Disappointment at Davos

Bono and Al Gore talk about Poverty and Global Warming

The World Economic Forum wanted to tap into the power of YouTube in an attempt to become more transparent, more open, and more democratic. Unfortunately, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The World Economic Forum – a gathering of influential people and world leaders in Davos, Switzerland – has garnered the reputation of being a bit of a closed door venue. It’s an invitation only event and isn’t open to the public. That is, until the World Economic Forum turned to YouTube.

Starting last year, the World Economic Forum opened it’s (virtual) doors by allowing anyone to submit their thoughts to Davos. It was a good idea, but their first start had a lot to be improved upon. I had written about it on this blog when it happened – I was really excited at the idea, but was disappointed with the original execution.

This year, it seemed that the World Economic Forum had learned from its first run and was coming back stronger than ever. Instead of just submitting videos that were to be spliced into a clip show, one lucky person was to be flown to Davos to interact with those attending. And best of all? The YouTube community would help pick the winner.

Unfortunately, I was left with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu and disappointment. Click the jump to find out why.

According to the rules, 30% of the evaluation was to be based on “YouTube Popularity” (that is number of views, ratings, and what the average rating is). Another 30% was to be based on “overall originality and creativity” with the final 40% being whether or not the video offered “tangible solutions”. All of this had to be done in under 180 seconds.

I decided to make a new video for this event. The question I chose to answer was the one about politics: “Will an Obama Administration Improve the State of the World in 2009?”. To answer this question I pulled together footage from Bangladesh, from Canada, and from Barack Obama’s ancestral home not far from Kisumu, Kenya. This was going to be a hugely original video in both breadth and scope.

After I got this video edited and online, what happened next blew me away. There was a huge international groundswell of support to try and get this video as popular as possible. Friends from around the corner to across the the Atlantic were sharing this video. School teachers from half way around the world in Dhaka, Shanghai, and elsewhere were posting the link on their school intranets in the hopes of getting their students to support this video.

In less than a week this video got over 7,000 views, over 700 positive ratings, and over 500 comments of support and encouragement. This, by far, was the most popular and most democratically supported video about the World Economic Forum. Yet, alas, this video was not picked as the winner. And, worst of all, it was not even included in their clip show. Most confusing of all was that the winning video had little (if any) community support from YouTube.

Even after winning the Davos Debates, only a dozen or so people rated this video and only 4 people thought to comment.

Even after winning the Davos Debates, only a dozen or so people rated this video and only 4 people thought to comment.

With groundswell support from Canada, America, Bangladesh, England, China, and several other countries - my video was the most supported video about the Davos Debates with over 500 comments, 700 positive ratings, and two video responses appealing for people to watch my video.

I wrote to the World Economic Forum asking how this decision was made. In their reply, they hinted that I had lost because of a lack of originality and proposing a solution. I was kind of surprised. Given all that I tried to mention in my video, a lot of the finer details were left on the cutting room floor. This begs the question, why limit us to three minutes if extensive detail is important? A 3 minute video is less than 1/3rd of what YouTube allows as the maximum length for a video.

I can’t help but feel that the World Economic Forum dropped the ball on this once again. This could have been a real exercise in online democracy. Instead, given this particular winner, we find that public opinion and input didn’t really matter. Given that open nature of this debate/contest – this could have been a really transparent judging process. Instead, the winner was chosen in secret with little to no rationale or explanation. Finally, this could have been a really great opportunity to have insightful, detailed, and thoughtful contributions. But the arbitrary time limit meant even the most succinct of us had to cut back.

It seems that the more the World Economic Forum tries to change – the more it stays the same.

18 Responses to “Disappointment at Davos”


  1. 1 Steve

    Shawn, this is a shame. I really thought your video was one of the better ones produced for the contest. Hopefully we'll get you some better funding and more publicity in 2009.

  2. 2 Steve

    Shawn, this is a shame. I really thought your video was one of the better ones produced for the contest. Hopefully we'll get you some better funding and more publicity in 2009.

  3. 3 uncultured

    Thanks Steve. As upset and sad as I am about this – what gets me is that their pick completely and utterly ignores the input from the YouTube community. They might as well have done this off-site and/or by emailing our video files instead.

