Messages from the mount

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In line with the theme of its meeting this year, The Creative Imperative, the World Economic Forum is inviting its 2,000-plus participants, “including presidents and prime ministers” to provide at least one posting on the organisation’s official blog (www.forumblog.org). Also featured are more than 40 webcasts of various sessions as well as that web feature du jour - podcasts.

Courageous, some might say, for an organisation that had a most unpleasant experience with some “accidental blogging” last year. Rony Abovitz, the Florida-based “technology pioneer”, made a posting to the forum’s official site in which he said CNN’s chief news executive Eason Jordan told a panel discussion that the US military was targeting journalists critical of the war in Iraq. The posting was picked up by other bloggers, followed quickly by radio talk-shows, and then more gradually by several big daily US newspapers. Jordan quit, saying he did not want CNN to suffer any further embarrassment over the conflicting reports of his remarks. Bloggers and commentators called for the WEF to release the videotape of the event. But the response was that the session was operating under “the Chatham House rule” - you can tell anyone what you heard there, but not who said it.

Abovitz said he assumed the session was on the record as it was being taped and he was not aware of the off-the-record rules for reporting as he wasn’t a journalist.

While Abovitz will not be blogging directly from Davos this year, his global ambitions have since expanded. His website is now dedicated to “fixing the world” (www.fixtheworld.blogs.com) as well as reflecting on the media avalanche he caused by “having accidentally set it off with the toss of a snowball”.

To its credit, the WEF has not removed Abovitz’s postings from its website (www.forumblog.org/blog/2005/01/do_us_troops_ta). But it has told blogging participants that they will be bound by its rules. While opinions will not be censored, those that “do not abide by these guidelines will not be published, particularly those that do not conform to the on/off the record policy”.

The very idea of rules is, of course, anathema to any self-respecting blogger. The forum blog has accordingly had a mixed response. Steve Rubel, who is rated among the top 100 bloggers by the Technorati blog search engine, was positive, but found his readers weren’t so keen on the idea of “a huge collection of articles and statements”. One contributor said he would be “more excited if they truly engage in conversation with the public”. (www.steverubel.typepad.com)

The Davos Newbies, written by Lance Knobel, a former WEF magazine editor and 2000 programme organiser who left to become part of Tony Blair’s strategy unit and later helped found a think-tank, was more encouraging (www.davosnewbies.com). Knobel wrote that when he was an employee at the forum he argued that every participant should be given a weblog to write up his or her experiences.

“I’m sure only 5-10 per cent would have taken up the offer, but those 100-200 running perspectives on the event would give a fascinating insight into both the participants and the meeting. The other executives at the forum didn’t see the point, and a number of them, in fact, worked reasonably hard to get [forum founder] Klaus Schwab to prohibit me from writing my Davos Newbies.”

Schwab himself is the subject of a critical blog by Argentinian billionaire Martin Varsavsky, a former WEF Global Leader for Tomorrow. Varsavsky, who sold his company, Ya.com, to Deutsche Telekom for 2550m just before the 2001 crash, has taken a swipe at Schwab on his website after spending five years with the forum until last year. Varsavsky now promotes the Clinton Global Initiative conference instead, and keeps a keen eye on Davos doings (www.english.martinvarsavsky.net/general/klaus-schwabs-glt.html).

There is no shortage of online coverage by those who are attending (including the 300 media representatives on the guest list). There is the FT’s online coverage (www.ft.com/davos) and newspaper reports, and participants who find the forum rules too restrictive have an outlet in the unmoderated www.ft.com/davosforum.

Then there is the earnest and academic, expanding on the grand themes of the annual meeting (www.opendemocracy.typepad.com/davos); and the star-struck breathless, “You may wish to know how Sharon Stone looks. Answer: great. Really great. Oughta be in pictures. And Angelina Jolie? I don’t see her, but someone who knows someone I know does, and his testimony is, “She’s actually unphotogenic. She’s so much more beautiful in person, it’s not even funny.” (www.foxhunt.blogspot.com/2005_03_01_foxhunt_archive.html)

For those who really just want to know what was the best party and who was there, the tech magazine Red Herring last year told us that the “real flocking point for the digerati” was the bash at the Kirchner Museum. There, it said, legendary MIT professor Nicholas Negroponte “huddled with Time editor-in-chief Norm Pearlstine” and Michael Dell chatted with Google co-founder Larry Page, “while Google chief executive officer Eric Schmidt slipped out of the Kirchner party early to attend an invitation-only nightcap with Microsoft chairman Bill Gates at a hotel across town”. (http://blog.redherring.com)

Emiliya Mychasuk is ft.com deputy editor (development).

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