While most new gTLD applicants were focused on delays to the program revealed during last Friday’s ICANN webinar, another bit of news may also be a cause for concern for .home applicants.
As Rubens Kuhl of Nic.br spotted, ICANN revealed that 11 applications have not yet passed their DNS Stability check.
That’s a reversal from November, when ICANN said that all new gTLD applications had passed the stability review.
As I noted at the time, that was good news for .home, which some say may cause security problems if it is delegated.
As Kuhl observed, there are exactly 11 applications for .home, the same as the number of applications that now appear to have un-passed the DNS Stability check.
So is ICANN taking a closer look at .home, or is it just a numerical coincidence?
The string is considered risky by many because .home already receives a substantial amount of DNS traffic at the root servers, which will be inherited by whichever company wins the contention set.
It’s on a list of frequently requested invalid TLDs produced by ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee which was incorporated by reference in the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook.
Some major ISPs, notably BT in the UK, use .home as a pseudo-TLD in their residential routers.
Are Internationalised Domain Names really useful, or just a way for an ASCII-focused internet governance community to feel better about itself?
Beyond all the hoopla about ICANN’s 2009 program to enable countries to operate their own non-Latin script internet suffixes (aka the “IDN ccTLD Fast Track”), what should really matter is the Internet user.
Yes, those sitting in ICANN meeting rooms at the time, listening to the hyperbole about how the internet was now going truly global probably felt like they were feeding the hungry and bringing peace to the world. But do people actually use IDNs?
I will admit that at the time, I was dubious. Of course, saying so in ICANN circles would have been akin to wearing a “Camembert is bad” t-shirt in the streets of Paris: poor form! But still, I couldn’t help ask myself if having a single one-language system unite the world was actually such a bad thing?
“How would you like it if the Internet had been invented in China and you had to use their alphabet,” was the usual rebuke I got if I ever dared to doubt out loud. And there really is no arguing with that. If the internet was Chinese, I’d want the Mandarin version of ICANN to roll out IDNs pretty sharpish.
Nonetheless, can the usefulness of IDNs still be questioned?
Facebook in Latin
Talking to a local internet expert whilst attending last week’s excellent Domain Forum in Sofia, Bulgaria, the answer would seem to be a surprising yes.
“Why would kids in this country use IDNs,” I was told when I suggested that, surely, Bulgaria must be excited about the prospect of natural language web addresses. “What worries the authorities here is the fact that kids are using Latin scripts so much on social media sites that they don’t even know how to write in Cyrillic anymore! So even if they could use IDN web and email addresses, why would they? They want to communicate like everyone else does on Facebook.”
In truth, Bulgaria’s view may be skewed by the horrible experience it’s had with ICANN’s IDN Fast Track. The country was refused its own IDN country code due to a perceived similarity with another TLD that no-one in Bulgaria really feels is warranted. But not all potential IDN users feel they are useless. Neighbors in Russia tell of a different IDN experience.
The Russian registry saw stunning initial take-up when it opened the IDN .РФ (.RF for Russian Federation) to general consumption on November 11, 2010. Registration volumes were explosive, with almost 600,000 names registered in the first month. Strong growth continued for a year, hitting a peak of 937,913 registered names in December 2011.
But the following month, that number fell off a cliff. Total registrations dropped to 844,153 in January 2012. “Initial registrations were driven in part by speculators,” explains ccTLD .RU’s Leonid Todorov. “But when people saw they couldn’t make huge profits on the domains, they started letting them go.”
Even so, .РФ remains a real success. Although November 2012 figures show a year on year decline of 8.63%, the TLD still sports a whopping 845,037 names.
At 66%, .РФ has a slightly lower renewal rate than ASCII Russian equivalent .ru (73%), probably because of those day-one speculators, but it remains widely used. Current delegation figures (i.e. the number of domain names that are actually used for email or websites) stand at a commendable 70% and have not stopped rising since .РФ opened in 2010 with a 45% delegation rate.
The Cyrillic Russian domain sees a vast predominance of personal use, with 77% percent of domains being registered by individuals. “Russians care deeply about their national identity,” says my Bulgarian friend when I suggest that IDNs do seem to matter in some Cyrillic-using countries. “To them, Dot RF is a matter of national pride.”
So IDNs may not really be all that different from ASCII domain names, with take-up depending on perceived use or value. Europe’s IDN experience seems to confirm this, as European registry EURid’s Giovanni Seppia explained in Sofia.
He revealed that since EURid introduced IDNs on December 11, 2009, registrations reached a peak of around 70,000 (a mere fraction of the 3.7 million names currently registered in the .eu space) before dropping off quite sharply.
Why? Well .eu IDNs may not hold much potential for real use or investment value for Europeans. Although web use is possible with IDNs, software primarily designed for an ASCII-only world does not always make it easy.
Email capability would be a real boost, but so far only the Chinese seem to have enabled it for their local script domains. The Chinese registry recently announced this, without giving details on how the use of all-Chinese character email addresses has been implemented or which email clients support IDNs.
Whatever the technology, countries which combine national pride and a character set far removed from our own probably see more desire for IDNs. With two years of hindsight, Russia obviously loves its IDN. And as other countries like China bring more elaborate IDN capabilities online, demand should grow and force even this IDN skeptic to recognize the new character(s) of the internet.
This is a guest post written by Stéphane Van Gelder, strategy director for NetNames. He has served as chair of the GNSO Council and is currently a member of ICANN’s Nominating Committee.
The three main entities responsible for managing the domain name system’s root zone have confirmed that they’re ready to add 100 or more new gTLDs to the internet every week.
