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A lazy blogger’s wish-list for ICANN remote participation

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2018, Domain Policy

Remote participation at ICANN meetings is pretty damn good, but I’m an ungrateful asshole and I want more.

I’ve had a personal wish-list of remote participation features during and immediately after every ICANN meeting for a few years now, but when ICANN turned off Adobe Connect for the back half of ICANN 61 last week I was inspired to put pen to paper and rant about it in public.

Make no mistake, these are minor quibbles and no diss to the thoroughly lovely people on the ICANN meetings team.

In a community where are great many people are tasked with herding cats, the meetings guys are the only ones who have to physically herd the cats into their windowless pens through the sheer power of their organizational skills.

Not to mention they have to ensure all the cats are fed, watered, caffeinated, inebriated, and have trays of gravel into which to do their dirty business.

(Sorry, that metaphor got away from me a little there.)

My point is, the fact that anyone ever gets anything done at an ICANN meeting is due in no small part to the folk who actually organize the events, including the remote participation.

With all those disclaimers in mind, here are a few things I would like to see in future.

Archive the scribe feeds

The ICANN scribe feed, provided for as long as I can remember by Brewer & Darrenougue and StreamText is excellent.

It provides a live, scrolling, text transcription, in English, of whatever is being said in a session. It’s not 100% accurate all of the time, but it’s damn close.

Over the years, the scribes seem to have gained an ear for the regular speakers. It’s increasingly rare to see “[SAYING NAME]” in a feed, and we don’t often see pleas from the scribes for speakers to slow down any more.

This allows Anglo monoglot basement-dwellers such as myself to identify who’s talking and get a rough idea what they’re saying, even when they are Catalan registry operators speak quickly in heavily accented, non-native English.

The problem with the feed is that they disappear immediately after each session ends, usually at lunch time and again at the end of the day. Remote participants then have to wait anywhere from a day to several days for the full, edited transcript to be published.

I think the resource cost of immediately publishing the full, warts-and-all scribe transcript would be negligible.

Even if StreamText doesn’t offer it as an automated feature, copy-pasting a session transcript from a browser window into a PDF and banging it on the ICANN web site shouldn’t take more than a few minutes. I know; for several meetings I did it myself on selected sessions as a public service.

Bring back the MP3s

Not too long ago, the audio-only streams were recorded into MP3 files and dumped on the meeting web site in short order, often the same day.

Now, instead, we get M3U files, which are basically just links to streams. And the streams are extremely temperamental, regularly skipping around, restarting or simply stopping for no readily apparent reason.

Today, attempting to re-listen to the M3U of last Thursday’s Public Forum, I had to restart the stream and go hunting for the position I’d been kicked out maybe a dozen times. It was very irritating.

MP3s have the added advantage that they can be listened to offline, allowing you to catch up on sessions you missed while, for example, loitering at an airport with crappy wifi.

I want the MP3s back, dammit!

Consider YouTube maybe?

Recent meetings have seen the introduction of Livestream.com as an alternative to Adobe Connect for viewing live video.

I assume ICANN is paying for this service, probably five figures per year, but I have no idea what benefit (if any) the service offers over YouTube live streaming.

It doesn’t even always work. Try getting Thursday’s Public Forum recording to play. I couldn’t.

Is there any particular reason YouTube is not a viable option? As far as I know it’s free and reliable. YouTubers with far greater audiences than ICANN seem to get away with using it on a daily basis.

It could even be monetized, turning an expense into a small source of additional revenue.

Bring back meaningful filenames

ICANN is pretty good about publishing transcripts, presentations and other documentation as PDFs on the pages for each session. But for some reason in Puerto Rico it started naming the files with apparently meaningless numerical strings.

In all the meetings I can recall before ICANN 61, a downloadable transcript might be named something like “transcript-public-forum-10mar16-en.pdf”. Now, you’ll get something like “1521076292.pdf” instead, which is a step backwards.

Sure, I could manually rename the file to something meaningful myself, but that would take me at least 30 seconds — 30 seconds I could better use listening to Marilyn Cade introduce herself, Goran Marby apologize for something, or literally anyone else in the community complain that nobody listens to them any more.

Keep the redundancy!

Finally, as ICANN discovered this week, redundancy is essential to maintaining uninterrupted remote participation.

Even with Adobe Connect offline across the board for half of the week, it was still possible for those of us in the cheap seats to see video, hear audio, read the scribes, and submit questions and comments.

It wasn’t perfect, but it did the job well enough (previous complaints notwithstanding).

Even when Adobe is turned on, the alternative methods of listening in are extremely useful for overcoming its occasional limitations.

Often, AC rooms are barely audible. This problem occurs on an almost daily basis during ICANN. It affects some rooms but not others and I’ve yet to spot a predictable pattern.

But when you can’t hear what’s going on in AC, it’s always possible to mute the room and launch the always-audible live M3U stream separately.

Similarly, on the rare occasions the audio or video is down, the scribes can often allow us to follow the gist of the discussion while the nerds work on a fix.

In short, redundancy is good.

UPDATE (MARCH 21): Josh Baulch from the ICANN meetings team has left a comment addressing some of these points. It turns out MP3s are actually available elsewhere on the ICANN web site and Livestream costs ICANN far, far less than I had estimated based on Livestream’s published price list.