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Digital archery looked “silly” but had “minor risks”, ICANN board was told

Kevin Murphy, July 2, 2012, Domain Policy

While ICANN staff acknowledged that digital archery was perceived as “silly”, it told the board of directors that it was “straightforward” and “unambiguous and easy to execute”.

That’s according to the latest delayed release of meeting minutes and briefing documents detailing board-level discussions between the Costa Rica and Prague meetings.

There was significant debate at the board level about digital archery prior to its approval in March, with directors generally favoring an auction model instead, these documents reveal.

Digital archery as a method of batching new gTLD applications was approved by ICANN at the end of March. It was then suspended two weeks ago and finally killed off last Wednesday.

Back in March, the board of directors’ new gTLD program committee was presented with a strong case in favor of archery by ICANN staff.

According to March 28 briefing document (pdf):

Implementation of the auction model at this late date presents significant risk of: program delay, legal action and significant reputational impact as described below. Board working group members tend to agree with this viewpoint but there is a split of opinion. The digital archery model presents minor risks; primarily a minor reputational risk from the perceived awkwardness of the model.

Analysis indicates that the legal risk raised by a random selection program will be satisfactorily addressed. This is true even though the results appear to have an element of randomness.

Implementation of the digital archery model is essentially completed. It presents no schedule risk. Its operation is straightforward.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and it reveals in this case that digital archery was far from straightforward in its operation, and did in fact present schedule risk.

The new gTLD program is currently in semi-limbo while ICANN tries to figure out a way to sequence the processing of applications in a fair and timely way.

Other documents published following Prague include the lengthy minutes of a May 29 committee meeting at which directors argued with staff about how to geographically weight batches.

Staff pushed for a proportional system – where if 10% of applications came from a specific region, 10% of the first batch would be drawn from that region – the minutes reveal.

But several directors argued and won the case for the “round robin” scenario, which would have given advantage to applicants from under-represented regions instead.

Newly published minutes from May 6 also reveal that ICANN considered offering 1% interest on refunds to applicants that withdrew their applications before Reveal Day.

Digital archery is dead, but uncertainties remain

Kevin Murphy, June 28, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has killed off its unpopular “digital archery” scheme, which it had planned to use to rank and batch new top-level domain applications for evaluation.

But the organization has not yet replaced it with anything, leaving gTLD applicants without their much-sought-after certainty for at least the next three weeks.

In a resolution yesterday, ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee approved the following resolution:

Resolved (2012.06.27.NG06), the New gTLD Program Committee directs the President and CEO to terminate the Digital Archery process as approved in Resolutions 2011.12.08.04-2011.12.08.07.

Given the discussions between the ICANN board and the rest of the community here at ICANN 44 in Prague this week, it would have been more surprising if archery had survived.

Not everyone is happy to see it go, of course.

Richard Schreier, CEO of erstwhile digital archery service provider Pool.com, took to the mic at the ICANN public forum this afternoon to ask that ICANN sticks to its decisions in future.

He further noted that the decision to scrap archery had been made without the input of applicants who are not in attendance at the meeting.

Now that archery has gone, the ICANN board has left a vacuum – nobody knows how applications will be prioritized for processing and evaluation.

Committee chair Cherine Chalaby said that ICANN will now open a comment period for all applicants, in order to help build a “roadmap” to “detail the next steps and timelines”.

This roadmap is due, it seems before the new gTLD committee’s next meeting, which is due to take place approximately three weeks from now.

This does not necessarily mean the program has been delayed, however. ICANN senior vice president Kurt Pritz said a few times this week that evaluators will start looking at apps July 12.

New gTLD application batching dead?

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2012, Domain Policy

It’s looking increasingly possible that not only is digital archery dead, but that ICANN may also kill off the idea of batching new gTLD applications entirely this week.

Given the number of groveling apologies from staff and board about the failure of digital archery over the last few days, there doesn’t seem to be any way it can be plausibly reinstated following its shut-down last week.

But from the first three days of meetings and hallway conversations here at ICANN 44 in Prague, it’s pretty clear that doing away with batching is under serious consideration at board level.

It’s also my understanding that ICANN staff, which initially appeared reluctant to abandon plans to divide the 1,930 applications into three or four batches, is now also thinking along the same lines.

Batching is unpopular among most — but by no means all — applicants, because they don’t want to risk losing a time-to-market advantage by being allocated to a later batch.

When director Chris Disspain told an audience of applicants yesterday, “What I think the board thinks you want now is certainty,” the reaction suggested he had hit the nail on the head.

The problem ICANN has with a single batchless evaluation process is that it faces — hypothetically at least — up to 1,409 unique gTLDs exiting Initial Evaluation at the same time.

This could cause problems because it’s promised the DNS root server operators and the Governmental Advisory Committee that it will delegate no more than 1,000 new gTLDs per year.

These commitments are, at least for now, non-negotiable, chairman Steve Crocker has indicated this week.

So ICANN has to figure out a way to “rate limit” application processing so that no more than 1,000 gTLDs go live in the same 12 month period.

Many opponents of batching have stated that the process already contains several throttling mechanisms, or “gateways” as ARI Registry Services CEO Adrian Kinderis calls them.

For starters, not every application will be successful. Some will be withdrawn soon because they were tactical filings, others will not pass Initial Evaluation and will be withdrawn.

Some will fail Initial Evaluation and enter Extended Evaluation. Others will face formal objections or will find themselves in contention resolution.

In these cases, applicants can expect an extra six months of processing time, which will act as a natural throttle.

