Best Bits winds up

It was a different phase of my life, but the most significant organization that I co-founded before Prostasia Foundation was a civil society network called Best Bits, which is effectively being wound up this month. Best Bits came together mainly because an older civil society network called the Internet Governance Caucus (IGC) had become dysfunctional due to arguments between traditional civil society leftists and Internet liberals and libertarians.

Best Bits was meant to be a new community where we could set aside those arguments for the sake of dynamically forming new coalitions in areas where both sides did agree, and could bring together the “best bits” of their various skills and approaches. We would write joint statements (which were not issued by Best Bits as a coalition, but by the collective signatories to each statement), and we would hold a meeting once per year, before the United Nations Internet Governance Forum (IGF).

Best Bits was very successful at what it set out to do, at the very critical time when it came together to do it: just before the ITU’s historic 2012 WCIT meeting, which was widely (although simplistically) framed at the time as a battle for Internet freedom, pitting the United States against the United Nations. The inaugural Best Bits meeting brought together a broad coalition of people from across the world, who (for a time) set aside the differences to issue a resolution explaining civil society’s shared concerns. Best Bits members went on to issue 93 other joint statements.

Andrew Puddephatt from Global Partners Digital was effectively my partner in launching Best Bits, and to support his organization’s own expenses in doing so, he used some funding from a donor that the leftist civil society members didn’t like. The fact that he didn’t proactively disclose this to them caused a whole lot of ridiculous arguing that would put today’s Tumblr and Twitter spats to shame, and ultimately resulted in some of the leftists splintering off Best Bits to form another coalition called Just Net Coalition (which in turn suffered infighting of its own… such is the way of Internet civil society).

Although we didn’t accept that Andrew or his organization had done anything wrong (they absolutely hadn’t), although Best Bits had originally been conceived as a more lightweight and informal network compared to the IGC, the continuing members of Best Bits pursued transparency and accountability reforms anyway. These included the development of what predictably turned out to be an unnecessarily baroque set of procedures, and the eventual cycling off of all the original board members (most of whom, honestly, were happy to go by that time).

Unfortunately the next elected committee didn’t really do anything with Best Bits after taking over, and so it was allowed to atrophy into its present state… but by this time, the old arguments at the IGC had simmered back down, and there were now also plenty of other places to post joint statements, that hadn’t existed back in 2012, and also of course some new (mostly narrower) civil society coalitions.

So it has been broadly agreed by the community that it is the right time for Best Bits to fold back into the IGC. Other than donating some web hosting, I confess that I have done very little to aid in this transition (as my attention is solely focused on Prostasia Foundation these days), but Andrew’s colleague Sheetal Kumar deserves special mention for shepherding the process along successfully.


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