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New gTLD reveal day is probably June 13

ICANN is set to reveal its list of new generic top-level domain applications on or around June 13, according to several sources.

My understanding is that the date has not yet been set in stone – it could be a day or so either side – but that June 13 is the current target.

The unveiling of all 2,000+ applications is expected to be accompanied by a press conference and panel discussion in London, both of which will be webcast for those unable to attend in person.

Confirming the venue for this event is, I believe, one of the factors contributing to the current uncertainty about the date.

A June 13 date means that the “digital archery” batching process will – barring unforeseen circumstances – kick off at some point during the first two weeks of June and end after the reveal.

ICANN said earlier this week that the archery process will start before reveal day and will last for three weeks.

Digital Archery lessons from tonight’s tweet-up

Kevin Murphy, May 22, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN held a Twitter session tonight during which executives answered questions about the new gTLD program in that notoriously restrictive 140-character format.

Unsurprisingly, in light of the frustration borne out of ongoing delays, most of the questions were about timing.

New gTLD applicants wanted to know when ICANN plans to host its Big Reveal event, when the Digital Archery application batching system will open, and when the batches will be confirmed.

The only specific date applicants were given was May 29, which is when ICANN plans to publish its updated program timetable.

But @ICANN gave away enough information to make a broad estimate about the date digital archery will commence.

First, ICANN confirmed that the Big Reveal will be before its public meeting in Prague kicks off on June 23.

ICANN also said that the digital archery process will begin before the reveal day and finish after.

The archery window will be open for about three weeks, we learned.

We can draw some broad conclusions from this information.

The latest possible date for the Big Reveal, given what ICANN said tonight, is June 22 (the Friday before Prague), so the latest possible date for the digital archery window opening is June 21.

In that case, digital archery would run June 21 – July 12, or thereabouts.

Because the archery can’t start before the applications are all submitted, the earliest window would be May 31 – June 20.

My estimates err towards the lower end. I think we’re looking at archery starting within a week of the application window closing and ending immediately before or during Prague.

If ICANN decides that it wants the archery out of the way before the meeting begins, the window could have to open as early as May 31.

If it wants the window to close post-Prague, we’re looking at it opening around June 11.

Brands are Pool.com’s surprise digital archery clients

Kevin Murphy, May 17, 2012, Domain Services

Companies applying to ICANN for “dot-brand” top-level domains are among those signing up for Pool.com’s new digital archery service, according to Rob Hall, CEO of parent Momentous.

The company launched its Digital Archery Engine last month, not too long after ICANN confirmed its controversial method of batching new gTLD applications for processing.

Now, Pool is receiving interest from not only mass-market generic string applicants, but also dot-brands.

“It’s a wider swath of TLDs that I thought originally,” said Hall. “At first I thought for sure the generics and the domains that might be in competition.”

“It’s amazing to me that a lot of people out there are saying the brands don’t care, the brands are doing this just defensively, the brands couldn’t care less about going first… but a lot of them do,” he said.

“A lot of them are saying ‘I want to be in that first batch’, which I wouldn’t have necessarily expected,” he added.

He said he had no idea what the motivations are for these brands.

“Our job is to get them in the first batch, not to ask them why they want to be there,” he said.

Hall said it wasn’t clear how many clients Pool would eventually sign up to the service, but said he expects it to be definitely much more than 50.

ICANN’s digital archery system – which will batch applicants according to which can most accurately send a message over the internet to a target time – was poorly received by most people.

Unsurprisingly, Hall is not one of those people.

Pool is one of several companies that have been competing to register expiring domain names for the better part of a decade, so its systems have been fine-tuned for sending messages over the internet quickly.

While the big registries such as .com use the EPP protocol, some of the registries Pool interacts with use HTTP, which seems to be ICANN’s preferred option for digital archery.

Hall said Pool aims for latency of less than 6 milliseconds. Its servers are positioned topologically close to registries – typically one or two hops – and the software measures monitors network conditions.

