Organizational structure image conspiracy uncovered

by Kieren McCarthy on April 2, 2008

Unveil the conspiracyOne of the most difficult things about working at ICANN is keeping all the conspiracies under wraps.

With an eagle-eyed community keeping tabs on the organisation’s every move, the tiny tweaks that, left noticed, would irreversibly alter the entire domain name system keep getting picked up before they can work their magic.

We have decided to come clean with the latest example, henceforth to be known as the “organizational structure image conspiracy”, or OSIO for short.

Picture this

Last week, we changed the image on the About page that tries to outline as simply as possible the structure of ICANN with the SOs, ACs, Board, liaisons, staff, and so on.

The old image of a huge Board of Directors with the Supporting Organizations and Advisory Committees pointing accusatorially at it was out-of-date, not very clear, and not at all accurate for how ICANN as an organization functions.

Old org chart

The inadequacy of this image was realized around a year ago and so a new graphic was produced to be used in the Annual Report.

This graphic would explain a little the split between SOs and ACs, and try to outline what exactly they were and who they represented. It would also try to get across the fact that the Board of Directors is made up of representatives from the different constituent parts of the organizations. Plus, include the vital role the Nominating Committee plays within ICANN. Not an easy task.

But a graphic was arrived at, boldly stuck in the Annual Report [pdf] on page 7, and then the whole report was released with as much fanfare as possible in December 2007. It was printed out, emailed, linked to, stuck on a carnival float bare-chested and wheeled around Los Angeles, all in the hope that people would actually read it.

This was clearly less than fully successful as the first time many people have seen the graphic on page 7 was when we finally got around to sticking it on the About page last week.

Here it is:

New structure image: evil

No doubt those of you that have not already read the various email messages decrying this new image will have spotted the conspiracy.

But just to make our culpability absolutely clear, you will note several things.

  • There is no Ombudsman in the new graphic. The secret hope here was that by not including his name on a graphic, the Ombudsman would be destroyed by feelings of personal inadequacy and so be unable to continue with his job, leaving ICANN free to claim full control of the Internet unhindered.
  • The gTLD registries and registrars are featured *in bold* under the GNSO, while the other constituents are not. This was done on the advice of a Puerto Rican witchdoctor while in San Juan last year. He told us that to make one constituency bold, while making another not bold, would provide strength and unassailable mental prowess to the bold party. In the interests of full disclosure, that witchdoctor’s exhorbitant fees were paid for by GoDaddy.
  • In the same box, on the advice of said witchdoctor, the NCUC was hideously malformed from Non Commercial User Constituency to just “universities/consumers” despite the glaring evidence that there is at least one person in the NCUC that is not a consumer or from a university [can we fact check this, please? – Ed]
  • If that wasn’t bad enough, the NomCom is disparaged, some would say libelled, but being represented using the colour black. What can this mean? Yes, that’s right, we were hoping that the NomCom wouldn’t be noticed at all. We wish you’d forget all about the NomCom so we can call it “The President’s Appointing Board” and replace all the Board members with the children of ICANN staff – and no one would ever have known. At least until bedtime.
  • But hang on… the NomCom also only has arrows to the Board, yet it appoints members of the SOs and ACs as well. We have yet to even discover what fiendish plan we have in store with this one.
  • And if you look really carefully are the number of seats selected by the NomCom and the ACs being subtly hidden with an expedient dot?
  • But probably worst of all: what exactly do the strange sucker-like graphics on the side of the GAC and President boxes mean? That’s right – they are the power suckers. By putting these tiny images on a graphic on a page of the ICANN website, we have managed to unravel the bylaws and nearly a decade’s worth of real-world practice and allow ICANN to be run entirely by the President and GAC.

Or at least that’s what would have happened had it gone unnoticed for just another five days. But gah! the organizational structure image conspiracy (OSIO) was uncovered on various mailing lists before it could take place.

Your turn to undermine the entire multi-stakeholder model

Our spin on all this is that it is actually incredibly difficult to produce a graphic that covers the complexities of the ICANN multi-stakeholder model while still appearing mildly comprehensible. As such we have had to simplify and modify.

You will all, quite rightly, dismiss this excuse out of hand. To which we say, in all seriousness, please come up with your own graphic and email us and if it’s better we will use it instead – feature it on the website, in the Annual Report, brochures, whatever. Think of it as a competition.

