Category Archives: internet governance

Draft thoughts about regional and national IGFs (Attn #IGF2013)

Following my dissertation work on the global Internet Governance Forum, I got really fascinated by the growing phenomenon of regional and national IGF initiatives. Particularly, thinking about the possible impacts of the IGF project, this phenomenon to me is the most tangible outcome. I’ve been talking about conducting a review of the regional and national IGFs with a number of people active in the Internet governance space and actually started interviewing some of the organizers of the regional and national IGFs. Recently I learned that Brandie Martin Nonnecke wrote an excellent dissertation looking at some of the African initiatives, which suggests that there is “meat” to this subject.

Thanks to a grant from the Freedom House, I was able to put together a brief draft thought document with initial observations about the regional and national IGFs as a phenomenon. I think it is timely to offer it now, as the global IGF meets in Bali.

This is indeed a draft, so feedback is most welcome.

Call for papers for the annual GigaNet symposium

It is that time of the year again when GigaNet is soliciting proposals for presentations at its 8th annual symposium. This time it will take place in Bali, Indonesia and the main focus of the event will be on cyber-security and state control of the Internet. But don’t get discourage if you are not working in one of these areas, the program committee welcomes submissions on other topics as well.

More details here: http://giga-net.org/page/2013-annual-symposium

Important dates:

  • Abstract submission – July 1
  • Initial decisions – July 29
  • Full papers due – September 30
  • Symposium – October 21

How do young adults access websites?

I am currently at the fifth IGF in Vilnius and yesterday I presented some data from our study on the online routines of the digital natives at the GigaNet.  Here, i would like to share one observation that I find particularly interesting.  In the graph below you can see a summary of our coding of how our participants reached website during our observation sessions. It reflects coding of over 650 instance of accessing website in each China and the USArrivingAtAWebsite-Summary.

As we can see, in most cases, our participants searched; this is consistent across both groups and I think was not particularly surprising.  Similarly, the use of bookmarks was equally consistent across both groups, which in my view was more surprising (perhaps since I am not a big bookmark user).

The differences, as you can see, were in the use of autocomplete and reliance on links.  Interestingly, in the Chinese sample, there were significantly more instances of using reliance on links compared to the use of autocomplete.  In the US sample what we see is practically a mirror image of this trend – significantly larger proportion of instances involved the use of autocomplete.

What makes it even more interesting is a glimpse at where do the Chinese participants follow the links from.  We are still organizing that data, but my initial observation is that many of those are coming from websites that basically large repositories of links (for example take a look at www.2345.com or www.114la.com).

All this brings up some thoughts about the role of English in the online experience.  In my view, one plausable explanation of this data can be the knowledge of English language.  I can see how use of the autocomplete function comes more “naturally” to the native speakers, compared to those for whom English is a second language.  The large collections of links that were utilized by our Chinese participants, further support this idea – why would you make an effort of typing in an inconvenient language, when you can go to just one website, where all the links you use are?

There are currently more questions than statements suggested by the snippet above – there is still a lot of work to be done on these data.  Having said that, I’d love to hear your thought about this little observation.  Please share…

You can find the slides from the presentation here.

The 5th GigaNet Symposium

Over the past few months I had the pleasure of working with a great group of people on planning the next symposium of the Global Internet Governance Academic Network.  The final program is now available online and I am also posting it below.   I think it will be a very interesting day and if you are interested in internet governance, you should definitely try to participate (there should be options for remote participation announced soon).

I have more Internet Governance Forum related updates, which I will post soon.  In the meantime, here is the program of the symposium, which will take place on September 13th:

9:00-9:15 Opening

9:15-10:30 PANEL 1: Internet governance theory and issue

Moderador: William Drake, Centre for International Governance of the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva

  • Peng Hwa Ang and Natalie Pang. Going Beyond Talk: Can International Internet Governance Work?
  • Everton Lucero. Global Governance of Critical Internet Resources: A Perspective from the South
  • Jean-marie Chenou. Multistakeholderism or elitism ? The creation of a transnational field of Internet governance

