Lately, I've been studying Greek mythology. I'm particularly interested in the story of Herakles -- not the sanitized, cartoon version you see on TV, but the real thing, full of avarice, lust, insanity and murder -- because I think Alexander the Great's belief in Herakles' apotheosis is the key to understanding what motivated that ancient genius.
As you'll recall, the Pythian Oracle ordered Herakles faithfully to serve Eurystheus, King of Tiryns, for twelve years as part of the hero's penance for murdering his children in a fit of madness visited upon him by Hera, queen of the Olympian gods. Eurystheus, in turn, commanded Herakles to perform a series of humiliating and seemingly-impossible feats, hoping he'd be killed -- or at least completely disgraced -- in the process.
All told, Herakles was assigned twelve tasks. And every time I think about the fifth one, I can't help but be reminded of the hopeless shambles that the self-appointed leaders of ICANN have created.
In case you've forgotten, Herakles' fifth labor was to clean twenty years worth of accumulated bullshit out of the enormous and incredibly filthy stables of King Augeias -- and to do it in a single day.
Father Knows Bupkus
In last month's column, I took ICANN to task for a number of what I consider to be serious mistakes. Specifically, I complained about its 5-year delay in expanding the DNS namespace, (yes, I know ICANN itself only has been around for three years, but the folks who run the thing are essentially the same group of ISOC big shots that set up the unlamented IAHC,) its implied surrender to Verisign/NSI's claim to own the .com database, its inability to come up with an alternative ownership model and its apparent determination to avoid democracy in its own management at all costs.
Instead of simply bellyaching about ICANN's sins of omission and commission, I have a duty to offer solutions to the issues I've identified. So, in the spirit of constructive criticism, here's what I'd do to fix those problems, if I were appointed Pharoah of ICANN:
First of all, the DNS namespace would get a whole lot bigger right away -- and .xxx would be one of the first domains I'd add. I'd go a lot further than that, too. I'd add .guns, .hate, .mlm and a whole lot of other fringe-y affinity-based domains and let the monomaniacs who fixate on those subjects congregate there to their hearts' content.
Maybe then parents and businesses could get content-filtering software that actually did something useful.
I'd add a bunch of utilitarian domains, as well. For instance, there'd be a slew of business-oriented gTLDs: .ltd, .inc, .gmbh and so on.
And I'd tell Verisign that .com belongs to the whole Internet community, not to NSI -- and, to back that up, I'd ask the National Science Foundation (which hired NSI to run the registry to begin with) to issue a statement to that effect. If that wasn't enough, I'd get the President, the Justice Department and the Congress to back it up with executive orders, lawsuits and new legislation.
(ICANN doesn't want to do that, because it would imply that the U.S. government owns the DNS database. By contrast, I say let's call that spade a shovel and get the problem solved.)
A Real "Network Solution"
From then on, the DNS database would be community property, with ICANN acting as the world's agent. DNS registrars would simply be hired guns, not owners -- and that'd be that.
Finally, I'd make the entire ICANN Board of Trustees an elected body -- and I'd make 'em each answer to a specific constituency. The fair way to do that would be to carve up the IP address space into, say, 16 roughly-equal chunks and let those subdivisions determine who got to vote for a given Board member
And it'd be a helluva lot more democratic than the bush-league UN model ISOC and ICANN currently use. (For my taste, they're way too concerned with being "inclusive" at the expense of actually, meaningfully being representative.)
Now, just because I can describe these proposals in a straightforward manner should not be taken to imply that I think it'd be easy to implement them. I'm all too well aware that the task of cleaning up the ICANN mess will require outmaneuvering Verisign's executives -- who have a golden goose to protect -- along with ICANN's entrenched current Board.
In fact, the labor would be downright Heraklean -- but it'd sure be worth the effort.
(Copyright© 2001 by Thom Stark--all rights reserved)