And feel free to have some fun. We won’t use any daft ones of course but if they make us laugh we’ll feature them here on the blog. This is not a competition competition in the sense that we are not going to pick a winner and then parade the winning entry, but we would sincerely like to see the ICANN model represented as clearly and simply as possible so if you fancy picking up the gauntlet, here’s your chance.

Please draw up your graphics, or make your comments, and then either email Kieren McCarthy at kieren[dot]mccarthy @ ICANN [dot] org, or stick a link or a comment below.

And good luck with cracking the other conspiracies. There are, I am told, three more.


Frank Fowlie 04.02.08 at 8:10 pm

Dear Kieren,

The last solid feeling I had has turned to inadequate thoughts of what might have been. What would have happened if I was left on the org chart? How could the organization have left me behind….I mean, if it wasn’t for the Ombudsman, what would happen…I think you’re right, there is a conspiracy afoot….how ever shall we help ICANN to be fair if there is no Ombudsman…

Two things, Canadians are funny…..somewhere in the world when you posted this, it was still April Fool’s Day….

Milton 04.03.08 at 12:30 pm

Hey, Kieren, you devil:
It must be hard for someone who is paid to consistently and tenaciously adopt the line that “ICANN can do no wrong” to understand why people were upset with the malformed chart of the GNSO.

I will explain why it is wrong, and why it matters, but first, let me ask a simple question: wouldn’t it take less time to just fix it than it would to launch a 1500-word defense. Take a page from Nike: just fix it. OK?

Now, as to the problem:

I know of no one who attributed this to a deliberate “conspiracy.” Rather, they arttribute it to staff ignorance of the bottom up structure of representation that is SUPPOSED to be making policies in ICANN. And that scares them. Justifiably, IMHO

Constituency structures matter in ICANN — or at least they are supposed to. Constituency structures are the basis of voting, participation and representation. The ICANN website is also supposed to help people get involved in those organs of representation. If you tell them, in effect, that a constituency doesn’t exist, or you give it a name it doesn’t have, then it might be a wee bit difficult for people from those groups to get involved. And if you indicate or even hint at the possibility that the people who run ICANN don’t even understand how the groups are named and structured then the people who have invested thousands of hours of voluntary labor to build the damn things have a right to get upset.

There is no “Universities/Consumers” constituency in ICANN. There is a Noncommercial Users constituency. The names of these constituencies are defined by your bylaws, which are supposed to govern what you do.

The number of letters in “Noncommercial Users” is not appreciably different from the number of letters in “Universities/Consumers”
so its hard to see any graphic rationale for the change.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the GNSO is in the midst of a fairly major restructuring of those constituencies’ boundaries and definitions. And you might also appreciate (though I doubt it) that there is a long-running controversy within ICANN, (one that predates the presence of your unwrinkled, peach-fuzz covered face by several years) over whether staff and management have too much independent authority over the outcomes of policy making processes.

So anything that makes it appear as if mid-level staff members can redefine, or are redefining, the structure gets people nervous.

Clever people playing to an internal (ICANN staff) audience will milk this for its ridicule value and have some fun with it. Intelligent people concerned about ICANN’s relationship with its community will listen, take the concerns seriously and…..fix it.

Kieren McCarthy 04.03.08 at 12:37 pm

For those genuinely concerned about the image used to represent the organisation, we should point out that a few of the niggles in the image have been corrected on the ICANN website.

Although, no one has yet raised why the GNSO is a different shade of green to the ASO or ccNSO.

Just to stress again – we welcome efforts to represent more elements of the ICANN model graphically.


Kieren McCarthy 04.03.08 at 12:49 pm


Please don’t mistake me lampooning the overly serious and conspiratorial approach taken by members of the community with the fact that I take my job and the work ICANN does seriously.

This is a graphic. No more, no less. It is also a graphic which has been changed and was always going to be changed as soon as people pointed out that it wasn’t right. (That process, incidentally, has taken four months since this graphic was featured in the Annual Report, released in December.)

Thanks for your comment.


Harold Feld 04.03.08 at 1:46 pm


I only follow this stuff at a distance these days, but I think you may really want to take a step back and consider.

What you have here is a community which has learned, over the last ten years, to be extremely distrustful of all things ICANN. We can argue about how justified or unjustified that is, but that is the reality. A lot of people involved in the NCUC feel that ICANN has treated them unfairly.