10:30-11:00 Poster session and coffee break

11:00-12:15 PANEL 2: State power and Internet governance

Moderator: Rolf Webber , European Law Institute and the Center for Information and Communication Law at the University of Zurich

  • Joanna Kulesza. State responsibility for acts of cyber-terrorism
  • Jeremy Shtern. Models of Global Internet Governance and the Projection of State Power: The Case of Facebook and the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada
  • Lorena Jaume-Palasi and Ben Wagner. Nosy preferences of Google and China: Modelling an internet governance conflict using Amartya Sen’s liberal paradox

12:15-12:30 Sponsorship slot

12:30-13:30 Lunch – Sponsored by MIT Press. Welcome speech given by William Drake, editor of the MIT Press series on “The information revolution and global politics” and Milton Mueller, author of the newly released book, “Networks and States: the Global Politics of Internet Governance.”

13:30-14:45         PANEL 3: Interaction of technology, operations and governance

Moderator: Meryem Marzouki, LIP6/PolyTIC – CNRS

  • Brenden Kuerbis. Securing Internet routing: Influence and control of critical Internet resources through social networks and delegation
  • Dmitry Epstein, Qiu-Hong Wang, Viktor Mayer-Schönberger and Milton Mueller. What’s in the name? A behavioral study of the use of the URLs in China and the US
  • Laura DeNardis. The Privatization Of Internet Governance

14:45-15:45         PANEL 4: IGF practice, multistakeholderism and emerging issues

  • Nanette Levinson. Evaluating and Analyzing Collaboration In Cross-cultural and Cross-sectoral Perspective: Indicators from The Internet Governance Forum
  • Ivar Alberto Hartmann. Universal Access policies and Internet Access as a Fundamental Right: The Constitutional Law Perspective informed by the Brazilian Case.

15:45-16:00         Closing

16:00-16:30         Poster session and coffee break

16:30                    GigaNet Business meeting

POSTER SESSION:

  • Charlotte Bogusz. Openness and Privacy v/ Security : The example of filtering measures.2
  • Charlotte Bogusz. The promotion of the general interest through ICTs : The French and Senegalese examples
  • Daniel Oppermann. Analysing cybercrime from a multistakeholder perspective
  • Luiz Costa. The Internet and the Constitutional restrictions on foreign participation in Brazilian Media
  • Luiz Costa. A case study on the Brazilian E-Commerce Forum
  • Mona Badran. Is internet changing the social life of Egyptian college students and affecting their privacy?
  • Rolf H. Weber. Policies for Governing Critical Internet Resources
  • Shawn Gunnarson. Securing ICANN’s Accountability
  • Sofiane Bouhdiba. Internet governance and Education: the Tunisian Virtual University in the context of the Tunis agenda

Demand for internationalized domain names

Once a year or so ICANN holds a conference called ICANN Studienkreis.  This is another forum where one can get updated with various ongoing internet governance topics.  The last meeting took place earlier this week in Barcelona, but unfortunately there was no streaming of the event and I could not find any records or transcripts from it.  The only available record is the agenda with links to a number of PDFs of various presentation.  These are of course not very informative, but there is still something we can learn from them.

One presentation that caught my attention was by Andrey Kolesnikov from the Russian Coordination Centre for TLD.ru, which he gave in a session on internationlized domain names (PDF).  It caught my attention because I got recently interested in the debate surrounding this topic and hoped to learn about how things are going in countries that have already applied for a localized top level domains (other presenters on the panel were from Egypt and China). There is only so much one can learn from just looking at PPT slides, but here is an attempt.

Russia is the only country I know of that has already auctioned localized domain names, even though the approval of the top level domain in Cyrillic is still in the works.   As such, Kolesnikov was in a position to shed some light on the actual demand for localized domain names, as opposed to arguments about their great potential.  And if I read his slides correctly, I think he did.  Here is what he has to show:

RussianIDNdemand2010

The early registration process, or the “sunrise” period, is still going on, but these numbers are interesting.   There are currently over 369K domain names registered in Russia and according to Coordination Centre for TLD.ru, there are over 2.6 million domains registered under the .ru top level domain (RU).  In other words. we can see that the trademark holders and Russian domainers are either careful with grabbing this opportunity or skeptical of the entire enterprise.  Of course this is a very early stage in the process, but if it is indicative of a trend, than at least in the case of Russia, the skeptics might have a point.  Of course the situation may be different in other parts of the world and in other cultures, but Russian industry does not seem to be too excited.

