NGI Forum 2023: Igniting a Vision for a Digital Commons Revolution

The Next Generation Internet (NGI) Forum 2023, the flagship event of the European Commission’s NGI initiative exploring cutting-edge internet technologies and future possibilities, took place in Brussels on 15-16 November of 2023 with over 220 on-site participants and a peak of more than 700 simultaneous online viewers via web stream. Celebrating five years of innovation funding and of unlocking the power of digital commons, the Forum, which was organised by the NGI Outreach Office in close collaboration with the NGI Unit at DG Connect, brought together Europe’s top internet innovators, policymakers, and technologists to shape a safer, open, and citizen-centric internet.

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Day 1: Illuminating the Digital Landscape

Charting the Course for a Resilient Digital Future: Roberto Viola’s Keynote at NGI Forum 2023

The NGI Forum 2023 kicked off with a thought-provoking keynote from Roberta Viola, Director-General of DG CONNECT, European Commission. Viola outlined the Commission’s vision for a resilient and democratic digital landscape, emphasising the open source community’s role. “The NGI community has the power to embrace an identity ecosystem that’s open, federated, and empowers citizens,” Viola stressed. This aligned with NGI’s mission to re-imagine and re-engineer the internet, emphasising transparency and equal opportunities. Viola called for continued collaboration to address evolving digital challenges.

Digital Commons: Europe’s Pillar for a Digital Future

Ambassador for Digital Affairs at the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, Henri Verdier, underscored Europe’s historical significance in the digital revolution and the crucial role of digital commons. He highlighted France’s initiatives for digital sovereignty, urging collaborative efforts across the EU. Verdier emphasised a threefold responsibility: political, economic, and geopolitical measures to protect and promote digital commons for Europe’s digital future. He stressed the importance of EU-wide collaboration, stating, “Europe must do its best to support the resources it has created to ensure sovereignty.” Overall, the talk underscored the need for proactive measures to safeguard and promote digital commons as a foundational element for Europe’s digital future.

Towards Digital Commons: Navigating Challenges

Moderated by Dr Monique Calisti, CEO of Martel Innovate and Director of the NGI Outreach Office, the first plenary session delved into the importance of digital commons to ensure technological sovereignty of Europe, discussing main challenges and priorities to close the gap between top-down and bottom-up efforts and initiatives across Europe and beyond.

Gabriele Columbro (General Manager, Linux Foundation Europe), David Manset (Senior Project Coordinator, ITU), Adriana Groh (Co-Founder, Sovereign Tech Fund), Michiel Leenaars (Director of Strategy, NLNET), and Sophie Bloemen (Director, Commons Networks) presented several digital commons initiatives touching upon some crucial aspects including open governance, licensing considerations, and balancing individual contributions with the collective good. The NGI initiative is fully committed to digital commons as essential components of a human-centric internet. As Sophie Bloemen summarised “Embracing the digital commons is not just about technology, protocols, code, and algorithms; it is about our economy, how we govern it, and who it serves.” 

Shaping Digital Identity: Web 4.0 Empowerment

The second plenary, moderated by Dr Alex Grech, Executive Director at the 3CL Foundation, delved into digital identity, featuring insights from Maya Madrid (Policy Officer, European Commission), Hennie Bulstra (Innovation Lead, DUO), Irene Hernandez (CEO, Gataca), and Paul Jackson (Director of Digital Trust, Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat). Discussions spanned European Digital Identity (EUDI) Regulation, SMEs, global interoperability, blockchain, and decentralised systems. Alex Grech highlighted the critical nature of verifying credentials in the context of Web 4.0, emphasising the need for collective examination for the greater good. In summary, the session addressed digital identity complexities and provided a platform for thought leaders to contribute to a secure and inclusive digital landscape, emphasising the importance of regulation, practical tools, interoperability, and global collaboration.

Open Web Search and Large Language Models: A Look Into the Future

Moderated by Christine Plote, Co-Founder of the Open Search Foundation e.V, this session explored challenges and opportunities for Europe in open web search and large language models. The panellists – Isabell Claus (Managing Director,, Michael Granitzer (Full Professor, University of Passau), Georg Rehm (Principal Researcher, Deutsches Forschungszentrum für Künstliche Intelligenz GmbH), Alexandre Zapolsky (President, LINAGORA), and Milena Sokolic (Senior Project Manager, R&D and Client Relations, Trace Labs) – discussed regulation, ethical considerations, and the responsible usage of these technologies. They also presented key opportunities, including openness, transparency, and collaboration to shape the next generation of the internet. Finally, the role of SMEs was explored, along with the importance of cultural representation in AI, and the need for proactive decision-making and investment in future technologies. 

