Inside Job: ICANN Hires Crispin
Date: Sunday February 10 2002, @10:10AM
Topic: ICANN Staff and Structure

"Following a long international search" sprawling over all of 65 days and 360 miles (the distance, as the SUV drives, from Marina Del Rey to just north of Silicon Valley), ICANN has rewarded one of its most devout errand boys for years of services patiently rendered. Kent Crispin has ascended to the proud position of ICANN's Technical Systems Manager. Kent Crispin. The name alone brings shivers to ICANN Watchers around the world.


Crispin's company, Songbird, hosts numerous sites, "some of" which are named on Songbird's site. Among those not named is that of ICANN's own Intellectual Property Constituency. (One can only wonder at the horror felt by the registrants of 500-odd federal "IPC" trademarks at the IPC's use of "ipc" as a "superdomain" tacked onto

Crispin's provision of technical support to the GHQ of ICANN's intellectual property devotees might seem to suggest certain proclivities; and yet, astonishingly, since August 1999 -- that is, pretty much since the beginning -- he has represented an organization on Noncommercial Domain Name Holders Constituency. So what's the catch? The "noncommercial" organization whose interests he "represents" is a yacht club.

Even a cursory glance at the NCDNHC's membership rolls makes clear just how peculiar this particular member is. Fortunately, Crispin can't actually vote in NCDNHC matters, because Songbird subsequently joined the Business Constituency. As a result, Crispin, along with his sidekick Dave Crocker (q.v.), has had to content himself merely with engaging in coordinated tag-team disruptions of NCDNHC discussions -- which is a particular shame because the NCDNHC, though far less effective than the corporate-supported constituencies, nevertheless remains ICANN's most substantial internal critic.

But ICANN is, after all, industry self-regulation (can you say "Enron"?), so it would be unfair to bar someone like Crispin from a "technical" position solely on the basis of his involvement in prior controversies, right? Let's turn to something more tangibly relevant to his new job, by looking at past examples more closely related to his new employ -- say, his judicousness in distinguishing between his own views and the broad range of interests that bear on DNS issues, or his meticulous and sustained attention to detail.

A clearer sense of Crispin's tendencies in these regards can be found on a transparently bottoms-up patch of astroturf known as "ICANN Facts" -- which, if anything, is a testament to ICANN Watch (imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, after all). ICANN Facts purports to proffer up 25 kinds of ICANN-related background info, but in its its year of existence to date only 6 of them (including the self-referential items "Home" and "About") have ever actually been linked. That leaves:

  1. the content-free "References" page ("We will try to keep it complete...but are sure to fail");
  2. the "Representation" page, which points to a solitary meditation, "Towards Improved Representation in ICANN" -- written by former ICANN CEO Mike Roberts;
  3. "Alt Roots," which links to the IAB's famously (lowercase "c") catholic RFC 2826, as well as to two IETF drafts by, yes, Crispin and Crocker. Interestingly, these three documents are dated, respectively, May 2000, 25 May 2000, and 15 June 2000;
  4. and, last but surely not least, a nostalgic link to the site of the (circa late '96) abortive International Ad Hoc Committee (IAHC).

Credit where credit is due: all three members of the troika, which also includes Dave Crocker and Eric Brunner-Williams, did take the time to disclose their inolvement with ICANN. Crispin flatly states that "ICANN is a client"; Crocker avers that his employer, Neustar, "is an ICANN-related client [but I] do not participate in their business discussions," thereby casting an intriguing light on Brunner-Williams's disclosure that "I've been employed by NeuStar since January '01, in a senior technical, standards, and business capacity." Time to update the disclosures, fellas.

Prior to ICANN, Crispin chaired the gTLD-MoU's Policy Advisory Board, which consisted of organizations that had signed onto to the gTLD-MoU but didn't have a seat at the table where business got done, namely, IAHC's Policy Oversight Committee (POC). When IAHC was folded into the gTLD-MoU, POC became (Apple, eat your heart out) the "iPOC," where i denotes "interim" -- and Crispin, along with Crocker, drifted accordingly to become "initial members." ("Initial "..."interim"...starting to sound familiar yet? )

