Most of you know the basic history; though it sometimes seems (to me, at least) like we've been doing this forever, in fact ICANNWatch first drew breath in the summer of 1999 when Michael Froomkin, David Farber, and I set up the site. The idea was pretty simple; it seemed to us that what ICANN was up to was of the deepest importance for the future of the net, and that outside of a very, very small number of inside players, there weren't a lot of people who were paying any attention to it whatsoever. I'm not sure that the three of us had a shared vision on any of the difficult substantive questions - like how ICANN should be constituted, or whether we needed ICANN at all, or how the DNS should be structured, or whether the ICANN Board members were good people or nasty people, or ...... That wasn't the point; the point was that what we did share was a sense that more information is better than less, that more public discussion and debate about whatever ICANN was up to could only be a positive thing, increasing the likelihood (in however small a degree) that the system would evolve in the 'best' direction (however one might define 'best'). |
In the late winter of this year (2001) we switched over to the current format, as a way to give our readers more of an opportunity to participate in the site, both through their commentary and their ability to post stories. Two more editors - Jon Weinberg and T. Byfield - came on board shortly thereafter, to try to help us keep abreast of the astonishing and often overwhelming flood of information pouring forth inside the DNS debates.
It's been a huge amount of work - and may I say that Michael and Jon in particular deserve the lion's share of the credit for doing the lion's share of the work on the site, and to the extent that what we're doing here is worthwhile you should direct your thanks to them - and I admit that I sometimes ask myself whether its been, or will continue to be, worth it.
I think it has been, and will be - though I don't really know for sure the criteria I should be using to assess that. I'm tempted to say "If the site has helped a single person understand how the structure and control of the DNS matters for the net, or how ICANN operates, or why the question of the new gTLDs is so critical, or .... then its been worth it" - but while that's a noble sentiment, it's also a bit disingenous; the fact is that if only 1 person were engaged in the site I'd personally probably pack it in.
Of course, that is not the case; we have, so our web logs tell us, many thousands of visitors. But the raw numbers will never be dispositive in any event; the process by which something like ICANN becomes better understood by a global public is one that is deeply mysterious to mortals like me, but I think I know enough about it to know that an exercise like ICANNWatch can have a lasting influence on the debate even if it reaches only a relatively small number of people, if those people are the 'right' ones, people who are themselves communicating out to a larger circle of interested people [who are themselves communicating to a still larger circle, [[who are themselves communicating out to a larger circle]], and on and on].
I think by that criterion the site's been important and worthwhile - though I'd be interested in our readers' thoughts on that question.
And while I'm ruminating, one more thought: the ICANN experience has taught me that "obscurity" comes in many different flavors and has many different consequences. I often think to myself that the world was in fact much better off when the DNS was obscure, when Jon Postel and a small number of his colleagues ran the whole damned show. But if the last few years have taught me anything it is that obscurity like that is a kind of promised land to which, once you've left, you can never return. People - lots of people - now see that the DNS is a kind of money-minting machine (or real-estate-generating machine, to use a perhaps better metaphor); we have, for better or worse, passed that milestone, and once its been passed obscurity is the enemy; once its been made clear that capturing the reins of the DNS is worth huge sums of money, there's no turning back. I'd love to think that if we all just pretended ICANN were not there that it would, in effect, go away, that we could all continue in blissful ignorance of what it was doing. Alas, I'm pretty sure that's not the case.
So on to the next 300.