Having been the first to sign a contract with ICANN two weeks ago, new gTLD registry dotShabaka is also desperate to be the first to launch, but faces big obstacles.
The company, International Domain Registry, is a spin-off of AusRegistry, with many of the same directors and staff, but executives insist it is an entirely separate entity and will become more so with time.
It was awarded, uncontested and unobjected, the Arabic TLD شبكة., which means “.web” and transliterates to “.shabaka”. It will do business under the trading name dotShabaka Registry.
According to the Registry Agreement published by ICANN last week, it was signed on July 13, one day before the other three registries to so far get contracts.
“It was a lot of work to make sure we were the first to sign, and we intend to be the first to delegation,” general manager Yasmin Omer told DI last week.
“The best-estimate timeline published by ICANN in Durban is our timeline, that’s our target,” she added.
The timeline she’s referring to (pdf) is the one that says the first new gTLD could hit the root as early as September 5, with the first Sunrise period kicking off a month later.
Omer is slightly less optimistic about the timing, however, saying that “mid-September” is looking more likely, due to the requirements of the Pre-Delegation Testing period that dotShabaka is currently in.
The company is doing preliminary PDT work right now and expects to start testing properly in the first week of August.
But PDT is not the only thing standing in dotShabaka’s — and other new gTLD applicants’ — path to delegation.
Right now, the Trademark Clearinghouse and the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement are the big barriers, Omer said.
TMCH requirements not ready
The TMCH is a problem because ICANN has still not finalized the TMCH’s RPM Requirements document, a set of rules that each new gTLD registry must adhere to in their Sunrise and Trademark Claims phases.
“A group within NTAG and the Registries Stakeholder Group has been negotiating this document with ICANN for some time now, going back and forth,” Omer said. “It’s all fine for those who intend on launching later on, but this document has yet to be finalized and that really harms us.”
A draft of the Requirements document (pdf) was published in April, and Omer said she expects ICANN to take a more up-to-date draft to public comment.
A standard 42-day comment period, starting today, would end mid-September.
As we reported in April, the Requirements raises questions about whether registries would, for example, be able to create lists of reserved premium domains or whether trademark owners would always get priority.
dotShabaka faces an additional problem with the TMCH because its gTLD is an Arabic string and there are been very little buy-in so far from companies in the Arabic-speaking world.
A couple of weeks ago, TMCH execs admitted that of the over 5,000 trademarks currently registered in the TMCH, only 13 are in Arabic.
In Durban, they said that the TMCH guidelines were not yet available in Arabic.
Part of the problem appears to be that a rumor was spread that the TMCH does not support non-Latin scripts, which executives said is not remotely true.
With so little participation from the Arabic trademark community, an early شبكة. launch could mean a woefully under-subscribed Sunrise period — 30 days to protect just a handful of companies.
“There’s no knowledge of the TMCH in the region,” Omer said.
“We’re currently putting our heads together to think of mechanisms to overcome this,” she said. “We don’t just want to be first to delegate and have it sit there idly, we want to be first to market as well.”
dotShabaka has been doing its own press in the region and claims to have taken thousands of expressions of interest in the gTLD, indicating that there is a market if awareness can be raised.
Registrars are a problem
Signing the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement is a requirement for any registrar that want to sell new gTLDs, and that includes IDNs. Only seven registrars have publicly signed it to date.
According to Omer, the 2013 RAA’s stricter requirements are “not helping us in the region”.
Its provisions related to insurance can be “prohibitive to those located to those located in North Africa and the Middle East”, she said by way of an example.
In addition, there are only about seven accredited registrars in the region, all on older RAA versions, she said.
dotShabaka has already signed up Go Daddy and others to carry شبكة., so getting the TLD into the channel is not a problem.
But while Go Daddy will have an Arabic landing page for the TLD it will not have a full Arabic-language registration process and shopping cart ready in time for شبكة.’s planned launch window launch.
This makes me wonder whether there’s a risk that domain savvy Westerners are more likely to get a crack at the best شبكة. names before the Arab world is fully aware of the launch.
But Omer said that dotShabaka is doing its own outreach and that it’s committed to improving the “horrible” online experience for Arabic speakers that exists today.
“It’s not just about the TLD, it’s about the cause, it’s about an Arabic internet,” she said. “Yes there are issues and yes there are barriers, but we want to build more robust Arabic domain name market.”