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ICANN to tackle Trojan TLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2010, Domain Registries

When failing community-based top-level domain registries attempt to change their business models, ICANN may in future have a new way of dealing with them.

That seems to be a possible result of Employ Media’s controversial .jobs liberalization plans and the subsequent Reconsideration Request, which I blogged about last week.

The .jobs reconsideration revealed that not only are Reconsideration Requests a rubbish way to appeal ICANN’s decisions, but also that the Registry Services Evaluation Process is often a rubbish way to handle major contract changes.

The RSEP was introduced back in 2005 in belated response to a couple of controversial “services” that VeriSign, testing boundaries, had planned to unilaterally introduce in the .com registry, notably Site Finder and the Waiting List Service.

But since then the process has been used as a general-purpose tool for requesting changes to registry contracts, even when it’s debatable whether the changes fit the definition of “registry services”.

For example, when .jobs launched five years ago, it was put into Employ Media’s contract that the TLD was designed for companies to register their brands and list their jobs, and that’s all.

But that model didn’t work. It’s one of the least successful TLDs out there.

So the registry decided it could make more money with general purpose jobs boards, using generic .jobs domains. But it did not necessarily want to let existing independent jobs sites take part.

For want of a better term, I’ll call this an example of a “Trojan” TLD – a registry that gets its attractive TLD string approved by ICANN after making a certain set of promises, then later decides to move the goal posts to broaden its market, potentially disenfranchising others.

I’ve no reason to believe it was a premeditated strategy in Employ Media’s case, but precedent has now been set for future TLD applicants to use “community” as a foot in the door for broader aspirations.

To take a stupid, extreme, unrealistic example, imagine that ICM Registry’s .xxx flops badly. Should the company be allowed to start selling all the good .xxx domains to churches and other anti-porn campaigners? That would be a pretty big departure from its promises.

There were similar concerns, although not nearly as loudly expressed, with regards to Telnic’s recent contract changes, which will allow it to start registering phone number domain names in .tel, despite years of promises that it would not.

Go Daddy’s policy chief Tim Ruiz objected to the proposal on the grounds that it would be “unfair to other [.tel] applicants and potential applicants to allow an sTLD to change its purpose after the fact.”

The ICANN Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration Requests, acknowledged these problems in its decision on .jobs in Cartagena (pdf), concluding that it:

thinks that the Board should address the need for a process to evaluate amendments that may have the effect of changing, or seeking to change, an sTLD Charter or Stated Purpose of a sponsored, restricted or community-based TLD.

The BGC seems to be saying that the RSEP is not up to the task of dealing with community-based TLDs that later decide their business plans are not the money-spinners they had hoped and want to loosen up their agreed community restrictions.

The committee went on to say that:

Because such a process may impact gTLDs greatly and is a policy issue, the GNSO is the natural starting point for evaluating such a process. We therefore further recommend that the Board direct the CEO to create a briefing paper for the GNSO to consider on this matter, and for the GNSO to determine whether a policy development process should be commenced.

So the GNSO will soon have to decide whether new policies are needed to deal with broad contract changes at failing community TLDs.

Any new policies would, I believe, be binding on community TLDs approved under the new gTLD program as well as older sTLDs, so it will be an interesting policy track to follow.

ICANN asks .jobs registry to explain itself

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has asked .jobs registry manager Employ Media to clarify its plan to lift restrictions on who can register names in its top-level domain.

The ICANN board committee which handles Reconsideration Requests – essentially ICANN’s first-stop appeals court – has sent the registry a list of 13 questions (pdf), apparently distilled from a much longer list (pdf) supplied by the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition.

Employ Media wants to be able to start allocating premium generic .jobs domain names to companies via an RFP process and possibly auctions, dropping the rule which states that only companyname.jobs domains are permitted in the TLD.

ICANN’s board of directors approved the company’s plan in August, and Employ Media opened its RFP process shortly thereafter. Then the Compliance Coalition filed its Reconsideration Request.

This ad-hoc coalition comprises a number of employment web sites, such as Monster.com, and the Newspapers Association of America, which believe Employ Media’s plans fall outside its remit and could pose a competitive threat.

It’s common knowledge that the registry was planning to allocate a big chunk of premium real estate to the DirectEmployers Association, which wants to run a massive jobs board called universe.jobs, fed traffic by thousands of generic industry or geographic .jobs names.

Essentially, the Coalition’s questions, echoed by the Board Governance Committee, seem to be a roundabout way of asking whether this violates the .JOBS Charter, which limits the registrant base to corporate human resources departments.

Notably, the BGC wants to know when a universe.jobs promotional white paper (pdf) was produced, how much input Employ Media had in it, and whether the ICANN board got to see it before making its decision.

(A bit of a ludicrous question really, given that the BGC is comprised of four ICANN directors)

It also wants to know which purported “independent job site operators” have welcomed the Employ Media plan (a situation reminiscent of the recent unsuccessful calls for ICM Registry to disclose its .xxx supporters.)

The BGC’s Question 9 also strikes me as interesting, given that it does not appear to be inspired directly by the Coalition’s list of questions:

Please state whether Employ Media took any steps to prevent or interfere with any entity or person’s ability to state its position, or provide information, to the Board regarding amendment of the .JOBS Registry Agreement before or during the 5 August 2010 Board meeting.

I’m now beginning to wonder whether we may see a rare reversal of an ICANN board decision based on a Reconsideration Request.

ICANN to reconsider .jobs auction deal

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN will take a second look at its decision to allow the .jobs registry to allocate premium domain names to its partners, following an outcry from jobs boards including Monster.com.

The Board Governance Committee posted a brief note yesterday confirming that it will process the Reconsideration Request filed by the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition a month earlier.

This does not mean that the .jobs decision will be reversed. The BGC has the power to make recommendations to the ICANN board, which the board is free to accept or reject.

The Coalition is annoyed that ICANN has given Employ Media, the .jobs registry, a carte blanche to allocate premium dictionary and geographic domain names via an RFP process.

Many expect the registry to allocate substantial chunks of real estate to the DirectEmployers Association, under previously announced plans to create a free listings site at universe.jobs.

Under ICANN bylaws, the BGC now has 90 days to reach a decision.

The deadline for submissions in response to Employ Media’s RFP is this Friday.