Update: On Nov. 25, 1998, the United States Department of Commerce and the Board of ICANN signed a memorandum of understanding that allows ICANN to proceed to develop the new procedures and policies necessary for an orderly transfer, over time, of responsibility for the Internet root servers and domain name and number management to ICANN. See the memorandum of understanding here.

Road Trip (photos below)

I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the coming-out "party" on Nov. 14 for ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Why did I go?

  1. I hadn't been to Boston in a long time.
  2. Nicole was going off to New Hampshire with her baby-eating friends from alt.support.childfree, anyway.
  3. I care about the Internet and how it works.
  4. And frankly ... I wanted to watch Esther Dyson herd cats.

What is it all about? Declan McCullagh of Wired covered the event here; News.com has a respectable take on the events of the day here. For those interested in a more complete picture, ICANN and the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at the Harvard Law School have provided comprehensive summaries, transcripts, and full streamed audio and video of the events of the day.

For now, it's about the difficult and uncertain birth of an organization that could wield enormous power on the Internet -- a new international, non-profit organization that will make decisions regarding the management and assignation of names and numbers to devices on the Internet that need them to talk to each other. This has been controversial since the Internet started getting big. Domain names -- from microsoft.com right on down to teeny-tiny Tales from the Bitstream -- are part identity, part commodity and wholly controversial. There are now more than 100 million computers in the world that either have an assigned number, both an assigned number and a name or could have a dynamic number on the Internet at any given time. That the system has worked as well as it has is largely a tribute to the work of one man, Dr. John Postel, the recently deceased director of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority.

The board faces an almost breathtaking array of problems, many of which I only started considering yesterday, Nov. 14. I suspect that board members only started considering some of the issues in all their complexity when confronted by the skeptical crowd, looking for some answers.

After the all-day affair, I joined a dinner posse composed, in part, of people with far more technical knowledge than I have of the way the Internet works -- and listened to a dissection of the board, its opponents, the process up to now and the process as it might evolve. And we got into some worst-case scenarios that would curl the hair of the most casual web surfer.

And therein lies the key question, for now -- one that was raised in a myriad of ways at the public meeting. Does the Internet community trust this board to do the right things, to make wise decisions for the common good?

It is too big a process to say with any confidence that the board will "succeed." In fact, there are as yet no criteria by which to judge success.

As a single member of the Internet community, I choose to trust them not to fail, which is another proposition entirely. I do not believe they will make uncorrectable mistakes.

Let them go forward.

Herding Cats?

Left, Esther Dyson, Interim Chairman of ICANN, just before the public meeting. Below, she chats with Michael Roberts, Interim President and CEO (left) and Greg Crew of Australia during a break in the action.

"How many think this is an out-and-out fraud and are here to stop it?"

-- Esther Dyson





Additional pictures, click here ...