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This text was written following a presentation of plans for the future of the Internet Society by its new President and CEO, Don Heath, at a meeting of the Geneva Chapter of ISOC that took place on Wednesday 3rd July '96. The ideas expressed here are mine and do not necessarily reflect those of ISOC or its president.

Internet meets Society

The growth and spread of the Internet constitutes a major challenge to the Internet Society (ISOC). As more and more local ISOC chapters spring up around the world, how can the Internet Society cope in such a way as to safeguard the underlying principles that tacitly bring its members together? How can it reflect the dynamic decentralisation and the active participation that characterise the Internet?

The institutionalisation of associations

As associations grow and become more professional, most of them undergo a process of institutionalisation. Information begins to flow less readily. Exchange becomes decreasingly spontaneous. Ways of working become rigid and go unchallenged. Decisions are more and more taken by a small group of professionals. At this stage, many such associations drop their activities based on participation and shift to the role of a service provider. As subscribers becomes more clients than members, any representative role that the association may have had becomes an illusion.

ISOC, or Internet meets Society

Should such a process happen to ISOC, it runs the risk of rapidly being replaced by other more dynamic and spontaneous organisations that correspond better to the spirit of Internet users ... or, more pessimistically, that spirit dies an ugly death! So how should ISOC scale to the world-wide, multicultural, multilingual Internet? How should it live up to its name and not forget the "society" side of things?

Reconciling global and local interests

The answer, as I see it, lies in finding a judicious balance between the distributed global community and a myriad of local independent groups. In doing so, ISOC would also solve one of the central problems of the connected society, that of reconciling global and local community interests.

Three levels of action can be defined:

  1. It is necessary to figure out and express clearly the underlying principles concerning the Internet, not just as a technical system, but as a framework for a living, dynamic, creative society.
    Although most of us have thought about the subject, little has been done to clarify those principles. Adhering to them would constitute the minimum requirement for a group wishing to be a member of ISOC. Clearly, such principles would be subject to change and development and their definition would be an on-going process.
  2. Any group that subscribed to those principles could becomes a member of ISOC providing that they pay an annual subscription calculated on a pro-rata basis according to the number of their members. The only justification for exclusion of a member would be behaviour contrary to the commonly accepted principles and non-payment of fees.
    Each group would have its own name and its own separate identity. It would be entirely free to act in its own name according to those principles within its local community. Activities would differ from group to group according to local conditions and interests. Depending on the underlying principles singled out as the basis for action with ISOC and by its members, it is likely that a stand would have to be taken on a number of key societal issues in relationship to the Internet.
    In order to avoid ISOC falling prey of the influence of dominant commercial and institutional forces, I would suggest that companies and official bodies not be accepted as members. Their voice would continue to be expressed - as is already the case - via individual members who work for them. At the same time, a suitable status should be created to allow those willing to support ISOC activities to do so.
  3. Subscribing groups would come together to address issues of common interest on a regional and international level. Another aim of work at this level would be to favour exchange, development and mutual co-operation between groups. It is essentially at this level that ISOC should work, co-ordinating and facilitating exchange as well as managing joint initiatives on a global level. It is here that such organisations as the IAB or the IETF would fit in. ISOC would also voice common interests of members in negotiations with commercial actors and international bodies.

Alan McCluskey, Saint-Blaise.

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey,
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Created: July 4th, 1996 - Last up-dated: Jul 4th, 1996