London Conference on Cyberspace – #epicfail? Are those behind #londoncyber just out of touch – or is it something more?

As Day 1 closes and delegates convene for dinner at their Clubs, Louise Kidney takes the long view – across Twitter.

London Cyberspace Conference

What’s in a name?

When people review the ‘London Conference on Cyberspace’ in the future, they will ask themselves two things. Firstly, they will ask if it really was the first time someone mentioned the involvement of NATO in international ‘cyber security’ and secondly they will ask ‘which idiot chose the name?’.

For those not understanding the derision aimed at the choice of name in some quarters, let me explain. Back in the 90’s there was a phenomenon called cyberpunk. William Gibson was the main proponent, though believe it or not Neil Stephenson was also guilty.  Their books contained tales of digital connectivity and wizardry long before their predictions came true – because this is after all what science fiction does – predict the future. Towards the end of the 90’s the word cyber started to acquire more sordid connotations – a ‘cyber’ session was textually interactive in whole new ways. And then the word died, as the Naughties arrived and no one felt the need to ever speak of such things again.

Until now. So some of us were a little confused – because we have moved on since the year 2000, haven’t we?


Perhaps not. The first thing I noticed on the #londoncyber hashtag was a tweet from @renzephyr:

London Cyberspace Conference

What was this conference discussing again?

The blatant lack of understanding of the way that Twitter worked was further demonstrated by @EdVaizey whose heart was most certainly in the right place but whose phrasing was a little unfortunate.

London Cyberspace Conference

And the small matter of inviting through a hashtag the entirety of the rest of the connected world Ed. Sorry about that, must have come as a bit of a shock to discover people not even attending the event were taking an interest and willing to get involved in the discussion.

The ‘OMG’ moments kept on coming. Having known for what one imagines was months that a large amount of dignitaries mixed with the fiercely digitally literate would be descending on the venue, there were some issues as @tomespiner identified:

London Cyberspace Conference

We have all, I know, sat in unconferences and bar camps and commented on how wonderful the wi-fi connection has been. So how did this get missed? Other tweets mentioned issues with feeds on screens within the venue itself – so it wasn’t just a new tech fail but a complete tech fail.

And so it carried on (we’ll get to the positive bit in a minute, I promise). The audience seemed to represent quite excellently the division in the UK between tech innovation and government (though admittedly this is being closed at a rate of knots by some excellent individuals) as @ruskin147 commented:

London Cyberspace Conference

It’s safe to say that this one was not the fault of the organisers but how on earth did we end up with a security conference that the games industry actually do not seem to have been in attendance at in any official capacity? Perhaps they were waiting for an invite. Perhaps they felt the event held  no relevant to them. Whichever it was it’s unfortunate – Blizzard being the first example which spring to mind of a company who have developed magnificent ways of thwarting those who wish to deprive their customers of things of worth.

Moments of hope

But there were moments of hope for those of us lobbing contributions to the hashtag in an effort to contribute to what was fast becoming the G20 equivalent of tech security. @lozkaye summed it beautifully:

London Cyberspace Conference

Iconic tweets of legend have been created from much less. Encapsulated in 140, this summarised my initial hostility to the very existence of the conference itself. It felt like a bunch of men who had hitherto dismissed the web and all it entails as mere trifles, had then witnessed revolution and riot, got a bit of a panic on and picked up the thread from the point where they’d last had to pay those pesky geeks some notice – the year 2000.

The world has indeed moved on and a 14 year old can indeed cause utter havoc. The location may not yet be India but give it time. Brazil is watching its back.

It wasn’t just the outsiders picking apart the pieces of a very chewy carcass however. On a panel William Hague was chairing, someone asked about how students would be dealt with in the course of establishing acceptable use of web and digital tech. William Hague conceded that at times he wondered who should be teaching who about social technology – a brave and somewhat wondrous admission from the British Foreign Secretary.

Who kept the dogs in?

My final comment from afar, relates to this tweet from @hanybeshr:

London Cyberspace Conference

Check where Mr Beshr works. Yes, that is a Al-Jazeera journalist calling the British government on its treatment of the media and with very good reason. The media, as far as I can work out, were excluded from the entire event, and instead were contained within a separate room with live feeds from the main conference room. Looping back to @edvaizey’s comment on who was invited to the event and its intimation of openness, it seems that Government is indeed encouraging openness in the way it does business. But not when it comes to the pesky media. Who could follow most of the content of the discussions via the #londoncyber hashtag anyway – but at least none of the delegates had to answer any difficult questions.

We wait with baited breathe for day 2.