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ICANN going ahead with digital archery

Kevin Murphy, June 7, 2012, Domain Policy

Despite recent calls for it to slam on the brakes, ICANN is going ahead with its plans for the controversial “digital archery” method of batching new gTLD applications.

This morning it published a batch of information about the process, which — let’s face it — is likely to decide whether some new gTLDs live or die.

ICANN has put some outstanding issues to bed. Here are the six most interesting facts about today’s developments:

First and foremost, while applicants in contention sets will find themselves promoted to the same batch as the highest-scoring applicant in that set, no applicant will be demoted out of a batch as a result.

The way ICANN had been talking about batching recently, it looked rather like the first batch would be stuffed with contention sets at the expense of dot-brand and genuine community applicants.

That appears to be no longer the case. The first batch will still be stuffed with contention sets, but with no apparent disadvantage to solo applicants.

It does mean that the first batch is likely to be substantially larger than 500 applications, however.

Second, there will be no proportionality in how geographical regions are assigned to batches. ICANN said the system will use instead the originally devised round-robin method.

This basically means that if there are any fewer than 100 applications from any of ICANN’s five regions, they’ll all be in the first batch. This is pretty good news for African applicants.

Third, archery will indeed run through the wobbly TLD Application System and its reportedly sluggish Citrix remote terminal interface, adding a layer of uncertainty and latency.

This means that if you’re using a third-party archery service, you’re going to have to give it your TAS password, giving that third-party access to the confidential portions of your applications. NDAs may be in order.

Fourth, you’ll get as many practice runs as you want before firing your official arrow. There had been some talk about limiting it to just a handful of tries, but that’s no longer the case.

Fifth, ICANN won’t tell you what your score was until July 11, when the order of the batching is revealed. I can see this policy causing sleepless nights all over the world.

Sixth, there’s no CAPTCHA or Turing test, so automated archery solutions will presumably have one less obstacle to overcome.

It’s still a ropey solution, and I don’t expect calls for it to be abandoned to let up, but for now at least it looks like ICANN is proceeding according to its schedule.

Digital archery starts tomorrow. Here’s a how-to video from ICANN.

Big Reveal confirmed for London

Kevin Murphy, June 6, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN will reveal details of the over 1,900 new top-level domain applications it has received during a press conference starting at 11am UTC next Wednesday.

The event will be held at Kings Place, a venue in the King’s Cross area of London, at noon local time, June 13.

CEO Rod Beckstrom and senior vice president Kurt Pritz will speak at the event, which will be webcast live.

An ICANN spokesperson said that the Big Reveal itself will happen during the press conference — there’ll be a break for journalists to attempt to absorb as much information as they can before the Q&A begins.

I’m waiting for confirmation on whether the full public portions of the applications will be published at that time, or whether it will just be a list.

ICANN said it “will reveal which companies, organizations, start-ups, geographical regions and others have applied for gTLDs and which domain names they are seeking”.

Revolt brewing over digital archery

Kevin Murphy, June 6, 2012, Domain Policy

ARI Registry Services is attempting to spearhead an uprising against ICANN’s little-loved digital archery new gTLD application batching system.

The registry services provider wants ICANN to scrap not only digital archery – which is due to kick off on Friday – but the concept of batching in its entirety.

“Batching is a solution to a problem that I’m not sure exists any more,” said ARI CEO Adrian Kinderis.

“ICANN has a large number of single applicants going for a large number of domains, and that has to create some operational efficiencies,” he said.

Instead of batching, Kinderis said ICANN should lump all applications into a single “batch”, so they can all go through their Initial Evaluation phase at the same time.

If ICANN can promise to keep this single batch to 10-12 months of evaluation, rather than the five months currently envisaged by the Applicant Guidebook, he reckons most applicants would go for the idea.

Kinderis couldn’t name names until the companies in question have gone through their respective clearance processes, but said he expects strong support from his competitors.

“We’ve talked to some of the big registries and they’re waiting for us to put this out so they can come to the party and support it,” he said.

ARI sent a letter (pdf) outlining its ideas to ICANN’s board last Friday, and it plans to send another tomorrow morning, which it hopes other applicants will then express support for.

“If they extended initial evaluation to 12 months, I think that would have the support of the ICANN community,” Kinderis said. “No one wants batching.”

