CIRA watchers hope for ‘slash and burn’ visionary

The announcement earlier this month of Canadian Internet Registration Authority founder and CEO Bernard Turcotte’s stepping down from his long-held post has sparked hope in the Canadian Internet domain world for a successor that could streamline the association’s certification process.

Mark Jeftovic, founder and CEO of the Toronto-based DNS hosting service EasyDNS, formerly acted as a board director for CIRA (the non-profit association that manages the .ca domain space), and, while pleased with the job that Turcotte did, said that there is plenty of room for improvement over at the Ottawa-based CIRA headquarters.

Now that the organization is nearing a million domain names, according to Jeftovic, it’s time to reduce the red tape that surrounds the registration process. He said, “(A) .ca domain name activation requires a large 300-page legal agreement, whereas the States has a one-page terms-and-services that no-one reads anyway. To get anything done — even a simple e-mail change — requires a level of bureaucracy and complexity.”

“It’s very slow to bring on new registrars,” said Michael Torner, owner of the Kelowna, British Columbia-based hosting company “In a way, it’s good, as it protects their domains with a lot more legal stuff to protect the end user and the clients, but they may go a little overboard.”

Improving ease of use and streamlining their processes and scalability are some of the priorities that CIRA has for its new CEO, according to Debi Rosati, chair of the organization’s board of directors. “We’re looking for a seasoned technology executive very conversant with the Internet but with a broad experience of the Canadian technology field at large.”

Jeftovic attributes Turcotte’s original willingness to pile on the failsafes to his previous corporate post with Canarie. “There were a lot of lawyers involved, apparently – a lot of it was CYA (cover your ass), really. And now that question gets asked a million times: ‘Why did you (set it up) this way?’” he said.

To get around the corporate mindset, Jeftovic advocates hiring someone with a start-up background. Said Jeftovic: “You should be cautious about someone coming out of a big corporate, legal, or government environment, as they wouldn’t necessarily get the importance of making this a usable and accessible thing.”

He cited as an example the address field on the register form. Instead of just requiring a couple of lines, it calls for things like the street designation and orientation.

Torner has encountered difficulty while trying to change information, too. “It protects (the domain information) from hackers, but it becomes a pain in the butt,” he said.

There are also too many people working to enforce the organization’s strict Canadian presence requirements, which dictate that .ca owners must be a Canadian individual or company. “The enforcement of this has seen tonnes of live bodies thrown at people going through registration, and flagging those that need to provide more documentation. The importance of that throws a big monkey wrench into everything,” Jeftovic said.

Another focus that Jeftovic found fault with was what he labeled CIRA’s “unexplained obsession with comparing itself with the .com registry.” Said Jeftovic: “It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Why are you doing a marketing and strategy campaign? That’s the registrars’ job. And if you want them to come, make it as easy as the .com!”

To rectify these issues, Jeftovic suggests that CIRA would be best suited to a “slash-and-burn visionary who will come in and just retool everything.” What the candidate really needs to focus on is ease of use, according to Jeftovic, who said, “What I really worry about is usability, more than anything else.”

Agreed said Torner: “They’d have to be able to serve people better.”

Achieving better member service could be challenging, as changing the 300-page registration rules might prove difficult. Making a change to these rules has been attempted through bringing in outside consultants, assembling a taskforce to streamline the set-up, and a general meeting in 2005. Jeftovic said that even one of the recently revamped systems suffers from a lack of ease and transparency, as it requires multiple steps, labour-intensive steps.

“Even with good intentions and a good plan,” Jeftovic said, “you can get mired in the bureaucratic paper-trail safe mode, and that makes it difficult to change anything.”

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