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Even without Al Gore, don’t count Minds + Machines out of the .eco race

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2011, 21:31:21 (UTC), Domain Registries

Minds + Machines may have lost the support of Al Gore for its .eco bid, but it should not necessarily be dismissed as a contender for the .eco top-level domain.

The Guardian today reported that the former US vice president’s Alliance for Climate Protection campaign has dropped its support for the M+M-backed Dot Eco LLC .eco bid.

It noted that the other public .eco applicant, Big Room, is backed by former Russian premier Mikhail Gorbachev, and it made some tenuous Cold War allusions accordingly:

The global power struggle, with echoes of the cold war, is over control of the new .eco internet domain which could be up and running by 2013.

But the Guardian has learned that Gore’s group has quietly dropped its plan, leaving the door open for Big Room to act as the registry for the new domain.

The reality is of course not quite as exciting, at least not to a general readership. Big Room in fact quickly distanced itself from the hyperbole in a blog post today.

Gore’s group did in fact stop supporting M+M’s .eco bid earlier this year. The site previously dedicated to the project, SupportDotEco.com, went dark for a while before being redirected to M+M in June.

It seems that the once-public M+M .eco project may now be a regular will-they-won’t-they bid.

So while The Guardian fairly reported that Gore is no longer in the running for .eco, that does not necessarily mean Big Room is a shoo-in either.

As I’ve previously commented, publicly announcing a gTLD application means absolutely nothing.

Big Room may secure .eco. M+M may. Any one of a number of potential candidates could win the contract.

Big Room, which has secured support from many organizations in the environmental community, intends to file its bid with as a self-designated “community” application.

Such a designation can enable applicants for contested gTLDs to avoid an auction, if they can score 14 out of a possible 16 points against the very strict criteria set by ICANN.

Big Room has spent a great deal of time building up support and setting proposed policies governing how .eco will be managed. It has some potentially innovative ideas about how to promote corporate responsibility using domain names.

“I hope people don’t try to hold the community hostage about this, I think our community been very transparent about their intentions,” said Big Room co-founder Trevor Bowden. “If this thing goes to auction, this community has no voice whatever. If they have no voice then the potential of .eco will be diminished.”

Minds + Machines, on the other hand, is on-record saying that it does not believe that .eco could possibly qualify as a community bid.

In July, CEO Antony Van Couvering published a piece on CircleID estimating that, with just nine points out of the 14 required to pass a Community Priority Evaluation, it would not.

It seems that “community” backing, even from an environmentalist as high-profile as Al Gore, may not be part of the M+M .eco application strategy.

With M+M parent Top Level Domain Holdings funded sufficiently to apply for gTLDs into double figures, I would not be at all surprised if .eco is among its target strings.

UPDATE (30/9/11): TLDH has confirmed that Dot Eco LLC will apply for .eco. The characteristically blunt press release also has a few choice words about gTLD applications backed by “celebrities”.

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Comments (11)

  1. Philip Corwin says:

    I foresee the whole area of questionable “community” applications being a major bane for commercial applicants and a major boon for attorneys (not that I’m against anything that benefits attorneys ;-).

    The Applicant Guidebook, BTW, is very fuzzy as to how a commercial applicant goes about challenging what it believes to be a phony bid by a nonexistent “community”. It will take some creativity.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      Absolutely.

      I’m pretty certain there are plenty of consultants offering “creative” solutions to these kinds of problems right now.

      • Is anybody reading the guidebook?

        1. “Community” only comes up in contention if an application self-designates as a community *and* opts for community priority evaluation (for a fee — which is non-refundable if they lose).

        2. Very few applications will qualify as a community — certainly not .eco.

        3. If you want to object, you have to have standing to oppose. What are the four grounds for opposing? 1. Legal rights (very attenuated, if any, in .eco); 2. governmental/morality (uh, no); 3. Community objection (see below); and 4. String confusion (effectively, this means you have competition, which for .eco is already a given – winning just puts you in a contention set).

        For .eco, the only likely objection (other than from a competitor, which is a waste of time since you’re already in a contention set) is the community objection (which Phil Corwin refers to).

        What does it take for a community objection? First of all (and most important), standing: “Standing requirements for the four objection grounds are…. Community: Established institution associated with a clearly delineated community.” .eco does not qualify as a “clearly delineated community.” Nor does .music, .gay, or any other generic descriptor of a loosely-defined community.

        Quod erat merda taurorem demonstrandum .

        • Kevin Murphy says:

          Nice Latin :)

          It’s possible Big Room is hoping for the evaluators to adopt a slightly more liberal interpretation of the CPE scoring mechanism.

          I can’t see it happening personally, but you never know.

