net.wars: ICANN dreams
by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 10 November 2006
This week ICANN announced its three new board members for 2006 to 2009: Persistent readers of this column will know that I put my name in for the job. I made the short list - but I'm not one of the three.
They are: Robert Gaetano, Steven Goldstein, and Rajasekhar Ramaraj, and I know about them - well, approximately what's written by Kieren McCarthy, a journalist who has spent more time than anyone documenting ICANN.
ICANN had 90 applicants for the open jobs – three for the board of directors, and four for various subgroups. I'm told that in Asian countries it would be a terrible loss of face to be on the short list and then not get chosen, and that this could be the reason the names of those on the short list have never been made public. But no statistics have been released either, so we don't even know how many made it that far. Nominating committee members are unlikely ever to divulge even that much; they were required to sign a non-disclosure agreement. I know only this: I was on the short list.
Because so little is known about the ICANN selection process, it seems worth recounting what happened. Shortly before the nominating committee's late September selection meeting in Frankfurt, I got email from the chair, George Sadowsky [above, right] asking me to supply a phone number where I could be contacted on Friday, the first day of the meeting. If they wanted to speak to me they would call that number and schedule a phone call for Saturday. I should not draw negative conclusions if they did not contact me. But they did, working around a transatlantic flight, and the phone call was scheduled.
Now, I'm a writer, and kind of a literalist with language. I also have pretty much never applied for a job, and don't work in either the corporate world or academia. Therefore, when his email said they wanted to talk to me for "clarification" I assumed they meant they wanted to ask me questions about what I'd written in my statement of interest. So I re-read it. I also spent an hour or two before the phone call reading news and other items on the ICANN site. One of these was the (then) newly released LSE report (PDF) on the Generic Names Supporting Organization.
None of that helped, because what Sadowsky, who conducted the 20-minute call with utter silence behind him, asked me were things like:
The first question made me think I was taking a test; the second seemed more like a job interview, or perhaps a theatrical casting call. You know, the kind where the director and his minions are all sitting, invisible, out in the theatre where you can't see them because the stage lights are blinding you.
When I asked who else was sitting around the phone they wouldn't say. (They did refer me to the Web page listing the committee's members, but I wasn't sure who might or might not have made the actual meeting.)
"What," the last question went, "would you want to say you had accomplished that only you could do" [if I were chosen]? I said I wanted to see ICANN become a more trusted and accountable organisation.
There's no point pretending otherwise: I sounded completely lame and unprepared. Hardly surprising, because I was.
I did manage to suggest that one reason I didn't know more about ICANN – enough, say, to know what they meant by "three areas" (countries? subcommittees? policies? "What are the choices?" I asked, and was referred again to the Web page) – was, as the LSE report agreed, the difficulty of navigating their Web site. It, like the European Union government sites, is perfectly understandable if you are already an expert on its content, but otherwise not so much.
In this sort of endeavour I have a second problem: journalists learn to deadline and forget everything the second they send the article in. In any given year I probably write 200 articles on dozens of topics. There isn't a single one of those topics where I don't have to reread what I've written to know what I said, even if I wrote it yesterday (I also re-read my own work because I trust the research).
So, yes, I should have had the sense to be better prepared, but it was all, as I say, so unexpected. I serve on other boards. None requires anything like the effort the ICANN board does; and arguably none of them is as decisive in determining what the organisations do. In all cases I joined because I was asked; I never went through a selection process like this one.
As a reject, I can't really comment intelligently on how ICANN went about making its choices. I merely tell the story here in case my experience can help another applicant, somewhere down the line, be less confused than I was.
Thanks to all those who emailed or posted messages of support, and especially to my three referees.
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Wendy M. Grossman’s Web site has an extensive archive of her books, articles, and music, and an archive of all the earlier columns in this series. Readers are welcome to post here, at net.wars home, follow on Twitter or send email to netwars(at) skeptic.demon.co.uk (but please turn off HTML).