The questions of Internet governance are serious. Perhaps they're the most serious faced since the foundation of America's republic in 1776. How we decide these questions will define our generation's legacy, for all time.
There are three key questions. One is the balance between business interests and government. Second is the basic question of democracy, and whether Internet governance will be based on it (as it must be IMHO). Finally we have the balance between local interests and global interests.
I believe these questions are all related.
The first battle is being fought between ICANN and a number of self-styled registrars that wouldn't (or couldn't) jump through its regulatory hoops. Stuart Lynn (who ran the Rice computer center when I was an undergraduate there) represents ICANN .
He defends the hoops (and the results) from critics like New.Net. "I find the basic New.net premise regarding stability not only to be a poorly argued and technically unsupported premise," he said,
An unanswered question in ICANN's campaign against alternate registrars is how far will it go. Should it extend to URL re-direction services, which use their own databases to create virtual Top Level Domains? The ethics of many in this business are not of the best . But any effort to rein this in will prove extremely difficult, requiring immense political capital. It's capital that, as you will see in a moment, ICANN presently lacks.
On the question of democracy, ICANN board member Karl Auerbach delivered a serious broadside against ICANN's democratic claims in February . Read what he said carefully.
"ICANN is a secretive entity. Even as a Director I have difficulty discovering what ICANN is doing. There are parts of ICANN to which I am denied access. ICANN has a strong aversion to democratic principles."
So long as ICANN remains hijacked by international business interests, those who engage in unethical and illegal behavior retain the appearance of freedom fighters. Only a democratic system, with checks and balances against dominance by any interest, can change this. So far, ICANN is resisting this call, denying that it is a government while in fact acting like a government, one without democratic legitimacy. The Cavebear's struggle is our struggle, yours and mine. We should demand democracy and limited government pon the Internet as our right.
This brings us to the third question, whether we'll have local or global standards. A recent correspondence from Europe put the question plainly. "If laws do not apply because the medium is global, there is no reason to participate in any democratic act or institution any more," my correspondent wrote. "And this brings lasting damage to democracy." (The answer here is to make ICANN truly democratic.)
"Besides," my correspondent continued, "some nations' cultures reject democracy." This is a point I firmly reject, but it is the central question facing the 21st century. Are liberty, democracy and capitalism merely a Western conceit, or are these truly universal rights that should belong to all?
Is freedom just American cultural imperialism, or is it something all of us should dedicate our lives toward, whether we are German or Afghani, Congolese or Chinese? Ask yourself this question as you read the following paragraph:
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness."
Human rights are universal. They are not just American rights. The Internet is the medium for extending these rights to everyone. There is no such thing as a "national culture" that truly rejects human rights - there are only governments and tyrants who do so.
Don't let anyone turn you away from freedom.
"Living on the Internet: How to Make Money, Live Right, and Fight For the 21st Century" is tentatively due for release around Labor Day. I'm still writing it, but it looks good. I call it the "first book of the 21st century" because it is designed to feature hyperlinks in all formats - PDF, eBook, and print. (How about if we call it an I-Book for short?) Drop me a note to get on the mailing list for more information on this book.
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Takes on the News
Several readers sent me a commentary from "Silicon Alley Daily" editor Jason McCabe Calacanis that forced me to think even as it provoked me.
I hated the way he put it, especially the bit about desperation being a good thing. I find the whole attitude of Calacanis' paper to be both arrogant and obnoxious. Silicon Alley represented the full excesses of the 1990s, everything that was wrong with the decade in terms of the Internet industry. Con artists masquerading as businesspeople connived with other con artists masquerading as investment bankers to fleece both large and small investors out of billions of dollars, legally. So I don't think we really need their cheerleaders' advice.
Or do we? Calacanis has the germ of a great idea - not only can sites associate with one another to gain registrants and the advantages of controlled circulation, they can contribute into a pot that will make a subscription valuable. There's a hint that some major sites are about to do just that, conspiring together in an effort to grab whatever subscription revenue is out there, and keep it out of the hands of smaller rivals.
Now that this conspiracy has been revealed the time has come for the small sites to counter, offering real insight and knowledge in a bundle that is worth what people pay for it.
Learning from Fools
What a fool believes he sees the wise man has the power to reason away. David and Tom Gardner actually use this great "Doobie Brothers" lyric to open their radio show.
The Fools have taken their share of hits lately . Everyone in the online financial space, however, has taken some hits. The Fools have kept their own hope alive by working in every possible medium, through ruthless cost cutting, and (this is the important lesson) by understanding their role. . They are not, as Phil Kaplan claims, "giving away stock advice for free." They're standing with, and for, the small investor, their hopes and dreams, their problems and paranoia. Their strident campaign on behalf of "Reg FD," , whatever else you think of it, is in line with their readers' interest.
If you are an absolute advocate of your audiences' interest, if you identify with them to the point where you channel their minds, you can be a successful publisher both online and off.
Gates' Bush Strategy
A pattern has emerged in the political strategies of the new Administration and in the machinations of Microsoft. That is, you pay lip service to both opponents and those who might be influenced by your opponents, but behind the scenes you do exactly what you want.
In the Bush Administration this can be seen at the Interior Department. Gale Norton has brought back James Watt's agenda (but not his stridency) . It can also be seen in foreign relations, where lip service is being given to multi-lateralism while "experts" from conservative think tanks pursue a unilateral policy .
Don't look at the above as merely liberal carping. The strategy is the lesson here. Microsoft has learned this lesson of the "lip service" strategy. Its offer to "let" OEMs take pieces (like Internet Explorer) off its desktop is a perfect reflection of this . Any OEM who does this still runs a huge risk in Microsoft's pricing of Windows.
The OEMs will use their new freedom to earn millions by holding-up software vendors, making their relationship with Microsoft even more cozy than before (if that's possible). Talking competition while sharing the monopoly's benefits is Microsoft's strategy. This will only make it more difficult for OEMs to defy Gates and bring Linux to the desktop.
Clued-in is C|Net CEO Shelby Bonnie , who is proving a worthy successor to Halsey Minor. Bonnie is adding controlled circulation to his list of business models, which include free and paid models. Everyone needs as many business models as they can get to maximize income.
Clueless was analysis of the NFL's so-called "$110 million" Internet rights deal . AOL is contributing ads for promotion of its own service, and CBS is a NFL broadcaster. The only risk is being taken by Sportsline.Com, in which CBS holds a major stake. (If the risk fails, CBS simply grabs the company.) This is not "proof that Internet rights are worth a fortune," as some claim. It's proof that broadcasters and leagues can move what are (for them) small hunks of change to generate big headlines.
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