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ICANN Meeting blog: Indecision and insults

Riddles, fiddles and diddles in British Columbia

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Bored decisions

ICANN chairman Vint Cerf is trying a new tack. Having been confronted with 20 strongly held, coherently expressed and utterly incompatible suggestions, he has started asking people to produce actual real words to insert as alternatives to the ones in the current dotcom contract. Rather oddly, that request has stumped virtually everyone.

After a while, sneaking cynicism starts creeping in. Everyone has agreed their position and they want to be heard by the ICANN Board. But actual changes - changes that will be able to get past all the other disparate communities - come hard. You start switching off as passionate participant number 89 tells you what's wrong with the agreement, and suddenly you grow attached to the very words that everyone is abusing.

Once all the thunder and lightning is over, it's no surprise that the original text is the one thing that ends up going through. After all, it's the one thing that everybody could agree on. They all hate it equally.

The net effect of this process however is that the ICANN staff are imbued with a tremendous amount of power, even though they consistently deny it. Maybe they're too exhausted to realise.

At the same time, they have developed a strange paranoia. Having watched the Board get thrown around the room, ICANN staff like to keep things quiet and under wraps, release them with as little fuss as possible and hope no-one notices. People often mistake this nervous pragmatism for conspiracy.

And nervousness it is. If this reporter so much as turns up at the door to the ICANN staff room, eyes flicker across, fingers hover over minimise buttons, conversations quieten. I made the mistake of strolling into the room to ask someone a question and there was a yelp - seriously - as if my mere presence was enough to bring in the hordes of moaning maniacs frothing about outside, keen to impart their wisdom on how the Net should be run.

Mind you, they don't help themselves. One ICANN staffer let slip that they all have a 7am meeting - christ knows what about - every morning. As "luck" would have it, the fact that my body hasn't the slightest idea whether to be awake or asleep, meant I was actually in the conference building at 7.15am this morning. I stuck my head round the door to see whether it was true. And there the poor sods were. So tired that the normal journo alarm failed completely and not a soul's pupils dilated.

Confidences

There's another weird aspect to being a reporter covering such a dynamic situation with so many passionate and diverging views: confidences.

People will happily talk, and deliriously gossip, but often only on the condition that you don't tell anyone it was them that told you. The more you respect this confidence, the more people will tell you. Press relations trainers always tell executives that there's no such thing as "off the record" with journalists, but that's bollocks. It happens all the time and as a level of trust is built, increasingly frequently.

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