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Brussels’ biggest winner?

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2011, Domain Policy

(Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by consultant Michael Palage).

Analyzing the aftermath of last week’s ICANN Board-GAC non-bylaws consultation in Brussels, the biggest winner may be Rod Beckstrom. Many who attended the meeting or followed it remotely may have found it unusual how little he spoke during the three-day session. Why was Rod so quiet in Brussels?

Soon Beckstrom will begin the third and final year of the contract that he executed in June 2009 – yes, it has been almost two years since Rod assumed the mantle as ICANN’s fourth President and CEO. He got off to a quick start with the successful expiration of the Joint Project Agreement (JPA), the execution of the Affirmation of Commitments (AoC), and the introduction of Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) in country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) earning the accolades of myself and others.

Then came the ICANN meeting in Kenya and Rod’s statement that “[t]he domain name system is more fragile and vulnerable today than it has ever been. It could stop at any given point in time, literally.” To say that this was not warmly received by many within the broader ICANN community would be an understatement. However, instead of back-tracking, Beckstrom doubled down with his high-profile DNS Vulnerabilities and Risk Management panel discussion in Brussels reinforcing his claims about the fragile nature of the Internet.

Some in the community have also voiced concern about the continued exodus of senior ICANN staff, while others have questioned some of Rod’s recent hires. While I have not yet had the opportunity to meet with John Nakamura, Advisor to the CEO on Government Affairs, and Elad Levinson, Vice-President of Organization Efficiency, these are two hires which I myself have a hard time reconciling while other key positions remain unfilled.

However, to Rod’s credit a number of his new senior hires appear to be making positive impacts and look to increase the overall professional skill set within ICANN staff. Although Paul Twomey’s original two senior staff hires, John Jeffrey and Kurt Pritz, continue to dominate important policy and operational matters within ICANN, this may be in part due to the fact that there is so little institutional knowledge left within the senior staff.

Since the June 2010 Brussels meeting, Rod has maintained a lower profile, focusing on ICANN’s continued accomplishments in the areas of new IDN ccTLDs being added to the root and the final allocation of IPv4 address space by IANA. Whether Rod would seek a second term is still an unknown. Of ICANN’s four Presidents, only Twomey ever made it to a second contract renewal, although the high churn rate can in large part be attributed to the stresses associated with the job.

This is why Beckstrom’s silence in Brussels was so interesting. While there were some pointed exchanges between ICANN Chair Peter Dengate Thrush and certain GAC members, Rod left the meeting unscathed. Over the next couple of months as the ICANN Board and GAC resolve their outstanding issues regarding the new gTLD implementation process, Beckstrom positions himself well for a potential contract extension as his Chairman continues to serve as a lightning rod in these consultations.

For the moment, only Beckstrom knows if he is actively seeking a contract extension. While he can go out on a high note listing the following high profile accomplishments during his three year tenure: AoC, IDN TLDs, new gTLDs, exhaustion of IPv4 address space, and a new IANA contract; Rod may wish to stick around and achieve some yet unknown additional accomplishments.

Michael Palage is an intellectual property attorney and an information technology consultant. He has been actively involved in ICANN operational and policy matters since its formation in both an individual and leadership role, including a three-year term on the ICANN Board of Directors.

Palage is President and CEO of Pharos Global, Inc, which provides consulting and management services to domain name registration authorities and other technology related companies.

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Competition for .africa heats up

Kevin Murphy, March 10, 2011, Domain Registries

AfTLD, an organization of African country-code top-level domain operators, has announced its intention to apply to ICANN for the .africa TLD.

The initiative appears to be different to and competitive with the best-known .africa applicant to date, Sophia Bekele’s DotConnectAfrica.

AfTLD said that it plans to seek a mandate for .africa from the Commission of the African Union. It also expects to discuss forming a company to manage the bid at a meeting in Ghana next month.

Vika Mpisane, AfTLD’s chairman and general manager of South Africa’s .za ccTLD, said in a press release:

We are not just interested in .africa only, but we want to also take on .afrique, which is the French version of .africa. It’s only natural for us to do this because at least 50% of Africa speaks French. We also intend to have an internationalised version of .africa as well because we have significant Arabic Africa population, but we will start definitely with .africa first.

AfTLD shortly intends to announce a “leading registry services provider” to run its back-end, but indicated that in future it would expect to run the registry from within Africa.

The current version of ICANN’s new TLDs Applicant Guidebook sets the bar for a .africa bid very high, in practice possibly requiring near-universal governmental support.

A bidder for this kind of protected geographic term would require letters of support from 60% of the nations concerned. For Africa, as the Guidebook defines it, that’s about 34 countries.

However, crucially, if more than one African government were to object in writing to any given .africa application, that bid could be killed off.

AfTLD has 24 ccTLD registry members. They’re not all government-run TLDs, of course, so it doesn’t necessarily follow that it already has 24 countries on board.

A key question is whether endorsement of a bid by the African Union could be interpreted as blanket approval from all of its 53 member governments. I don’t think that’s a given, under the letter of the Guidebook.

But if it is, DotConnectAfrica may already be there. It has a signed letter from AU Commission chairman Jean Ping, dated August 2009, that endorses its specific bid.

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dotMusic buys music.co

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2011, Domain Sales

Constantine Roussos of dotMusic, which plans to apply for the .music top-level domain, has added to his collection of musical domain names with the purchase of music.co.

