I just returned from ICANN’s “gala dinner,” lavish affairs that have become an institutionalized part of its meetings. My perspective on this was best encapsulated by a remark made by John Berryhill, a domain name lawyer, at the Marrakesh, Morocco meeting. As we finished a huge meal and moved on to see dozens of Berber horsemen shooting rifles, setting off fireworks and rustling camels he deadpanned, “Yeah. This is the proper way to run a computer addressing system.”

The Lisbon gala was held in a former convent in the ancient part of town, and was capped by Fado music. I must confess I don’t think I have ever been plied with so much free liquor in my life.

The policy-forming aspect of this meeting has been anything but fun. It took Bruce Tonkin and Kurt Pritz about 45 minutes to provide a step-by-step explanation of the proposed new gTLD addition process. Anyone concerned with a free, neutral, open Internet could only be alarmed at the proposal’s complexity, cost and abundance of opportunities for challenging and delaying applications. Challenges can be based not only on the ever-present trademark concerns, but virtually anything else: geography, religion, culture, inappropriateness. “Is it possible,” I asked during the public forum, “to create a controversial proposal and get it approved under this process?” Law professor Karl Manheim noted that “what I've heard described here today is nothing less than the creation of an entire judicial system to determine international legal rights, norms of morality and public order.

One person on the task force believes that any “bad” name will be stopped by Board if the rules don’t stop it. And that means that the door is open to the kind of last-minute political ploys that have waylaid the .xxx application. Can’t help but adding here that at the GAC meeting today, .xxx was criticized for conforming to the content-regulating requirements that were imposed on it by….the GAC.

Well, not all the news is bad. ICANN has improved its website. Look at the headers Structure and Processes. Structure (which should be named “organizational structure”) gives you an org chart that includes everything but the U.S. Department of Commerce, and by clicking on any entity you go directly to web pages of that entity. The “Processes” link first shows which ICANN organ is engaged in which policy making processes and then a further click on a specific process takes you to a chart that shows which stage the process is in.

Another positive development: At a joint NCUC and ALAC meeting, the two sides agreed that the fragmentation of ICANN civil society into the GNSO-based Noncommercial Users Constituency and the ICANN-wide At Large Advisory Committee was confusing to people who first become interested in participating in ICANN, and dilutive of civil society’s strength. The two agreed to establish a liaison to funnel ALS applications that don’t meet ALAC’s criteria into the NCUC, and to keep each other better informed about each other’s activities. ALAC also is developing a resolution calling on ICANN to investigate the practice of domain tasting. Which brings me back to the topic of that dinner…