When that happens consistently over time. People lose trust, and even relatively minor things become further proof of injury. This may seem like an obvious mistake and a triviality from your side of the fence, but for those who have been through repeated episodes in which they feel that ICANN staff have treated them with disrespect and scorn, and sought to marginalize their participation, it takes on greater significance. Even accepting it as a mistake, it confirms once again what this constituency believes — that ICANN simply doesn’t care enough about how this community feels to bother to proofread its materials.

As a result, your response — however humorously meant — merely inflames the situation. Even if you regard this the provision of cranks and the oversensitive, wouldn’t it be wiser to avoid needless hard feelings that will only further complicate ICANN’s already difficult relationships with one of its constituencies? Why _invite_ controversy when a dash of sensitivity could so easily earn you free credibility with the substantial number of people who would like to give ICANN the benefit of the doubt?

Kieren McCarthy 04.03.08 at 2:45 pm

Hi Harold,

Thanks for this.

I’m still a little gobsmacked that the graphic has caused such offence. To my mind at least, it was so clearly such a little mistake – and one that we were always going to change – that to find people muttering darkly about it seemed extraordinary.

But it has clearly tapped some level of frustration and mistrust. It seems vaguely ridiculous to point this out but the reason that the graphic doesn’t follow the precise language is because we had a graphic designer who doesn’t know the full minutiae create it.

The fact that no one noticed this is, let’s be honest, sloppy on ICANN’s part, but it’s not as if it’s the end of the world. As soon as someone pointed out little errors when it was posted on the About page, I set about trying to get hold of the original graphic file so we could correct it.

But in the meantime I started seeing conspiratorial discussions about the graphic on mailing lists, which struck me first as bizarre and then just plain amusing.

But your post has been very helpful in helping to explain the depth of feeling.

We might as well get something positive out of this, and for me I think that is that I need to call people more.

I am always at the end of a phone and I am always happy to talk to people from the community. Most people should have my card with my number on so I’d like to think they would call me rather than worry that ICANN is up to something.

But let’s be honest (a second time), I clearly need to build up those relationships if people don’t feel comfortable with calling me.

In case people aren’t aware, I am “responsible for… coordinating the various aspects of public participation in ICANN, including the Website and various other means of communicating with and receiving input from the general community of Internet users” (as per the bylaws), so if there is an issue like this in future, I’m a good person to call.

I should stress “call” as well as I am increasingly incapable of dealing with the 300+ relevant emails I receive every day.

So from my side, i promise to put that into effect. In the meantime if there is anyone that would actually like a phonecall from me to chew the fat, or vent, or tell me how I should never make fun of graphics, just stick your name below and I’ll get back soon as I can.

All the best


Avri Doria 04.03.08 at 3:09 pm

Dear Kieren,

I think the point you are missing is that a short note indicating that this was a mistake and that it would be fixed, would have been the proper and responsible answer to this error. And I believe that you are still missing the fact that the blog you wrote offended people. Even in this last note, which I admit is getting better, you still accuse others of overreacting and do not admit that perhaps responding as you did with public derision was inappropriate.

Writing as chair of the GNSO council, I can only say that I hope that this picture is fixed as soon as possible and would suggest that rolling back to the previous picture would be a better interim solution then leaving the current picture in place until a new graphic is produced. I am also hoping that as opposed to waiting for people to call you to vent, you take some action to repair the offense you have given people with your callous and derisive blog. While such a blog is fine for an individual in his own blog space, it seems to me to be terribly inappropriate for the public space of a group such as ICANN.

Thank you,

Avri Doria

Bob 04.03.08 at 3:13 pm

If the above image doesn’t work, try this:

Avri Doria 04.04.08 at 12:17 am

Thank you for fixing the text in the GNSO box.

Avri Doria

Henrik 04.04.08 at 3:47 am

As no-one else has expressed this sentiment in the comments, let me state that I for one found the OISO revelation howlingly, ROTFL funny.


Milton 04.04.08 at 6:17 am

Great! Good to see some quick change. Thanks for your reply.

