September 2, 2007

ICANN - Pygmalion?  Procrusteas?

ICANN has recently collected comments for yet another study of when, if ever, it will charter any new top level domains (TLDs) for the internet.

It is bad enough that ICANN has stalled and stalled and stalled - for nearly a decade - on what ought to be a relatively easy task.

(As I have written before, ICANN should merely validate that an applicant for a TLD will adhere to broadly accepted written technical standards and practices relating to the operation of domain name servers.  Anything beyond that is social and economic engineering, an area that should be prohibited to ICANN.)

Of course, when it comes to ICANN, those who pull the puppet strings - most particularly the incumbent TLD registries, who do not want any competition from newcomers and the intellectual property protection industry - have an interest in permanently maintaining the status quo.  Consequently when it comes to TLDs ICANN is static.

Apparently some people are getting tired of ICANN's immobility - One of the year 2000 applicants who has spent the last 7 years in ICANN's limbo between acceptance and rejection has sent ICANN a letter asking for ICANN to live up to its promises.  My guess is that we will soon be seeing similar letters from the 39 others who ICANN left in limbo back in year 2000.

The comments themselves reveal interesting things.

First is that form-letter submissions are not very persuasive.  Many who commented simply regurgitated exact replicas.  This is not to say that these people are insincere or that the opinions expressed in their letters are not very important.  I'm merely pointing out that when arguing to a body that operate as if it were under siege, form letters feed the siege mentality's predilection to instantly reject anything less than servile agreement.  In the future those who put forth form letters would perhaps be better served by creating a web tool that uses a database of pre-written phrases and combines them into a unique letter for each person.

Second is that both ICANN and many of those commenting seem bent on imposing their view of what the internet ought to be onto the rest of us.  In their eyes ICANN is an engine of limitation rather than an engine of innovation.

Some, such as ICANN's chairman, believe that we have enough generic top level domains and no reasonable person could ever more.  I'm sure that kind of view prevailed at United, Delta, and American airlines when Southwest and JetBlue were yet unborn twinkles in entrepreneurial eyes.  Yet, had that view held back in the 1970's the internet would never have been born - why should we have permitted yet another communications medium; telephone, faxes, and telexes were clearly sufficient for the needs of any reasonable person?

And another comment suggests that by using names for TLDs that we risk exhausting opportunities in the future.  That seems to be the "look at the pretty resource, but don't use it" approach.  Given that we have more than 11,144,421,984,854,529,111,291,814,965,840,121,701,917,784,688,171,700,627,654,810,062,931,821,453,496,825,690,394,892,284,041,625 possible TLD names available, I sincerely doubt that we will be exhausting the space of creative opportunities very soon.

Then we have comments that argue that the internet is merely a dependent child of the trademark industry and that any name on the net should be subordinated to a rule that is best expressed as "trademark uber alles."

Pygmalion carved a statute so beautiful that he fell in love with it.

Procrusteas had a nasty habit of making everyone conform to his iron bed; if you were too tall, Procrustes lopped off your hands and feet; if you were too short, you were stretched on the rack.

Clearly some of ICANN's board members and some of those commenting are neo-Procrusteans who have fallen in love with the internet as it was during its glamour era - the days of the 1980's when the internet was believed to have been (but, in reality was not) a place of gentle beauty and halcyon peace.

But there is a deeper, and more ominous hue reflected in the comments - it is the hue of constraint, of foreclosure of ideas and innovations.  It is a hue reflective of the kind of fundamental religious thinking that shoots canons at ancient statues and denies the right to exist to any but those who hew to the one true religion.

The statue of the internet that ICANN is carving is not lovely except to those who believe in rigidity and constraint and who would deny to others any freedom of imagination or creativity.

Posted by karl at September 2, 2007 4:15 PM