Roussos, who already owns music.us and music.biz, seems to have been the winning bidder, paying $30,000, when it was auctioned by Sedo late last month, but Whois records did not change until this Monday.

Remarkably, Music.co is already developed. It lets you play from a selection of godawful* music from an artist calling himself “Constantine”, including one track called “.music”.

The domain was previously owned by domainer Mike Mann, who snapped up dozens of premium generic terms in the .com.co namespace a few years ago in order to be grandfathered in when .co relaunched.

Roussos’ dotMusic initiative is currently the only applicant for the .music TLD to have gone public.

Of the other big sales from the Sedo auction, shop.co is now owned by a German search engine, Websuche, and pizza.co was sold to a California-based developer of discount codes web sites.

The domain download.co, which sold for $10,099, now redirects to what appears to be an affiliate marketing site for software called “Driver Detective”, which I was too scared to install.

Many of the other sales appear to have been made to other domainers.

(* I’m kidding. Probably.)

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ICANN hires weight-loss guru as vice president

Kevin Murphy, March 9, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has quietly hired a new vice president with a very peculiar résumé.

Elad Levinson, a psychotherapist with a distinctly Buddhist bent who has previously specialized in weight loss, joined the organization in early January as Vice President for Organization Effectiveness.

He’s been on the payroll as a consultant since May 2010, according to his LinkedIn profile and other sources, but only joined ICANN as a full-time VP two months ago.

ICANN currently has only about a half dozen vice presidents. The most recent to be officially announced (pdf) was noted cryptographer Whitfield Diffie, now VP of information security.

Unlike Diffie, Levinson did not get an announcement when he joined ICANN. Two months after joining the organization, he’s still not even listed on the ICANN staff web page.

(UPDATE: As of last night he is listed on the web site. Possibly because somebody was tipped off I was writing this post.)

I’ve confirmed that he started work there at the start of the year, but I’m not entirely clear what his role is. He appears to be some kind of human resources consultant slash life coach.

He’s previously consulted for a number of California-based corporations.

I understand Levinson is based in the Silicon Valley office, which I believe has about a dozen employees and is located roughly 300 miles from ICANN’s headquarters in the Los Angeles suburb of Marina Del Rey, where the vast majority of its staff are based.

Levinson has described himself as the author of “several publications regarding the power of self awareness and the integration of western social psychology and Buddhist Psychology” and an advocate of “the use of mindfulness and Buddhist Psychology in its application to organization development, leadership practices, stress reduction and related problems, relationships and parenting.”

His LinkedIn profile, which erroneously refers to ICANN as the “Internet Corporation Assigning Numbers and Naming”, says:

My goals are to bring the arts of relationship building and creation-intention generation to the science of causing tangible, factual results that increase shareholder value and develop highly adaptable cultures supporting the best in human spirit and actions.

The same profile discloses that Levinson has founded or co-founded at least four organizations: Noble Purpose Consulting, Pounds For Poverty, Lose Weight Mindfully and Growth Sherpas.

He’s still listed as an employee on three of those. Noble Purpose’s domain resolves to a blank page.

Pounds For Poverty, with which he was apparently involved until at least June last year, is a California consultancy offering “practical solutions for difficulties with over eating, anxiety, and depression.”

Its web site suggests that the money fat Californians spend on over-eating would be better used fighting hunger elsewhere but, despite the name, it does not appear to be a poverty charity in the usual sense.

Archive.org’s most-recent capture of Noble Purpose, from 2009, reveals it had aims such as “supporting human being’s nobility of purpose on earth” and “insuring that the skills and knowledge necessary for your noble purpose reside internally”.

If you don’t understand what any of the above means, you’re not alone.

Wikipedia’s (poorly sourced) page on “organizational effectiveness” helpfully explains it is “the concept of how effective an organization is in achieving the outcomes the organization intends to produce” and “an abstract concept… basically impossible to measure.”

“Mindfulness” is a Buddhist teaching relating to meditation and focus that has found its way into Western psychology over the last few decades.

It’s not a huge secret that ICANN has issues, internally. Clearly somebody over there believes that some kind of consultant like Levinson is required at the VP level.

According to the Growth Sherpas web site, Levinson is “the one you turn to when you want help solving a thorny company-wide or people problem and want the solution to stick.”

Outsiders are generally more concerned with staffing issues such as the lack of resources to support policy development and compliance initiatives, which will both become even more important once the new top-level domains program kicks off.

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WIPO launches global brand database

Kevin Murphy, March 8, 2011, Domain Services

The World Intellectual Property Organization has opened up a free, searchable web-based database of over 640,000 trademarks.

The slick new Global Brand Database is not related to domain names specifically, but could well prove an invaluable research tool for players in the space, especially for top-level domain applicants.

How useful it becomes will depend on how much the database grows. At the moment, it appears less than comprehensive.

WIPO said the interface currently provides access to three existing databases.

There’s the list of “armorial bearings, flags and other state emblems as well as the names, abbreviations and emblems of intergovernmental organizations” protected under the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property.

There’s the database of “appellations of origin” – geo-brands such as Champagne and Tequila – registered under the so-called Lisbon system.

Finally, and probably most interestingly, there’s international trademarks registered under the Madrid system, which is a way for companies to register their brands in multiple legal jurisdictions.

But don’t expect to find US trademarks, for example, listed in the database yet. WIPO said in its announcement that it plans to add national databases to the system in the future.

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