net.wars: By any other name the emperor would still be Monday

by Wendy M Grossman | posted on 02 August 2002

Wendy puts Monday on the couch and analyses its poor sad psyche ...

Wendy M Grossman

I can understand, sort of, the idea that someone might want to reinvent himself and his life by changing his name. But what sad emotional messes do corporations need to escape? Corporate rebranding (fancy for renaming) has got to be the most pointless waste of money this side of "loaning" $10 million dollars to your CEO. The Royal Mail finally acknowledged this when it ditched its expensive new name, Consignia.

Therefore the perverse glee in hearing that Monday is now going to be known as IBM . This is - or was - a company that makes its living by selling other people advice about their businesses. And they change their name to Monday? You really wonder about the geniuses that came up with that one.

I think the first corporate rebranding I remember personally was when Esso became Exxon. Exxon was chosen in part because it is not a word in any language. I approve of companies having names that aren't real words. That way, they can't start trying to trademark them. Microsoft, for example, recently lost in court when it tried to block Lindows.com on the grounds that "Windows" was not a generic name.

There are likely to be many more of these kinds of cases, since corporations seem to have become more and more absurd in the lengths they'll go to in guarding their names. Mattel was briefly famous for bugging people over the use of the word "barbie" (even when used in the context of shrimp-on-the-), and McDonald's seems to have trouble believing that the Scottish clan by the same name aren't brand-stealing interlopers.

Which all brings us home to the increasing mess that is ICANN . It's hard to know how things could be worse with the organization that is supposed to be overseeing the technical aspects of assigning Internet addresses. They seem to be mired in their own structure. With their NTIA contract up for renewal at the end of September, they need fewer committees and more actual achievements.

This week, duly elected at-large director Karl Auerbach won his case in a California court to force ICANN to show him the organization's accounts - which he is required under California law to be familiar with. Auerbach had refused to sign a non-disclosure agreement in order to gain access. Meantime, presumably to eliminate the possibility that further elections might add more awkward personalities to the board, ICANN has dumped at-large elections in favor of 15 (and counting) at-large advisory committees to the Nominating Committee in a structure so byzantine no one without a lot of time on their hands can understand it. Things are further confused by the fact that there seem to be not one but two at-large groups with similar names trying to help select Nominating Committee members.

Meantime, the Council of European National Top Level Domain registries (CENTR, which includes .uk) have joined with Verisign to write a letter to the Department of Commerce requesting a "lightweight ICANN" and refusing to endorse ICANN's Blueprint for reform . One must be careful about this: Verisign has opposed ICANN from the beginning, as soon as it realized its monopoly on .com was under threat. Currently, Verisign wants to shore up its sagging business by selling people a wait-list service: pay us $24 and we'll reserve monday.com for you in case its current owners let it lapse.

If, as lawyer and inveterate ICANN watcher Michael Froomkin himself has suggested , ICANN either has something to hide or is just petty and spiteful towards a director who argued back, going to court is lunacy. But perhaps they think that by fighting Auerbach in court they are proving their contention that the Internet electorate can't be trusted to elect the right people since those of us who voted elected Auerbach?

ICANN was set up to do a small number of technical things. It is supposed to allocate IP numbers. It is supposed to oversee the domain name system, ensuring that it remains stable. The big concern in 1997 and 1998 was that we were running out of Internet names. While this is less a concern now, part of ICANN's job is figuring out how to expand the DNS. On the latter task it has failed abysmally; what it eventually did was almost exactly what everyone hated when it was proposed by ICANN's immediate predecessors. Does anyone use .biz? Are you surprised?

What ICANN seems to be doing instead is creating an ever-larger and more labyrinthine internal structure that shuts out the rest of us. The uniform dispute resolution process (which it did put into place) has so far favored corporate interests over those of the grass roots. The joke may still be on ICANN: it may have chosen the wrong power base. Turn instant messaging and file-sharing (where domain names do not matter) instead of the Web per se into the central application of the Internet and ICANN starts to matter much, much less. Controlling the names is only a source of power as long as corporations can be brainwashed by clever consultants into believing that "Monday" is worth money.

Maybe what ICANN needs is a rebranding. IBM is not believed to be bidding on any other days of the week.

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).