Leaders of the "real" and "virtual" worlds will meet, en masse, for the first time in northern France tonight (NZ time).

At the G8 world economic summit in Deauville in Normandy, the future of the internet will join the Arab Spring, Africa and nuclear safety as an official "problem" on the agenda of the most powerful men, and women, on earth.

But which of the two groups present can be said, truly, to be the most powerful men, and women, on earth?

On one hand there is the likes of Barack Obama (US), Nicolas Sarkozy (France), Angela Merkel (Germany) and David Cameron (UK).

Those world leaders will receive a delegation from cyberspace led by, among others, Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook) , Eric Schmidt (Google), Hiroshi Mikitani (Rakuten, the Japanese on-line shopping giant) and Tony Wang (Twitter's general manager - Europe).

The usually reclusive Mr Zuckerberg and others have been selected to convey to the first day of the G8 summit the conclusions of an "internet summit", or eG8, which ended in Paris last night.

The pre-summit summit, held in a tent in the Tuileries gardens, was unable to reach any clear conclusions. Mr Zuckerberg and the others were expected, therefore, to convey to the political leaders their impressions of the arguments on both sides.

Nicolas Sarkozy, president of the G8 club of richest nations this year, insisted on putting the internet on a world summit agenda for the first time. He told the meeting in Paris that the net offered enormous potential for economic growth and political freedom but must accept minimal regulation by governments to protect "core values" such as privacy and intellectual property rights.

Although the Paris pre-summit meeting was supposed to range over a wide area of internet opportunities and problems, it came down mostly to a stand-off between Mr Sarkozy's defence of "royalties" and creative rights and the insistence on a completely "free" web by the cyber-fundamentalists.

The small, select, seaside resort of Deauville has been turned into an armed fortress for the two-day summit. More than 12,000 police officers and soldiers will guard the town and its approaches. All cars are banned from the town centre. Boats are not allowed to approach within five miles.

The first day of the summit today will concentrate, apart from the internet, on climate change and nuclear safety after the calamity at the Fukushima plant in Japan.

The final-day talks include possible economic aid to countries freed, and destabilised, by the Arab Spring and by a review of progress towards the African aid goals laid down by the Geneagles G8 summit in 2005.

An official report claims that the G8 countries - the US, Japan, Russia, Germany, Britain, France, Italy and Canada - are more or less on track to hit their African targets. Oxfam said the G8 had promised $50bn over five years, including $25bn for Africa, but paid only $31bn, including $11bn for Africa.