Re: [ga] ICANN...Stuart Lynn Explains Himself
At 09:10 AM 6/1/01 -0500, Bruce James wrote:
>Stuart Lynn Explains Himself
[cross-posted to BWG-Friends and elsewhere]
FWIW, I have posted the following on ICANNWatch
(http://www.icannwatch.org/article.php?sid=188&mode=&order=0) and at
the ICANN public comment forum.
David G. Post Temple University Law School and The Tech Center,
George Mason Univ. Law School
215-204-4539 or 202-364-5010
June 1, 2001
To: Stuart Lynn, ICANN
From: David Post
Re: Your Discussion Draft (28 May 2001) "A Unique Authoritative Root
for the DNS"
You have asked for comments concerning the ideas that you have put
forward in this draft. There are any number of points that you make
that are worthy of serious discussion in the Internet community; I will
confine myself to a small number of comments about what I regard as the
most serious and far-reaching of them.
1. From the Abstract: "Although the Internet allows a high degree of
decentralized activities, coordination of the assignment function by a
single authority is necessary where unique parameter values are
technically required. Because of the uniqueness requirement, the
content and operation of the DNS root must be coordinated by a central
This is, simply and most profoundly, incorrect. The analogy - and it
is as precise an analogy as one can ask for - is to language systems
generally, or any naming system (e.g., the system of 'biological
classification' under which species are given their proper 'names').
[Click a href="http://www.temple.
edu/lawschool/dpost/TheFreeUseofOurFacultiesFinal.PDF" here/a if you
would like to read a more comprehensive development of this argument].
The rules of the English language give names to objects - table, chair,
domain, computer ... There is a "uniqueness requirement" if we are all
to understand one another with precision; if you call the object on
which I am writing this note a "tomato," and I call it a "computer," we
will not be communicating very efficiently. Confusion and chaos will
But somehow we muddle through without a central coordinating entity.
It's amazing, no? You and I can somehow communicate with one another -
not perfectly, not without ambiguity, but reasonably effectively. All
without an authoritative source of definitions! Sure, there is a great
deal of confusion in this system; there are innumerable private
languages, dialects, jargons, etc. out there, and navigating through
them all is a complex task. But that is the price we pay (and we must
pay) for the evolution of the languages we speak. Not only do we take
for granted that we do not have a central coordinating entity - some
ICANN-like agency that tells us which words we need and which we don't,
or how conflicting uses are to be resolved - we take for granted that
such an entity would be a catastrophe for the continued richness of the
If I want to set up an "alternative naming system," I do not need
Stuart Lynn's permission or anyone else's; I am entirely free to do so -
subject, of course, to the constraint (an only to the constraint) that
my new system will only be effective to the extent I can convince other
English-speakers to use it.
If you think that you have a better plan for English, I respectfully
suggest you're wrong. Many people throughout history have thought they
had better plans, by the way. ICANN has its predecessors. The 18th
century saw a vigorous debate about the need for a central coordinating
entity for natural languages - and ICANN lost that debate. The
pronouncements of the Academie Francaise about "authoritative" French
usage had, let us not forget, the force of law at one point in time;
and well-meaning and deeply intelligent people thought we needed such a
"central coordinating entity" for English as well. (John Adams among
them; Adams proposed an equivalent Academy of English, to check the
"natural tendency" of language to "degenerate," to the Continental
Congress). History has shown the misguided nature of these efforts,
and it will show the misguided nature of ICANN's efforts as well.
This is not to say that there is no room for entities who play a
coordinating role; far from it. Dictionaries, learned societies, usage
pundits, and all the rest have an equal claim to providing an
"authoritative" source of names - and we, the users of the English
language, get to decide which (if any) of them we want to obey. It's
called unspoken consensus, and it works - indeed, no other system can
work as well. ICANN can earn that consensus position by virtue of its
stewardship of the DNS; it cannot, and it must not, simply declare
itself to be playing that role and demand that we all follow its
2. From the Summary: "Put simply, deploying multiple public DNS roots
would raise a very strong possibility that users of different ISPs who
click on the same link on a web page could end up at different
destinations, against the will of the web page designers."
"Against the will of the web page designers"? Since when is that the
criterion of effective DNS performance? Let me repeat: I can call the
machine I'm working on a tomato. It is my will that everyone on the
planet do so as well. It would be nice, I suppose, if I could impose
my will on others, but I can't, and I shouldn't be able to.
3. From Section 5 ("Experimentation"): "DNS experiments should be
encouraged. Experiments, however, almost by definition have certain
characteristics to avoid harm: (a) they are clearly labeled as
experiments, (b) it is well understood that these experiments may end
without establishing any prior claims on future directions, (c) they
are appropriately coordinated within a community-based framework (such
as the IETF), and (d) the experimenters commit to adapt to consensus-
based standards when they emerge through the ICANN and other community-
Well. Consensus is a nice word. The notion that ICANN's process are
consensus-based is a bit much, don't you think? By all means, DNS
"experiments" should be subject to consensus-based processes - as they
will be if ICANN leaves them alone, for no DNS experiment can "succeed"
unless somehow the hundreds of thousands of Internet Service Providers
out there agree to resolve names in the manner proposed. As we used
to say in Brooklyn, that's the beauty part; it is inherent in the nature
of language that it requires consensus to be effective.
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