Online masses flock to re:publica 13 conference | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 05.05.2013
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Online masses flock to re:publica 13 conference

Over the past few years, the re:publica conference developed into a meeting of bloggers, activists, researches and others interested in the potential of what the Internet has to offer.

A mecca for the people of the Internet, with a mood of relaxed hectic: that's the annual re:publica conference in Berlin. With laptops under their arms and smart phones in their hands, conference-goers each year move between the speeches, workshops and discussions and head out to the park to keep typing and clicking outside, when the German capital's weather permits it.

Many attendees at re:publica, which runs this year from May 6-8, are not only connected by the Internet, but make their living and maintain friendships on it. For many bloggers and activists the Internet has become the chosen space to express their creativity and social engagement.

Sweating the details

People at the 2011 re:publica conference Copyright: dirk haeger | re:publica 2011 Quelle: via Silke Wünsch, DW Kultur Berlin

An Apple a day keeps boredom away for many re:publica attendees

Founded by bloggers Markus Beckedahl and Johnny Haeusler, the conference kicked off in 2007 as a place for some 700 people to talk about politics, the media, culture and technology. Six years later, those issues still play a major part in the conference, as do privacy, copyright, censorship and a wide spectrum of other issues related to the Internet. The evolving focus has helped make the event an important spot for bloggers and online activists to discuss current events. Politicians and corporate brass have also taken an interest in the conference.

In the past, re:publica focused on changes in the media and how they affect people's lives as well as online privacy and the opportunities and limits of the Internet. In 2010, US blogger Jeff Jarvis, now an associate professor at the City University of New York (CUNY), called on people to drop the curtain of privacy- just like he has in writing about his personal life and fight with cancer. Why, he asked, are Germans so concerned about their private lives online when they're more than willing to strip down and sweat together in public saunas? He later invited guests to continue the discussion with him after the conference - naked, in one of Berlin's saunas.

One of Germany's most well-known bloggers, Sascha Lobo, regularly speaks at the conference, providing insight on how companies deal with online public relations disasters and the state of the German Internet.

"Until a year ago, there were more active kayakers in Germany than Twitter users," he said in 2011 clearly agitated that navel-gazing seemed to be the online literati's main concern. "You should be leaving an impact on the digital society, but you talk to the same 1,500 fools who have exactly the same opinion as you do and end up achieving absolutely nothing. Zilch."

Having an impact on society

Portrait of Markus Beckedahl. (Photo: DW)

Beckedahl said the conference addresses the kind of future people want to create

That's an issue re:publica founder Markus Beckedahl, who also started Germany's, said is especially important to him.

"It's not something for Internet nerds," he told DW. "It's about freedom and how we want to shape the digital society of the future."

Re:publica's attendees, most of whom come from Germany, have a good deal of work ahead of them when it comes to informing the public on issues related to online freedom and communication. German politicians have been slow to adopt online technology, with just the first batch having begun to talk regularly with voters via social media services such as Twitter and Facebook.

German government spokesman, Steffen Seibert, is one of the few who quickly took to talking about his view of social media. "The job was still relatively new and at some point I had the idea to start tweeting," he said of the decision to start the @RegSprecher account. The European Commission's head for the digital agenda, Neelie Kroes, also posts regularly to Twitter. At re:publica in 2012, she announced that the ACTA anti-piracy agreement was bound for the legislative scrapheap. Two months later, the international agreement was voted down by the European Parliament.

Award-winning online activists among speakers

Yoani Sanchez is leaving a hotel, with a film team visible in the background. (Photo: Jose Goitia/dpa)

Sanchez has been arrested repeatedly for her blogging

This year, some 5,000 visitors are expected to attend the 200 hours of re:publica events and listen to 350 speakers. US activist Jillian York will give a speech, as will Cuban blogger Yoani Sanchez. In the past, both women have won DW's The Bobs online activism award for their work. Sanchez, who had previously been refused the right to leave Cuba, will receive her award from 2008 at re:publica. Other jury members from The Bobs will also give speeches and take part in panel discussions during the re:publica conference.

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