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The unspoken side of the Morroccan meeting

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ICANN Marrakech ICANN Marrakech is over, save the board meeting. And this fact was - as it always is - sufficient reason for everyone to head to the bar and mull things over while consuming (un)healthy quantities of booze.

What was the upshot of this week-long meeting in Morocco? Well, the general consensus was that not much had happened. Except, really it had. And the feeling was that it had been a very amiable meeting. Which, in a deeper sense, it hadn't.

The reality is that ICANN Marrakech has, albeit pleasantly, lived under the shadow of the US government's MoU renewal. What really is shameful is that there wasn't a single public meeting in which this vitally important contract was discussed. Instead, we have had a semi-official, parallel and secret ICANN process instituted to discuss the matter, and a long series of constituencies pondering how best to deal with it, which will most likely contribute little or nothing to the final result.

While I'm being negative and grumpy about a meeting that most people seem to have enjoyed, here's a list of wrongs.

Wrongs:

  • No public meeting about the MoU
  • Poorly attended and poorly run open board sessions
  • A failure to recognise and prioritise what people were trying to say about ICANN
  • A lack of plain speaking and a series of fixed debates (excusing the excellent domain name workshop)

There are more, but it's best not to dwell. What everyone noticed - and the reason why they are still coming to these meetings - is that things are beginning to change (again). ICANN has bought in a lot of new and talented staff, and since the recruits haven't had time to soak up the staff bunker mentality, there is a refreshing feeling of optimism and openness.

Roll-call

ICANN staff have managed to gain some respect from the wider community for the first time in a long time. The new head of IANA, David Conrad, is widely seen as the right man to grasp the poisoned chalice. Tina Dam is gradually winning people over. The new regional liaisons had a dramatic effect on people by speaking in the languages of the regions where they have been assigned and then instantly translating it into English. The new head of communications has been listening to people. There is a real sense that ICANN might just been transforming into something to be pleased with and proud of, rather than appalled and disgusted with.

And ICANNWiki has come of age. In fact, it is now probably the best source of information on the net about ICANN and it has come about with the simple application of small bits of efforts from large numbers of people. Yes, remember that? It used to be called internet culture.

The weak point of ICANN, however - and it remains dangerous to even mention this - is the man who has become the figurehead of this organisation and, in many respects, the internet itself, Dr Vint Cerf.

ICANN Marrakech is the first meeting where I have seen people openly - albeit still in relatively hushed tones - criticise the "father of the internet". The fact is that the commanding respect that Vint has enjoyed for so many years is ebbing away. This always happens with strong leaders. They are effective by being single-minded but the single-mindedness separates them from the current of thought, and leads to their eventual usurping. Dr Cerf is out of touch and it is beginning to show, and people are beginning to comment on it. He has noticed this and reacted aggressively, which has, of course, only reinforced the feeling.

The good news is that Vint will stand down next year as no one is allowed to serve more than three terms. Since this is widely known, and because it isn't too far away, Dr Vint Cerf will get the rapturous applause and respect he is due when he does indeed step down without the ugly confrontation that came with, for example, Margaret Thatcher's demise. But there may be some unpleasantness in the meantime.

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