re:publica is a wrap

This week I attended re:publica, Germany’s most relevant tech & society conference. I’ve been going since year 1 (2007) — not every year, and often not for the whole time, but still that’s a long time.

So I saw many friendly faces both old and new and had lots of conversations. As so often, the hallway track is where it’s at.

I’m not one for nostalgia, so I disagreed with a few of the Slightly Disgruntled Elders I met who miss the inside baseball vibes of the early days. In fact, I very much welcome the overall vibe of re:publica this year, which seemed much more diverse and welcoming and broad than before. This has been re:publica’s trajectory for a long time, and it makes a ton of sense to me. The fact that the partnered teenager conference TinCon was also folded into the same space led to a fun energy, too. Digital policy and digital transformation is not a niche topic anymore, it’s one of the big horizontal issues of our days, so it needs a broad range of folks participating in debates. How else are we going to get this right, and make sure it works for everyone? So yeah, diversify! Diversify more! Make it broader, make it more welcoming to other communities, build broader societal alliances by connecting previously “digital” issues to other societal issues and movements. That’s a good thing!

Also, I got to meet (again or for the first time) a great number of folks and learn more about where their head is right now. Something that I noticed: With Twitter gone, my ambient awareness of what people are up to, what issues they’re thinking about, is greatly diminished. Events like this can help with getting up to speed.

I also saw a few great sessions:

  • A panel on the gap Twitter left behind (spoiler: there’s not a replacement now or to be expected anytime soon).
  • A talk by Jenny Odell, artist and author of How to Do Nothing, which I very much enjoyed.
  • A discussion about the future of openness, which is something I’ve also been thinking about a lot: The term openness (in the open source or free culture sense) has been under quite a bit of pressure. The understanding of the term has been changing, the context the term is used in changes, so does the larger debate; and lastly there’s increasingly a lot of corporate “open washing”. The panel was Paul Keller (Open Future), Lea Gimpel (Digital Public Goods Alliance), Christina Willems (Open Knowledge Foundation) and Kilian Vieth-Ditlmann (AlgorithmWatch). This was great!
  • Markus Beckedahl interviewed Prabhat Agarwal, who is in charge of the EU Commissions’s enforcement of the Digital Services Act (DSA), and struck me as highly competent. Great debate!
  • One panel discussed the UN Digital Compact, which I hadn’t been very familiar with, so this helped a little.
  • Mark Surman of Mozilla gave a talk about trustworthy AI (does it exist?), which I enjoyed. And as a former Senior Fellow at the Mozilla Foundation, this was right up my alley.

Finally, I also greatly enjoyed a panel I had put together that was based on research Simon Höher and I had put together for Stiftung Mercator. Here, Carla Hustedt (Mercator), Simon Höher (co-author of the report), Anna-Lena von Hodenberg (HateAid), Elisa Lindinger (Superrr Lab) and Markus Beckedahl (re:publica) discussed the state of digital civil society in Germany and how funders can better support their work. (Our report “Digital Civil Society: A Maturing Field”) is available here.) Simon and I also hosted a small meetup discussing methodologies for measuring ecosystem health — something that can be challenging to say the least.