ISOCNZ XVII: The Long Voyage Home

Every few months or so, it seems, I write what I hope is my last column on the Internet Society (ISOCNZ) and its demon spawn Domainz. I always hope it's the last column for two reasons: the subject matter is becoming tedious, and I'm always assured by someone that finally all the problems have been sorted out and solutions agreed upon and a new era of co-operation and enlightenment is about to begin.

Every few months or so, it seems, I write what I hope is my last column on the Internet Society (ISOCNZ) and its demon spawn Domainz.I always hope it’s the last column for two reasons: the subject matter is becoming tedious, and I’m always assured by someone that finally all the problems have been sorted out and solutions agreed upon and a new era of co-operation and enlightenment is about to begin. In June I wrote a couple of columns about what I hoped was an end to the quite frankly childish goings on between the leadership and the constituents of ISOCNZ. In July I expressed hope that all that was behind us now and we’d be able to get on and live our lives free of the whole steaming mess.Guess what ... it’s back! That’s right, in a tale of nightmarish committee meetings and subterfuge, the story that has more sequels than A Nightmare On Elm Street has returned and this time it’s even more disheartening.Let me recap.ISOCNZ owns Domainz. Domainz is the company charged with running the .nz domain space for ISOCNZ. ISOCNZ is a society, owned by nobody and open to anyone who wants to pay it the money to belong. At the last AGM, the society members voted for change — the old ISOCNZ council was for the large part voted out and replaced with fresh blood. They were given a clear mandate to change things - things like supporting Domainz head Patrick O’Brien in suing Manawatu ISP director Alan Brown for defamation over a posting to the ISOCNZ mailing list. Things like the register of domain names and who controls it. They would be free to do away with the arcane rules that say councillors cannot comment in public on council decisions. The new councillors would be more willing to ask the hard questions and crunch the numbers and give the members the answers they’ve been looking for.Yeah, right. The new councillors, while having had only two official meetings, have done none of the above. Rather than censure O’Brien, they have taken legal advice that tells them it would be rash to withdraw support as they would find it difficult, if not impossible, to hire a new chief executive. At least, I believe that’s the reasoning — it’s hard to tell because councillors are still mostly reluctant to actually reveal what has been said in these meetings or on the councillor-only mailing list. The veil of secrecy that we were assured would not only be lifted but shredded and made into a lovely set of napkins is still firmly in place. Councillors refer reporters to the chair of ISOCNZ, Peter Dengate Thrush, or to the executive director, Sue Leader. I have seen the same set of questions asked time and time again on the mailing list and not one councillor has posted an answer. I have seen postings asking councillors to raise an issue in the next council meeting, but none of them seem willing or capable of doing just that. Instead, we get rulings like the recent decision to enforce a gagging order on Alan Brown so he cannot post to either the members-only list or to the general mailing list because he said nasty things about Sue Leader. That’s probably fair enough; I might have given a general warning first that this “acceptable use policy” (AUP) was about to be enforced, but there you are. But then I’m told the council decided not to enforce the AUP in the case of one of its own councillors, which smacks of favouritism to me. And still these astonishing press releases come out saying things like “Internet Society leads the way in standards of communication”, which, quite frankly, is a joke.The whole thing is run like some wayward university student union, complete with Machiavellian nonsense and pouting sulks. None of it helps the everyday user who just wants to register a domain name and get on with their business. As it is if you want to join ISOCNZ you have to go to the Web site, print off the membership form and post it (not fax) to the society. That's right: the Internet Society won't let you sign up via the Internet. It does have a lovely message up saying online payment is coming soon, but then it also has a section on press releases that doesn't have anything since July 1999 and a section on newspaper articles that hasn't had an update since 1998.The Domainz chief executive contract is up for renewal in December and O’Brien is supposed to renegotiate with ISOCNZ in September some time. I used to think change at the top would solve nearly all of the problems ISOCNZ seems to be having, but I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot more work is needed before I can finally write my last column on the matter.Send email to Computerworld journalist Paul Brislen. Letters for publication can be sent to cw_letters@idg.co.nz.

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