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Trendsetting Virtual Meetings: Inquiring Minds Want to Know

20 April 2020
By Ashwin RanganAshwin Rangan

When ICANN67 became ICANN’s first-ever virtual Public Meeting, little did we realize the interest it would stir. It was only after the Los Angeles Times reported on our preparation in its online and print editions that the importance of this ‘innovation’ started to sink in. The message of our ground-breaking innovation in hosting a global (130+ countries) virtual meeting at scale (nearly 1,800 participants) seems to have resonated far and wide. Queries of interest have started to come in from literally everywhere.

Soon after we ended the last session of ICANN67, we began to field inquiries from organizations wanting to learn how exactly we did it. These inquiries range from venture capitalists, to small companies, to our friends at Réseaux IP Européens Network Coordination Centre (RIPE NCC), to the Internet Governance Forum (IGF), an arm of the United Nations.

And we’re still receiving inquiries today. It is for this reason that I wanted to share the answers to the most frequently asked questions:

Didn’t we just use Zoom? What is so special about ICANN67 as a Virtual Meeting?

Indeed, we used Zoom as a backplane. That backplane allows you to share a presentation screen, to see participants, to hear them speak, to “see” them raise a hand to seek clarification, and to give attendees a space to chat amongst themselves. Zoom also provides an optional feature to record any session.

ICANN67 delivered more than that. In addition to Zoom’s native features, we also provided real-time transcription; live interpretation in Spanish and French; after-the-fact translation in Arabic, Chinese, and Russian; and integrated scheduling and calendaring. We stitched these elements together using our own superglue: a system that orchestrates these many different elements for visibility, coordination, and control.

Why are so many people interested in ICANN’s virtual meeting setup?

With the COVID-19 situation still rather fluid, and with so many people impacted by the virus around the globe, companies, communities, and entire countries are facing extended periods of ‘lockdown.’ When India announced a 21-day mandatory lockdown, with an impacted population of roughly 1.3 billion, that order became the largest such stay-in-place order in human history. This is not a comfortable or easy situation to be in. We humans are gregarious by nature; we like to mingle, to see one another, to engage, to have conversations. When people do business, as the saying goes, businesspeople like to literally see eye-to-eye before a deal is consummated.

Our ICANN67 Virtual Meeting was very successful because the setup provided a digital platform that enabled people to engage online, have private conversations, and ‘see eye-to-eye’, using a bidirectional, multi-point, multilingual platform, with people participating from every time zone in the world.

This enhanced capability set is the aspect, beyond out-of-the-box features offered by Zoom, that is intriguing people – especially organizations facing multi-language challenges. They want to understand how ICANN org delivered such a platform and are hopeful that they can use it as well.

How is ICANN org responding to these requests?

Imagine today’s world, where so many communities are in ‘lockdown.’ Now imagine that same world, only this time without the Internet and all the tools and capabilities that it enables. In this day and at this time, that seems both impossible and frankly, quite frightening.

As a player in the Internet ecosystem, ICANN has a critical role to play in enabling the technologies that make the Internet ‘behave,’ both forging and following a set of global protocols. Within this construct, ICANN org serves in the global public interest. Today, the ability to stay connected and remain productive hinges primarily on Internet-enabled technologies. Our combination of technologies and capabilities seems to be of interest and value to other organizations that face similar challenges – globality, multi-point, multi-language, time zones, and more.

We welcome these queries, and we are happy to share what we did to pioneer the way with ICANN67 and how we did it.

If you or your organization is interested in learning more, please contact ashwin.rangan@icann.org.

Authors

Ashwin Rangan

Ashwin Rangan

SVP, Engineering and Chief Information Officer (CIO)
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