Ruling the waves

by Henry Farrell on March 27, 2004

Another interesting piece of information on states and private actors in the governance of the Internet. One of the more important parts of the Internet’s architecture is the management of domain names, like,, and the various national top-level domain names (like .uk for Britain, and .ie for Ireland). People who study this sort of thing have a vague sense that domain name allocation is handled by private actors in most parts of the world. “Not so”:;id=448 according to a new paper by Michael Geist, who has preliminary results from 66 countries around the world.

bq. The most significant finding of this global survey is that, at least at the national level, governments are currently deeply involved in domain name administration. In fact, contrary to most expectations, virtually every government that responded to the survey either manages, retains direct control, or is contemplating formalizing its relationship with its national ccTLD. This is true even for governments, such as the United States, that generally adopt a free-market approach to Internet matters. Given the near ubiquitous role of government at the national level, it should therefore come as little surprise that governments have begun to seek a similarly influential role at the international level where policy decisions may have a direct impact on their national domains.

Geist’s evidence also suggests that the closer a domain name authority is to the private sector, the less likely it is to be interested in public interest goals, and the more likely its main concern will be flogging off as many domain names as possible. This isn’t exactly surprising, but it does offer food for thought, especially given “Verisign’s push”: further to privatize control of the domain name allocation system.

Seduced by a Model

by Kieran Healy on March 27, 2004

A “nice example”: via Crescat Sententia of an issue I’ve “mentioned before”:, namely, a case where the stylized facts lend themselves to an elegant bit of modeling that seems to analyze things very neatly, but the empirical details turn out to be much messier or a different kind of process altogether. Here it’s the debate about the Hijab in French schools. This is why fieldwork is important. The identification of mechanisms like sub-optimal conventions, failed co-ordination, tipping phenomena, self-fulfilling prophecies or auto-equilibrating systems are amongst the most useful and powerful tools in social science, but the number of phenomena they _appear_ to explain is much larger than those they _in fact_ explain. This can lead to odd consequences. For example, John Sutton’s little book “Marshall’s Tendencies”: (which I didn’t read carefully enough when I picked it up) makes the point that we can be led to misapply standard models not just when the reality is much more complicated or otherwise difficult, but even when there’s a perfectly good alternative model available, just not the obvious one.

Reaction to my last few posts make me want to add disclaimers like “Look, this doesn’t mean formal modeling is unimportant or bad,” “Yes, yes, of course there are lots of very smart game theorists,” and “No, Libertarians, I am not talking about you, so please relax.”

And sorry to anyone who was expecting this post to be about the attractions of the other kind of model.