a summit: IGF2010

Tomorrow the 5th Internet Governance Forum begins in full and if last year is anything to go by there will be a lot of social media buzz around. Last year I was supporting a group of young people and Diplo Foundation fellows to be social reporters at the event – using blogs, twitter and video cameras to capture and share discussions. This year, the focus in on trying to make sense of the event amidst a sometimes chaotic event and overwhelming amount of content.

We’re planning on doing that in three ways:

  • Training social reporters  – the training for social reporters this year is focussed far more on creating summary reports than on adding to the noise of IGF. You can find the 2010 Social Reporters Handbook here.

  • Engage Remotely, Connect Locally – The Internet Governance Forum has an amazing distributed participation infrastructure which means people are joining in session from right across the world (over 30 remote hubs are registered!), logging into WebCasts and chats, and able to send questions into the physical sessions.

    As Ginger explains participants connecting via the WebCast can bring a new set of perspectives to reporting of what has gone on – able to monitor multiple workshops and to more easily track-back over transcripts and notes. However, it can be tricky for remote participants to ask follow up questions to speakers outside sessions, or to catch the mood of the event from the conversations in the corridors.

    So: we’re going to experiment with creating small teams following particular themes – made up partly of people following the WebCast form their own countries, and partly of social reporters physically at the IGF. These groups will be able to work together on creating reports of sessions, and summaries of key issues relating to the IGF themes.

    The process will raise some interesting questions about how to integrate online and offline participation in an event – and already a number of ideas around specific language reporting are emerging.

  • Social Reporting Aggregator – I spend a lot of last week messing around in the innards of a Drupal install to build a ‘Social Reporting Aggregator’ which is capturing all the Twitter messages around IGF (at least those tagged #igf10) and as many blog posts and video clips as I can track down.

    All this social media is aggregated in near real-time, and using various APIs and tag-extraction is categorised and has meta-data attached to it. I’ve scraped a copy of the IGF Timetable and used that to build a hierarchical taxonomy of sessions onto which particular tags and categories can be attached. All of which means it should be possible to present back most of the social media discussions around a specific session, or around a theme.

    You can see an example from the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) pre-meeting on Human Rights in Internet Governance on this page.

    The aggregator has been surprisingly good so far at extracting relevant tags from blog posts (E.g. Just by moving a few theme tags (net neutrality; net-neutrality; neutrality) to sit in the taxonomy structure under their related workshop I can bring together blog posts on a workshop topic that I would never have found otherwise). However, when it comes to Tweets the experiments I’ve tried show automatic extraction of key tags doesn’t get very far. Instead, for the aggregator to work well, groups will need to make use of hash-tags.

    In this handout which will be on the Diplo stand at IGF I’ve suggested a pattern for tagging workshop content (and the aggregator is configured to work with this), but as @apisanty has already said “hasthtags are not dictated from above, they rise from crowdsourcing”.

    If sessions settle by crowdsourcing on a different tag from that in the handout, this is not a problem (as long as I spot it!) as the platform can have multiple ‘tags’ against any session. However, I observed with the APC today that adding an extra ‘session tag’ to the ‘event tag’ was only common practice amongst some twitter users. How far to encourage such a practice, or how much just to sit back and watch whether it emerges (and cope if it doesn’t) is going to be an interesting question for the aggregation strand of social reporting.

    I’ve experimented with adding light-structures to social reporting platforms before, but never with an event so big and diverse (and where it’s impossible to get anywhere near to reading all the content being generated), so how the aggregator works and develops I will be interested to see.

How any of this plays out and what issues come up is yet to see. However, seeing how distributed participation in the IGF has developed over recent years to become embedded in the event – transforming in the process how a UN conference works and blazing a trail for new models of working – I’m pretty excited (though also very nervous) about what we might achieve!

#igf10 #socialreporting