“The key is being able to detect what is the latency and to predict it, then factor that into the engine to say ‘When do I fire?’,” he said.

He does not anticipate the CAPTCHAs or other Turing tests presenting a problem – Pool would simply bring a human into the equation.

The Digital Archery Engine is not cheap. If Pool gets you into the first batch, you’re $25,000 out of pocket. If you’re in the top half of batches (batch three of five counts as top half) it’s $10,000.

The company was singled out recently by ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency as an “insider” exploiting the digital archery system as a “revenue extraction opportunity”.

A letter highly critical of the system from IPC chair Steve Metallitz said:

This arcane and seemingly arbitrary batching method will also reinforce the widespread impression that all ICANN procedures are dominated by “insiders” with contractual relationships to ICANN, who will surely know best how to manipulate this initiative to their own benefit, or that of their paying customers. It is difficult to reconcile such an outcome with ICANN’s obligation to act in the public interest.

Hall said was happy for the free advertising. “I’d like to thank them,” he said.

But he said Pool isn’t “manipulating” anything.

“They’ve called this ‘digital archery’,” he said. “It’s a game to see who’s best at it. That’s what they’ve designed. We’re not gaming anything. And we’re not offering this to insiders, we’re offering this to everyone.”

New gTLDs now a month behind schedule

Kevin Murphy, April 28, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has announced yet another delay in its new generic top-level domains program.

Last night’s much-anticipated update on its efforts to deal with the fallout of the TLD Application System security bug merely deferred resolution of the problem for a week. Again.

The whole program is now essentially a month behind schedule.

Chief operating office Akram Atallah said in a statement:

ICANN will notify all applicants within the next seven business days whether our analysis shows they were affected by the technical glitch in the TLD application system.

Shortly after the notification process has been completed, we will announce the schedule for reopening the application system and completing the application period. We are mindful of the need to allow sufficient time during the reopening period for applicants to confirm the completeness of their submissions.

The seven business days for applicant notifications takes us to May 8.

It’s not clear whether TAS would reopen immediately after this, but I suspect we’re probably looking at a buffer of at least a day or two between the end of notifications and TAS coming back online.

ICANN has previously said that TAS will be open for five business days, to enable applicants to finish off their applications. This brings us to, at the very earliest, May 15.

The Big Reveal of the list of applications, I estimate, will come one to two weeks after that.

We’re essentially looking at a late May or early June finish to a process that should have ended in late April.

As a result, the entire timetable for evaluating, approving and delegating new gTLDs will likely also be pushed out by a month.

For applicants, the anticipated November 12 date for the completion of the first-batch Initial Evaluation phase is now likely to come some time in mid-December instead.

Unhelpfully, the deadlines for filing objections and requesting Extended Evaluation for first-batch applicants is now likely to fall around about January 1, 2013.

That’s assuming we do not see any more delays, of course, which I think would be optimistic.

Pool.com offers $25k gTLD digital archery service

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2012, Domain Registrars

Domain name drop-catcher Pool.com hopes to make a quick buck out of ICANN’s new generic top-level domain application batching process.

The company has announced a Digital Archery Engine service, which it says could help new gTLD applicants get their applications near the top of the evaluation queue.

It’s based on Pool’s experience catching expiring names to auction, and ICANN’s controversial “digital archery” method of allocating applications into batches for processing.

Getting into the first batch of 500 applications is expected to knock at least five months off the wait time for new gTLD approval, delegation and launch. For many applicants, this time-to-market advantage is important.

But it’s not cheap. If Pool gets your application into the first batch it will set you back $25,000. If you’re in the top 50% of applications, the price tag is $10,000. Anything slower is free.

ICANN approves “digital archery” gTLD batching

Kevin Murphy, March 31, 2012, Domain Policy

It’s official. ICANN’s board of directors has approved the widely derided “time target variance” procedure for batching new generic top-level domain applications.

