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2020 Hindsight After 20 Years

21 October 2020
By Chris Disspain


After two decades of involvement with ICANN, I am stepping down from the Board of Directors, where I served for nine years.

I have spent considerable time of late reflecting on the past 20 years and I have isolated some memories that help frame my time with ICANN.

  • November 2000, ICANN07 in Marina del Rey, California – With only a scant idea of what ICANN is all about, I am warmly welcomed by the flag-wearing country code top-level domain (ccTLD) community, who come to ICANN to ensure that nothing happens to affect the independence of ccTLDs.
  • June 2003, ICANN17 in Montreal – I am locked in a hotel basement with colleagues negotiating the formation of the Country Code Name Supporting Organization (ccNSO), which finally gets a nod of acceptance from the majority of the ccTLDs at the meeting.
  • March 2004, ICANN19 in Rome – CRISIS! The hotel bar has run out of red wine! Me: What, really? Bartender: Yes, we have no more. Me: But that's impossible. Bartender: No, it isn't, you guys drank it all and we don't have a delivery for two days. Me: How could you let that happen – you seriously have none? Bartender: Well, we do have some Spanish. 'Problema resuelto, crisis evitada'!
  • July 2004, ICANN20 in Kuala Lumpur – Finally, four ccTLDs from each region have agreed to join the ccNSO. We form our first Council and hold our first meeting. I am elected Chair.
  • December 2004, ICANN21 in Cape Town – So here I am, waist deep in water in a canal in South Africa, searching for my sparkly new Motorola Razr phone. Minutes earlier, it had mysteriously leapt from my hand and landed in the canal, so I, of course, went after it. After 10 minutes, I come to my senses, get out of the canal and go buy a new phone.
  • July 2005, ICANN25 in Luxembourg – There is a sit-down gala for 500 people; 650 turn up. Board Chair Vint Cerf is refused entry, but rescued at the last minute and escorted in. Entertainment is courtesy of "The World's Strongest Man." He tears up phone books. He bends metal pipes. He lifts up ICANN staff members using his teeth. Bizarre – I am definitely not at the symphony.
  • June 2007, Asia Pacific Top Level Domain Name (APTLD) meeting in Dubai – Theresa Swinehart, Jānis Karklins, and I are overwhelmed by the passion for Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs). A ccNSO Policy Development Process (PDP) will take too long, so the IDN Fast Track is born.
  • November 2008, ICANN33 in Cairo – The hotel agrees to keep the bar open all night so we can watch the US election. What an atmosphere! What emotions! What a mistake to go to bed at 04:30 clutching a bar of chocolate! What a mess!
  • October 2009, ICANN36 in Seoul – A guitarist? To open the meeting? Really? That's a first. The Board approves the ccTLD IDN Fast Track. Cheers and tears from everyone in the room. We did it! We made the Internet more accessible to millions.
  • March 2010, ICANN37 in Nairobi – A prayer session? To open the meeting? Yet another first. Prayers, power cuts, brass bands, war criminals… Ask me later; it is a long story – but a good one.
  • October 2011, ICANN42 in Dakar – Welcome to the ICANN Board. Please take this little red pill.
  • 2012-2013 – New gTLDs… New gTLDs… New gTLDs…
  • March 2014, ICANN49 in Singapore – Following the U.S. government's announced desire to sever its last thread of control over ICANN, we spring into action to create the circumstances that will allow ICANN 3.0 to bloom. Has it really been 12 years since we began work on ICANN 2.0?
  • 1 October 2016 – Phew! Success! We've done the Community Working Group, the Cross Community Working Group, the new ByLaws and now, the contract with the US government has officially expired. We can all relax. Except there's Workstream 2 and the next round of new gTLDs and a heap of post-transition reviews that need to happen. And this GDPR thing. Ah well!
  • June 2018, ICANN62 in Panama City – The World Cup is on in Moscow. England plays Panama. It is Panama's World Cup debut. Kick off is at 07:00, but the excitement begins to rise around 04:00. The bars and cafes are open. Everyone is out. Panama scores their first World Cup goal and it is joy unconfined. Panama loses 6-1, but that is not the point.
  • 22 October 2020, ICANN69 in Virtual Hamburg – My last day on the ICANN Board.

Memories of events are important. But it's the people that really matter. The debates, the disagreements, the compromises, the consensus-building, the stares of disbelief, the gritted teeth, the laughter and the coming together at the end of the day to relax. It's all about the people.

For me, this community of volunteers and especially, most especially, this team of ICANN staff are what have made the last 20 years such a fun, challenging, and glorious journey. It has been a remarkable trip.


Chris Disspain