News, views and what I choose to dos

Summary/analysis of dot-xxx issue

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:

Report of Possible Process Options for Further Consideration of the ICM Application for the .XXX sTLD

Date opened: 26 March 2010
Date closed: 10 May 2010
Prepared by: Kieren McCarthy

The future of the Internet is here: non-English extensions hit the Web

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).

In remembrance of Guy Kewney

Category : Internet, Journalism · (10) Comments · by Apr 8th, 2010

So I am a pretty poor choice to write something about Guy Kewney, who passed away earlier today my time and in the early hours UK time.

I have never worked alongside Guy. I have never edited him or been edited by him. In fact, I think I have never written for the same publication as him at the same time; this despite us both working in the same small field in the same city in the same country for more than 10 years.

The reason that I feel a terrible compulsion to write whatever I will write below is that I have been wracked by tears three times in the past six months because of Guy’s illness. First when I heard about it (much later than most friends since I was in the US and constantly busy); second, when I heard the chemo hadn’t worked; and third when it sunk in just a few hours ago that it was done, that Guy had really departed and I would never see or speak to him again.

I have seen the webpage set up by friends of Guy’s to run through their reminiscences of him. I loved reading it because it confirmed what I already knew about this man: that he was a journalist of the highest order. Straight, honest, firm, determined, unswayed, resolute, smart, funny, intelligent, often brilliant. But, sadly, none of these memories firmly adhered to mine.

The bankruptcy court doc

Category : Domain names, Internet, · (1) Comment · by Mar 18th, 2010

The auction for 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 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 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 is never dull.

ICANN Board sticks .xxx on public agenda

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.

Nominet passes governance test with flying colours

The dot-uk registry Nominet has passed a crucial governance test with flying colours, voting yes [pdf] on eight Board resolutions with more than 93 percent member support.

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:

Whois study shows 77 percent of domains have dodgy registration info

I’ve written a story for The Register about a new report [pdf] regarding the Whois system for domain registration data. We all knew that Whois was a mess, but it’s good to have some facts and figures that show what a mess it is.

Here’s hoping this gives the endless, intractable discussions within ICANN about Whois a bit of a kick. I’m hoping Maria Farrell will write something about this report – she saw several years of her life chewed up trying to make some progress on this issue. Oh, I should also thank Jenny Kelly from NORC who was incredibly responsive and helpful.

Full story below:

Nairobi going ahead: ICANN asks for remote participation tips

Category : ICANN, Internet, Internet governance · No Comments · by Feb 16th, 2010

Updated: A new announcement from ICANN has just gone up, highlighting additional security precautions for Nairobi and making it clear the meeting is going ahead as scheduled.

Recognising that several companies have already decided not to attend (but noting that many are still attending – particularly the ccNSO), the last paragraph talks about improving remote participation – something I pointed out a few days ago could be the silver lining in the security cloud.

A post on the ICANN blog will apparently go up soon [update: it is up here] where you can post your comments to questions such as:

  • What does enhanced remote participation look like in the context of an ICANN meeting?
  • Remote participation is a challenge when a minority of participants are using that mode; if many were, how effective could that be?
  • How would this work with scheduling, time zones, and the expected meeting formats we’ve used?

I don’t know whether it is a good idea or a bad idea for me to comment given that I set up ICANN’s remote participation facilities. But one thing I would be grateful if people pointed to, and took to heart, is my five “rules” of remote participation – which you can see here and I’ll repost below.

What does a truly democratic Q&A format look like?

Category : General, ICANN, Internet, Technology · No Comments · by Feb 8th, 2010

Internet thinker and political operator David Weinberger has posed an interesting question: how do we design a question-and-answer format for politicians that is truly democratic?

Weinberger’s blog post was noted by Andrew McLaughlin on his Facebook page – Andrew is the White House Deputy CTO and the man more than any other that could make a democratic Q&A system a reality.

And so I figured I’d have a stab at designing something since this is an area where I have a fair amount of knowledge and experience both as a journalist and as ICANN’s general manager of public participation. Here then is a rundown of a system that I think would broadly work:

My first story in three years – Oversee’s auction scandal

Category : Domain names, Internet, Journalism · No Comments · by Feb 4th, 2010

So I’ve written my first news story is what I think is three years. It’s on The Register and is about Oversee’s auction scandal following a discussion with CEO Jeff Kupietzky at Domainfest last week.

Here go: Domain auction house wrestles with alleged shill

I held off journalism while in my job at ICANN – mostly because I didn’t have time. This is a tentative return to be honest because you can only go so far with freelance journalism, and I’d had five years of it. In fact, I was about to get a job with a big media organisation and start on some kind of career ladder when I was offered the ICANN gig and went with it instead.

As to what I plan to do with myself: I have two business plans and two books in the offing and I’m doing some consultancy on communications, social networks and a little international politics (I am available for hire btw – just shoot me an email). But there’s something I really like about the straightforwardness of journalism. Turn up, ask questions, share what you learn and thrown in a bit of analysis. It doesn’t pay well but I love it.

I’m actually thinking about pitching a feature on Kupietzky, who gave a very interesting keynote last week and is an interesting character. Particularly since domain names are inevitably going to become more mainstream in the next few years.