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The 100% Porn-Free Top 10 DI Stories You Should Have Been Reading In 2012.

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2013, Gossip

Happy New Year everyone.

It’s time for the now-traditional round-up of the last year’s biggest DI stories, but this year it’s going to be a little different.

Having perused the traffic logs for the last 12 months, it’s pretty clear that the Top 10 stories for 2012 would be about 90% porn-related.

The list is all “YouPorn this” and “.xxx that”, with dishonorable mentions for stories about “Hot Czech girls” and photos of Go Daddy girls’ bottoms.

It’s sad, but perhaps inevitable, that sex-related stories seem to appeal to a wider readership than the more chaste variety. Residual search traffic also seems to linger for longer with these pieces.

Traffic logs are a rubbish way to gauge the importance of a story.

So I’ve ignored all that guff in this year’s rundown. With apologies to Manwin and ICM Registry, here’s the hand-picked 100% Porn-Free Top 10* DI Stories You Should Have Been Reading In 2012.

(* More than 10)

The New gTLD Program Splutters Into Life

Our Word Of The Year for 2012 is “glitch”.

With hindsight, ICANN chairman Steve Crocker is probably regretting saying in a New Year email to colleagues, “I am confident the program is well constructed and will run smoothly.”

And with hindsight, I’m regretting not being more skeptical in my January 3 article, ICANN chair says new gTLD program “will run smoothly”.

A week later, ICANN started to accept new gTLD applications (ICANN opens new gTLD program) and the TLD Application System at first did appear to run more or less smoothly, but it didn’t last long.

By early February the first “glitches” were emerging (New gTLD applications briefly vanish after glitch) and by April the TAS had completely imploded.

As the application window was just about to close April 30, ICANN shut down TAS, saying that a “technical glitch” had led to “unusual behavior” (ICANN extends new gTLD application window after technical glitch)

It turned out that a bug in ICANN’s custom-made TAS software had allowed some applicants to see other applicants’ applications (It’s worse than you thought: TAS security bug leaked new gTLD applicant data)

Over 100 applicants were affected (TAS bug hit over 100 new gTLD applicants) but the damage appears so far to have been limited to ICANN’s reputation and the cost to applicants of over a month’s delay (TAS reopens after humiliating 40 days) while the bug was being fixed.

Wow. How Many Applications?

By the time Reveal Day rolled around in June, tensions were high.

Moderating a panel discussion during the live London event (Big Reveal confirmed for London), I got my hands on a print-out of the list of gTLD applications half an hour before it was released publicly.

In hard copy, it was thick enough to choke a horse.

There were 1,930 applications in total (It’s Reveal Day and there are 1,930 new gTLD bids), largely made up of English keywords and Western dot-brands, with not as much representation from the developing world or non-Latin scripts as ICANN had hoped.

While we’d long expected big portfolio bids from the likes of Donuts (Donuts applies for 307 (yes, 307) gTLDs), Uniregistry (Schilling applies for “scores” of new gTLDs) and TLDH, Amazon and Google were the surprise big applicants, facing off on several prime keywords.

When it became clear that both companies were planning to keep huge swathes of real estate private, using the dot-brand model with dictionary words (Most new gTLDs could be closed shops), a controversy was set in motion that has not yet been resolved (Industry objection forming to Google and Amazon’s keyword gTLD land grab).

Digital Archery misses the target

By far the year’s weirdest rolling story was the creation, deployment, failure and death of Digital Archery, ICANN’s whacky way of splitting new gTLD applications into evaluation batches.

Applicants would have to take their chances with network latency, clicking a button on a web page and hoping ICANN’s servers received the ping as close to a target time as possible, as we revealed in March (Here’s how new gTLD batching will work).

The system was branded “Digital Archery” (ICANN approves “digital archery” gTLD batching). It later transpired that the ICANN board was warned that it looked absurd (Digital archery looked “silly” but had “minor risks”, ICANN board was told).

Several companies quickly seized on the opportunity to make a bit of cash from the process, leveraging years of drop-catching experience (Pool.com offers $25k gTLD digital archery service).

But opposition to the system quickly grew, with several companies openly wondering whether Digital Archery was any better than the illegal lottery it was supposed to replace.

(See Revolt brewing over digital archery and ARI: digital archery is a lottery and we can prove it, Is this why digital archery is borked?

