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Like a Swiss Watch

30 July 2014
By Ashwin Rangan

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The very expression, "like a Swiss watch", evokes powerful (and almost universal) imagery. Of a mechanical device. Driven with precision. Elegance. Carefully engineered parts. Put together with loving labor. With cogs and wheels engaging. Each with its unique purpose. Every piece saying something. And together, telling time. Time – as reckoned in different measures: in seconds, in minutes, in hours, in days of the week, in dates of a month, in phases of the moon, in months of a year.

The Jura region in North Western Switzerland is known for its watch-making prowess. I was fortunate to get an opportunity to visit Switzerland a few years back. I learned about the centuries-long history of watch-making. And of the many advances that led to today's precision wrist watches that keep time to within a second in a century. Wow!

I also learned that it was not always thus. I was told that wrist watches approximated time, when they first became available in the late 16th century. Over the last several centuries, pieces were added and subtracted. Metals and minerals were chosen and discarded. Gems and jewels were used to defy wear-out; and to create predictable dynamic friction. Movements were experimented with. Many showed early promise, but eventually fell by the wayside. Some survived.

Today, there are several constructs in a Swiss watch which are taken for granted. For example, an automatic movement, which implies that the watch needs no winding. The gearing ratios, which – I was told – were some of the most closely guarded secrets when the Industry was in its infancy.

In the few months that I have been with ICANN, I have been thinking of ways in which to frame our broad Internet community, in which ICANN plays a role. I have started to zero-in on the Swiss watch as my reference framework.

In many ways, the broad Internet community is like an evolving Swiss watch. ICANN is just one of many wheels in this set of intermeshed wheels. Some of the wheels are well-honed, having been in place for a few years. With love, forethought, care and countless hours of volunteer-labor, we have put together this grand, global, never-before-tried, multi-stakeholder, consensus-driven, bottoms-up mechanism. The result is The Internet….each piece saying something. Together, representing this glorious contribution to humanity – The Internet.

As The Internet Community, like cogs and wheels in the proverbial Swiss watch, we engage. The key word is engage. Otherwise, we would slip past one another.

Engagement implies traction. Leading to a better outcomes. Leading to an ever-improving Internet. With constructive dialogue as a lubricant. ICANN plays a role in this, no doubt. And in a smaller way, IT within ICANN serves a purpose.

ICANN's role is to serve The Internet Community – as large, diverse and dispersed as it is. IT's purpose within ICANN is in defining, developing and delivering IT-enabled services. Technology is one of the – if not the most critical and only – means through which this global community can come together efficiently and effectively.

The whole world is our Jura. We have to try (and be willing to discard) different means and mechanisms to seek and gain traction. Otherwise, like toothless gears, we are liable to slip past one another.

Representing The Internet Community, we already have ecosystems of SOs, ACs, Contracted Parties, our Board, ICANN itself, the I* organizations, the Societies….One idea is to extend the concept of User Groups to these ecosystems. A "Voice of the Community", to help shape the desired service needs.

In the last 18 months, ICANN has created and staffed a Product Management organization. This is ICANN's geared wheel for engagement with the Communities we serve. ICANN's Product Management can help shape the response to our communities' service needs.

During the recently-concluded ICANN50 in London, I saw interest in forming User Groups for engagement with ICANN from the Registrar and Registry communities, the Board, the SSAC, the GAC and the ALAC. And I hope to continue the dialogue and talk to other Community groups at ICANN51 to gauge their interest in similar User Groups.

With these moves, we may be on a path to create and exercise meshing wheels. The Registrar community and the Board are already engaged with ICANN staff to discuss means to better focus the IT services they desire. The GAC has expressed a clear timeline for engagement. The SSAC and ALAC have expressed their intentions to start a similar process.

As we start down this path, it is worthy of note that the Swiss perfected their watch-mechanisms over four centuries. We – The Internet Community – have been around for 30 years, give or take a decade. And unlike metals and minerals, we are human. We have thoughts, feelings and opinions. While we are malleable, we are not rigid. And yet – we desire precision. No doubt a worthy pursuit, but….we should give ourselves the benefit of time to experiment with alternatives and settle on the few that work. For all of us. The User Group idea seems to resonate, for now.

Engagement. With community User Groups. Meshing with ICANN's Product Management. Geared to move in sync with one another. At a pace that makes sense. Our own evolving Swiss watch….


Ashwin Rangan

Ashwin Rangan