It’s now being officially called “digital archery”.

The ICANN board met on Wednesday to vote in favor of the system, which was first outlined by senior VP Kurt Pritz at the Costa Rica meeting earlier this month.

Resolved (2012.03.28.01), the Board confirms the approval of secondary timestamp/digital archery as the mechanism for sorting new gTLD applications into batches, and directs that the operational details of the mechanism be communicated to applicants and the public as necessary and appropriate.

The digital archery system outlined in the resolution is pretty much identical to what Pritz described at ICANN 43.

New gTLD applicants will be asked to select a target time, then log into a special page of the TLD Application System to hit a “Submit” button as close to that time as possible.

The applicants whose clicks are recorded closest to the target time get to be in the first batch. ICANN will rotate through applicants from its five regions to avoid geographic bias.

There’ll also be an opt-out for those applicants for whom time to market is less important.

“The closer to zero the secondary timestamp is the more likely the application will be processed in the earliest batch, assuming the applicant has opted in to the earliest batch,” the resolution reads.

The system still appears to favor applicants skilled in drop-catching and other domainer disciplines.

Judging by screenshots released by ICANN today, there will be no Turing test (such as a CAPTCHA), which suggests that a scripted virtual “click” may be the best way to get a good timestamp.

It’s also not yet clear how ICANN plans to address the problem of network latency, to prevent applicants “renting a room at the Marina Del Rey Marriott” and thereby reducing the number of network hops between themselves and ICANN’s servers.

The resolution’s rationale reads: “Latency concerns are addressed in a fair manner so that applicants are not put at an advantage or disadvantage based on their geographic location”.

The digital archery system was met with borderline disbelief by many ICANN 43 attendees.

ICANN’s board resolution suggests that the system may have also been controversial within the board. It notes:

some members of the community have expressed concerns about whether the digital archery proposal is sensible and fair, and an informal subgroup of the Board has studied the feasibility, benefits, and risks of the proposal as well as alternative batching mechanisms such as auction.

Here’s how new gTLD batching will work

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2012, Domain Policy

ICANN has revealed the unusual process new top-level domain applicants will have to use to compete for premium gTLD evaluation batch slots.

Senior vice president Kurt Pritz described a “Target Time Variance” system at a meeting with the GNSO Council at ICANN’s public meeting in Costa Rica this morning.

It’s a fairground skill game, essentially, but without the carnies.

Here’s how it will work.

At some point after the application window has closed, new gTLD applicants will be asked to pick a “target time” – a date and time in the near future.

They will then have to visit the ICANN TLD Application System and click a “Submit” button as close to that target time as possible.

The closer the applicant is to its chosen target time — presumably measured by ICANN’s server time — the higher priority in the batching process its application.

After all the times are collected, batches will be created by selecting the fastest applicant from each of the five ICANN geographic regions, then the second-fastest, and so on in a round-robin fashion.

Applicants will also be able to opt-out if time to market is not a major concern.

What ICANN seems to have created could be compared to a domain name drop or a landrush period, in which the company with the best technology stands the best chance of securing the asset.

Pritz said applicants will get a chance to test the system and calibrate their response times.

Network latency at the time the applicant hits submit may prove to be a critical factor – applicants are already today thinking aloud about renting servers as few hops from ICANN’s servers as possible.

“It’s clearly first-come first served,” GNSO Council chair Stephane Van Gelder said during the session this morning.

Council member Wendy Seltzer asked, given all the unpredictable network factors that could impact an applicant’s response time, how Time Target Variance is any different to random selection.

ICANN has of course rejected random selection – everybody’s preferred option – because companies opposed to new gTLDs would immediately sue ICANN to block the program for violations of Californian gambling laws.

“Random selection is just not available,” Pritz said. “Significant legal analysis was done over a long period of time.”

