ICANN Marrakech: Arguments and gunfire

It’s difficult to know if there is anything more frustrating that 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.

Chez Ali

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 is fine except for if you can’t get an Internet connection at which point you realise that you have rudely 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 with 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.

Vint asks a question at domain name session

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 in the world will ever have to 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.

GAC meeting and cable

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.

For those that have been to Marrakech before, they had 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, man 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 soon thereafter 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 600th time, I headed to the bar, where you had the opportunity to pay three times normal beer prices in return for sound-proofing.

Drummer at Chez Ali

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 euros an hour later. Didn’t they realise that 90 percent 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 that it clearly induces.

Belly dancing woman at Chez Ali

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.

Horse show

  1. I just received this comment through The Register’s email system from a reader: “i have just read your article about the ICANN conference in marrakech. the whole article makes no sense. it seems like you enjoyed more slacking off marrakech and its wonderful people and food rather than talking about the conference itself. ps- do not forget that the food in country is no where near as good as the moroccan food!!! please make sure youre not biased when you write an article and make sure you provide readers with facts and not ideas about how old food is!!!!!! ”

    I think Mr Edward Patterson missed the point. The meal from hell that I mentioned in a previous post, was “eaten” in a tourist hotel. It is the real Moroccan stuff that I love.

    I love the accusation of slacking off though.


  2. Well, I enjoyed the article anyway…

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