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Three more digital archery services launch

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2012, Domain Services

Surely the market must be saturated by now?

With a little over a week left before ICANN shuts down its digital archery new gTLD batching mechanism, three more companies are vying for applicants’ business.

We’ve received three press releases from newcomers this week, which I believe brings the total to eight.

Of course, it’s looking somewhat possible that digital archery will prove to be irrelevant, should ICANN decide to abandon batching altogether next.

In no particular order, these are the new ones:

Timestamp Technology

American. Affiliated with Nations Media Partners, Timestamp says it will offer applicants a 150% refund if it fails to get them into the first batch. It costs $20,000 for a single application.

MySingleShot

Bulgarian. Affiliated with Uninet. Says 90% of its shots come within 10ms of target. It’s a software play, with licenses selling for $1,000. If you want somebody to take the shot for you, it’s an extra $100 per TLD.

Digital Archery Hotshots

British. Run by Vladimir Shadrunov, a former Telnic executive now gTLD consultant. Fees not disclosed on the web site, but claims to have a “guaranteed lowest price”.

Delays likely as governments demand gTLD timetable rethink

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2012, Domain Policy

If you think you’ll be able to launch your new generic top level domain in the first quarter of 2013, you can pretty much forget it.

The Governmental Advisory Committee told ICANN yesterday that it does not think it will be able to provide advice on new gTLD applications until April 2013 at the earliest.

It’s also told ICANN to seriously reconsider its controversial digital archery program and the whole gTLD application batching concept.

The current timetable calls for GAC Early Warnings – the “headsup” stage for applicants – to be submitted concurrently with the public comment period, which runs through August 12.

The more substantial GAC Advice on New gTLDs period is meant to track with the regular objection window, which is expected to close about seven months from now, in January 2013.

Now the GAC says it won’t be able to meet either of those deadlines.

In a letter to ICANN chairman Steve Crocker, GAC chair Heather Dryden gave applicants several excellent reasons to believe that the Applicant Guidebook’s timetable will not be met:

the GAC has identified several benefits from having a single Early Warning period in relation to all applications (these relate to efficiency, consistency, and timeliness). On this basis, the GAC advises the Board that it is planning to issue any Early Warnings shortly after the Toronto ICANN meeting, in October 2012.

Given the delays to the gTLD application process, the timing of upcoming ICANN meetings, and the amount of work involved, the GAC advises the Board that it will not be in a position to offer any advice on new gTLD applications in 2012. For this reason, the GAC is considering the implications of providing any GAC advice on gTLD applications. These considerations are not expected to be finalised before the Asia-Pacific meeting in April 2013.

The bold text was in the original, indicating that this is official GAC advice that should not be ignored.

Given the bigger picture, with the looming threat of the ITU’s big summit in December, ICANN is likely to be extra receptive to governmental advice.

Readers will notice that Dryden isn’t saying that the GAC will provide its objections before April 2013, merely that it won’t have finished thinking about the “implications” of such advice before April 2013.

What this means for the gTLD evaluation timeline is anyone’s guess. I expect more clarity will be requested during ICANN’s public meeting in Prague next week.

These two pieces of timing advice have the effect of focusing ICANN’s mind on the more immediate problem of application batching.

The GAC seems to be backing calls from registries and intellectual property interests to scrap the batching concept and the ramshackle “digital archery” system.

Dryden wrote (pdf):

the GAC is concerned that the potential risks associated with the digital archery and batching mechanisms may outweigh the benefits. In light of ICANN’s decision to initiate digital archery on 8 June 2012, the GAC advises the Board to consult with the community as a matter of urgency to consider ways to improve its assessment and delegation processes in order to minimise the downside risks and uncertainty for applicants.

In line with the concerns raised by the community, this should include a focus on competition and fairness with delegation timing.

Far be it from me to suggest that the GAC picked its revised advice deadlines strategically, but they do seem to fit quite nicely into a batchless Initial Evaluation period that lasts about a year, as some community members have recently proposed.

Those who were paying attention during the panel discussion portion of Reveal Day last week will have noticed me and a couple of audience members putting Cherine Chalaby, chair of ICANN’s board new gTLDs committtee, on the spot about batching.

Chalaby confirmed that the committee – which has the powers of the board when it comes to new gTLDs – wants to hear from the community about batching during the Prague meeting.

The trick, he indicated, is to be able to reconsider batching without simply relocating it to the pre-delegation phase of the program, which will probably be next year.

“We will listen to alternatives and we will think about it, there’s no doubt, you have to be open minded about it,” he said.

My sense is that if opponents of batching want to have a shot at getting it killed off, they’re going to have to present a strong case – with a fully considered alternative – during their face-to-face with the ICANN board of directors on Monday.

Moaning and whining isn’t going to cut it this time, ICANN is going to want to see dates, delegation models, the works.

Fourth digital archery service launches

Knipp has become the fourth company to reveal a service to help new gTLD applicants automate their participation in ICANN’s digital archery application batching system.

With First Come First Batch, you only pay if you get into the first batch.

It appears to be the cheapest such service to launch so far, with “early bird” pricing starting at $7,500. If you sign up after June 20, it will set you back $12,500, still the cheapest on the market.

The service is limited to 500 gTLDs, with a limited number per ICANN region and a Europe bias.

Knipp is the outfit behind the Germany-based back-end provider Tango Registry Services which has partnered with Minds + Machines on the .nrw (North Rhine-Westphalia) application.

Key-Systems has 31 gTLD clients, offers digital archery services

Key-Systems has become the third company to announce it is providing new gTLD applicants with a chance to possibly increase their chances of success with digital archery.

The service costs €15,000 ($18,800) if the company gets your application into ICANN’s first evaluation batch.