Bret Fausett 04.04.08 at 10:50 am

I appreciate that when dealing with a wide variety of groups and individuals, from all backgrounds and parts of the world, that it is not possible to predict what will cause offense. But when an ICANN mistake does cause offense, regardless of whether it was intended, I think the only possible response is “Let me correct it.” Let those outside of ICANN poke fun when appropriate, but I prefer to see ICANN as serious, humble and service-oriented.


Kieren McCarthy 04.04.08 at 11:47 am

Hi Brett, as well as Avri (comment above)

This is a good time and spot to get back to you both on this.

I think the unintentional mistake I made here was not to state clearly and upfront that of course we were going to change the graphic.

There seems to be a genuine concern that the graphic was going to remains as was, and that this blog post was criticising people for wanting it changed.

If that was how people saw this, then I apologise – that was not the case but there’s little doubt I didn’t make that sufficiently clear.

I should also say that I am sorry that this has clearly caused anxiety and irritation where it was never my intention to do so. It is a lesson I have learned and will apply in future.

I hope at least that people will recognise that the page and the graphic is a great improvement on what was there previously.

I suppose I should also say at this point that I had nothing to do with this graphic, I only took it from the Annual Report and posted it on ICANN’s website in an ongoing effort to make the site up-to-date and more understandable.

I intend to continue improving the website and its content but it is now with a certain amount of trepidation following the number of aggressive and critical emails I have received both internally and externally on this one issue.

Despite the page and its links on the Structure page being exactly the same as they have been for years, there has been a significant number of emails complaining about them. And those complaints have been sent to people all over ICANN, adding to the confusion.

If people want an up-to-date and usable website, I would really urge people to come directly to me and to please approach it from the perspective that all changes are intended only to improve the site and its functioning, and not for any other reason.

All that said, I would like to express for a third time the fact I am sorry that was what intended as a gentle poke has caused annoyance. Some of it was a little over the top but then that’s always the way in ICANN.

All the best,


Bret Fausett 04.08.08 at 1:10 pm

Thanks, Kieren.

Marketing en Internet 04.08.08 at 1:54 pm

Much better Image Bob!
By the way, excellent 2007 report

Cary Cashman 04.10.08 at 9:11 pm


LOL at your original post. Gobsmacked at most of what followed.

Don’t you ever, ever, EVER let those politically correct, anally retentive, joke free zone, pumped up with their own importance, do-gooder, wouldn’t recognise irony if it was a country with weapons of mass destruction, useless as a chocolate fireplace, plonkers force you to remove the use of humour from as much of what you do as possible. Ever.

The real irony here is that these people are like small minded, cobweb ridden local councillors arguing over the interpretation of the 1948 Fence Post Size and Colour Ordinance (‘yes Albert…we all respect your enormous depth of knowledge, but it’s not really brown is it… more of a fawn or beige and thus outside of the Ordinance’) whereas in fact the stuff we all do is really important and needs people with expansive minds who can shift from big to small picture in a second. And such people would, of course, actually have a sense of humour!

Adam 04.12.08 at 8:52 am

This is an interesting conspiracy. Many people should know about this.

Dave Shelton 04.12.08 at 1:57 pm

Hi Kieren,
I found your humor refreshing, and the backlash to humor even more laughable. Is there a bylaw requiring a graphic in the first place? Having one might be the entire issue these people have, which seems to empower ignorance, misunderstanding, and a slight foothold for a podium in which people can shout to the world,… we are here,.. we are here.
Lets go back to binary and ascii characters which if arranged in a star pattern will be the sign of the second coming of ignorance :o) You give people a graphic so they can clear up text, then you have to make several more graphics to clear up that graphic, now you have to hold board meetings to discuss the proposition of making propositions and the implications of implications, where will the madness end :O) I guess my grandfather was correct in who the bigger fool is,.. the fool or the person who argues with the fool. It lends high praise to you that you are concerned with peoples feelings enough to give them your valuable time, even to the point they are simply wanting attention.
For me, I don’t know how I will be able to survive not seeing a universally accepted graphic representation of the hierarchical organization of ICANN. But if there were none, and I had to read it in the bylaws I think by some grace of a higher power, or the superfluous application of pixie dust to my third eye I would make it. This reply is not even worth 2 cents, much less a response, it is to thank you for the smile that brightened my day, and to wish you well in your endeavor to persevere.
-The Outlaw Josey Wales-

Dvd film 05.12.08 at 7:01 am

Thank you Kieren.

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