  4. 4 uncultured

    Thanks Steve. As upset and sad as I am about this – what gets me is that their pick completely and utterly ignores the input from the YouTube community. They might as well have done this off-site and/or by emailing our video files instead.

  5. 5 Steve

    I agree. I'm in the hunt for something similar. While only one of the finalists is selected from views/votes, I'm skeptical about the process. I was really jealous that you had 3 minutes to do your video… I had a 60 second time limit and had to cut so much out.

  6. 6 Steve

    I agree. I'm in the hunt for something similar. While only one of the finalists is selected from views/votes, I'm skeptical about the process. I was really jealous that you had 3 minutes to do your video… I had a 60 second time limit and had to cut so much out.

  7. 7 gdarrowood

    This upsets me. You're right, they completely ignored their own standards. I haven't seen the winner, but I imagine it addresses things in a more… shall we say "traditional" way, i.e. a way that puts less pressure on the countries with the power to help to actually do so?

  8. 8 gdarrowood

    This upsets me. You're right, they completely ignored their own standards. I haven't seen the winner, but I imagine it addresses things in a more… shall we say "traditional" way, i.e. a way that puts less pressure on the countries with the power to help to actually do so?

  9. 9 uncultured

    The winning video was about ethics – not poverty. He is definitely articulate and well-spoken. But, it's clear the youtube community was not a factor in this decision. They might as well have just asked us to send our videos by email instead of bothering to do this on YouTube at all.

  10. 10 uncultured

    The winning video was about ethics – not poverty. He is definitely articulate and well-spoken. But, it's clear the youtube community was not a factor in this decision. They might as well have just asked us to send our videos by email instead of bothering to do this on YouTube at all.

  11. 11 DavidLopez

    that is just ridiculous, goes to show where their minds are.

  12. 12 DavidLopez

    that is just ridiculous, goes to show where their minds are.

  13. 13 hyrcan

    YouTube has a history of this sort of thing actually. “Winners” are chosen more on how they make youtube look than what the rules set out defining the winners.

    A good recent example of that is the videos that “won” a spot in the Republican (and to a lesser extent the Dem’s) debates.

    Sad really.

  14. 14 hyrcan

    YouTube has a history of this sort of thing actually. “Winners” are chosen more on how they make youtube look than what the rules set out defining the winners.

    A good recent example of that is the videos that “won” a spot in the Republican (and to a lesser extent the Dem’s) debates.

    Sad really.

  15. 15 Shawn

    @hyrcan – What gets me is that this decision process seems to have been done entirely by the World Economic Forum, not YouTube. And, they didn’t seem to have done their research. The winnner’s own MySpace page says he wants to ““destroy the world, and everything conceivable in it”. Guess they didn’t do their research…

  16. 16 Shawn

    @hyrcan – What gets me is that this decision process seems to have been done entirely by the World Economic Forum, not YouTube. And, they didn’t seem to have done their research. The winnner’s own MySpace page says he wants to ““destroy the world, and everything conceivable in it”. Guess they didn’t do their research…

  17. 17 Rhyan

    Regardless of the quality of the video, the number of views and ratings, I would assume the that political and business interests prevailed in this situation.

    Any message that may make Youtube or The World Economic Forum appear to be “anti-Obama” (intrinsic in the nature of your question) would certainly not work towards your benefit. I would assume this was the major reason they did not select you. Unfortunately, these reasons are not rooted in democratic values, they are rooted in political and business interests.

    Although you did not state that an Obama administration would result in negative outcomes, raising the question implies that you believe the previous statement to be a possibility. Although I support Obama, I don’t see a lot of reason in “blind faith” either (as demonstrated in their lack of willingness to criticize him).

  18. 18 Rhyan

    Regardless of the quality of the video, the number of views and ratings, I would assume the that political and business interests prevailed in this situation.

    Any message that may make Youtube or The World Economic Forum appear to be “anti-Obama” (intrinsic in the nature of your question) would certainly not work towards your benefit. I would assume this was the major reason they did not select you. Unfortunately, these reasons are not rooted in democratic values, they are rooted in political and business interests.

    Although you did not state that an Obama administration would result in negative outcomes, raising the question implies that you believe the previous statement to be a possibility. Although I support Obama, I don’t see a lot of reason in “blind faith” either (as demonstrated in their lack of willingness to criticize him).

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