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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?