For those applications that get through to contract negotiations, ICANN’s legal department will operate on a strict first-in-first-out basis with the paper contracts, Disspain said yesterday.

But there’s a concern that these gateways might not be enough to smooth out the evaluation and approval process.

Various solutions have been put forward by the ICANN community so far this week.

These have ranged from the predictable “IDN applicants should go first” from IDN applicants and “brands should go first” from brand applicants, which both seem unlikely to be adopted, to some more inventive ideas.

Top Level Domain Holdings founder Fred Krueger and others have suggested that one way to prioritize applications would be to ask the large portfolio applicants — TLDH, Google, Donuts, et al — to decide which of their gTLDs they want to hit the root first.

“I value .london significantly more than I value .beer,” Krueger said yesterday. “I’m sure Google values .google more than .lol.”

Another idea, put forward by Uniregistry’s outside counsel Bret Fausett yesterday, was to rank applications according to how cleanly they exit Initial Evaluation.

Applications that made it through Initial Evaluation without the evaluators needing to ask any clarifying questions would be considered the “first batch”. Those that needed a single question answered would be the “second batch”, and so on.

This system would have the advantages of enabling a single batch while rate-limiting applications based on their inherent quality.

On the face of it, it’s quite an attractive idea, and it’s my sense that Fausett’s approach was well-received by ICANN. We might be hearing more about it as ICANN 44 progresses.

Digital archery suspended, surely doomed

Kevin Murphy, June 23, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has turned off its unpopular “digital archery” system after new gTLD applicants and independent testing reported “unexpected results”.

As delegates continue to hit the tarmac here in Prague for ICANN 44, at which batching may well be hottest topic in town, digital archery is now surely doomed.

ICANN said in a statement this morning:

The primary reason is that applicants have reported that the timestamp system returns unexpected results depending on circumstances. Independent analysis also confirmed the variances, some as a result of network latency, others as a result of how the timestamp system responds under differing circumstances.

While that’s pretty vague, it could partly refer to the kind of geographic randomness reported by ARI Registry Services, following testing, earlier this week.

It could also refer to the kind of erratic results reported by Top Level Domain Holdings two weeks ago, which were initially dismissed as a minor display-layer error.

TLDH has also claimed that the number of opportunistic third-party digital archery services calibrating their systems against the live site had caused latency spikes.

Several applicants also said earlier this week that the TLD Application System had been inaccessible for long periods, apparently due to a Citrix overloading problem.

Only 20% of applications had so far registered their archery timestamp, according to ICANN, despite the fact that the system was due to close down on June 28.

Make no mistake, this is another technical humiliation for ICANN, one which casts the resignation of new gTLD program director Michael Salazar on Thursday in a new light.

For applicants, ICANN said evaluations were still proceeding according to plan, but that the batching problem is now open for face-to-face community discussion:

The evaluation process will continue to be executed as designed. Independent firms are already performing test evaluations to promote consistent application of evaluation criteria. The time it takes to delegate TLDs will depend on the number and timing of batches

The information gathered from community input to date and here in Prague will be weighed by the New gTLD Committee of the Board. The Committee will work to ensure that community sentiment is fully understood and to avoid disruption to the evaluation schedule.

Expect ICANN staff to take a community beating over these latest developments as ICANN 44 kicks off here in Prague.

There’s light support for batching, and even less for digital archery. It’s looking increasingly likely that neither will survive the meeting.

ARI: digital archery is a lottery and we can prove it

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2012, Domain Policy

ARI Registry Services has tested ICANN’s digital archery system and concluded that it’s little better than a “lottery”.

The company today released the results of a network latency test that it conducted earlier this month, which it says proves that applicants in North America have a “significant advantage” over others in securing a place in ICANN’s first new gTLD evaluation batch.

ARI basically tried to figure out how important the geographic location of the applicant is on digital archery.

It concluded that the further away you were, there was not only more network latency, as you would expect, but also that the latency became less predictable, making archery less about skill and more about luck.

According to the company (with my emphasis):

The conclusion is simple; the closer an applicant is to the ICANN Data Centre in Virginia, the greater likelihood of repeatable results, allowing a significantly higher chance of calibrating the network latency and thus setting a low Digital Archery time. It is therefore a significant advantage being located as close as possible to ICANN’s Digital Archery target or employing an organisation who is.

It is ARI’s contention that the frequency and size of network changes seen in networks outside North America mean the greatest influence on an applicant’s Digital Archery shot is luck. The further one is from North America, the greater the influence luck has on an applicant’s Digital Archery shot. Those applicants without the resources to access systems or representative organisations within North America are to all intents and purposes, playing a lottery, hoping that latency remains consistent between their calibration tests and their actual shot. The applicant’s ability to influence this game of chance reduces the further they are from North American networks.

While it might read for the most part like a technical white paper, make no mistake: this is a strongly political document.

By putting this information out there and linking it directly to the legally scary word “lottery”, ARI knows that it is putting ICANN in a very uncomfortable position.

The reason ICANN settled upon the digital archery system in the first place — rather than the preferred option of random selection — was because gambling is illegal in California and the organization’s lawyers were worried about nuisance lawsuits.

ARI has, essentially, just given fodder to the kinds of legal vultures that will be thinking about such lawsuits anyway.

The company is one of the strongest opponents of digital archery. In a recent interview with DI, CEO Adrian Kinderis called for batching to be scrapped in favor of a single evaluation period of 10 to 12 months.

You can read ARI’s 19-page report here.