Despite beginning Digital Archery, by June the process had been suspended (Digital archery suspended, surely doomed) and finally killed off (Digital archery is dead, but uncertainties remain).

Roll up! Roll up!

Archery was replaced by a lottery, in one of the most surprising about-faces of the year.

Apparently prize draws were not illegal under Californian law after all, clearing the way for a widely lauded chance-based solution to the prioritization problem (New gTLD winners will be decided by lottery after all).

And what do you know… it worked. At least, nobody has yet publicly complained about the New gTLD Prioritization Draw, which took place in LA a couple of weeks ago. (Amazon, Uniregistry, Verisign… here’s who won the new gTLDs lottery)

Conflicts Over Conflicts Of Interest

The repercussions of Peter Dengate Thrush’s 2011 move from ICANN’s chair to a top job at Top Level Domain Holdings continued in 2012, with paranoia over conflicts of interest rife.

This was the year in which ICANN made serious efforts to avoid even the perception of conflicts of interest on its board of directors (Seven ICANN directors have new gTLD conflicts) by starting up a New gTLD Program Committee stacked with non-conflicted individuals.

Despite this move, other questions were raised over the course of the year about the relationship between directors on the committee and new gTLD applicants (Another conflicted ICANN director? and Ombudsman asks DCA to simmer down after .africa conflict of interest complaint).

CEO Rod Beckstrom even used his penultimate ICANN meeting keynote to take a pop at his fellow directors (Beckstrom slams his own board over conflicts) over the poorly perceived ethics environment.

But it didn’t take long before many community members started to question the value of excluding industry expertise from the new gTLD committee, a view given weight by the fact that one of the committee’s first decisions was approving Digital Archery.

To the disappointment of many, even recently promoted new gTLD program overseer Kurt Pritz fell victim to the paranoia over clashes, tendering his resignation in November after fessing up to a personal conflict of interest (Pritz’s conflict of interest was with ARI).

To cap it all, concern about conflicts led to one GNSO Council member accidentally torpedoing his own client’s interests (albeit temporarily) when he abstained from a November vote. (GNSO gives thumbs down to Olympic trademark protections in shock vote).

The Death of the GNSO

Worries about the decreasing relevance of the Generic Names Supporting Organization were aired a few times in 2012, pretty much every time the brand protection side of the house locked horns with non-commercial interests.

At the Costa Rica meeting in March, all of the unnecessary but politically valuable work that the GNSO had put into giving the Red Cross and International Olympic Committee special brand protection seemed to come to naught due to Non-Commercial User Constituency shenanigans (Olympic showdown spells doom for ICANN, film at 11).

While the storm was very much of the teacup variety (The Olympics and the death of the GNSO, part deux), more recent apparent attempts by ICANN executives and the GAC to do end-runs around the GNSO have started to raise many of the same concerns.

Too sluggish to react to the industry? Too complicated to function? Interests too entrenched for compromise? The “death of the GNSO” is a meme that is stronger than ever as we head into 2013.

Change at the top

In June, the industry mourned the departure of Bob Recstrum, Twitter’s premier ICANN spoof account.

In related news, Rod Beckstrom grew a beard and fucked off on his yacht or something, two million dollars the richer, leaving ICANN with interregnum leadership awaiting his successor.

After spending six months filtering through 100 applicants (ICANN gets 100 applicants for CEO job) for the lucrative if stressful position, ICANN’s board settled on the industry outsider Fadi Chehade, whose special skill is consensus building.

Chehade impressed on his first day by cleverly hiring two of the unsuccessful CEO candidates as special advisers, as he explained in an interview with DI (Fadi Chehade starts at ICANN today, immediately shakes up senior management)

As well as wowing the ICANN community by saying all the right things in his inaugural keynote, he has also since managed to successfully win over critics of ICANN in national governments and the International Telecommunications Union (Unsnubbed? ICANN brass get tickets to ITU curtain-raiser), demonstrating his chops when it comes to big picture stuff.

But the recent outcry over two secretive meetings relating to the Trademark Clearinghouse — along with more delays to the new gTLD program — suggests that the honeymoon period for Chehade is probably already over.

Verisign gets whacked by Commerce

The US government dealt a serious blow to Verisign at the back end of the year, capping its .com registry fee at current rates — barring highly improbably eventualities — for the next six years (Verisign loses right to increase .com prices).