But there’s no beating the lawyers, apparently. Now attendees here in Costa Rica are wondering whether this skill game may potentially violate American disability/access laws, which doesn’t seem to be something ICANN has considered.

The Time Target Variance system has not yet been approved by the ICANN board of directors. That could happen at its meeting this Friday.

Details of new gTLD batching process revealed

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2012, Domain Policy

Some details about how ICANN will prioritize new generic top-level domain applications into batches have emerged.

The Applicant Guidebook states that gTLD applications will be processed in batches of 500, but all it says about the batching process is that it will not be random. Rather, some form of “secondary timestamp” is proposed.

The batching process is important mainly to commercial, open registries, which stand to make much more money by hitting the market early, before new gTLD fatigue sets in.

Some tantalizing hints about how batches will be created can be found in the minutes of the ICANN board of directors December 8 meeting, which were recently published.

From the minutes we learn the following:

  • Applicants are not going to find out how batching will work until after April 12, when all the applications have already been received.
  • The timestamp could be created by an email sent by the applicant to a specific address at a specific time, or some function within the TLD Application System.
  • The system will not be biased towards specific geographic regions – ICANN will cycle through the fastest responses from each region when it creates the batches.
  • There will be an opt-out for applicants for whom time is not a factor.
  • Contested gTLDs will be batched with the fastest applicant.

The minutes represent ICANN’s staff’s thinking two months ago – and the conversation confused several directors – so the batching method finally selected could obviously differ.

However, if time-to-market is important for your gTLD, it might be a good idea to think about renting a server as few hops from ICANN as possible.

This is what the minutes say:

The third, and remaining option, is a secondary timestamp. This would occur after the time of the application window closing in order to provide privacy. Applicants will not be advised of the exact method until after the applications are received, which will ensure further fairness. It could be an email response to a mailbox, or the re-registration of an application, or another method. The method used will be decentralized, so that the region rom which the secondary timestamp is submitted is irrelevant. The timestamp will cycle through the regions of the world, awarding a batching preference to the top-rated application from one region, then the succeeding four regions, and continue the cycle again. In the case of contending applications, the applications will be grouped in the earliest batch where any of the contending applications are placed. There will also be an opt-out mechanism, included at the community’s request. Applicants may request to be evaluated at the end, if they prefer to be evaluated and delegated later.

ICANN leaves new gTLD batching and support questions hanging

Kevin Murphy, December 13, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN came closer to answering two very important questions about the new top-level domains application process at its board meeting last Thursday.

While confirming that cheaper application fees will be made available to worthy applicants, and that some sort of batching system will be introduced, ICANN has provided worryingly few details about both systems, just a month before the new gTLD program starts.

Application batching

ICANN is currently expecting over 1,000 new gTLD applications, but it’s said that it only has the capacity to process 500 at a time. It needs a way to fairly create two or more batches.

Commercial applicants obviously want their gTLDs processed and delegated as quickly as possible, so how the batches are created is obviously a critical detail.

Little progress has been made on this issue since Dakar.

A lottery has been ruled out, according to Thursday’s board resolutions, because it would be likely to attract nuisance lawsuits under California gambling law.

If you’ve been following ICANN closely for the last few months, or reading DI, you already knew this.

The board has also said that there will be no benefit to applying early during the January-April application window. We already knew this too.

Instead, as ICANN staff have said before and the board has now approved, there will be a “secondary time stamp … used for purposes of determining the processing order”.

This system has evidently not been finalized yet. Nevertheless, the resolution contains a few hints about how it might work.

First, the TLD Application System will not be used to acquire the stamps, but it may be used to communicate [something] with applicants.

Acquiring a stamp will require “judgment” by applicants. Getting into the first batch will apparently be a skill game, so as to not invite lottery lawsuits.

There will also be some kind of regional allotment system, so that applicants from outside Europe and North America have just as good a chance of getting into the first batch.

