I have spent the past week going through literally thousands of comments about whether there should be a new dot-xxx Internet extension for pornography. You won’t be surprised to hear it has brought out some strong feelings.
Anyway, the company behind the application, ICM Registry, hired me to write an objective summary of what was said. There were nearly 13,000 comments, which would have been impossible to read and analyse but, fortunately I suppose, more than 80 percent of them said the exact same thing. The majority of the remainder were also the result of no less than 10 online campaigns.
Not that it wasn’t exceptionally time-consuming to go through every one in an effort to extract common arguments and then summarise them. I did my absolute best to get the overall length down to something bearable but it still ended up at 45 pages. I suspect most people won’t get past the four-page Executive Summary, despite the inclusion of several pretty graphics to give the eyes a rest.
Anyway, I will let my week’s worth of work speak for itself. The whole glorious thing is below:
Summary/analysis of the following comment period:
Date opened: 26 March 2010
Date closed: 10 May 2010
Prepared by: Kieren McCarthy
It’s taken far longer than it should but we are finally there – new, non-English extensions exist on the Internet as of a few hours ago.
The person who hit the button – my friend, Kim Davies – tweeted the news. Kim has already written a quick blog post on the launch, highlighting the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and IT, which is at the end of one of three top-level domains that have gone live.
It is hard to describe the importance of this step. It has been years, literally years, of conversation and discussion and engineering to get to this point. And that point is: the Internet’s core infrastructure can now deal with non-ASCII language. Which means that the Arabic-speaking world, the Chinese-speaking world, the Hindi-speaking world, in fact the majority of people on the planet can finally use the Internet natively without this strange American structure that makes you puts, for example, “.com” at the end of every domain.
This finally makes the global Internet a global Internet. In terms of Internet governance it should also allow (fingers crossed) the single, global, interoperable Internet to hold together. The pressure valve has been pressed down. And it will continue to be repeatedly pressed down for the next few months as more “internationalized domain names” (IDNs) are approved and go live.
There are, of course, all sorts of catch-ups needed. Software needs to work properly with these IDNs. People have to get their head around this works. But this is all minor tweeks. The global Net is here. A great day.
Update: Google has just announced a new “virtual keyboard” which should help answer one question that lots of people have been asking re: IDNs, namely: how can I type in different-language domains when I only have a single-language keyboard?
Second update: Firefox is one of the pieces of software that needs to get with the program. The open-sourcers behind Firefox continue to use a “paypal” example to explain their pretty poor efforts with IDNs so far. But now that IDNs are being officially added to the root, it’s time for Mozilla to wake up and smell the coffee or risk losing billions of potential users of their browser. (The Internet extensions that Firefox allows).
You have to wonder how often large corporates review the work done in their name through lobbying organizations, because it is definitely time that big names such as Dell, HP, HSBC, Morgan Stanley, Nike and Wells Fargo consider whether their support of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse – CADNA – is starting to undermine their credibility.
CADNA has been pushing wildly inaccurate information, mostly against ICANN, for a few years. But in a recent frivolous piece of nonsense, it has pushed out a press release claiming that new Internet extensions (gTLDs) will cost “brand owners” $746 million. The figure is pulled out from nowhere, doesn’t stand up to even the most basic scrutiny, and is in fact is no more than a press release. It also stands in stark contrast to the serious work that has actually been done on the possible impact of new Internet extensions on trademark owners.
How is it possible that CADNA – which famously held a Washington event on the future of ICANN and then refused to allow anyone from ICANN to attend – is allowed to get away with this kind of nonsense? The answer is that the companies that give the organization is vanishing credibility aren’t aware of what is being peddled in their name.
So who is CADNA? Well, based in Washington, CADNA is just two people – Josh Bourne and Phil Lodico. Josh and Phil were both previously from Register.com and CADNA is an offshoot and the main client of their lobbying company, FairWinds Partners.
At a recent meeting in Nairobi, the ICANN Board decided not to press ahead with a process to allow people to pre-apply for new Internet extensions.
This process was called “Expressions of Interest”, which was sadly but inevitably shortened to EOI within hours of being out for discussion.
Ultimately the Board decided that there wasn’t sufficient consensus in the community about allowing people to pre-apply before the full process for decided new “top-level domains” is finalized: an EOI process would use up valuable time and resources, better spent finishing up the remaining issues; and it was not certain what the process would achieve. So, prodded by many to make a decision, the Board did so – and said No.
Most people think this was the smart move – it didn’t create a new process, a clear decision was made, we can move forward.
I, on the other hand, think that the decision is the reflection of a much bigger problem: ICANN doesn’t learn its own lessons. And if the organization as a whole doesn’t start reflecting on what it has learnt over 10 years of activity – and start applying what it learns – then it is going to continue to waste time and energy and resources, to the detriment of itself and the Internet.
The auction for Sex.com was due to be held in New York a few hours ago but, as became clear last night, creditors of the current owner, Escom, forced through an involuntary bankruptcy which has caused the auction to be “postponed”.
Thanks to the court document [pdf] filed here in Los Angeles, we now have a little bit more information about who the creditors are and what they are owed. Washington Technology Associates is owed $6.6 million; iEntertainment, $3.5 million; and AccountingMatters.com a tiny $7,800. All three companies list the same address in Maryland.
No one is talking at the moment so Escom remains somewhat of a mystery, as it has been since it first bought Sex.com off Gary Kremen in 2004 for $12 million. But with all the media attention on an auction [pdf] that was pulled at the last minute, you have to admit that the world surrounding Sex.com is never dull.
