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Why domain names need punctuation

Kevin Murphy, August 28, 2012, Domain Tech

ICANN wants to know whether it should formally ban “dotless” domain names in the gTLDs for which it oversees policy.

While the Applicant Guidebook essentially prohibits registries using their new gTLDs without dots, there’s not yet a hard ban in the template Registry Agreement.

But that could change following a new ICANN public comment period.

A dotless domain might appear in a browser address bar as http://tld or, with more modern browsers, more likely just tld. A small number of ccTLDs already have this functionality.

To make it work, TLDs need to place an A record (or AAAA record for IPv6) in the root zone. This is known as an apex A record, which the Applicant Guidebook says ICANN will not permit.

The result, IANA root zone manager Kim Davies told us in July 2011, is a “default prohibition on dotless domains”.

Davies could not rule out apex A/AAAA records entirely, however. Specific requests for such functionality might be entertained, but would likely trigger an Extended Evaluation.

ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee is of the opinion that dotless gTLDs should not be permitted on various security grounds, including the fact that lots of software out there currently assumes a domain without a dot is a trusted host on the local network.

You can read the SSAC report here.

Dotless domains would also mess up browsers such as Chrome, which have integrated address/search bars; when you type “loreal” do you intend to search for the brand or visit its TLD’s web site?

But a far more intuitive, non-technical argument against dotless domains, as CentralNic’s Joe Alagna noted in his blog over the weekend, is that they do not pass the cocktail party test.

It’s hard enough trying to communicate the address “domainincite.com” across a noisy cocktail party as it is, but at least the dot immediately informs the listener that it’s a domain name.

Without dots, are we even talking about domain names any more?

The first phase of the new comment period runs until September 23. We understand that, depending on responses, a new ban on dotless domains could be introduced to the standard new gTLD registry agreement and possibly even added to legacy registry agreements in future.

DI PRO offers full-text new gTLD comment search

Kevin Murphy, August 9, 2012, Domain Tech

With ICANN today saying that it is “very inclined” to extend the public comment period on new gTLD applications, I thought it timely to announce a new feature for DI PRO subscribers.

If you’ve used ICANN’s web site to try to read some of the 4,000+ comments received to date, you might have noticed that it’s not always particularly easy to find what you’re looking for.

So I thought I’d write something a bit more functional.

These are some features of the new DI PRO new gTLD public comment search engine that I don’t think the ICANN site currently offers:

Search the full text of the comments. This is useful for, say, figuring out which comments discuss particular themes or issues, or are part of organized astroturf campaigns.

Search and sort by commenter affiliation. Want to see every comment filed by Tiffany or Lego or Heinz? If the commenter has disclosed his or her affiliation, you can do that.

Search by partial commenter name. There’s no need to remember the full name of the commenter you’re looking for. First name, last name, or just a few letters will suffice.

Search by alternate applicant name. The DI PRO database understands which applications originate from the likes of Google and Donuts and Famous Four Media, even if the application has been filed by a subsidiary with a different name.

The database is updated at least twice daily, rather than in real-time, so users may find a small delay between the time a comment appears on the ICANN site and the time it is indexed by DI.

Subscribers can start searching here.

ICANN trademark tech summit confirmed for Brussels in just two weeks

Kevin Murphy, August 8, 2012, Domain Tech

ICANN has confirmed that it will hold a technical summit to discuss the forthcoming Trademark Clearinghouse in Brussels less than two weeks from now.

The two-day meeting will be held at the offices of Deloitte, which along with IBM has been contracted as the TMCH provider, from August 20 to 21.

As you might expect by now from the new gTLD program, the summit’s organization wasn’t particularly timely or well-communicated, leaving parts of the community fuming.

The meeting was demanded by registries and registrars at the Prague meeting in June — they want a chance for their technical guys to get into the nitty-gritty of the TMCH implmentation.

But confirmation that it’s actually going ahead only arrived in the last couple of days, leaving companies in the US and Asia-Pacific regions facing steep last-minute air fares or the less-ideal option of remote participation at ungodly hours.

I get the impression that the TMCH providers, which have been less than communicative with the registrars and registries they will soon be servicing, might be as much to blame as ICANN this time.

The TMCH is a repository for trademark data that new gTLD registries will be obliged to use in their sunrise and immediate post-launch periods.

While the policy argument has ostensibly been settled, many technical details that still need to be ironed out could have huge implications.

For example, if the registration process flow requires live queries to the TMCH, downtime could be devastating for registries if, as is expected, several gTLDs wind up launching simultaneously.