While ICANN took a reputational hit — having approved a .com contract (ICANN gives Verisign’s .com contract the nod_ with 7% annual price increases — it got to keep the extra fees Verisign will pay it (ICANN to get $8 million more from new .com deal).

And the rest…

ICANN staffer linked to hacked intelligence firm — ICANN’s Eastern European VP Veni Markowski was fingered as an informant for an American intelligence firm, which described him as a “billionaire oligarch” with ties to organized crime, by the Bulgarian media. The reality, in my view, was rather less exciting.

Refunds uncertain as .nxt says sorry for cancellation — Many members of the industry were left fuming when the .nxt conference on new gTLDs, scheduled for London last summer, was cancelled twice and the organizers had trouble refunding registration fees.

Company claims ownership of 482 new gTLDs — ICANN’s past returned to haunt it in the second half of the year, as two new gTLD applicants from the 2000 round emerged to sue the organization for not returning its calls for the last 12 years.

O.co loses 61% of its traffic to O.com — Overstock’s ambitious rebranding around a .co domain failed to pay off. This story is a particular favorite citation of .com domain investor Rick Schwartz.

.radio gTLD applicant joins the GAC — The European Broadcasting Union applied for .radio, competing against three other applicants, then joined the Governmental Advisory Committee to give it special lobbying access to the GAC and its special gTLD objection powers (GAC gets more power to block controversial gTLDs). Conflict of interest?

“Whistleblower” accuses Nominet of trying to dodge freedom of information law — In what has to be the biggest case of disgruntled former employee in years, Nominet’s former policy chief spilled the beans about the company’s alleged plot to sell out .uk to the UK government in order to keep it out of the hands of domainers.

Newbie domain registrant discovers Whois, has Twitter meltdown — I deleted the quoted tweets after receiving a handful of insane emails from the newbie in question, so you’ll have to use your imagination.

ICANN’s secret “penthouse-level” domain program — Because April Fools Day stories are always fun to write.

NTIA throws a bomb, cancels IANA contract RFP — The US government’s other big surprise of the year was making ICANN kneel and beg for the renewal of its critical IANA contract. This story, incidentally, was the most-trafficked of 2012.

Apart from all the porn, that is.

ICANN shutters Australian office, cans staff

Kevin Murphy, January 1, 2013, Gossip

ICANN has closed its office in Australia, according to a few (so far officially unconfirmed) reports we’ve received today.

Multiple sources also tell DI that all ICANN staff working at the Sydney office were let go over the Christmas period.

Sydney is/was a relatively small branch, with only a handful of staff based there, including some in legal and compliance departments.

According to ICANN’s last budget, its lease on the office was due to expire in February. Rent was pegged at $155,000 (US).

I believe the closure may be due to a rationalization of ICANN’s facilities costs under the new executive team.

The Sydney office was set up while Paul Twomey was ICANN’s CEO and spent a lot of his time in his native Australia.

I’ve not heard anything yet about whether the same fate has befallen the Palo Alto, California office, which was opened during Rod Beckstrom’s tenure as CEO for similar reasons.

ICANN is headquartered in Los Angeles, having recently relocated from neighboring suburb Marina Del Rey.

It also has a European office in Brussels, which last year moved from temporary facilities to a more permanent set-up.

Santa Claus shows up to ICANN new gTLD raffle

Kevin Murphy, December 17, 2012, Gossip

ICANN’s New gTLD Prioritization Draw has an unexpected visitor.

Santa Claus himself has showed up, apparently as a representative of Uniregistry’s uncontested bid for .christmas.

Santa

Here he is fraternizing in the lobby of the LA airport Hilton with ARI Registry Services CEO Adrian Kinderis.

And here he is with ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade.

Santa

The surprise* guest is believed to be responsible for all the sherry missing from ICANN media chief Brad White’s mini-bar.

The Draw kicks off at 1pm California time (9pm UTC) today and is expected to last at least eight hours.

*It may not have been a total surprise, given that Santa appears to have sensibly preregistered for the event.

Best. Domain. Name. Industry. Video. Ever.

Kevin Murphy, July 30, 2012, Gossip

Have you ever tried to explain what you do for a living to a friend and watched as their eyelids begin to droop?

