ICANN San Francisco: A High Class Problem by Kelly Hardy

The most highly attended ICANN conference to date may also be the meeting we will look back on as the precise moment when the Internet business ceased to be synonymous with the Wild West. As ICANN and the satellite businesses and organizations which support the function of the Internet gain notoriety and publicity and institutionalized “big business” steps into the space as players in the New gTLD realm, the existing community must also step up its game.ICANN 40 hosted the most illustrious guest speaker ICANN has hosted in some time, and enjoyed the most media attention the organization has received to date. This is, as Keynote speaker and Ex-President Bill Clinton described, quite a “High Class” problem to have.Scheduled midway through the conference to precede the Gala event, the Clinton speech was heavily attended. The line to get in grew to such a daunting length that some opted straight away for the overflow rooms where the speech was broadcast on large screens, brining cases of beer along (perhaps something the erstwhile president, known for being “down to earth” would have appreciated). Clinton’s appearance, became a celebration of how far the Internet and ICANN have come in the last decade; and while we may focus on certain issues getting hamstrung it is hard to deny that we have come quite far.The speech was moving although he admitted to having recycled it causing a light stir in the crowd over receiving a used speech for the alleged amount of money he was paid to deliver it. As Clinton slipped in and out of the southern charm and colloquialism he is so well known for; making jokes at his own expense; it became clear that the not easily impressed crowd were visibly star struck. Among other things, former President Clinton spoke to the importance of growing and funding the Internet during his administration. Discussing his pet causes and touching on a few of our own, he encouraged that as a community we can’t be afraid of innovations.Clinton explained that there were, “50 websites on the internet when I took office, jumping to 130 and then 136 million by the time I left.” And credited then senator Al Gore and the passing of the Information Infrastructure Act in large part for this success.He cited the importance of the Internet in creating the “critical mass” in Egypt. He followed this by stating “I believe it is very important not to get so carried away that we don’t think that things like real world power and organizations matter,” and called the “enormous amount” of Internet commerce a “high class problem.”Clinton let the audience know in no uncertain terms that, “It is very important to get the Internet right.” He also emphasized the need for “building the positive and reducing the negative forces of interdependence requires.” While he may not have been directly talking about government interference on New gTLDs, it is not bad advice to apply to the situation.He spoke directly to the crowd, saying: “I still believe that human possibility is in some measure a matter of the imagination, attitude and courage of those in position to seize and develop it. We are actually here because some of the people sitting in here 20 years ago imagined a different world and they didn’t know exactly how it would come out. They just knew that a networked world would probably work better than a bureaucratic one, that a free world would probably work better than one that was predetermined. And they fully recognized that there would be rough edges and questions about access and all the other questions we are all dealing with, but they got the big things right. It’s important to stumble in the right direction.” He then added, “You are laughing at me, but I know what I am talking about.”He stressed that perfection may never be achieved but that one can always do better. He warned against zero sum games and asked the audience to consider whether they were “creating a world that you would like to leave to your children or grandchildren?” As ICANN and the domain industry “stumble” forward into the next phase of Internet innovation and industry evolution, these are good words to consider.Kelly Hardy is a freelance consultant and blogger. Her work can be found at www.namesmash.com