ARI is not the first to ask ICANN to scrap digital archery – similar requests have come from Melbourne IT and Group NBT – but it appears to be the first to suggest an alternative.

Digital archery is also not loved by ICANN’s intellectual property constituency, which thinks it puts dot-brands at a disadvantage.

Whether ICANN will go for the ARI proposal remains to be seen.

With the embarrassing TLD Application System outage – and delays – still a recent memory, there may be a desire to keep the program moving along according to plan.

However, if registries representing large numbers of applicants (ARI has 161 on its books, and has been one of the most vocal critics of delays) are asking for delays, ICANN will have to pay attention.

But by acknowledging operational efficiencies, ICANN would also have to acknowledge that its $185,000 application fee might have been a tad on the high side.

Rearranging the program into a single batch may also require the renegotiation of its deals with the independent third-party evaluators that will process the bulk of the program.

The Governmental Advisory Committee, which has used root zone scaling as a political tool in negotiations with ICANN previously, may also balk at a single batch.

But Kinderis said later stages of the program will have natural “organic gateways” – such as auctions and contract signing – that would slow down the delegation of new gTLDs.

“I think it suits the GAC,” he added. “It gives them more time to be a bit more deliberate about their [GAC Advice on New gTLDs] decisions.”

UPDATE: ARI has now sent its second letter, which states in part:

It is our view, and we believe the view of many applicants and the ICANN community generally, that batching and the chosen method of doing so will serve to increase the likelihood of confusion, frustration and uncertainty for Applicants. Applicants want a level playing field where they can all progress through the process at an equal rate. Batching is not something desired by Applicants.

We ask that ICANN staff delay the launch of the batching process, take the time until the Prague ICANN meeting to consider the options outlined in this letter and take the opportunity of the Prague meeting to discuss batching with the community.

Read it in PDF format here.

Now NetNames complains about digital archery

Kevin Murphy, June 5, 2012, Domain Policy

Another big domain name registrar has come out in opposition to ICANN’s “digital archery” system for batching new top-level domain applications.

NetNames, part of Group NBT, has asked ICANN to delay digital archery – currently scheduled to kick off this Friday – until a better batching solution can be found.

In a letter to ICANN, general manager Stephane Van Gelder wrote:

As it stands, DA risks generating applicant confusion. It is a contentious system that seems to favour those with in-depth knowledge of the second-hand domain industry and more specifically, its drop-catching techniques.

There’s no denying that, of course. Pool.com and Digital Archery Experts are both offering archery services to new gTLD applicants based on this kind of insight.

NetNames is also concerned that the archery system was created without any formal community input, and therefore suggests it be delayed until after the Prague meeting later this month.

ICANN saw fit to take its TLD Application System (TAS) offline at the last minute and keep it that way for over a month as it sought to identify and correct a computer problem. We urge that the same flexibility be exercised with regards to batching, so that the currently proposed system, which is clearly flawed and unfair, be re-examined and adapted.

NetNames follows Melbourne IT, which expressed similar concerns to ICANN last week.

Van Gelder is of course also chair of the GNSO Council, though he wasn’t wearing that hat whilst writing this particular letter (pdf).

GAC gets its way in new Applicant Guidebook

Kevin Murphy, June 5, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee is the beneficiary of the biggest changes in the new version of the new gTLD program Applicant Guidebook.

Published late last night, the Guidebook has been revised with mainly cosmetic changes.

The exception is the updated text on GAC Advice on New gTLDs, the mechanism through which the GAC can effectively torpedo any new gTLD application it doesn’t like.

The new text is exactly what the GAC asked for following the ICANN meeting in Dakar last October, rather than the edited version ICANN chose to put in the Guidebook in January.

Basically, the GAC put ICANN staff on the naughty step in Costa Rica this March for failing to insert its advice into the Guidebook verbatim, and this has now been rectified.

The changes don’t mean a heck of a lot for applicants.

Essentially, if the GAC finds a consensus against an application, there’s still a “strong presumption” that the ICANN board should reject it.

If only some governments object, the board is still expected to enter into talks to understand the scope of the concern before making its call.

The new Guidebook has removed two references to the fact that the ICANN board can overrule a GAC advice-objection, but that power still exists in ICANN’s bylaws.

The main reason the text has been removed was that the GAC complained in Costa Rica that it appeared to weaken the consultation process required by the bylaws.

And it was pissed off that ICANN staff had edited its text without consultation.