I could have ignored yesterday's ICANN New gTLD Applicant Update Webinar and just read summaries from the usual respected news and industry sources. However, with three hours slotted and likely questions regarding ICANN CEO Fadi Chehadé's somewhat eyebrow-raising comments at the regional ICANN Registry-Registrar meeting in Amsterdam last week — led me wanting to hear it all myself.
I'm glad I tuned in. The initial odd item was that there was not the usual participant chat-room function. ICANN mentioned this specifically at the start of the webinar. Some folks seemed annoyed but actually I found it refreshing. I think it helped the presenters and audience focus on the content and Q&A without the usual noise — good or bad. Now of course there is controversy and criticism that needs to be heard; but if everyone had been in a real physical room they would not be interrupting the presenter and would not be able to speak at more than a whisper. They'd have to resort to Skype or some other external chat function which we all know goes on at every ICANN meeting. So maybe that's one reason the webinar ended after 1:50 instead of 3 hours — after anyone who wanted to ask a question was seemingly given the chance to do so — and live on the phone so everyone could hear the question straight from the participant's mouth.
The welcome surprise was Fadi's participation and remarks. He discussed 'Sector Maturity.' He talked about a possible 'registrant bill of rights' and the need to manage ourselves as an industry...or we will be managed. He talked about opportunities and responsibilities that we need to embrace. He said we must be mature, responsible, and 'take care of ourselves.' He urged us to "rise above our unique or individual issues or lenses" and try to see the bigger picture. It was a bit of a rehash of what he said in Amsterdam but I think it was important that today's webinar participants heard it straight from his mouth, with all the inflection and tone — and not from an online news report.
Fadi's remarks demonstrated to me that he is trying to lead a multi-stakeholder organization to fully grasp the high-level purpose and direction to take while also tackling head-on the minutiae and massive undertaking of the new gTLD program — let alone the incredible change management challenges it is heaving upon the ICANN staff.
I won't get into all the real challenges that we all know still need addressing, but what I did hear at a macro level from Fadi and the others made me shift from negative to neutral at this stage on the prospects of the first new gTLDs being delegated into the root before this year is done. Unfortunately I can't shift to positive until I actually see ICANN adhering to deadlines. There are several coming down the pipe in the next 90 days so let's see what happens.
Fadi also remarked that "we will not jeopardize the stability of the DNS," and are doing everything they can to keep the new gTLD program on track. He said, "to be super clear," that ICANN is doing the work that is expected of them and that dates for the new gTLD program discussed in Toronto are on track. "We will not change it, unless there are DNS stability reasons for doing so." OK, so that's an out that could be applied in a variety of theoretical situations, but his further statements that he intends to increase the volume of communication on new gTLD operational issues and plans to attend future webinars leads me to believe we have a capable and likeable leader at ICANN.
Leaders continually guide, assert and clarify common goals in the big overall picture while getting their hands dirty. Fadi seems to be doing such things and to that I offer a toast: "May we see deadlines met and new gTLDs delegated this year with no stability issues at all to the DNS."
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