Crispin's nominal power in the IAHC's toothless lumpenparliament proved to be excellent training for the bulk of his publicly visible subsequent ICANN-related activities. After the Freddie Kruger-like shape-shifting ICANN borg emerged from the distributed ashes of the rolling and roiling gTLD-MoU-IANA-NSI-IFWP-ETC-ETC fiasco(s), Crispin and Crocker found a new, yet somehow old, calling: they went on to found the tragicomic dynamic duo disaffectionately known as the "C-serpents" for their destructive involvement in ICANN's Working Group C, which dealt with "whether there should be new" gTLDs. WGC bowled everyone over with its innovative approach -- which was curiously similar to the 7 new gTLDs proposed by the MoUvement on 4 February 1997 -- when it recommended "an initial rollout of six to ten new gTLDs, followed by an evaluation period."

One would think (or perhaps merely hope in vain) that Crispin's technical mettle would be substantial enough to trivialize these years of controversial dalliances. On the contrary: the plot only thickens when one begins to examine Crispin's business dealings with ICANN. As I wrote in my roving_reporter column on 3 October 2000:

ICANN Maximum Leader Mike Roberts refuses for months to reveal the deep, dark secret of who wrote the crufty [Membership At large] signup software, not realizing that ICANN staffers at Yokohama happily chatted about how hard ardent ICANN-lover and paid consultant to ICANN Kent Crispin worked on it -- as well as on all the constituency elections systems. Pay no attention to that man behind the curt^W lever...

Why "crufty"? Because, depending on how you reckon it, the At Large signup system was both/either broken from the get-go and/or was throttled to stem the flood of unwashed masses who wanted to participate in ICANN. Whether these glitches stemmed from design or incompetence, Crispin's role in this technical systems fiasco alone should be enough to disqualify him from his new job. The fact that it seems, if anything, to have qualified him in the eyes of ICANN staff is an asonishing testimony to what ICANN has become -- or, perhaps, always has been but is now merely being more transparent about.

Crispin is also said to have written the interface between ICANN's ALM database and's election software, which broke during the first few days of the election as well as in its closing hours. As WiReD News, put it:

[ CEO Jon] Mohen said that the initial problems were due to a quirk in the way ICANN wanted the election handled. "Typically, we control the whole election," he said, "but ICANN didn't want us to have access to the voters' names." This requirement necessitated an ICANN-designed "front-end," Mohen said. That was the component that broke down.

Since the latter snafu put ICANN in the awkward position of either fumbling the election or extending it on an adhocratic basis, it comes as small surprise that ICANN's staff was less than eager to credit the middleware's author. If anything goes wrong with ICANN's "Technical Systems," Crispin's prior involvements with the At Large software -- both signup and elections -- really ought to be examined in meticulous detail.

So, depending on how you want to look at it, after this "long international search," ICANN has either rewarded Crispin for keeping secrets (if he did what they told him to) or chosen the one person on the planet they know from direct experience cannot be relied on to do professional technical work.

But the question remains what exactly has he been hired to do? It's hard to say. As ICANN's announcement puts it, "As Technical Systems Manager, Kent is responsible to the President and CEO for the technical architecture and operational functions of ICANN." But what does that mean?

According to ICANN's Proposed Fiscal Year 2001-2002 Budget of 14 May 2001 -- published 196 days before ICANN embarked on its 65-day search -- it means:

Additional technical staff are urgently needed to support the operational and systems workload imposed by assuming the InterNic function from Verisign; implementing the distribution master for root servers; implementing data escrow support for registries; and providing 24/7 supervision. At this point one additional technical systems person is proposed but this may need to be expanded.

As near as anyone can tell, Crispin's new job replaces the position of "Chief Technical Officer" (original by-laws, Article VIII, Section 1) originally intended for Jon Postel.


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Re: Inside Job: ICANN Hires Crispin
by fnord ( on Monday February 11 2002, @02:17PM (#4858)
User #2810 Info
ICANN is on a roll here. They now name Stephen Crocker chair of its newly formed Standing Committee on Security and Stability. What was surely another exhaustive search turns out to have been unnecessary. Steve is Dave Crocker's brother, for those beseeching ICANN for the latter. -g
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Something Else Used to Be Here
by michael ( on Tuesday February 12 2002, @03:39PM (#4863)
User #4 Info |
Consistent with the policy in our FAQ I have deleted a post in this thread.

-Michael Froomkin

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