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Three Years With ICANN

Joi Ito

Apologies for the delay in writing the post. I've been trying to think about what to say and have just decided that I better write it before my thoughts get old…

I joined the ICANN board during the December 2004 ICANN meeting in Cape Town. I served for a three year term and stepped down at this last meeting in Los Angeles and didn't run for another term. My apologies to all of the ICANN community and the people who helped me learn about and participate in the complex but important process that is ICANN.

Before joining ICANN, I thought that ICANN was the only part of the Internet that wasn't really working. I knew that there must be a better way to do what ICANN does, but I couldn't be bothered to figure it out. I'd agree with people who said things like, "it should just be distributed" or "it should just be first come first serve" or "we should just get rid of it." People from ICANN would say, "it's more complicated than that" or "at this point that would be impossible."

After being part of the process for three years, I find myself saying those same things and feeling a sense of exasperation at the people who take pot shots at ICANN from the peanut gallery without really trying to help or change things. I also have gained a huge respect for most of the people who participate in ICANN, many as volunteers, trying to improve the process and keep the Internet running.

With all of its tumultuous history and bumps and warts, ICANN, in my opinion, is the best way that we can manage names and numbers on the Internet and any new thing to try to do what it does would be less fair and probably wouldn't work.

There are some technical architectures and ideas that might make ICANN less relevant, which would be a good thing. However, even relatively obvious things like IPv6, IDNs and DNSEC are having a hard time getting traction. I think that it would be nearly impossible to "redesign the DNS" and get people to use it. It would be like trying to redesign a flying airplane. On the other hand, their might be some evolutionary changes that make domain names less relevant.

The ICANN process, as it is currently working, involves a number of supporting organizations that feed into a consensus and policy development process. The board is 15 people, 8 who are "neutral" and nominated from the public through the nomcom process and 7 who are elected from the supporting organizations. It is geographically and otherwise fairly well distributed and balanced. It is nearly impossible to "capture" the process. If any stakeholder wants to participate, they just have to show up.

The problem that ICANN has is not one of being unfair, the problem that ICANN has is the difficulty and time required in trying to reach consensus on difficult issues. The other problem is that most of the people who are affected by the decisions, the average users, don't know or care about ICANN. Trying to figure out a better way to get their input has always been an issue, but is one that is not unique for ICANN. All of politics and collective action share the difficulty in getting the public to care about issues that affect them.

When I was urged by a number of people to join the board, I thought of my term on the board as a kind of "jury duty". I had been benefiting from the Internet running properly for the last decade, building businesses and my social network on the Internet. I felt that three years would be a kind of "community service" to give back some of what I had received. The board work included nearly monthly conference calls, probably several thousand pages of reading, two face-to-face board retreats and three meetings per year. The meetings are a week long. This adds up to nearly two months or more of work a year.

As the new chairman of Creative Commons and my portfolio of companies requiring more and more of my time, I just couldn't justify serving another term. I calculated that I spent more time reading about and discussion whether we should allow .xxx than I spent on any one portfolio company this year… and at the end of it, I voted in the minority and .xxx was shot down and I ended up as just a voting statistic.

Having said that, I have no regrets. I met amazing people, learned a lot about how the Internet works and have gained a great respect for the people and the organizations that make up and contribute to ICANN. Many thanks to the ICANN staff, board and various constituents who have made my term a fruitful and exciting one.

By Joi Ito
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Related topics: DNS, Domain Names, ICANN, IPv6
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Re: Three Years With ICANN fnord  –  Nov 14, 2007 11:53 PM PDT

Joi Ito writes:

>I’d agree with people who said things like...“we should just get rid of it [ICANN].”<

We could get rid of ICANN with the exception of the IANA function and most internet users wouldn't be any the wiser, or poorer (they'd likely be richer if they wanted to register a domain name).

>People from ICANN would say, “it’s more complicated than that” or “at this point that would be impossible.”<

Is the phrase "people from ICANN" code for staff, lawyers, and Board members who have special agendas and/or been co-opted (by GAC or the IP lobby)? The above folks are the ones responsible for making things complicated or impossible in the first place, it serves their purposes to the detriment of most everyone else.

