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The History Project's New Track: ICANN's Earliest Days

25 October 2017
By Brad White


Imagine taking a job at a startup… where you aren't paid for the first six months, and then on top of that, you have to help carry the financial burden of the organization on your own credit cards.

That was precisely the situation that ICANN's first CEO found himself in when the organization was just getting off the ground back in 1998. In those days, ICANN was generally considered an experiment, and one that many doubted would succeed.

"We believed in the experiment," said Mike Roberts, ICANN's first CEO. "We took a lot of heat on a lot of different fronts, from people that were not inclined to trust us."

Roberts talked about ICANN's beginnings during a video interview for the newest subject track of the ICANN History Project. That track – ICANN's Early Days – explores ICANN's roots. It delves into the trials and tribulations of trying to launch an organization the likes of which was largely unknown.

"You have to remember that the model for ICANN didn't exist," said Roberts in talking about how the structure of ICANN was an anomaly. He said no one quite knew for sure how it would work to form policy at the community level and then have it go up to the Board, rather than a traditional Board down model.

In the Early Days track, some of ICANN's first leaders detail both challenges and disappointments.

"The genius of the U.S. Government was to create something that was sort of to protect this vacuum of power by giving ICANN very little power," said Esther Dyson, ICANN's first Board Chair. "The great thing about it was the less it did, the better it was. He who governs least, governs best. The challenge is, of course, that everybody wanted to come into the vacuum and fill it with their own particular interests."

In addition to Mike Roberts and Esther Dyson, the Early Days track also contains video interviews with early staff members, directors, and long-time members of the community – like Marilyn Cade.

"We should envision this period almost like a kaleidoscope," said Marilyn Cade. "Different people participated in different aspects. And as you know, when you turn a kaleidoscope, you get a different image. But you always get a colorful image."

You can explore the ICANN's colorful Early Days at https://www.icann.org/en/history/early-days. This track, like others in the History Project, will continue to expand as we collect more interviews and other materials.


Brad White

Brad White