For the Internet Society, there is perhaps no better reflection of its mission than InterCommunity, the society’s annual global digital conference. “Our strategic goals focus on Internet access and trust. How to connect the unconnected, how to restore, in this age of cyber attacks, spam, and privacy issues, trust in the Internet as a mode of doing anything, including using the Internet to connect the Internet community,” says Todd M. Tolbert, chief administrative officer of the Internet Society. “InterCommunity is designed to do all this and more.”
The second annual InterCommunity took place September 21. To accommodate global time zones, a two-hour live program was held at three different time slots throughout the day. Registration was free and open to anyone. Individuals could participate from their homes or offices, connecting via their Internet browser. The conference also involved “nodes” around the globe where groups gathered in person. The speakers were located around the globe and were hosted by the Society’s CEO from Reston, VA, where the Internet Society is headquartered. (The society also has a headquarters office in Geneva.)
According to the Internet Society, the dozens of node locations spanned Asia Pacific, Europe, North America, and Africa. More than 2,600 people in 160 countries registered for the conference, the majority as individuals (not at node locations). The ability of any person around the globe to be part of the Internet community and to become a stakeholder in its development is a core objective of the Internet Society, Tolbert says, and InterCommunity 2016 showed this mission in action. The event also highlighted one of the key challenges that the society faces.
“We’re a global organization with some 90,000 members and over 130 chapters worldwide,” Tolbert notes. “One of our biggest challenges is how do we get our message out in all the languages that our members speak?”
For the first InterCommunity, the live stream in English was translated into Spanish and French. This year the organization expanded its language offerings. The proceedings were conducted in English and simultaneously interpreted into Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic, and Portuguese. A drop-down menu on the event’s home screen gave participants with one click a choice of language to listen to the live stream. “The ability to pick a language from a menu on the portal’s screen was very important to us,” Tolbert explains. “Digitell, our virtual platform provider, was able to make that happen for us.” Closed captioning in English was also available from the menu.
Simultaneous interpreters spoke their translations via phone line, a set-up that sometimes resulted in poor audio quality, Tolbert acknowledges. “On the whole, we were very happy with the experience, but the major thing we learned is that the quality of audio is far more important than, say, having high-definition video. We’ll spend more time working out the logistics of high-quality audio for simultaneous language interpretation for future events.”
Overall, he also stresses that the importance of two-way communication when setting up digital events: Give people in node or remote locations the ability to communicate, preferably with via audio and video. Node locations at InterComm 2016 had a live video/audio connection with the rest of the nodes, as well as the ability to communicate that way with each other. “What’s really going to change the paradigm for digital events is when the cameras can be turned on for individual participants and there’s the ability for live audiovisual exchange between everyone,” he predicts.
In such cases, quality control is really important, he says. “We created a standards document for all the remote nodes, explaining how to set up microphones, screens, cameras and how the room should look and feel for two-way communications. For example, you need cameras that can swivel, zoom and tilt so that anyone speaking in the room at the node location can be captured. We also do a lot of testing prior to the event to make sure we will have the best results. It takes a lot of planning but it’s the way to drive amazing engagement.”
Todd M. Tolbert will be speak on the global Internet landscape at DEI’s upcoming Virtual Edge Summit. Details here. For an in-depth look at the Internet Society’s inaugural digital conference, InterComm 2015, check out this Convene article.