A brief visit to ICANN

I’m currently in San Diego finishing up my research on the Sex.com book. And I figured that while on this side of the world, I would take up an invitiation to go see ICANN at its Los Angeles headquarters in Marina Del Rey.

ICANN HQ

I wanted to visit various houses that have been lived in by the con-man (Stephen Michael Cohen) in the Sex.com case – plus the rich area of Tustin where he had run a sex club, driving the residents crazy and ending up in court but getting away with it. So I figured I would combine a trip to LA with seeing ICANN.

Of course I had completely underestimated both how big California is and how bad the traffic in Los Angeles is. As a result, an after-early-lunch set-off where I planned to possibly stop off at one of Cohen’s houses and arrive at ICANN’s heaquarters at 4676 Admiralty Way, Suite 330, Marina del Rey, California 90292 for 2.30pm went disatrously wrong.

I finally arrived at just past 4pm. The traffic in Los Angeles is unbelievable. These enormous 10-lane concrete monster freeways lead to every part of the city and everyone of them is jammed full at any time of day – although they are particularly bad between 5pm and 7pm.

Admiralty Way

This led to me only being able to going to the sex club house on the way back – and only in the pitch black. But back to ICANN…

ICANN is headquartered in an impressive and imposing building on Admiralty Way overlooking the marina, which is, well, beautiful because there’s water and sailing boats which always look majestic no matter where you are. But as always with ICANN, things are not always what they seem…

Marina Del Rey

For example the idea of ICANN as some kind of monolith to power is quickly dispersed when you come to realise that it only exists on only one floor of the building (the third) but also that it only takes up half the third floor and – get this – they have the side facing away from the marina.

I think that’s worse that not even being near the marina: knowing that there is a lovely view 20 feet away but you have to overlook a dirty town. What is also somewhat disconcerting is how beige the office is – both literally and figuratively. There isn’t even a foyer – just the elevators, a plain door with a buzzer and then inside the grey-and-brown mix of sound absorbers/dividers and partitioned offices without glass panels.

ICANN buildingEven CEO Paul Twomey only has a pokey office. In fact, Kurt Pritz to my mind has the best deal with the corner office. But there’s no big conference room, or airy spaces. It’s like an insurance company.

The staff are also crammed in. They need alot more room. Apparently though ICANN has been told it can’t have the other half of the floor – the one facing the marina, so I suspect a move may be on the cards. I think they should get it as well. I hate offices at the best of times, but if you are going to be forced to spend most of your life in the same 100 square metres, I think companies should, by law, be required to make it an even vaguely bearable experience.

Anyway, Paul Twomey wasn’t in (Australia), nor was David Conrad, but CFO Diane Schroeder (aka Cerberus) was, along with Tina Dam (who offered to update me about IDNs), Kurt Pritz and some people I’ve never met.

ICANN’s new corporate affairs VP Paul Levins met me and we resisted the urge to drive the ten-minute walk to the nearest bar – which isn’t even a bar because this is LA, it’s a restaurant with a little bar area in which a man was about to start playing plinky-plonk piano. As a Brit and an Aussie, Levins and I reflected on the LA madness and we discussed ICANN, accountability and transparency, Republican senators sending filthy text messages and emails to teenage boys, the insane multi-channel mundanity of US TV and so on.

There was no story in the meeting but it’s always nice to know where people are when you speak to them over the phone (is it only me that feels that?). And now I know where to find ICANN in a hurry in case the Internet falls over ;-)

ICANN is in a very interesting position at the moment. I’m optimistic about it and my meeting has somehow reinforced that. Like the office, ICANN is caught up in a sort of stuffy stasis. Enclosed, unable to stretch its legs and cruelly prevented from getting a nice view over the water and beyond.

ICANN building

The organisation is here to stay and with that in mind, it needs to organise a break-out into a new office where it has its own foyer with some kind of water-fountain representative of the Internet stuck in the middle. Whether that comes before or after it is allowed to pull away from the stifling influence of the US government remains to be seen. I suspect the two will be very tightly linked.

4 Responses to “A brief visit to ICANN”


  • You might want to explain why ICANN is located in California. It is, in large part, because much of the pioneering work in developing the Internet was conducted in California, under the leadership of Jon Postel, first a UCLA (where he worked on Arpanet) and then at the University of Southern California. Many people seem to think that the US captured the Internet and dragged it to California, kicking and screaming. They also assume that if ICANN were located elsewhere–anywhere but the US–things would be different and better. Why?
    As to driving in L.A.–you have my sympathies. As to not having a view of the marina–cry me a river.
    From a windowless newsroom, Wendy

  • Hey Wendy,

    Do people really think the US government was behind ICANN being based in California? I’d always assumed people realised that California – rather than Washington or Virginia – was a big nod to its technical origins.

    I don’t agree with your point about elsewhere but the US not having any impact though. The fact is that the US’ incredibly litigious culture has done, and is doing, no end of damage to ICANN. And the most obvious example is the one thing that everyone is complaining about: the VeriSign dotcom (and dotnet) agreements. What a different situation that would have been if VeriSign didn’t have the US courts to use a pressure point.

    Yours from a motel room with a moderate-sized window on North First Street in San Jose.

    Kieren

  • Matthew Smith

    Since comments are closed on your other post concerning Apple and security, I figured I’d post here. I don’t think that you should be accusatory towards people based on their response to your article. If you read the main criticisms, they were based on the fact that your reporting was simply innacurate and/or incomplete. Your latest diatribe mentioning past security problems in Mac products is an attempt to distract people from this. If you had valid points based on verifiable facts, I’m sure you might get some “fanboy” hate mail, but you wouldn’t be as widely criticized as you have been. At this point your attitude is similar to usenet trolling, IMHO. Feel free to read the link below if you want to see why you were criticized. It wasn’t because everybody loves Apple so much. It’s because they can’t stand poor journalism.

    http://daringfireball.net/2006/09/jackass_kieren_mccarthy

    Yours,
    Matthew

  • There was a very good reason why I prevented comments on the Mac story. And you have neatly summarised why.

    Kieren

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