So I’m hearing at a very late time that the much-vaulted auction of Sex.com is off following a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. (Chapter 11 meaning that the company is folded but that its assets are still available for sale etc.)
The auction was due to happen tomorrow afternoon, New York-time. As I write this it is late LA-time. Now, I’m not up-to-speed on the recent changes in US bankruptcy law, nor on what has happened precisely with Escom. So I’m not sure that the Chapter 11 bankruptcy has sufficient impact to prevent the auction but my gut feeling is that it does. Unfortunately everyone is asleep in New York and Los Angeles at the moment, so we’ll just have to see what happens.
It won’t be the first or last time that sex.com has seen last-minute turnarounds.
Update: Yes it is “postponed”. Interesting to see what happens after this.
The ICANN Board has stuck discussion of the dot-xxx Internet extension on the agenda for its public meeting on 12 March – a good but brave move.
As covered last week, ICANN came off pretty badly following an independent review of the Board’s decision to reject dot-xxx back in 2007. A three-judge panel decided that the decision wasn’t justified and that the decision was “not consistent with the application of neutral, objective, and fair documented policy”.
This has lead the company behind dot-xxx, ICM Registry, to call on ICANN to sign the contract it had negotiated over the course of two years (2005-2007) and add dot-xxx to the Internet’s “root”. The Board agenda lists “Consideration of the Independent Review Panel Declaration ICM Registry v. ICANN” as one of its 11 topics for the public Board meeting.
This is a good move, and it’s the right move. But it is also a brave move because the dot-xxx controversy still creates a lot of heat and light in the ICANN community. The Board will effectively be deciding whether it agrees that an earlier incarnation of the Board got things wrong while sitting in exactly the same position, on the same stage, three years earlier. The community will want blood or some kind. And the Board will have to balance how to adequately deal with the criticism, while also appeasing both those who were strongly against dot-xxx (including governments) and those who feel that the Board did a major disservice to the organisation by ruling against dot-xxx.
The resolutions will make a variety of changes to the organisation, ranging from an increase in the number of Board members to an explicit statement that Nominet will work in the public interest. The vote was a crucial test for both Nominet’s Board and members: trust and confidence in the Board had been damaged by an acrimonious internal battle, which had subsequently led to the UK government threatening to end self-regulation of the UK’s registry operations.
Overwhelmingly support for the changes will help put Nominet back on the right path and, members hope, enable work to begin on a range of pragmatic issues surrounding the registration of dot-uk domains, such as the ability to register domains for terms other than two years.
Nominet itself called the votes “a defining moment for the UK domain market and the UK Internet landscape” with CEO Lesley Cowley saying that she believed Nominet’s members had “proven their commitment to considering the needs of all stakeholders” and that the changes would demonstrate to the UK government that the reserve powers currently contained in a Bill going through Parliament “will not be necessary”.
Here’s a quick rundown of the changes with what they mean for Nominet and dot-uk:
So I think there is a real chance that the Internet extension .xxx will appear on the Internet some time this year.
Of course, you really can never know since overseeing body ICANN is a complex beast, but following the first use of the organization’s Independent Review Process (IRP) and the resulting panel declaration [pdf], I don’t actually see that many obstacles in the path of .xxx: all the arguments have been had and pretty much rejected by a very distinguished set of judges. And of course the current chairman of ICANN was emphatically of the view that dot-xxx should have been approved at the time it was officially rejected back in 2007.
My personal feeling is that dot-xxx is a good idea. It gives a place for pornography to reside online – and allows for pornography-specific rules to be created; it allows for companies and even countries to block access to it if they decide it is against their laws or policies; and it makes it possible that pornography could be pulled out of other top-level domains, so you don’t have it scattered all over the Internet.
As someone who has a little bit of knowledge about the adult industry and the Internet through researching my Sex.com book (although I would not put myself forward as an expert), I would say this is but an inevitable next step for pornography on the Internet. The history of sexually explicit media shows the same pattern over and over again.
Anyway, that’s an aside. I have written a lengthy story for The Register on this issue that includes the views of ICANN’s current CEO, Rod Beckstrom; ICM Registry’s (company behind .xxx) chairman Stuart Lawley; ex-ICANN chairman Vint Cerf; and Internet governance expert Wolfgang Kleinwachter.
You can read the three-part story on El Reg and I have posted it below for those too lazy to click a link.
On Friday, there was a very interesting decision made by an independent panel of eminent retired judges with respect to an application five years ago for a “.xxx” Internet extension that would be used purely for online pornography.
The dot-xxx application was rejected by ICANN in 2007 following a long, complex and tortuous process. The man behind it, Stuart Lawley, vowed to fight on and was the first person to use ICANN’s Independent Review Process to get the decision revisited. It took two years and $3.5m but he finally got it [pdf] – and it was all in his favour.
I’ve spent today interviewing Stuart, as well as ICANN’s current CEO Rod Beckstrom, and I also sent out questions to a variety of other people who were involved in the process. I’ve written a lengthy story for The Register that hopefully it will publish in full tomorrow, but if it doesn’t, I’ll stick whatever it leaves out here on my blog.
Anyway, all that apart, one of the most interesting things that I recalled from the whole dot-xxx saga was the statements from Board members in 2007 that voted against the rest of the Board in rejecting dot-xxx. In fact I was sat in the audience at my first ICANN meeting as a staffer and at the request of the chair and CEO, I immediately grabbed the transcript from the session and posted it on the ICANN blog with hyperlinks so that no one could argue that ICANN was trying to hide anything.
Most famously Susan Crawford was highly critical. This stood out because she was combative and publicly critical of many of ICANN’s flaws. But I recall that another Board member – Peter Dengate Thrush – was also highly critical.