Day 2: Impactful Narratives and Strategic Dialogues

NGI Impact Stories

The second day commenced with impactful stories showcasing the tangible outcomes of NGI projects. Fabrizia Benini, Head of Unit, Next Generation Internet Unit, DG CONNECT, highlighted the success of the NGI program, funding 1000 projects over five years. NGI has cultivated a community of EU developers dedicated to building an internet aligned with shared values: open, secure, and human-centric. Notably, 80% of this community has not received funding from other EU programs, underscoring NGI’s success in reaching a unique niche.

The success stories started with Alexandre Garel (Software Engineer, Open Food Facts), who showcased Open Food Facts, addressing the link between food, health, and the environment. Pouhiou Lafon Roudier (Co-director, Framasoft) presented Framasoft, emphasising PeerTube’s role in decentralising video hosting. Gaël Duval (CEO, Murena) discussed Murena and /e/OS, focusing on privacy-centric mobile operating systems. Daniel Thompson-Yvetot (Chairperson of the Board of Director, Tauri) introduced Tauri, an open-source toolkit prioritising security. Markus Sabadello (CEO, Danube Tech) presented the Transatlantic SSI Interop project, highlighting the potential of cross-border digital identity. 

These impactful stories underscored the diversity and ingenuity of NGI innovators, contributing to an internet that is open, secure, and human-centric. The speakers showcased the tangible impact of NGI programs on their projects, emphasising collaboration, privacy, and user empowerment.

Securing the Open-Source Frontier: Mitigating Supply Chain Risks

Mirko Presser, Associate Professor at Aarhus University, moderated a discussion on open-source software, emphasising maintenance challenges and the need for sustained investment. Camille Moulin (Consultant, Inno³) argued that certain issues can stem from inadequate maintenance and that it is crucial to invest in maintaining legacy versions to address the requirements of users still relying on older features. Anthony Harrison (Founder, APH10) highlighted complexities in mission-critical systems. Melanie Rieback (CEO/Co-founder, Radically Open Security) addressed security challenges across organisations, advocating for transparency and community funding. The Software Bill of Materials (SBOM) was discussed, with Philippe Ombredanne (CTO, nexB Inc.) stressing standards and the positive view of the EU’s Cyber Resiliency Act. Funding, economic models, big tech concerns, and unused NGI security budgets were highlighted. Rieback urged market creation for open source solutions.

Decentralised Social Media: Niche to Scale

Moderated by Jennifer Baker (Expert in EU Policy, Master of Ceremony), the discussion on the Fediverse and Mastodon covered technical aspects, sustainability, government involvement, and diversity concerns. Renaud Chaput (CTO, Mastodon gGmbH) outlined the Fediverse as a network based on ActivityPub, with Mastodon boasting 1.6 million users. tobi smethurst (Code person, SuperSeriousBusiness) introduced GoToSocial, aiming for lower-powered instances. Koen de Jonge (Board member, Open Internet Discourse Foundation) highlighted the Dutch government’s positive experience using Mastodon for a traffic information pilot. Funding models and sustainability were discussed, with Renaud emphasising user donations and NLnet grants for Mastodon. Challenges and concerns included potential undue influence of hosters on software development. The panel stressed the importance of user experiences, moderation, and the non-technical benefits of the Fediverse, including freedom and control over one’s online presence.

Quantum Internet Network Ecosystem: Navigating the Uncharted

Jesse Robbers, Co-Founder, Director Industry & Digital Infrastructure at Quantum Delta NL, discussed the development of quantum technology and efforts to build a quantum internet ecosystem. The talk emphasised the need to address ethical, societal, and energy implications while fostering research and innovation in the quantum domain.

Event Wrap-up and Closure: Shaping Europe’s Digital Destiny

The NGI Forum 2023 concluded by reconfirming the strong commitment of the NGI community to transforming the internet into a safer, user-centric space. Key discussions focused on regulatory challenges in legacy financial sectors, the imperative for a user-centric digital identity grounded in common values, and the central role of transparency and community-driven efforts in addressing AI challenges and open-source supply chains. Significant announcements included the unveiling of new NGI projects aligned with the Digital Commons concept, reinforcing the community’s pivotal role in driving agile developments. Pearse O’Donohue, Director of Future Networks at DG CONNECT, emphasised the importance of a collaborative approach involving bottom-up projects, open technologies, and community engagement to shape a more inclusive, useful, and reliable digital future. This marked a crucial step toward realising the NGI vision.

Talking about future prospects, O’Donohue took the opportunity to present the upcoming new NGI research and innovation projects – among which the 27 Million NGI Commons Fund project and the new policy action on the digital commons – which are expected to significantly advance the work on digital commons in the EU.

Key Takeaways: Digital Commons, Quantum Frontiers, and Human-Centric Internet

The NGI Forum 2023 showcased the role of Digital Commons in sculpting Europe’s digital landscape – a concept woven with open infrastructure, collaborative endeavours, and a commitment to digital sovereignty. From reiterating NGI’s mission to exploring challenges in digital identity, open-source landscapes, and quantum technology, the Forum unveiled a tapestry of insights that shape the future of our digital journey. Here are the key takeaways from the Forum:

Digital Commons as a Foundation: The Forum emphasised the concept of Digital Commons as a pivotal element for Europe’s digital future. It highlighted the importance of open infrastructure, data, and collaborative efforts to ensure equitable access to information, foster innovation, and strengthen digital sovereignty.

