Stewardship….One who manages another's property, finances, or other affairs.
I have been thinking alot about stewardship lately in my role as CEO of Tucows and how that relates to employees, a board of directors and investors. Where I got to, which is not necessarily relevant for this post, is that stewardship need exist at EVERY level of a company and a life.
With the recent dustup created by Verisign's new Sitefinder service it has crystallized for me what has always bothered me about the .com/.net registry and the way Verisign has approached it.
I must first say that VGRS has improved its attitude and approach over the last couple years. There are a number of people that I like there. Most seem to really want to do a good job. That being said there is not, and has never been, a sense of stewardship in the operation of the registry.
The internet works so well because of its distributed nature. The whole elegance of small pieces loosely joined and the fact that enlightened self-interest exists in all the right places makes the system work so well.
Sometimes I just marvel at it. The Howard Dean thing was/is astonishing to me. The Wesley Clark thing even more so. Now the results that Verisign is immediately experiencing as a result of this fiasco are proof again of its efficiency.
Of course there is a lawsuit. Then another. There is the significant reputation hit. I won't bother with links to the many lists which are full of discussion on this. I will say I have NEVER heard the Internet speak so loudly and in one voice. I don't know what this [LINK] means or this (note: you need to vote to see the results) or this but they can't be good things. These aren't the things of most consequnce to them long-term in my view. It will first be the fact that thousands of networks (tens of thousands?) have now routed around them . This has significant long-term implications for Verisign and for the Internet. It also means that the Internet has just become more distributed and a little healthier in the long-run. What doesn't kill it makes it stronger.
Someone, well Esther once said (although she put the quote in the mouth of some general that I cannot remember) “nature does not grow towards goals, it routes around obstacles”. Well so does the Internet, and it just did.
Oh and the worst thing for Verisign is that, IMHO, the renewal on .net (2004?) and .com (2007) just went from a near-certainty to not. Although a bit like handicapping the 2005 Super Bowl at this point I would say the chance of losing the contracts just went from 1-2% to 10-20%. That is a very real issue.
The .com and .net TLDs are key infrastructure and part of the fabric of the Internet. They are a global resource. The contract to operate them should be looked on as a privilege. The operator should treat it as such. That does not mean it is a charity, nor does it mean that it is any way non-commercial. It does mean they are being paid a lot of money to be caretaker of a jewel. They should treat it that way.
Which brings me back to stewardship. We all should bring a sense of stewardship to as much of our lives as possible. As friends, as family members, as employers, as employees and as citizens on both a national and global level. When we do we will be rewarded over and over again. When we don't there will be consequences. They may take a short time. They may take a long time. But they will happen.
Now isn't life simple ;-).
Now that blogware is pretty well finished I will recommence my blogging efforts. I suspect my posts will be weekly and longish in nature, but we will see.
I have written a bunch of things on the topic of xSP core business functions. I think I should drag some of it here. Post as follows:
The issue of “core business functions” is a bit of a religious issue to me and my views are somewhat controversial, but since I have been enjoying this list I thought I would share them. As a supplier of services to ISPs and hosting companies I am certainly self-interested in my view but it is the case that we do what we do because we hold these views not the other way around.
First is the question of what are the core business functions of an ISP/hosting company (I will again use the goofy xSP title although I don't really like it)? To me this is both simple and obvious if they are a retail (deal directly with end users, both consumer and business) xSP. Customer acquisition and customer retention (“CA” and “CR”). Period. Not technical development, although the reliability (note, not complexity) of their systems will be very important with respect to CR. Not business process outsourcing (“BPO”) like constantly maintaining spam rules or anti-virus DAT files.
The distribution value chain around Internet services is essentially technical development —>BPO —->CA—->CR. There are also a number of characteristics to Internet services that make focus very important. These include extreme competition, low switching costs, high customer service component, high trust component, high loyalty component and difficult marketing environment (making word-of-mouth paramount). These characteristics combine to actually favor the small service provider. I know this is not conventional wisdom, but the empirical evidence supports this (shameless plug: I will be speaking about this at ISPCon in October).
In my view xSPs should look to outsource any significant effort spent on tasks outside of CA and CR. xSPs are amazingly heterogeneous so the specific implementations are a function of skills, customer profile and a number of other factors but generally this point is extremely important.
It is also important to understand what I DON'T mean here. I do not mean that you should all spend all of your time and money on print ads and huge numbers of people answering the phones and dealing with every issue.
Customer service. Do you know why your customers are calling you? What the top ten reasons are every month? Do you create new faq items monthly to address these issues? Do you push new self-help tools to your customers quarterly to address these issues? I could go deeper and deeper, but these are ALL technical issues and are all, IMHO, examples of winning differentiation.
Customer Acquisition. Do you track where your new customers come from? Do you sell using features or benefits (this is a whole discussion in itself as I think our WHOLE industry is way off the mark here)? Do you have one of those wanky feature tables that look like you are selling a database or a computer not a service? Are you selling hosting and giving away email, or put differently, are you selling what 10% of the market wants and giving away what 100% of the market wants? Do you know the clickstream for users arriving at the site? The conversion? The person who loves technical challenges, who sees their differentiating strength as technical, should recognize that technical solutions play an important part in all of these issues.
Another head-scratcher. Why are no hosting shops selling blogging tools and no (few) blogging shops selling hosting?
three quick questions nested in a test to see if any of you are reading my blog:
– how do I create links?
– when did my blog get so pretty or at least so much prettier?
– why did my permission to read ross' blog not carry over to my ability to post on mine (I think I know the answer to this one)?