Finally, there will be an opt-out mechanism, so applicants with less urgent applications (.brands, perhaps) can choose to be batched later.

It’s not much to go on, but since the process of acquiring a time stamp will not come into play until after April 12, it’s not something applicants need to worry too much about at the moment.

It’s also not yet clear whether positions in the queue will be transferable. A slot in the first batch could be worth something, to some applicants.

Applicant Support

A mechanism for granting reduced fees to “needy” applicants in the developing world has been on the cards for a while. ICANN set aside $2 million in June to fund an Applicant Support program.

On Thursday, its board of directors approved an application fee reduction from $185,000 to $47,000, for “candidates that qualify according to the established criteria”.

While full details of these criteria have not been revealed, the board resolution suggests that “demonstrating need and operating in the public benefit” are the primary factors.

It’s not clear any more that the support program will be limited to applicants in the developing world, as had been recommended by the Joint Applicant Support working group.

The resolution does not mention geography, and senior VP Kurt Pritz suggested at last week’s US Senate hearing into new gTLDs that the YMCA of the USA may qualify for the reduced fee.

It appears that applicants wanting to take advantage of the reduced fee will have to take a bit of risk, however, paying their $47,000 fee up-front on the understanding that they will lose their money and their application if they are subsequently deemed unworthy of support.

Applicants will not find out if they’ve made the cut until November 2012.

ICANN’s $2 million only covers reduced fees for 14 applicants, and it’s not yet clear what would happen if more than 14 candidates qualify and ICANN cannot find third-party funding to support them.

Essentially, it’s looking a bit messy at the moment, and non-profits are only a little closer to understanding what their funding requirements might be today than they were last week.

New gTLD batching: should .brands go first?

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2011, Domain Policy

Should “.brand” and “.city” top-level domain applicants get priority treatment when ICANN picks which new gTLDs get to go live first?

That’s the worry in the domain name industry this week, in the wake of rumors about ICANN’s latest thinking on “batching” applications into a processing queue.

ICANN has said it will not process more than 500 applications at a time, but this may well be a low-ball estimate of how many it will actually receive in the first round.

Depending on how many companies decide to pull the trigger on .brand or .keyword applications, we could be looking at three times that number.

Random selection is probably a non-starter due to the risk of falling foul of US gambling laws, and ICANN has already ruled out an auction.

It’s likely that there will be a way to “opt out” of the first batch for applicants not particularly concerned about time-to-market, senior staff said at ICANN’s meeting in Dakar last month.

But the rumor doing the rounds this week is that the organization is thinking about prioritizing uncontested applications – gTLDs with a single applicant – into earlier batches.

This would mean that .brand and .city gTLDs would probably find themselves in the first batches, while contested generics such as .web and .music would be processed later.

It’s just a rumor at this point, but it’s one I’ve heard from a few sources. It also got an airing during Neustar’s #gtldchat Twitter conflab this evening.

Any gTLD purporting to represent a geographic location will need an endorsement from the relevant local government, which will lead to most geo-gTLD being uncontested.

Most, but perhaps not all, .brands are also likely to be uncontested, due to the relative uniqueness of the brand names with the resources to apply.

On the other hand, potentially lucrative strings such as .web, .blog, and .music will almost certainly have multiple applicants and will require lengthier processing cycles.

With a de facto prioritization of .brands and .cities, ICANN could put a bunch of gTLDs into the root, proving the new gTLD concept and giving it time to bulk up on experienced staff, before the whole thing sinks into a quagmire of objections, trademark gaming and spurious litigation.

I can see how that might be attractive option.

I’m not sure if it would solve the problem, however. If we’re looking at 1,500 applications, that’s three batches, so it would not be as simple as dividing them into contested and uncontested piles.

Of course, nobody knows how many applications will be submitted, and what the mix will be. It’s a very difficult problem to tackle in the dark.

What do you think? Should the contested status of a gTLD be used as a criterion for batching purposes?