I attended my first NetHui in 2015, and have been a contract member of the team organising it since 2017. I love unconferences because they bring together so many people and experiences who wouldn’t ordinarily be in the same room. No matter how big of a deal you are in your sector or company, someone at NetHui will have no idea who you are, and that’s such a magical atmosphere.
Everyone has something to teach, and something to learn - rather than just watching so-called experts talk at you, we can all be part of a conversation to build a better world. The ‘hallway track’ is often the best part of more traditional conferences - where all the most stimulating conversations and interactions happen - and NetHui is pretty much a two-day hallway track, full of opportunities to meet new people. Here are some of the sessions that I remember most fondly.
- Let’s Talk About Sex (2015 - collaborative notes) - At my first NetHui, Megan Whelan (future MC of NetHui Copyright) and I hosted a BarCamp about everything from online dating to porn to catfishing to unsolicited dick pics. It was one of the first sessions to set out ground rules for a safe and inclusive discussion, and the many conversations it sparked led to the Sex on the Net speaker series later that year, where a panel discussed the role of the Internet in sex education, connecting marginalised people, and pornography.
- Copyright & Mātauranga Māori (Copyright 2018 - video) - A standing room only discussion of best practice for addressing the conflict between copyright and Mātauranga Māori. Participants discussed how we can protect and honour indigenous knowledge in a way that realises the benefits for Māori and Aotearoa as a whole (as well as the copyright and ethical implications of Pākehā businesses using Māori iconography and images).
- (Em)Powering Women Using the Net (2014 - collaborative notes) Although I wasn’t at this NetHui, I watched this conversation blow up on social media. It was a challenging and, to be honest, not great conversation about how to better include women in using the Internet. But while the session itself was difficult for many, it led to a lot of further conversations about how to make a more inclusive NetHui and do more and better in the industry. This was one moment that led to us rethinking our Code of Conduct at NetHui, and led to the creation of the Tūī team - a group of people who visibly help keep everyone engaged, included, and safe while at NetHui.
- The Andrew - Shane debate series - since 2016, Andrew Cushen (wearer of many hats in his time at InternetNZ) and Shane Hobson (also wears many hats, currently with Web Access Waikato) have hosted a debate on a hot button issue. From the first debate, where they argued whether building ultrafast broadband was a waste of time, to the 2018 Roadtrip debate at Invercargill about whether digital services could replace local government offices, these brave souls have never shied away from the hard questions, more often than not leading to a victory for team ‘Actually, I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that.’
- Rural connectivity (2017 (and nearly every other year) - collaborative notes) - we’ve always been chuffed to have the network operators come along and talk about what and where they’re building more networks for New Zealanders. Rural connectivity can always be a tricky one - the economics are hard, and while the tech is always improving, many New Zealanders can still miss out. Plus it’s always an intense space to talk about the best way of doing things, how things can be done for cheaper, faster, better, or more. It can be a challenging conversation but it’s always one that gets people thinking about how to get great Internet to all of Aotearoa.
- Bitcoin - Just kidding, everyone knows that blockchain is a scam. (Or is it? Maybe you should come to NetHui and convince us!)
- Youth Creating the Future of the Internet (Manawatū 2018 - video) - many sessions over the years have discussed the changing role of the Internet in children and young people’s lives, from pearl-clutching over social media to how we can counter online bullying. But this session was led by two students, offering new perspectives on how the next generation views the Internet and reminding us that it is more valuable to talk with people than about them.
- Security (Greymouth 2018 - video) - This session stood out as one that took an approachable and friendly tone, and created space for judgment-free conversations about the challenges people face in trying to maintain their digital security. The discussion de-mystified a lot of security issues for non-hackers, and attendees walked away with concrete actions they could implement and share.
- Social and cultural implications of the Internet (2017 - collaborative notes) - Don Holland and Amber Craig led a discussion of the role of the Internet in connecting diaspora populations and preserving cultures and languages in danger of disappearing. We talk a lot about the ways the Internet divides us, so it’s nice to be reminded that it’s also a powerful tool for connection and understanding.
And just to make this list a proper top ten, one of my favourite sessions wasn’t really even a session. It was a last-minute, poorly advertised BarCamp about sharing nudes on the Internet that turned into a book club when only a few people came. But that’s the great thing about NetHui - a tiny session just means more space for connection. So if you’re tired of traditional conferences and want to branch out, come and join us this year - just buy your ticket now.
A blog post by Jess Ducey, Community Engagement Whiz at InternetNZ