That’s a rhetorical question. We all have. Domain names are boring.

That’s why Go Daddy’s advertising is (was?) primarily based on surgically enhanced mammary glands.

My tactic is not dissimilar. I usually explain my job with various stories from the ongoing .xxx saga. People are interested in the politics of porn.

But JPRS, the .jp registry, at some point decided to fully embrace the superficially dull nature of the domain name business in its marketing, to hilarious effect.

Check out this commercial, found via Michele Neylon.

Your first look inside ICANN’s new global HQ

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2012, Gossip

After over a decade, ICANN moved its global headquarters from the LA suburb of Marina Del Rey to a new location a few miles down the road in Playa Vista this week.

Now, thanks to the magic of Facebook, I can bring you the exclusive first photograph from inside the building.

Methane Alarm

Playa Vista, it turns out, already had substantial build-ups of methane before ICANN showed up.

I can’t help but feel that the new tenants can only exacerbate things.

It’s well known to environmentalists that bovine flatus is a leading cause of atmospheric methane. I sincerely hope that Playa Vista’s ecology can handle its new influx of concentrated bullshit.

The TLD Song: an instant classic

Kevin Murphy, June 18, 2012, Gossip

I may not agree with all of Lauren Weinstein’s views on ICANN’s new generic top-level domain expansion, but damn, the man can spoof a Gilbert & Sullivan song.

Check out Weinstein’s blog for the lyrics and a downloadable MP3.

Kudos, sir.

Venue has “more reservations than bedrooms” for ICANN Prague

Kevin Murphy, June 9, 2012, Gossip

Anyone fancy a twos-up with another ICANN attendee in Prague?

The Hilton Prague Hotel has apologized for screwing up delegates’ reservations for the June 23-28 public ICANN meeting, and has reconfirmed the reservations of those affected.

But it’s told ICANN that it still doesn’t have enough rooms for that week. In a letter to ICANN meeting organizers, dated June 6, the hotel wrote:

The Hilton Prague still has more reservations than bedrooms for the period of the ICANN meeting, but both the Hilton Prague and ICANN event organizers are together working on minimizing the overbooking situation in order to be able to accommodate as many ICANN attendees as possible.

Not exactly encouraging, is it?

The overbooking problem seems to have been caused by the hotel running a special ICANN reservation system in parallel with its regular system, but not correctly linking the two.

Speculating, this might mean that only those who booked through official channels were affected.

Speculating further, it might also mean that those who booked independently are at risk of losing their reservations, should the Hilton decide to prioritize known ICANN delegates.

Even if I’m wrong on both counts, it does appear that not everyone who booked at the Hilton for the meeting will be staying where they hoped.

Hilton Prague screws over ICANN delegates

Kevin Murphy, June 2, 2012, Gossip

Lots of people attending ICANN’s public meeting in Prague later this month are complaining that the venue, the Hilton Prague Hotel, has rebooked them into hotels miles away.

It’s not clear how widespread the problem is, but I’d guess dozens of people are affected, judging by the chatter.

Amusingly, given recent events, it appears that a technical glitch with the hotel’s booking system is to blame.

One attendee, who was bumped to a hotel an hour’s walk away from the venue, was told the rebooking was “due to the unexpected circumstances with the reservation system”.

The Hilton is the venue and the first-choice hotel for the week-long meeting. ICANN had negotiated a special rate for attendees.

It’s not the first snafu to hit a meeting hotel recently. Last October, the venue one of the hotels chosen for the meeting in Dakar, Senegal, was slammed as smelly, dirty and insecure by many delegates.

However, with regard to the Prague snafu, I’ve been unable to confirm whether ICANN has filed an official complaint with the Czech minister of telecommunications yet.

While DI is attending Prague, your humble reporter is not affected by the mix-up. I’ll be sleeping on public transport and doing my morning ablutions in McDonald’s as usual.

Ombudsman reports on ICANN 43 “girls” scandal

Kevin Murphy, April 4, 2012, Gossip

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte has delivered his official report on the ICANN 43 sexism controversy.

As you may recall, during the ICANN 43 meeting in Costa Rica last month, domain name lawyer John Berryhill complained to LaHatte about a booth operated by Czech ccTLD operator CZ.nic.

