Thanks to everyone for a wide range of advice about ICANN. I am trying to understand as many of the perspectives and issues as I can before going to my first meeting in December. I've created a wiki page listing some of the essays and links that people have suggested I read. If you have any other suggestions, please email, comment here or post on my wiki. I will try read everything I can and approach this with an open mind. I am also happy to receive private email with personal opinions.
I've just been nominated to the board of ICANN (Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers) and will be officially joining already seated members at the conclusion of the ICANN Meeting in Cape Town, South Africa, December 1-5. ("Nominated" technically because I officially join in December, but the selection process is completed.)
This is the end of a two or so year process of people telling me I should get involved and others warning me against it. Some of my wisest advisors urged me not to join saying things like, "you will make 3 mistakes in your life... this is one of them..." or "friends don't let friends do ICANN."
ICANN has its share of problems and a negative image associated with it in many circles. I've even taken my fare share of cheap shots at ICANN.
I am joining ICANN for two reasons. ICANN is changing and it's critical that ICANN is successful.
I've talked to on the phone and met a great number of people involved in ICANN in a variety of capacities. I realized that ICANN today is not what ICANN was a few years ago. Please reset your biases and pay attention to what they are doing. Yes. There are still problems, but they are being addressed by an extremely committed team of people who are doing amazing work. Also, take a look at the board. It's very geographically and professionally diverse. It's not some puppet of the US or special interests.
Why is ICANN important? If ICANN is not successful in proving that it can manage some of the critical elements of the Internet such as the name space and IP addresses, ICANN will be dissolved and the ITU will step in. Why would that be bad? I am generally in favor of multi-lateral approaches, but in the case of the ITU, I believe it is biased towards the telephone monopolies. The ITU was built by telcos to set technical standards for telcos. That suits the telephone system architecture, which is highly centralised and is structured as a patchwork of geographic monopolies. The Internet is decentralised, and there are many small companies and individuals working at the peripheries to develop new applications for the overall network. The governance process has to reflect the diversity and the needs of these companies, as well as the needs of the network providers.
I believe that many of the things that ICANN is doing are important, but the single biggest factor leading to my decision to try to participate in ICANN is to try to prove that the people of the Internet can govern themselves without direct involvement from nation-states and to try to help build an organization that can deliver that promise.
I've been hanging out a bit with part of the Wikipedia community since meeting Jimmy Wales in Linz. One thing that has struck me is that many, if not most, of the people I've met from the community who are involved in managing Wikipedia seem to be women. I haven't conducted any scientific analysis or anything, but Wikipedia seems much more gender balanced than the blogging community. I know many people point out that ratio of men at conferences on blogging and ratio of men who have loud blog voices seems to be quite high. I wonder what causes this difference in gender distribution? Is it that the power law aspect of blogs is inherently more competitive and appeals to the way men are "trained" in society? Or is it that we're just talking to the "head" of the blog curve and that the more interesting blogs are actually by women in "the long tail"? Or is it something about Wikipedia that attracts powerful women? Has anyone else noticed this or done a study on gender distribution on wikis? I wonder if this true of wikis generally? I don't think Wikipedia is a "traditional" anything let alone a traditional wiki. Has anyone noticed this on other wikis?
I'm leaving today for Rome, Milan, Helsinki then London. 24 degrees C in Rome, 0 degrees C in Helsinki. Hmm...
As usual, my schedule is on my wiki.
UPDATE: Note to self. Try not to travel the day after a typhoon> If you have to, arrive VERY early. Luckily I arrived unusually early. The airport is hell. Piles of sleeping bags and cranky people who spent the night at the airport. Two hours to get to the check-in counter. Took me 4 hours to get to the gate. Ugh.