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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.