I was on the edges of the organisation for NetHui, ably led by Richard Wood at InternetNZ. It was a spectacular event with over 500 registrations and massive attendance through the three days. Lawrence Lessig's speech was inspiring (and you can find the video on YouTube here).
For me though the most important and valuable thing about the hui was not the content.
It was the fact that it was community-making in action.
Too often, debates about the Internet and its impact are restricted to the geeky techy Internet-heads -- people who know a lot about the technology and who, often as not, are very impatient with those who do not.
As someone who had no idea about the Internet's technology when he started, this always seemed counterintuitive. Why slag off and belittle people who don't know about your stuff? Why not engage with them instead, talk about it, help people to learn and to grow?
NetHui was the first event I've been to where most of the people there weren't Internet people. They were innovators; educators; citizens interested in net freedom issues; technologists; media; people in politics (both government and opposition) -- and more.
And so for the first time in the country, on a large scale, a new community poked its head up. The community of people whose lives are being profoundly affected by the rise of the Internet, and those who are driving its development.
The premise of the hui was simply to draw that community into being, from the incohate and patchy discussions and meetings that happen around the fringes of it but which never really hit the mark.
And importantly, it really was a gathering. It was not a conference. Facilitators facilitated and the panels on the last day summarised the proceedings, but it was all about what people there had to bring to the table. You could feel the event getting its head around this somewhat novel idea, and then running with it, during the course of the first day -- and really making waves with this approach on the second day.
For me, NetHui really did the business, for the first time. It wasn't perfect: some communities that could have been there weren't, and people struggled to be in several places at once. Nothing is ever perfect the first time though, and now the platform is established, the event was a success, and it can build to better and brighter things in 2012.
This new community, now extant, has to build momentum. As Lessig said, in most areas of life it is still a struggle to persuade policymakers and those who matter to start from the realisation that there is an Internet. The NetHui community needs to take that understanding, apply it to various areas of our national life, and draw the lessons and apply them to changing New Zealand for the better.
I look forward to seeing how InternetNZ follows up on the initiative, how they choose to drive the momentum that has begun along, and how they make next year's NetHui bigger and brighter.
(And that's without talking about the substantive content at all - have a look at the NetHui site for more on that.)