Am I overanalyzing this?  Am I taking these number out of context?  What do you think?

On discourse and shaping of the information society

There was a very interesting talk at the Berkman Center back in January.  Julie Cohen, a law professor from Georgetown University, talked about her upcoming book “The Networked Self: Copyright, Privacy, and the Production of Networked Space.”

What I found particularly interesting about this talk is her attempt to introduce sociological literature into a predominantly legal debate.  Her point of departure is the gap between the rhetoric of law and policy aimed at shaping the information society and the realities on the ground.  For example, she points at the language of economic liberties as fueling the information society governance debate, but at the same time there are laws and regulations that significantly restrict those liberties being that through strong copyright or weak individual privacy protections.  She also highlights that while the policy discourse is usually abstract, the individual’s interpretation of the law and his or her interaction with information and technology is very concrete and situated in a particular physical reality.  Although she focuses on the policy debate in the US, I think her framework can be helpful in thinking about discourse and policymaking elsewhere.

Reaching across the disciplinary isle is not a trivial task and during Cohen’s talk at Berkman it was interesting to see how, during the Q&A, the lawyers in the room took her presentation to different directions from where I think it would go has she been giving her talk in a Communication or an STS departments.  Yet, I think she did a very good job linking the abstract thinking of sociologists about the concrete actions of people to the concrete thinking of the legal scholars about the abstract concepts of the law.  I view it is a part of a very important interdisciplinary dialogue we should have in the field and on purely selfish grounds it helps me to think about communicating the relevance of my dissertation research to the more “hard core” policy debate.

You are invited to watch the talk as well as to read its coverage on Ethan Zuckerman’s, David Weinberger’s, and John Palfrey’s blogs.  In addition, I found a recent paper written by Julie Cohen, which provides an outline of her book (in case you don’t have the time to watch the video).

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Enjoy!

Our modern Babel?

I wonder what do people think about the potential repercussions of the introduction of IDNs, particularly in terms of fragmentation of the Internet.  In this post I provide some background about the languages on the web, some of my thoughts, and finally questions for which I would love to hear your thoughts.

After many years of debates, International Domain Names (IDNs) have finally become more tangible with the announcement of the Fast Track by ICANN earlier this year.  Right now it is open only to states and territories recognized in the ISO 3166-1 regulation.  A number of countries have already applied for registering their Internet country suffixes in their local languages (IDN ccTLDs).  For example, Egypt announced that they are going to register “.مصر”, which stands for Egypt in Arabic, and Russia started the registration process for “.рф,” which stands for Russian Federation.

Overall, introduction of the IDNs has been met with a lot of enthusiasm.  In the last ICANN meeting in Seol and at the last IGF this was celebrated as the final internationalization of the Internet.  The minister of communication of Egypt was quoted saying that the “Internet now speaks Arabic” and the European Union has also declared that they are going to allow registration of .eu in all 23 official languages of the Union.  People are celebrating the diversity.

At the same time, as expected, not everybody is excited about this development.  It is widely held that the primary opposition to IDNs has been voiced by the trademarks holders.  After sort of figuring out how to protect their trademarks in the current, Roman script dominated, cyberspace (such as the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy), they are not particularly psyched about the need to do it again in dozens of other languages and potentially under dozens of other regulatory regimes.

However, not only the trademarks holders are not excited about the new IDNs.  There are also those, who voice concerns about fragmentation of the Internet as a result of adoption of domain names that would be accessible only to speakers of a particular language.  Dwayne Bailey, Research Director of the African Network for Localisation, spoke at the IGF about the danger of monolingual silos or as he put it: “A multilingual world of mono-lingualism.”  Karine Barzliai Nahon wrote a post on this topic, addressing particularly the situation in Israel, but alluding to similar concerns.  I personally had thoughts along the same lines when I first heard about the idea of IDNs and we can find similar arguments even at the very beginning of the debate about IDNs (for example here).

