Many of us think the Internet is as accessible around the globe as it is here at home, but the reality is “the Internet isn’t everywhere,” as Todd Tolbert, CAO for the Internet Society, pointed out in a session he gave on the global Internet landscape during DEI’s Virtual Edge Summit in November.
The Internet Society, which has headquarter offices in Reston, Va., and Geneva, Switzerland, has more than 90,000 members worldwide. Its mission is to promote universal access and open development of the Internet. The society is involved in education, policy and technical aspects of the Internet, and as such, offers a great vantage point to understand the Internet’s global landscape and what event organizers need to know when it comes to broadening their communities via the Internet
Tolbert noted that for large swaths of Africa, for example, the Internet is not accessible or is accessible only through mobile broadband. It’s incumbent on organizers to “do their homework” and understand a destination’s preferred bandwidth, devices and, of course, language, when exploring possibilities for a global virtual or hybrid event.
Other takeaways from Tolbert’s presentation:
Internet failure will happen. Tolbert gave as an example the Internet Society’s second annual global membership meeting, a virtual event held this past September involving more than 2,000 attendees in dozens of countries — most participating via their laptops or cell phones, although there were also “node” locations where attendees gathered in person. (A logistically complicated virtual event, even for a society that lives, eats and breathes the Internet.) One of the primary routers failed and went to a back-up during the event, though luckily the glitch happened during a break, Tolbert said.
To keep technical glitches minimal, rigorous testing before the event is necessary. And if you are setting up local gathering places (or nodes) for the event, it’s critical to provide detailed documentation on how to set up the space with cameras, screens, microphones computers and other equipment, Tolbert emphasized.
Think like a local. Factoring in time zones when planning a global event is, of course, essential. Where it can get especially tricky is working with local norms as far as when it’s appropriate to be tuning into a virtual meeting. For example, interrupting work hours is generally frowned upon in many Asian cultures, and Tolbert said in retrospect this may be why participation from members in Asia was less than expected for the society’s 2016 global meeting.
Speak their language. The society used one portal for its 2016 global meeting. It had a drop-down menu on the home screen which allowed participants with one click a choice of language to listen to the live stream. The proceedings were conducted in English and simultaneously interpreted into Spanish, French, Russian, Arabic and Portuguese.
Participants needed to be able to connect to the event via their web browsers, so the society decided to use Zoom, which partner Digitell was able to adapt to its virtual platform. “Our goal was to create a convenient, one-stop-shop interface for attendees,” Tolbert said. “And I think we really raised the bar with our 2016 meeting.”
To learn more, watch DEI: The State of the Global Internet Landscape session here.