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.ORG and Change

The .ORG domain is at a crossroads: What will it be? A simple registry offering domain names for organizations, individuals and others? Or something bigger, as Ethos Capital and the Public Internet Registry propose? Will proposed changes make .ORG better? Or worse?

There are valid points on both sides, but as an Internet safety advocate who for two decades has worked to teach children how to be safe online, stop the next young girl from being sex trafficked, and created an Internet curriculum to be taught in schools, I know one thing: we all, including .ORG, have to evolve if we want to stay relevant and help society.

The challenge for successful organizations is to find a way to grow and adapt to a changing world while retaining their core principles and culture. I’m sure the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the main opponent of the .ORG sale, has evolved since its founding thirty years ago.

The challenge for .ORG, as it modernizes, will be to effectively balance the non-profit principles it adopted in 2003 with a for-profit mentality that enables it to expand overseas and develop new services for non-profits such as isafe.org, the website for the organization I founded in 1998.

ISAFE, in fact, is a good example of a hybrid organization that combines non-profit work with for-profit services. The services we offer that help organizations comply with statutory regulations guarding child privacy and technology solutions to enable identity management help fund programs that teach kids how to be safe online. It’s not an unusual construct: many Fortune 500 companies have charitable foundations, for example, funded by their for-profit revenues.

That’s not to say I don’t understand the concern of non-profits and others who are worried about what will happen when .ORG is in the hands of a for-profit company. The community has raised concerns about price increases and censorship. It’s up to each member of the .ORG community to decide whether what Ethos has done—commit to price controls and a Stewardship Council with veto powers over key decision-making—is enough to ease those concerns.

There are powerful voices on each side of the .ORG debate. Vint Cert, of the founders of the Internet and architects of its governance as ICANN chairman, has come out in support of the sale. Marc Rotenberg, who helped found PIR in 2003, has come out against it. Ultimately, each non-profit, organization and individual has to consider what they want .ORG to be.

But it does strike me as strange that those in the Internet, so closely associated with innovation, reinvention and change, would be so resistant to change in its own backyard.

Esther Dyson, one of this generation’s leading thinkers on innovation, put it best: “Change means that what was before wasn’t perfect. People want things to be better.” Are those who oppose the .ORG sale, ironically including Dyson, saying it can’t be better?

I think .ORG can be better for non-profits such as ISAFE if Ethos follows through on its promises to invest in its expansion around the globe and offer new services, especially for small organizations that need help with regulatory compliance or fundraising. The proof will be in how Ethos and PIR spend the $10 million it’s committed toward social causes and who gets named to the Stewardship Council that is chartered with helping guide .ORG’s future.

For me, it comes back to this: No business can be static. It must grow, evolve and modernize; especially in today’s global market. If not, businesses will lose the essential energy that makes it a dynamic force for good. .ORG must evolve and grow, one way or another. The .ORG community deserves growth and modernization in order to build prosperity for all.

By Teri Schroeder, Chief Executive Officer at i-SAFE, Inc.

Teri Schroeder is the founder and CEO of ISAFE Inc. ISAFE is a hybrid organization (nonprofit – for profit) whose charter is to help educational and commercial organizations comply with statutory regulations regarding student data privacy.

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It's interesting to me that people connected Kevin Ohashi  –  Apr 29, 2020 12:29 PM

It’s interesting to me that people connected to VeriSign are coming out of the woodwork in support of the .ORG deal all at the same time. Do you still have a partnership with them? https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20040923005735/en/i-SAFE-America-VeriSign-Unveil-i-STIK-New-Internet

Not All Change Is For The Better Greg Thomas  –  Apr 29, 2020 9:24 PM

It is highly concerning that at this late stage, there remains so much nonsense being propagated about this transaction.  This post states that “it is up to each member of the community” to make up their minds about the .org acquisition. 

Well, here’s a news flash: thousands of them—not hundreds but thousands of them—already have made up their minds and have taken the time and effort to go on public record.  There is no mistaking the will of the community here except in the imaginations of those who seek to justify a highly unpopular course of action and turn a blind eye to ICANN’s willful disregard for the community it purports to serve. 

Furthermore, for the record, Ester Dyson doesn’t oppose change for the better—but there is nothing about this transaction that inspires confidence in a bright, transparent, and accountable future for .org under its proposed new management.  From the hidden sources of funding, to the convoluted web of business entities involved, not to mention the patently absurd assurances that are given about Stewardship, limited price increases per year ON AVERAGE (these two words are the magic ones and everybody needs to pay close attention to what exactly is meant here), veto powers, and $10 million in bright, shiny, graft. 

There are so many nooks and crannies that have been exposed in the DNS by this episode.  So many ugly truths about what governance of the DNS has become.  In essence, Jon Postel and his colleagues were justified and prescient with every bit of their concern that domain name economics would infect and corrupt the entire DNS—and they were right.

In the final assessment, the honeyed words offered by members of the community, such as this post by the CEO of iSAFE here, are easily dissipated by close examination of what precisely they are saying. 

For example, this post says:

For me, it comes back to this: No business can be static. It must grow, evolve and modernize; especially in today’s global market. If not, businesses will lose the essential energy that makes it a dynamic force for good. .ORG must evolve and grow, one way or another. The .ORG community deserves growth and modernization in order to build prosperity for all.

Businesses will lose the essential energy that makes it a dynamic force for good?  What is even being said here?  The grammar is indecipherable and raises questions about what sort of shape the online safety curriculum for educating children is in.  Beyond the grammar, what is a dynamic force for good?  Companies aren’t inherently forces for good.  As I’ve published previously and said for many years, “companies exist for the efficient allocation of resources and distribution of profits—they don’t exist to do the right thing.”  This doesn’t mean that they can’t do the right thing, but oftentimes principles are modified to allow for increased profitability—very rarely is it the other way around. 

Fundamentally, everything favoring this transaction is manufactured to sound great while saying nothing.  This is the best that we can do?

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