Almost as an aside, the company also revealed in a press release today that its KSRegistry back-end service is the named registry services provider for 31 gTLD applications.

Digital archery services are also being offered by Pool.com and Digital Archery Experts.

Today, Digital Archery Experts announced that it will split the cost of its service between clients if it winds up shooting arrows on behalf of multiple applicants in the same contention set.

Neustar adds voice to anti-batching chorus

Kevin Murphy, June 9, 2012, Domain Policy

Neustar and MarkMonitor have come out in opposition to digital archery and new gTLD batching.

In letters to ICANN this week, both companies have asked for delays in the digital archery process to give the community time to come up with better solutions.

Neustar’s new deputy general counsel Becky Burr wrote:

A modest delay would permit both ICANN and the community of affected stakeholders to consider the validity of those assumptions in light of actual applications.

Informed reflection by the community could result in greater efficiencies and fewer disputes down the road.

On the other hand, launching the Digital Archery process prior to publication of the list of applications is going to create winners and losers that will unnecessarily complicate, and perhaps prevent, thoughtful adjustments to the approach.

MarkMonitor’s Elisa Cooper simply wants to know “Why should some TLDs receive the benefit of being delegated before others?” She asked ICANN to reconsider whether batching is necessary.

While it is understandable that not all 1900+ applications cannot be simultaneously processed, why not just wait until all applications have completed the Initial Evaluation before announcing results. Why should some TLDs receive the benefit of being delegated before others?

If batching is even required, allow the Community to see the entire list of applications so that they can provide meaningful feedback. It may become apparent that certain types of strings should be processed together.

MarkMonitor also expressed concern that ICANN’s TLD Application System terms of use may prohibit applicants from using third-party archery services, such as those offered by Pool.com and Digital Archery Experts.

Sharing TAS passwords seems to be against the rules, but would be necessary to let a third party into your TAS account.

(I reported earlier in the week that it would also let the third-party view the confidential portions of your application, but that appears not to be the case after all.)

By officially coming out against batching and archery, Neustar and MarkMonitor join Melbourne IT, Group NBT, ARI Registry Service and the Intellectual Property Constituency.

Digital archery nevertheless is already underway, ICANN having launched the system on schedule yesterday.

All the applicants I’ve spoken to about this seem to be planning to wait until after the Big Reveal next Wednesday before taking their shots.

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.

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).

Melbourne IT CEO calls for digital archery delay

Kevin Murphy, May 31, 2012, Domain Policy

Theo Hnarakis, CEO of top-ten registrar Melbourne IT, has asked ICANN to delay its imminent “digital archery” gTLD application batching system until a better solution can be found.

Talking to DI today, Hnarakis said he’s worried that digital archery currently favors applicants for desirable generic strings such as .web at the expense of uncontested dot-brands.

With a limited number of places per batch, and with ICANN currently promising to promote all contested applications to the batch containing the best archer, we’re potentially looking at a first batch dominated by contested gTLDs rather than dot-brands.

This, Hnarakis said, will lead to many more second-level defensive registrations by companies that have applied for dot-brand gTLDs but were placed in later batches.

“We’re going to have a situation where very many companies who said they’re going to apply [for a dot-brand] to get off the treadmill of being forced to protect their brand at the second level won’t be able to do so for a year or two years,” he said.

Without an alternative batching process, the new gTLD program risks looking like “another exercise in generating a lot of defensive registrations from brand holders”, he said.

Hnarakis has written (pdf) to the ICANN board of directors’ new gTLD program committee to express his concerns and to point out that when ICANN starts to review the program in 2014 it risks not being able to evaluate the benefits of the dot-brand concept.

He said he prefers a batching method that favors uncontested and uncontroversial strings.

By the time the new gTLD public comment period is over in August, ICANN should have a pretty good idea of which applications are controversial, he said. This would require some subjective decision-making, something ICANN has always resisted, he acknowledged.

He wants a delay to the digital archery process, which is currently scheduled to kick off next Friday, for further community discussions.

“There seems to be a broad sentiment that this isn’t this best method, but people don’t want to rock the boat because they don’t want to see any further delay,” Hnarakis said.

“I don’t care if there’s any further delay,” he said. “I just want to make sure… it’s done in a way that’s fair for all parties, brand holders particularly, and that ICANN comes out of it with some credibility.”

Melbourne IT is well-known for its digital brand management services. It has 146 new gTLD consulting clients, the vast majority of which are dot-brand applicants.

As TAS closes, ICANN reveals new gTLD runway

Kevin Murphy, May 30, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has confirmed plans to open up the next phase of its new generic top-level domain program next week.

The controversial “digital archery” process, used to assign priority batches to applications, will begin June 8 and end June 28, according to a statement issued in the early hours of this morning.

That means digital archery will close the same day as ICANN’s public meeting in Prague ends.

The results of the batching will not be revealed until July 11.

And ICANN has confirmed that June 13 is indeed the date for the Big Reveal, when details of all the applications will be published for public perusal, as we reported Friday.

That would make June 12 or thereabouts the deadline for getting a full $185,000 refund.

Applicants have until a minute before midnight UTC tonight to finalize their applications if they have not done so already. Then, the TLD Application System closes for at least a few years.

Surprisingly, as many as a quarter of the anticipated 2,000+ applications were not yet complete as of last night, according to ICANN.

As of today, over 500 applications remain incomplete in TAS – either a complete application has not been submitted, and/or the full fee has not been paid. If you have not completed your application, we urge you to do so in TAS as quickly as possible.

Let’s hope the upgrades ICANN made to TAS are sufficient to handle a hammering today as so many applicants log in to the system.