          As for creativity, I think it’s pretty obvious there are ways to win/resolve contention sets that don’t revolve entirely around Guidebook objections.

  2. Tom G says:

    This was my first thought when I read the Guardian article, the .eco saga is far from over as it presumes.

    The community card can be played in all sorts of applications. We plan to object to any commercially focused .DENTAL/.DENTIST/.DDS bid that does not protect the interests of the ‘community’. And we have the support from within that community to do so, even if our endorsements and policies would not qualify under the ICANN definition for comparative evaluation.

    I suspect Constantine has plans to make his voice heard during dispute resolution for .MUSIC as well.

    Doesn’t hurt to lobby GAC members either.

  3. Tom G says:

    Also worth note here is the company formerly backed by Al Gore is Dot Eco LLC, NOT M+M or TLDH. It is that company, not TLDH which was preparing to apply for doteco.

    The principal founders and shareholders are similar and those individuals are very keen about the doteco tld, going so far as to successfully oppose the trademark granted to Big Room for the .ECO mark.

    Point being, the money to support the Dot Eco LLC bid probably does not affect the TLDH/M+M War Chest at all. And those financial resources potentially far exceed those of TLDH

    M+M is likely just acting as the supporting technology/consultancy for the Dot Eco LLC bid, not necessarily a party in it.

    Al Gore withdrawing public support is in no way the end of this tale.

  4. Tom G says:

    ok, so tldh owns 25% of dot ECO LLC, And yes, they are going to apply.

    http://www.investegate.co.uk/Article.aspx?id=201109300700572363P

  5. I generally concur with Antony’s view that very few applications will (or at least should) qualify as one from a “community” As stated in Section 4.2.3 of the Applicant Guidebook:
    “It should be noted that a qualified community application eliminates all directly contending standard applications, regardless of how well qualified the latter may be. This is a
    fundamental reason for very stringent requirements for qualification of a community-based application, as embodied in the criteria below.”

    However, we can anticipate that many applicants will ignore those stringent requirements and self-certify as a “community”, hoping that a liberal evaluator will allow them to trump all standard applications.

    The question then, is how does a qualified commercial applicant confronted by what it believes is an overreaching and bogus “community” application take action against it? The standard grounds for opposing don’t really fit the bill – and you won’t be in the position of claiming that you represent what you think is a non-existent community. (See Section 3.2.2.4 ‘ “Established institutions associated with clearly delineated
    communities are eligible to file a community objection. The community named by the objector must be a community strongly associated with the applied-for gTLD string in the application that is the subject of the objection.”
    I expect that this situation will arise quite a bit — and figuring out an effective means of raising a recognized objection, since the Guidebook doesn’t seem to provide one, is where the creativity will come in.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      There’s always public comments.

      Evaluators have to take them into account when deciding whether a community is legit or not.

      Two or more non-trivial objections in the comments — which won’t be hard to come by if it really is a bogus app — and the applicant loses two possible points in the CPE.

      That means, as you know, that they’d have to score a maximum possible score on every other criterion. If they really are bogus, that’s not going to happen.

      It’s perhaps not ideal, but at least it’s free.

      And there’s the Independent Objector, of course. He/she/it can object on community grounds.

  6. @Kevin — Agreed that the requirement to score at least 14 out of a possible maximum of 16 sets a high bar.

    However, even two or more non-trivial objections filed via public comments do not result in an automatic loss of 2 points. As stated in the concluding paragraph of Section 4.2.3 –
    “When scoring “Opposition,” previous objections to the application as well as public comments during the same application round will be taken into account and assessed in this context. There will be no presumption that such objections or comments would prevent a score of 2 or lead to any particular score for “Opposition.” To be taken into account as relevant opposition, such objections or comments must be of a reasoned nature. Sources of opposition that are clearly spurious, unsubstantiated, made for a purpose incompatible with competition objectives, or filed for the purpose of obstruction will not be considered relevant.”

    So opposing public comments will be “taken into account”, but there is no guaranteed result. And one presumes that the “community” applicant will be sure to have multiple public statements filed by groups backing its application and attesting to its community bona fides in an attempt to counterbalance anticipated opposition from a competing commercial applicant(s) for the same or a similar string.

    Summing up — lots of room for gaming the evaluation system that will need to confronted by equally creative strategies.

  7. Tom G says:

    For example:

    ‘Dentist’ is a clearly defined profession, with stringent licensing requirements.

    The ADA (Australian Dental Association) or any number of smaller legitimate dental associations could very likely have standing to object to a purely commercial .DENTIST applicant that includes no verification requirements in their policies.

    This could clear the way for an applicant who, although has not opted for community comparative evaluation, yet contains some measure of protection for the integrity of the TLD.

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