ICANN: how to listen to the individual Internet user:
The recent ICANN meeting in Vancouver touched upon many issues important to ordinary Internet users: privacy in domain name registration; the cost and terms of .com domain names; internationalized domains; introduction of new domain suffixes. But there were few "ordinary Internet users" at the meeting. Few people can roam the globe to keep up with ICANN's travels, and not many more participate in online forums.
This doesn't mean that individuals are unaffected by ICANN or uninterested. Collectively, individual users have substantial legal and financial interests in ICANN policies; they are clearly the most numerous affected class. However, they tend to have many diffuse interests, not one sharp connection. Unlike those whose businesses depend on ICANN-related issues, many individuals may not feel their personal stakes justify high-intensity involvement with the ICANN process. How, then, does ICANN listen to those voices?
So far, not well. This question has been plaguing ICANN from the beginning, when it established then tore down an individual voting membership. In place of votes for board seats, it gave at-large parties the ALAC, but ALAC has been struggling to be heard within ICANN and working to get in better touch with the individuals.
Why don't we hear more from the individual Internet users? First, we should dismiss the impulse to say "if they don't speak up, it must not matter." It matters to the individual if her web-hosting-plus-domain-name package increases in price without changing in service offered; it matters to the individual if he can't register a domain name for his weblog without making his address and telephone number public; it matters to the (non-U.S.) individual if she can't type domain names in her native character set. But all these users all have other demands on their time, and we need to convince them it's worth their time at least to tell ICANN/ALAC about their concerns. To do that, we need to be able to say that ICANN is listening -- Not necessarily that every concern will lead to a change in policy, but that the aggregated concerns will at least inform policy discussions and form part of the "consensus" that's supposed to guide ICANN policy.
At the moment, I can't honestly encourage groups to join ALAC structures, but I can ask that they speak up so we can tell ICANN what it's failing to hear.