And if the TMCH protocols prove to be too complex and costly for registrars to implement, many may not bother, potentially leading to a bunch of damp squib gTLD launches.

So it’s important stuff. DI may even be in attendance, hotel prices and/or Belgian vagrancy laws permitting.

ICANN shuts down new gTLD portal after finding more security bugs

Kevin Murphy, July 19, 2012, Domain Tech

ICANN has closed down part of its new generic top-level domain portal after finding “potential vulnerabilities” that put “confidential applicant information” at risk.

The shutdown — which has been going on for at least 30 hours — affects the Customer Service and Knowledge Base parts of the site, but ICANN said it is so far not aware of any attacks against the system.

While it’s waiting for a patch, ICANN has decided to move the affected areas behind the unpopular Citrix remote terminal software used previously in the TLD Application System.

This notice was posted on the site:

ICANN performs ongoing monitoring and analysis of our systems, including the Customer Service system. As part of this work, we recently identified potential vulnerabilities in the system used for Customer Service and the Knowledge Base (containing new gTLD articles and information).

Patches are being provided to ICANN to address these issues.

In the mean time, given that use of the Customer Service system was recently expanded, and now includes confidential applicant information, the decision was taken to move the system behind Citrix. This will provide for additional security for applicant information.

We are now testing the installation. This should be completed in the next few days. This decision is a proactive measure. There have been no known compromises to the data, attacks or other actions by third parties (other than our own analysis).

Off the top of my head — and I may be under-counting — this is the fifth significant technical glitch to hit the new gTLD program since April.

There was the notorious TAS bug, which took the system offline entirely for six weeks while ICANN fixed a data leakage vulnerability and upgraded its system capacity.

There was the Reveal Day screw-up, during which Arab community members noticed that all the applied-for Arabic gTLDs were broadcast back-to-front in a presentation.

Then ICANN accidentally published the home addresses of many applicants’ officers and directors, something it had promised not to do. This was probably human error and it has since apologized.

Then the “digital archery” batching system was yanked, after it emerged that TAS performance still wasn’t up to the task and that the scoring results were unreliable.

Former new gTLD program director Michael Salazar resigned a month ago; it is widely believed that he was taking the fall for the gTLD system bugs to that point.

While the latest bug appears — so far — to have not compromised any data, some applicants have nevertheless been frustrated by the fact that the customer service portal has been offline for over a day.

Is this why digital archery is borked?

Kevin Murphy, June 24, 2012, Domain Tech

Another possible explanation has been put forward for ICANN’s suspension of digital archery, this time by one of the third-party digital archery service providers.

The ambitiously named Digital Archery Experts says it alerted ICANN to the presence of a technical problem a week ago.

Chief technology officer Dirk Bhagat described it thus:

Instead of generating the timestamp immediately, we believe the TAS timestamp generation process may be delayed by increases in system load…

Since most applicants are aiming for the 000 millisecond variance at the minute mark, this can introduce varying timestamps since applicants are shooting for the exact same second on the minute. We have also noted that our results were a lot more consistent when attempts were made to hit the target at various offsets after the minute mark, for example, aiming for 15:32:07 instead of 15:32:00.

It’s not exactly rocket science. In short, he’s saying that the TAS can’t handle too many applicants logging in and shooting at the same time; more load equals poorer performance.

This won’t be news to many applicants, some of whom saw downtime last week that seemed to be caused by a meltdown of the sluggish Citrix virtual machine software.

It also seems to be consistent with the hypothesis that the massive amount of calibration going on — much of it by digital archery service providers themselves — has caused more load than TAS can handle.

With only 20% of applications currently assigned a timestamp, and only a week left on the clock, the situation could only have been exacerbated by lots of last-minute arrows being fired.

While digital archery may be conceptually similar to grabbing a dropping domain or hitting a landrush, it seems pretty clear that TAS is not as redundantly provisioned as the typical registry SRS.

Bhagat said that ICANN could mitigate the impact of the problem by separating timestamp generation as much as possible from the parts of the infrastructure impacted most by system load.

This might all be academic, however.

ICANN suspended digital archery yesterday, a day after new gTLD program director Michael Salazar quit for reasons unknown.

Digital archery and batching are high on the agenda here at ICANN 44 in Prague, and many attendees hope that the controversial system may be gone for good before the week is out.

That includes some members of the Governmental Advisory Committee, which in an open meeting yesterday seemed to be coming to the conclusion that it would advise ICANN to ditch digital archery.

The GAC and the ICANN’s board’s new gTLD program committee are having their first public facetime this afternoon at 1630 local time, at which a better sense of how both plan to proceed might emerge.