New gTLD applicants could barely disguise their anger tonight, after learning that ICANN has delayed a key deliverable in the new gTLD program — originally due in October — until March.
On a webinar this evening, program manager Christine Willett told applicants that the string similarity analysis due on all 1,917 remaining bids is not expected to be ready until March 1.
The analysis, which will decide which “contention sets” applications are in — whether .hotel must fight it out with .hotels and .hoteis, for example — had already been delayed four times.
The reasons given for the latest delay were fuzzy, to put it mildly.
Willett said that ICANN has concerns about the “clarity and consistency of the process” being used by the evaluation panel — managed by InterConnect Communications and University College London.
Under some very assertive questioning by applicants — several of which branded the continued delays “unacceptable” — Willett said:
When you don’t have a consistent process, or there are questions about the process that is followed, it invariably would put into question the results that would come out of that process…
I don’t want to publish contention sets and string similarity results that I can’t stand behind, that ICANN cannot explain, and that only frustrate and potentially affect the forward progress of the program.
It sounded to some applicants rather like ICANN has seen some preliminary string similarity results that it wasn’t happy with, but Willett repeatedly said that this was not the case.
It’s also not clear whether the pricey yet derided Sword algorithm for determining string similarity has had any bearing on the hold-ups.
One of the reasons that applicants are so pissed at the latest delay is that it presents a very real risk of also delaying later stages of the evaluation, and thus time to market.
Willett admitted that the remaining steps of the program — such as objections and contention resolution — are reliant on the publication of string similarity results.
“I am quite confident we will have results on string similarity by March 1,” she said. “We need to publish contention sets — we need to publish string similarity results — by March 1 in order to maintain the timeline for the rest of the program.”
March 1 is worryingly close to the March 13 deadline for filing objections, including the String Confusion Objection, which can be used by applicants to attempt to pull others into their contention sets.
Just 12 days is a pretty tight deadline for drafting and filing an objection, raising the possibility that the objection deadline will be moved again — something intellectual property interests would no doubt welcome.
The IP community is already extremely irked — understandably — by the fact that they’re being asked to file objections before they even know if an application has passed its Initial Evaluation, and will no doubt jump on these latest developments as a reason to further extend the objection window. Some applicants may even agree.