Supernova's Publius Panel

June 20, 2008

On Tuesday, we hosted a lively session on the Publius Project at Supernova. The conversation, liveblogged in detail by Ross Mayfield, was a great fit for this year’s theme, “Challenges for the Network Age,” with participants discussing how decision-making processes –whether via Web 2.0 technologies, international organizations, or new business models–stimulate rolling constitutional moments that shape not only our behavior online, but the future of the Net.

Colin Maclay invoked Doc Searls' framing questions  in his opening remarks, asking that the audience consider governance not as an abstract concept, but as a dynamic act of steering. Both top-down controls and every-day user choices are impacting our future network. How do power and authority become imbedded in the system? Are tacit or explicit  rules more appropriate, or do we need both? (See David Weinberger’s Publius piece - and associated responses - for a thoughtful discussion.)

Publius contributor Wendy Seltzer responded in defense of rules. The Net Neutrality debate, for example, shows us that sometimes formally articulating the rules can be essential to preserving critical values—such as openness—within a norm-based community.

Susan Crawford, as in her Publius piece,  picked up on the notion of control (“the central question for governance is who gets to boss who around”) and presented the ICANN model as an experiment in governance being challenged by “titanic” forces of
government, business and private interests. ICANN’s constitutional moment is now, she argued, and we should all be paying attention to how it chooses to move forward.

Joi Ito mapped the business perspective onto ICANN: is there potential in the model? A version that could protect innovation by preventing domination by monopolies or shareholder interests?

Wendy’s observation that rules should  remain fluid and flexible was echoed by
Lili Cheng of Microsoft research.  Despite the ‘rules’ implicit in software design and operating systems, their most creative form will emerge from how they are interpreted and implemented by their core community and their norms of use. How do they enact the rules, with what unpredictable and unintended consequences?

Although the Publius Project  features a growing collection of essays in conversation with each other, Supernova enabled a real, live discussion between four participants with diverse perspectives. Together with our dynamic audience, we agreed that adopting a long, broad, and flexible view of the Internet’s future will be crucial for finding consensus around sustainable values, rules, laws, and norms.

Keep watching the Publius Project for what promises to be a provocative and diverse conversations about the evolving constitutions of the Internet.

Last updated June 20, 2008