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ICANN’s Two Decades of Evolution

Vint cerf 750x425 en

(EDITORIAL NOTE: This blog by Vint Cerf, often called the “father of the Internet,” is the first of a series of occasional pieces written by some of ICANN’s early pioneers. They are intended to give us a look back at the early days of ICANN as we commemorate its 20th anniversary. You can see a video interview of Cerf done for ICANN’s History Project here.)


In the fall of 1998, I was present at the first meeting of the ICANN Board which was then made up of very senior, prominent parties from a broad spectrum of sources.

Much to her credit, Esther Dyson accepted the position as the first Chair of the ICANN Board for the newly birthed organization. I was in attendance in support of the nomination of Michael Roberts as the first ICANN CEO.

It was a time of uncertainty. The dot-boom was in full swing, there was no clear business model to support the organization, and the broad outlines of organizational structure were shaped by a strong, multistakeholder philosophy.

Looking back with the perspective of two decades (only two!), it is remarkable that from its tiny origins, ICANN has evolved to become a global institution whose mandate remains central to the operation of the Internet and World Wide Web.

The path of that evolution was and still is largely unpredictable and yet, thousands of people continue to devote time and energy to shaping the arc of ICANN's path in history.

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    Domain Name System
    Internationalized Domain Name ,IDN,"IDNs are domain names that include characters used in the local representation of languages that are not written with the twenty-six letters of the basic Latin alphabet ""a-z"". An IDN can contain Latin letters with diacritical marks, as required by many European languages, or may consist of characters from non-Latin scripts such as Arabic or Chinese. Many languages also use other types of digits than the European ""0-9"". The basic Latin alphabet together with the European-Arabic digits are, for the purpose of domain names, termed ""ASCII characters"" (ASCII = American Standard Code for Information Interchange). These are also included in the broader range of ""Unicode characters"" that provides the basis for IDNs. The ""hostname rule"" requires that all domain names of the type under consideration here are stored in the DNS using only the ASCII characters listed above, with the one further addition of the hyphen ""-"". The Unicode form of an IDN therefore requires special encoding before it is entered into the DNS. The following terminology is used when distinguishing between these forms: A domain name consists of a series of ""labels"" (separated by ""dots""). The ASCII form of an IDN label is termed an ""A-label"". All operations defined in the DNS protocol use A-labels exclusively. The Unicode form, which a user expects to be displayed, is termed a ""U-label"". The difference may be illustrated with the Hindi word for ""test"" — परीका — appearing here as a U-label would (in the Devanagari script). A special form of ""ASCII compatible encoding"" (abbreviated ACE) is applied to this to produce the corresponding A-label: xn--11b5bs1di. A domain name that only includes ASCII letters, digits, and hyphens is termed an ""LDH label"". Although the definitions of A-labels and LDH-labels overlap, a name consisting exclusively of LDH labels, such as""icann.org"" is not an IDN."