It’s looking increasingly possible that not only is digital archery dead, but that ICANN may also kill off the idea of batching new gTLD applications entirely this week.
Given the number of groveling apologies from staff and board about the failure of digital archery over the last few days, there doesn’t seem to be any way it can be plausibly reinstated following its shut-down last week.
But from the first three days of meetings and hallway conversations here at ICANN 44 in Prague, it’s pretty clear that doing away with batching is under serious consideration at board level.
It’s also my understanding that ICANN staff, which initially appeared reluctant to abandon plans to divide the 1,930 applications into three or four batches, is now also thinking along the same lines.
Batching is unpopular among most — but by no means all — applicants, because they don’t want to risk losing a time-to-market advantage by being allocated to a later batch.
When director Chris Disspain told an audience of applicants yesterday, “What I think the board thinks you want now is certainty,” the reaction suggested he had hit the nail on the head.
The problem ICANN has with a single batchless evaluation process is that it faces — hypothetically at least — up to 1,409 unique gTLDs exiting Initial Evaluation at the same time.
This could cause problems because it’s promised the DNS root server operators and the Governmental Advisory Committee that it will delegate no more than 1,000 new gTLDs per year.
These commitments are, at least for now, non-negotiable, chairman Steve Crocker has indicated this week.
So ICANN has to figure out a way to “rate limit” application processing so that no more than 1,000 gTLDs go live in the same 12 month period.
Many opponents of batching have stated that the process already contains several throttling mechanisms, or “gateways” as ARI Registry Services CEO Adrian Kinderis calls them.
For starters, not every application will be successful. Some will be withdrawn soon because they were tactical filings, others will not pass Initial Evaluation and will be withdrawn.
Some will fail Initial Evaluation and enter Extended Evaluation. Others will face formal objections or will find themselves in contention resolution.
In these cases, applicants can expect an extra six months of processing time, which will act as a natural throttle.
For those applications that get through to contract negotiations, ICANN’s legal department will operate on a strict first-in-first-out basis with the paper contracts, Disspain said yesterday.
But there’s a concern that these gateways might not be enough to smooth out the evaluation and approval process.
Various solutions have been put forward by the ICANN community so far this week.
These have ranged from the predictable “IDN applicants should go first” from IDN applicants and “brands should go first” from brand applicants, which both seem unlikely to be adopted, to some more inventive ideas.
Top Level Domain Holdings founder Fred Krueger and others have suggested that one way to prioritize applications would be to ask the large portfolio applicants — TLDH, Google, Donuts, et al — to decide which of their gTLDs they want to hit the root first.
“I value .london significantly more than I value .beer,” Krueger said yesterday. “I’m sure Google values .google more than .lol.”
Another idea, put forward by Uniregistry’s outside counsel Bret Fausett yesterday, was to rank applications according to how cleanly they exit Initial Evaluation.
Applications that made it through Initial Evaluation without the evaluators needing to ask any clarifying questions would be considered the “first batch”. Those that needed a single question answered would be the “second batch”, and so on.
This system would have the advantages of enabling a single batch while rate-limiting applications based on their inherent quality.
On the face of it, it’s quite an attractive idea, and it’s my sense that Fausett’s approach was well-received by ICANN. We might be hearing more about it as ICANN 44 progresses.