You know that first day at the end of summer, before the temperature drops and the foliage changes, when there’s just something in the air, something different that tells you autumn is just around the corner?
ICANN’s 45th Public Meeting here in Toronto, Canada, has a similar feeling to it – that something is just not quite the same as it was before. For example, senior government officials conducted a high-level meeting in conjunction with an ICANN public meeting for the first time ever today. ICANN’s new President and CEO, Fadi Chehadé, has appointed an array of new staff members and indicated during his remarks at this morning’s welcome ceremony that ICANN is on the precipice of an organizational shift. And hundreds of attendees here in Toronto are participating in an ICANN meeting for the first time.
Since the last public meeting in Prague, and perhaps even before that, many groups within the ICANN community, including the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO), which develops policies for gTLDs, have been asking themselves what kind of impact the influx of new gTLDs and new gTLD operators will have on the ICANN structure. Will existing stakeholder groups and constituencies expand or change? Will new groups emerge? Will public meetings be conducted differently?
It seems a foregone conclusion that the New gTLD Program, largely due to its sweeping scope and pervasive effects, will change certain aspects of the ICANN system. And while the exact nature and extent of those changes is still not completely clear, we are feeling the first waves of those changes at this meeting here in Toronto. One example of this change is the number of update sessions that are being held in comparison to the number of working sessions. Because so many diverse and divergent groups are impacted by various aspects of the New gTLD Program, community members from across the spectrum of stakeholder groups, constituencies, the Board of Directors and interested observers crowd into the update sessions to hear the latest developments about the status of new gTLDs.
A side effect of these update sessions is that the ICANN public meeting experience seems much more welcoming to first-time meeting attendees. While ICANN has conducted newcomer sessions at each public meeting for quite some time now, many of the other sessions that took place as part of the thrice-yearly gatherings were complex and difficult to break into for new attendees, especially those who come from the corporate world.
Whether this meeting will prove to be a harbinger of a coming sea change for ICANN and its public meetings remains to be seen. But at this point, what we do know is it is a very exciting time for ICANN, and an exciting time for brand owners to get to know this organization better.