In a statement, (pdf), ICANN, Verisign and the US National Telecommunications & Information Administration jointly said:
Based on current staffing levels and enhancements that are currently underway to the [Root Zone Management] system, the Root Zone Partners are able to process at least 100 new TLDs per week and will commit the necessary resources to meet all root zone management volume increases associated with the new gTLD program.
The letter was sent in response to a request from ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee, which asked in July whether ICANN, Verisign and the NTIA were ready for the new gTLD load.
The three-party Root Zone Management procedure used to add TLDs or update existing ones is getting more automation, which is expected to streamline the process.
ICANN’s various stakeholder groups reached a “breakthrough” agreement on the Trademark Clearinghouse for new gTLDs, according to attendees at a closed-doors meeting last week.
The meeting in Brussels evidently saw attendance from members of the Business Constituency and Intellectual Property Constituency, in addition to the registries and registrars that have been involved in the development of the TMCH implementation model to date.
It was a discussion of nitty-gritty implementation details, according to attendees, rather than reopening the policy discussion on matters such as the mandatory Trademark Claims service period.
Crucially, ICANN appears to have dropped its strong objection to a community-developed proposal that would put the TMCH in the “critical path” for domain registrations.
The community proposal requires a centralized Clearinghouse serving Trademark Claims notices live rather than in a batch fashion, meaning up-time would be paramount.
Senior ICANN executives including chief strategy officer Kurt Pritz were adamant that this model would create an unacceptable single point of failure for the new gTLD program.
But CEO Fadi Chehade, who in Toronto last month appeared to disagree with Pritz, does not appear to have shared these concerns to the same deal-breaking extent.
In a blog post reviewing the meeting’s conclusions last night, Chehade wrote that the community has settled on a “hybrid” solution:
Participants reviewed the features of possible centralized and decentralized systems, and agreed to support a “hybrid” system for Trademark Claims. In this system, a file of domain name labels derived from the trademarks recorded in the Clearinghouse (and hence subject to a Claims Notice) would be distributed to all registries and updated on a regular basis, and a live query system would be used to retrieve the detailed data from the Clearinghouse when necessary to display the Claims Notice to a prospective registrant.
This description appears to closely match the community proposal (pdf) developed by the registries.
ARI Registry Services CTO Chris Wright, one of the key architects of the community TMCH proposal, made no mention of a “hybrid” solution in his update following the Brussels meeting.
According to Wright, “ICANN has tentatively agreed to proceed with the community-developed Trademark Clearinghouse”.
The meeting also concluded that there’s no way to provide blanket privacy protection for trademark data under Trademark Claims, something that has been worrying trademark holders for a while.
At a session in Toronto last month registries observed that the whole point of Trademark Claims is to provide information about trademarks to potential registrants.
That means it can be mined in bulk, and there’s not a heck of a lot registries can do to prevent that even with technical solutions such as throttling access.
There was discussion on implementing an appropriate framework for access and use of the data. The group considered whether measures were necessary specifically to address potential mining of the Clearinghouse database for purposes other than to support the rights protection mechanisms. Given that the Trademark Clearinghouse is designed to provide trademark data for particular purposes, there was agreement that most controls would be ineffective in attempting to control data elements once provided to other parties.
So, how much community support do the Brussels agreements have?
The meeting was not webcast and there does not appear to be a recording or transcript, so it’s difficult to know for sure who was there, what was discussed or what conclusions were reached.
Concerns were expressed by members of the Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group, as well as the Internet Commerce Association, about the fact that ICANN did not widely publicize the meeting, which was first reported in an ICA blog post last week.
The ICA’s Phil Corwin also questioned whether key members of the IPC and BC — based on the US Eastern seaboard — would be able to attend due to Hurricane Sandy’s impact on air travel.
While there seems to be a feeling that solid progress on the Clearinghouse is definitely a positive development for the new gTLD program, the fact that the consensus was apparently reached behind closed doors does not appear to be in lockstep with Chehade’s commitment to increase transparency at ICANN.
ICANN is seeking one or more pre-delegation testing providers for its new gTLD program on a very ambitious timetable.
An RFP issued yesterday calls for a company that can scratch-build a testing suite to put new gTLD applicants through the ringer before they go live, and have it up and running by March 25, 2013.
Pre-delegation testing is the last stage of the new gTLD program’s approval process.
Some new gTLD applicants have recently called on ICANN to begin testing as soon as possible — before even Initial Evaluation has finished — in order to speed up time to market.
The Applicant Guidebook suggests that ICANN itself would be doing the testing, and some applicants had made that assumption, but that’s clearly not the case.
The RFP spells out exactly what is required of the testing providers.
First, they’re expected to build bespoke software to run the tests.
In addition to load-testing and verifying the registry’s compliance with standards such as EPP, DNSSEC and Whois, it also needs a custom-made user interface for applicants and back-end integration with ICANN’s wobbly TLD Application System.
ICANN also wants to be able to open-source the software, which seems to rule out any off-the-shelf testing suites.
RFP respondents also need to be able test 20 applicants’ back-ends per week — potentially scaling up to 100 per week — as soon as ICANN starts signing registry agreements next year.
ICANN does not expect to announce the winning provider(s) until December 5. The deadline for responses is November 20.
In short, it looks like a challenging project on a very tight deadline.
I wonder how much institutional knowledge there is out there of, say, DNSSEC, in companies that are not also involved in new gTLD applications as either applicant or back-end.
The pool of possible RFP respondents is likely very small indeed.
The ability to run tests on the testing suite itself may also be limited by the timetable and the possible shortage of guinea-pig registry back-ends.
Why ICANN has waited until this very late date to issue the RFP is a real head-scratcher.
ICANN is offering a 24-month contract with a possible 12-month extension. The RFP can be downloaded here.