Digitizing Davos

January 27, 2010

Notwithstanding that some very good things will likely happen at this year’s World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, it’s tough to solve the world’s problems in a week.

A couple of years ago the Forum’s founder, Klaus Schwab, launched, to say the least, a rather bold undertaking to use the Internet to turn Davos into a 365-day experience.  Not unthinkable I say.  After all hundreds of millions of people collaborate on social networks, wikis, blogs and brainstorms to do everything from making friends to creating encyclopedias, writing disruptive software projects and helping a devastated Caribbean island recover from a horrific earthquake.  So why couldn’t such tools be used to fix what’s wrong with the world on a year round basis?

Call it a Digital Davos.

But WELCOM (stands for World Electronic Community) got off to a slow start.

There were numerous technical challenges in getting the right companies assembled to  do the work: there was no integration between WELCOM and the system of information kiosks at that Davos attendees use to sign up for sessions and communicate with each other;  the project was viewed by some as elitist – restricted to the few thousand world leaders that might attend Davos; and there were enormous challenges getting CEOs, politicians and leaders of the civil society to actually use the platform and change their behavior to solve problems on networks.

But it looks like this year these issues have been addressed and WELCOM might actually be ready for prime time.

To begin, the technology is now first rate.  After a false start, WELCOM now has a group of partners, companies like Accenture (ACN), Adobe Systems (ADBE), BT Group (BT) and TIBCO that are putting some real muscle into the work, primarily on a pro bono basis.  The platform has good basic functionality and The Forum has a good team figuring out how the system should evolve and improve.  It’s not just another Facebook. Users can videoconference, exchange documents and video and audio files, store material online, co-edit documents, brainstorm and more.

Second, Accenture has fully integrated WELCOM and the onsite Kiosks, so you can sign up for sessions from laptop or Blackberry, reducing the Kiosk lineups.  There is a wealth of material online about the topic being discussed and the delegates in attendance.

Third, one charge frequently made against the Forum is that it is elitist, but the Forum has made great strides in making its work and proceeding open to the public. Linked to WELCOM is a Social Media Outreach designed to engage the broader world.  For example, one of the sessions I’m helping to lead deals with social networks.

But check out the description and the twist:

The World Economic Forum will explore the growing influence of social networks in a workshop at the start of the Annual Meeting 2010 in Davos. The discussion is moderated by Loïc Le Meur, Founder of Seesmic and will include, among others Gina Bianchini, CEO, Ning, George Colony, CEO, Forrester Research, Don Tapscott, NGenera, Reid Hoffman, Founder, LinkedIn, Owen Van Natta CEO, MySpace.com and Evan Williams, CEO, Twitter.

Given the topic of the workshop it was natural to open it to input from the different social networks. We want to hear from you:

1.   “How are social networks changing society?” 2.   “What are the most important implications and risks for society?” 3.   “What should individuals and institutions do to leverage the power of social networks and improve society?”

You can join the discussion on a number of social networks and platforms.

1) Leave a comment on the Forum blog

2) Become a Fan of the Forum on Facebook

3) Join the Forum group on LinkedIn

4) Befriend the Forum on MySpace

5) Join the Forum network on Ning

6) Reply to @Davos on Twitter

7) Record and upload a video on YouTube

With initiatives like this, the 2010 meeting promises to be the most broadly inclusive ever.

Finally, The Forum has a sophisticated user engagement plan. Rather than trying to convince Barack Obama to be on WELCOM chatting up a storm with Nicolas Sarkozy and Ban Ki-moon they are beginning with the participants most likely to use networks to solve problems.  First up are wonks like me – members of the  Global Agenda Council’s that I wrote about in my last post.  This includes constituencies such as academics, scientists, journalists and other who love to discuss and communicate ideas.

They also appear to be focusing on young people who are more likely to turn to networks to collaborate.  In 2005 the Forum has established the community of Young Global Leaders, consisting of hundreds of leaders under the age of 40 from around the world and myriad occupations and sectors.   These young adults are recognized for their professional accomplishments, commitment to society and potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world.  With many of them being part of the Net Generation, they understandably will fully exploit the tremendous potential a system such as WELCOM has to offer.

The Kiosk integration is also a nifty way of drawing attendees into WELCOM.  Everyone at Davos needs the Kiosks to sign up for activities and communicate.  Now they need WELCOM.

I’ve been using WELCOM for the past year and it’s a solid step forward.  But the Forum is still in the early days of curating the behavioral changes needed for the collaboration at Davos to be extended all year long.

But enough of this, I’ve got to get signing up for some sessions.