  • NGI’s Vision and Mission: The NGI’s mission to re-imagine and re-engineer the internet was reiterated, focusing on creating a safer, open, and citizen-respecting digital landscape. The NGI community was acknowledged for its role in embracing an identity ecosystem that is open, federated, and empowers citizens in both digital and real-world contexts.
  • Challenges and Solutions for Digital Commons: Plenary sessions delved into the definition, challenges, and solutions related to digital commons. Discussions highlighted the democratic governance of resources within communities, emphasising open governance and the global importance of digital public goods.
  • Digital Identity in Web 4.0 Era: The Forum extensively explored the shaping of digital identity and credentials in the Web 4.0 era. The significance of the European Digital Identity (EUDI) Regulation, the role of SMEs in global interoperability, and the use of blockchain and decentralised systems were key topics.
  • Open Web Search and Large Language Models: The challenges and opportunities related to open web search, large language models, and beyond were discussed. The session explored responsible software usage, business models, and the role of open source projects in guiding new companies.
  • NGI Project Success Stories: Impactful stories showcased the success of NGI projects over the past five years, emphasising collaboration, privacy, and user empowerment as key pillars for shaping a more open and human-centric internet.
  • Securing the Open-Source Frontier: A plenary session addressed critical aspects of the open-source software landscape, highlighting the urgency of addressing maintenance challenges, the importance of transparency, and the role of community funding.
  • Decentralised Social Media and Fediverse: Discussions focused on the transition of decentralised social media and Fediverse from niche to scale, emphasising the need for inclusive and scalable solutions.

Quantum Internet Network Ecosystem: An inspirational talk discussed the development of quantum technology and efforts to build a quantum internet ecosystem. The importance of addressing ethical, societal, and energy implications while fostering research and innovation in the quantum domain was emphasised.

Vision for the Future: Shaping Tomorrow’s Digital Landscape

As NGI Forum 2023 concluded, it declared a clear path forward. Europe is poised to take bold steps towards a more inclusive, secure, and innovative digital future. The Forum has set the stage for ongoing dialogue and action, with a unified vision to realise the potential of the internet as a force for good:

  • Human-Centric Internet: At the heart of NGI’s forward-looking vision is the concept of a human-centric internet. This envisions an integration of cutting-edge technologies – AI, extended reality, sensors, multilingual support, and advanced computing infrastructure – crafted to serve, enhance, and empower individuals in the digital landscape.
  • NGI Projects and Initiatives: The Forum unveiled a roadmap for the future through new NGI projects and initiatives. From the NGI Commons Fund RIA and NGI Commons CSA, to strategic pilots addressing crucial topics, including Central Bank digital currencies and open mobile device technologies, these initiatives embody a commitment to advancing the human-centric internet and addressing pressing policy issues such as sustainability and security.
  • Network of Virtual Worlds: An intriguing insight surfaced – the internet’s evolution from a network of networks to a network of virtual worlds. Digital Commons takes centre stage, becoming increasingly relevant in this narrative. Emerging technologies stand as the building blocks, fundamental in creating virtual worlds that embody the principles of openness, inclusiveness, and user empowerment.

Adaptability and Community Engagement: NGI earned accolades for its adaptability, agile implementation, and community-driven developments. A call resounded for community engagement, urging stakeholders to actively participate in shaping not just the future of the internet but also the political and regulatory landscape that accompanies it.

Conclusion and Access to Resources

The NGI Forum 2023 has laid a robust foundation for shaping the digital future, driven by innovation, collaboration, and a commitment to human-centric values. As we reflect on the insightful discussions and visionary presentations, we invite you to further engage with the event’s resources:

  • Recording: Revisit the dynamic sessions and plenaries by accessing the recorded sessions of both days. NGI Forum 2023 Recordings
  • Speaker Slides: Dive deeper into the details of each presentation by exploring the slides shared by our esteemed speakers. Speaker Slides
  • Event Photos: Capture the vibrant moments of NGI Forum 2023 through our event photo gallery. View Event Photos
  • Report: Explore the detailed report capturing the highlights and insights from the forum. NGI Forum Report
  • Press Release: Read the statements released to the media from NGI, with quotes from the speakers. NGI Forum-Post Event Press Release
  • NGI Forum website: Revisit the NGI Forum 2023 agenda, speakers biographies and much more. NGI Forum 2023 Website

We extend our gratitude to all participants, speakers, and partners who contributed to the success of NGI Forum 2023. Let’s continue the journey of reshaping the digital landscape with a focus on openness, security, and user-centric values.

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