>...I find myself saying those same things and feeling a sense of exasperation at the people who take pot shots at ICANN from the peanut gallery without really trying to help or change things.<

I'd need names put to those in the peanut gallery to believe this. Look at all the folks (incl. myself) who voted in the one election and were then disenfranchised. Why? Because ICANN contracted (did that go out to tender?) ICANN apologist Kent Crispin (I'll name names) to monitor the election for irregularities. He was on record as being against elections, so not surprisingly claimed to have found a possible irregularity. Where's the server logs to let everyone make their own decision? Instead future elections are cancelled. Hello Pakistan.

Democracy was made illegal after those in North America and Europe had the temerity to vote in two who were both ICANN critics, and amongst the most technically clued who have ever been on the Board. One, Karl Auerbach, sued ICANN just to see the books for which he bore fiduciary responsibility. Did Joi Ito ever ask for, or read, the records, all the records? Or was this also too complex or impossible? How about those (incl. myself) warning endlessly on the ICANN forums/DNSO-GA list about the perils of upcoming 'sunrise' procedures for new gTLDs for just one example, who were completely ignored and then proven right. Then we did many hours of research, documented and published on the forums/DNSO-GA what went wrong and who was responsible. We were ignored again whilst the largest guilty ones went untouched and are still welcome in the ICANN tent if they bring money. We were sidelined by the big money interests, not by choice. Sorry, but it's just too easy to take potshots at so many obvious ICANN targets.

>I also have gained a huge respect for most of the people who participate in ICANN, many as volunteers, trying to improve the process and keep the Internet running.<

Again, names would be helpful. Name even one volunteer who is doing so not for some self-serving, but for a truly altruistic reason. That shouldn't be difficult unless it too is impossible.

>The board is 15 people, 8 who are “neutral” and nominated from the public through the nomcom process and 7 who are elected from the supporting organizations. It is geographically and otherwise fairly well distributed and balanced. It is nearly impossible to “capture” the process.<

Here's the recipe. Be a Jones Day lawyer. Pick like minded individuals to make up a majority of the inaugural Board. Hire like minded staff to hire more like minded staff. Stonewall and marginalize any dissenters. Hey presto, the process is well captured.

>If any stakeholder wants to participate, they just have to show up.<

Show up to a closed board retreat or to a closed board phone meeting where the decisions are made with excess help (manipulation) by included staff and lawyers? Come on, pull my other leg.

>All of politics and collective action share the difficulty in getting the public to care about issues that affect them.<

Were it not for some of the disenfranchised publicizing it, ICANN would still be completely under the radar, which is where they'd prefer to be.

>This adds up to nearly two months or more of work a year.<

It's hard to give thanks or shed tears. The likes of Karl Auerbach (not that he has many peers) could relieve you of such a burden if it was allowed.

>I calculated that I spent more time reading about and discussion whether we should allow .xxx than I spent on any one portfolio company this year… and at the end of it, I voted in the minority and .xxx was shot down and I ended up as just a voting statistic.<

Again, no thanks and no tears. The reading, discussion and (repeat) voting would have been minimal but for US hegemony over the DNS. How much reading, discussion and voting has the supposedly international Board spent on that issue?

Most items within ICANN's purview are worse off than when most were done, mostly volunteer, by Jon Postel. We now have an ICANN with an ever growing staff and legal fees, which can't or won't rein in VeriSign, or numerous crooked registrars, which is neither open nor transparent where and when it counts, which has failed to keep the namespace from fracturing on national and linguistic lines, which takes its cue on .xxx, WHOIS, and other questions from undemocratically captured US gov. interests, which completely sandbags then botches the rollout of new gTLDs, which pats itself on the back for the bits running on time when they worked fine for many years before ICANN existed, which now shows a kinder, gentler face as the big money forces have won, which now seeks to be international (read supranational) so as to become completely immune to any national or international law. I'd go on but the word count is maxing out. Nothing personal but I don't see this as a record to be particularily proud of. -g

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