From where I stand as a user of the Internet (and I think most of the people who read those lines share this position), the Internet emerges as this enormous modern (knowledge and information) Tower of Babel.  There is so much information out there and it all is accessible to me at my laptop – all I need to do is to type a query in the search engine or enter a URL.  This is possible primarily because I feel at ease with both the technology and the English language.

Even though English is not the only language online, we can still access most of the content in English.  As some of the stats suggest, in 2008 only 31% of the online content was in English and that percentage was shrinking.  Chinese accounted for 20% and Spanish for 7%.  Between 2000 and 2008, the amount of content in Arabic grew 2064%, in Chinese 755%, and in Portuguese 668%.  However, even if the content itself is in a language that I do not understand, there are automatic translators that are good enough to allow me understanding, and maybe even engaging with, materials in languages other than those that I know.  All I need is to enter a URL of a website into an automatic translator, and here it is at my fingertips.  Isn’t it wonderful?

The “danger” of IDNs thus is fragmentation of content and as a result fragmentation of the Internet itself.  If I am unable to type in a URL of a website I won’t be able to access it, even before I reach the point where I need a translation.  The result could be that different cultural groups will isolate themselves by using the language barrier and we might lose the wealth of information that is out there.  This would be an equivalent of what happened to the Biblical Tower of Babel when all the different languages were introduced – the tower fell.  Our modern (knowledge and information) Tower of Babel might fall as well.

These were some of my initial thoughts and these are the concerns voiced by others as well.  However, the more I think about it the less categorical picture emerges.  Here are some of my more recent thoughts:

  • To start with, it is not clear how much attention people pay to the URLs and there is quite a lot of research out there showing that people don’t use URLs for web navigation that much.  I think this is a major point in our thinking about the “threat” and “benefits” of IDNs.  I am not at all convinced that URLs matter.
  • Second, I am not sure how much people in fact consume content that is not in languages that they know.  I mean, it may well be that the content online is already segregated and having internationalized URLs will not change much.  I have yet met a native English speaker who was a regular reader of websites in Russian or Chinese (I see a lot of the opposite, but not that).
  • Third, I think it is reasonable to assume that just as we have automatic translators that allow browsing entire websites in languages other than those that we know, there will be a technological solution that will make the URLs just as transparent.
  • Same goes for keyboards.  If we will insist on typing the URLs, virtual or projection keyboards can allow having an unlimited number of scripts on a single keyboard.  In fact, in this kind of technical solutions, I do believe in letting the markets speak and if there is enough demand for IDNs and enough demand for bypassing the IDNs, the technical solutions will appear.
  • Also, as the rhetoric of IDNs suggests, they are aimed not at people who are already online and are comfortable with English, but at those who for various reasons, are not online yet and for whom English is a barrier.  It is easy for us to talk about potential loss of our access to the (dare I say underutilized) wealth of information from a position of relative power.  It is quite different for those who do not have any access at all.
  • Finally, it may be natural that we do not understand all the content that is out there.  After all this is how our society became as diverse as it is.  Moreover the effort we need to put into learning and understanding another culture makes the experience even more rewarding.  So, maybe the IDNs are just a natural development?

My bottom line is that while I do share some concerns regarding the IDNs’ potential contribution to the fragmentation of the Internet, I am not at all convinced that this is what will necessarily happen.  Of course, one can think of scenarios where some governments force registration of local domains in a particular language, but even in that case, I am not sure it will work.  Similarly, I am not 100% sure that English is the main barrier to access and effective use of the Web.  I think there are other barriers such as lack of physical infrastructure or lack of technical literacy.  But perhaps more than ever before I think this is a case where we should let the users of the Internet make up their minds whether they want to use internationalized domain names or not.  The history suggests that the currently connected won’t do it, but perhaps the 6 billions of those who are not connected will.

These are some of my thoughts on the subject.  What do you think?  Will IDNs cause further fragmentation of the Internet?  Or will they increase the diversity of the content online and make the Web more accessible?