25 October 2007

The Battle for the Soul of WHOIS

I am sufficiently long in the Internet tooth to remember the blissful days before ICANN existed. I say blissful, because from where I sit practically every change it has wrought has led to a degradation of the Internet's naming system: it is more driven by financial rather than technical concerns, more subject to lobbying, and generally more of a mess than it was ten years ago.

And now it looks like ICANN is up to yet more of the same, according to this post by Doc Searls about the battle for the soul of WHOIS (and doncha just the Beowulf references?):

Raise your hand if you use whois every day. Even if your hand isn't up, and you just regard whois as am essential sysadmin tool, this post is for you.

Because if you're interested in keeping whois working for the those it was made for in the first place, you need to visit the battlefield where whois' future is being determined right now. That is, you must be Beowulf to the Grendel that is the Intellectual Property Community. Worse, you must confront him in the vast cave that is ICANN.

Except ICANN is more like Grendel's cave, only a helluva lot bigger, and far more boring. It's easy for an outsider to be daunted by ICANN's labyrinthine bureaucracy, its complex processes, its mountain of documents, the galactic scale of its influence, the ecclesiology of its high-level gatherings and its near-countless topics of concern.

The real problem is summarised thus:

the intellectual property folks see whois as their enforcement database, and are working toward making that its primary purpose. Those two purposes are at odds, and that's what the debate is all about. Except so far the public comments have come mostly from just one side.

This is largely because of the completely opaque way in which ICANN operates. If I had my way, we'd get rid of it entirely, and start again; but given the vested interests at play, that's not exactly likely to happen.

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