Marketing ICANN 44, which CZ.nic is hosting in Prague this June, the booth offered cartoon postcards advertising “girls” as one of several reasons — alongside “beer”, “culture” etc — to attend the meeting.

Berryhill complained that the cards objectified women and were inappropriate for an ICANN meeting.

LaHatte writes:

The complainant says the use of the postcard was demeaning to women and an unnecessary objectification of them.

After some discussion, they [CZ.nic] understood the way in which this was seen, from another perspective, and quickly agreed to remove the postcards as an option in the kiosk display. What they saw as a light-hearted tribute to attractive woman in the Czech Republic, they then were able to see as offensive to others. Because they were so ready to perceive and accept the alternative view, it was not necessary to take any further action

A presentation by CZ.nic later in the week at the Costa Rica meeting eschewed any mention of the cards in question.

In the interests of disclosure, since first reporting this story I’ve discovered that Berryhill discovered the postcards via one of my own tweets, so I’m probably partly responsible for creating my own controversy here.

ICANN’s secret “penthouse-level” domain program

Kevin Murphy, April 1, 2012, Gossip

Filthy with cash from incoming new gTLD applications, ICANN is secretly working on a new “penthouse-level domains” project, DomainIncite has learned.

The program, detailed in leaked emails (pdf) between senior ICANN executives, will open up the space to the right of the final, overlooked dot in a fully-qualified domain name.

The new “pLD” project will allow brand owners, for example, to apply to run a domain name to the right of their newly acquired dot-brand gTLD, creating new marketing opportunities.

Penthouse-level domains are believed to be the brainchild of outgoing CEO Rod Beckstrom.

“I figured I may as well torpedo the whole fucking joint on my way out,” he said, stuffing ICANN’s air-conditioning system with three-day-old sushi.

Officially, ICANN expects the program to be warmly welcomed by the trademark community

“The most common complaint we hear from dot-brand gTLD applicants is that they have no idea what to put at the second level,” said ICANN spin doctor Brad White.

“Do you use www.canon or www.canon.canon?” he said. “It’s confusing. But with a penthouse-level domain such as, I dunno, .com, Canon would be able to have www.canon.canon.com”.

“Companies that missed the dot-brand gTLD deadline would be able to apply for dot-brand pLDs instead, enabling addresses such as www.canon.com.canon,” he said. “And that’s much simpler.”

Sixteen new rights protection mechanisms have been created, all of which are expected to be so carefully balanced as to be essentially useless.

The new pLD application fee is likely to be set at $185,000 per character, according to sources, $175,000 of which has been earmarked for Jones Day’s cocaine bill.

Registry service providers have welcomed the penthouse-level domains move and today dismissed criticisms that the program places too high a financial burden on rights holders.

“The important thing you have to remember is that applying for a new penthouse-level domain isn’t the same as simply registering a gTLD,” said an Afilias spokesperson.

“The further to the right a word is on your screen, the more expensive it is to manage,” he said. “It stands to reason, right? Right? Yeah, well it does, trust me. We’re the experts.”

“And so are we,” said AusRegistry CEO Adrian Kinderis.

A burgeoning ecosystem of consultants is already emerging to support the pLD concept.

Mike Berkens and Monte Cahn today announced the launch of Right Of The Right Of The Dot Inc and, just in case, they have also defensively registered rightoftherightoftherightofthedot.com.

Minds + Machines also revealed it has ambitious plans to apply for dozens of new penthouse-level domains.

“We’re going to wait and see what pLDs others plan to apply for, then apply for those too,” said CEO Antony Van Couvering.

But other parts of the ICANN community have received the news with less enthusiasm.

“My name is Marilyn Cade,” said Business Constituency chair Marilyn Cade, before saying some other things that I forgot to write down.

“We’re completely opposed to new pLDs,” said CADNA’s Josh Bourne. “That’s why I’m proud to announce the launch of our reasonably priced new pLD consulting service.”

“And we’re doubly proud to announce that we’ve hired Steve Crocker to run it,” he added.

In related news, Paul Foody and George Kirikos were both found dead at the bottom of a cliff this morning in what police are describing as an apparent suicide pact.

“Goodbye cruel world,” said ICANN’s Filiz Yilmaz, reading from a laptop on Kirikos’ behalf.

***

Based on an idea by Barry Shein.