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Arguments and gunfire

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ICANN Marrakech It's difficult to know if there is anything more frustrating than being unable to get on the internet at an ICANN meeting, but then I'm certain that the greengrocers of Georgia or undertakers of Uxbridge have an anecdote or two to put that in shadow.

While it's nice having a much bigger conference venue than usual - no more cramming on plastic chairs - its size has made it increasingly difficult to find anyone. I know for a fact that a series of people I want to catch up with are here somewhere because everyone keeps telling me they've seen them. But can I find them? Everyone has ended up communicating with email - which would be fine if you could get an internet connection - at which point you realise you have stood-up three different people without even being aware of it. And it's still only 11am.

I would, of course, have popped out of the meeting I was in without net access and held my laptop under the nearest access point, were it not for the fact that the domain name workshop proved to be fascinating viewing. And it wasn't just me - everyone in the room was amazed at how these building blocks of the net have now become such an advanced industry that people are making millions from simply owning obscure domains for five days.

Everyone in the room was stifling the same thought: hang on, I could do this. It's not illegal and frankly I've always fancied a second home in the Seychelles. But such is the proud moral standing of the internet community that such thoughts were washed from our minds. It didn't stop the pannelists from having a bit of argy-bargy over systems, changes, even lawsuits going on between them. It was great theatre and, amazingly, hugely informative.

There was only one thing missing from the session, however: it needed someone to hold up large cards behind each speaker outlining just how many hundreds of thousands of dollars they had made that month from the particular practice they were now defending with vague love-terms such as "innovation", "competition" and "fat wallets".

The reality

The simple fact is, as everyone knows, that the existing system of getting hold of domains has to change. Currently, less than 20 companies in the world bombard the same server millions of times over a two-hour period every day and remove any chance that anyone else will ever get hold of a particular name on the net. It's not exactly hard to see why the companies that have invested in highly technical, advanced systems just to achieve this goal are unhappy about changes, but then it's much easier to see why the system will have to change.

Steve Crocker - one of the men that actually built the internet - was scathing about the current situation and won a rare round of applause. The highly respected Sabine Dolderer from Denic - representing the second-biggest registry in the world following dotcom - also asked why on Earth the system was as it was. The simple answer, as we all know, is profit. As the immortal John Berryhill pointed out: the internet is unique in that it makes money even when it doesn't do anything. Has there every been a more enticing pitch?

Chez Ali

It was Tuesday night, so it must be ICANN local culture extravaganza night. Every meeting, the local hosts put on a cultural event which involves eating, drinking, chatting, gawping in wide-eyed amazement at the entertainment, and then eating, drinking and chatting some more.

Those that have been to Marrakech have already had the Chez Ali experience - something which apparently is classic tourist fare. What happens is this: you drive for 20 minutes out of Marrakech, drive down a dark road into a huge constructed Moroccan courtyard where you are greeted by men on horseback, men with long trumpets and women ululating (love that sound). There you take a few snaps, take a seat, and then tuck into what appears to be an entire lamb plonked on the table, followed by cous-cous and veg.

And then the show starts...

Being a miserable sod, I found the horse tricks, belly dancing and men charging with their horses and then firing guns terrific - but only the first time I saw it. After the woman had rotated on the cardboard fort for the six hundredth time I headed to the bar, where you had the opportunity to pay three times normal beer prices in return for sound-proofing.

It was in the bar that even Sir Milton Mueller revealed the depths to which a few hundred traditionally dressed Moroccans can drive a man. I proposed loudly (over the gunfire) that the Moroccans must be out of touch with the real world because one of their biggest money-spinners was to take snaps of you at dinner and then try to sell the pictures for €20 an hour later. Didn't they realise that 90 per cent of people now had digital cameras? Sir Milton sheepishly pulled out his table's photo. But it wasn't just him. My table - comprising the freak element of the top-level domain market: .cat, .xxx and .berlin - all got one and loved it dearly. Fortunately, I found a voice of sanity in a fetching OECD representative who had never been to an ICANN meeting before and so remained unsullied from the madness it clearly induces.

The biggest disappointment of the night, though, was that Vint Cerf wasn't put through the normal mildly humiliating experience of having to join in with the festivities. Seeing the father of the internet charging along on a horse, with one foot in the stirrups, swing down and scoop up an item off the ground would have made ICANN Marrakech. The strange thing is, though, that you wouldn't put it past him to pull it off. ®

More of this sort of rubbish, can be found at KierenMcCarthy.co.uk.

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