Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Judgment day for .xxx and .jobs

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors will today meet to decide the fate of the .xxx and .jobs top-level domains.

ICM Registry will find out whether its contract to run .xxx will have to face a potentially lengthy review by ICANN’s notoriously slow-footed Governmental Advisory Committee.

Employ Media will find out whether it will be allowed to relax its registration rules to allow non-company-name .jobs domains.

If the board decides no further GAC intervention is needed, ICM will be on a fast track to having its TLD considered for delegation in Cartagena this December.

If Employ Media’s proposal is rejected, it faces more years in the wilderness of managing a registration base in the low tens of thousands.

I have a track record of lousy predictions, but I’m going to go out on a limb again and make a low-confidence prediction that both registries are going to get what they want.

I’m not sure if it’s been noted before, but there are some strong similarities between the two TLDs and their proposals.

In the case of .xxx, some of the main opponents of the domain have been the adult industry itself. With the .jobs liberalization, the loudest outcry has come from jobs boards.

Both are essentially cases of a registry proposing something that makes good business sense for itself, but which is not necessarily what a significant portion of its would-be constituents want.

In the case of ICM, lack of support from the porn business was what originally killed off the application (at least, that was the official line), a decision that ICANN was recently forced to reverse if not recant.

In the case of .jobs, ICANN’s recent summary and analysis of the well-attended public comment period, which the board will be given prior to voting, may be a telling.

Most of the opposition to the .jobs deal was organized by the International Association of Employment Web Sites, which itself sent a long letter spelling out precisely why it thinks the scheme is bogus.

Of the 2,600 words IAEWS submitted, ICANN’s summary and analysis document quotes just two sentences, one of which is this:

“Neither human resources professionals employed in corporate human resources (‘HR’) departments nor executive search/staffing firms [which are part of the .JOBS community] are eligible for membership in IAEWS.”

The quote is pulled from the introduction of the IAEWS letter, rather than the substance of its objection, and the text in square brackets is ICANN’s own insertion.

I can’t think of any reason that text is worth quoting other than in order to dilute the significance of the IAEWS’ arguments against the .jobs liberalization.

Indeed, the document uses more wordage to describe the nature of the IAEWS letter-writing campaign than it does the content of its letters, which can’t look good for the IAEWS.

Employ Media’s response to the IAEWS letter is quoted at greater length, particularly the bit where it compares its own plans to the new gTLD program.

While they claim that the addition of occupation, industry and geographical identifiers at the second level within the .JOBS sTLD will lead to increased confusion within the marketplace, it is hard to reconcile this argument to ICANN’s extensive public policy work and implementation plan in connection with the new gTLD process. The same fundamental economic basis for going forward with the whole new gTLD initiative also applies to this .JOBS RSEP request; these issues should not be re debated and should not delay or deny approval of the .JOBS RSEP request.

If you’re an ICANN board member, aware of how much of ICANN’s credibility is tied up with the new TLD program, can you really argue with that?

Of course, board and staff don’t always agree, so I may be way off the plot here, but it seems to me that .jobs is likely to very soon become a considerably more open namespace.

.XXX domain contract could get approved next Thursday

The application for the porn-only .xxx top-level domain is on the just-published agenda for ICANN’s board meeting next Thursday.

The line item reads merely “ICM Registry Application for .XXX sTLD”, but I’m told that ICM and ICANN staff have already negotiated a new contract that the board will be asked to consider.

If the board gives it the nod, it would keep the .xxx TLD on track for possible delegation at ICANN’s Cartagena meeting in early December, meaning sales could begin as early as the first quarter 2011.

According to last month’s Brussels resolution, the board has to first decide whether the contract complies with previous Governmental Advisory Committee advice, or whether new advice is required.

If ICM jumps that hurdle, the contract will be published for public comment (fun fun fun) for three weeks to a month, before returning to the board for a vote on delegation.

Also on the agenda for the August 5 board meeting is the issue of whether to give Employ Media the right to liberalize its .jobs TLD and start accepting generic domain registrations.

In the HR industry, the .jobs debate has been just as loud as the .xxx controversy was in the porn business. Some companies think the changes would be unfair on existing jobs sites.

There are a few other intriguing items on next Thursday’s agenda.

The board will discuss the “International Dimension of ICANN”, “Data & Consumer Protection” and “UDRP Status Briefing”, all of which strike me as rather enigmatic, among other topics.

The UDRP item may refer to the ongoing debate about whether ICANN needs to have contractual relations with its UDRP providers.

DirectEmployers calls shenanigans on .jobs outcry

The DirectEmployers Association has gone on the offensive in the continuing battle over the .jobs liberalization, accusing its detractors of conducting an “astroturf” campaign.

Bill Warren, founder and executive director of the DEA, has filed comments to ICANN here.

He accuses the International Association of Employment Web Sites of conducting “nothing less than a smear campaign using modern day technology such as e-mail, blogs, and twitter”.

He’s referring to the scores of letters and emails that have arrived at ICANN over the last week, criticizing .jobs registry Employ Media’s proposal to drop the rule that only company names are allowed in the .jobs namespace.

Jobs sites, in particular, are pissed that Employ Media plans to hand over tens of thousands of premium generic .jobs domains to the DEA to use as gateways to a massive new jobs board, rather than open them up for general registration.

If you currently run a jobs site at NewYorkJobs.com or NursingJobs.com, for example, you would be unable to register NewYork.jobs or Nursing.jobs.

The DEA would likely own both of these domains, along with thousands of others, a situation described by one commenter as a “big giant SEO scam“.

Warren’s letter generally avoids discussing the merits of this plan, instead focusing on attacking its critics’ tactics.

the overwhelming majority of opposing comments – and we’ve reviewed each – clearly indicate no review of the substantial body of work that comprises the RSEP [Registry Services Evaluation Process] submission by Employ Media

It’s true that the majority of the letters include at least some form text created by Steven Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter.com, one of the key individuals behind the IAEWS campaign.

The letters are generally less spammy than similar letter-writing campaigns conducted during the recent .xxx controversy, however, with many writers attempting to add their own two cents.

(Speaking of .xxx, Warren claims that IAEWS has hired the same lawyer who represented .xxx registry ICM. I’m guessing he means Becky Burr of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, but I’m waiting for confirmation of that)

Warren believes that the Society of Human Resource Management, the sponsor and policy-maker for the .jobs domain, “managed a policy development process to arrive at a bottom up, consensus recommendation in the interests of the specific community .jobs exists to serve”.

According to ERE.net, the HR news site that has been doing a far better job of reporting this story than me, this SHRM policy council has been pretty much asleep at the wheel, and may even have been captured. Warren himself apparently used to chair it.

Personally, as somebody with no horse in this race, I merely find it distasteful that Warren is complaining so vehemently about jobs boards having their say in the ICANN process, when the SHRM process deliberately excluded their opinions from its outreach.

The SHRM survey (pdf) filed in support of the .jobs proposal specifically says: “Consultants were also not included in this universe, so that companies specializing in providing job search engines/job boards could not distort the responses from practicing HR professionals.”

The Employ Media proposal to change its contract has already passed an ICANN competition review, so I’m not sure there are any documented ways it can be killed off under the RSEP, although the board will still have to vote on it.

Jobs boards slam plan to open up .jobs

Providers of online jobs boards have started to complain to ICANN about plans by registry manager Employ Media to liberalize the .jobs sponsored top-level domain.

It’s rare that an ICANN public comment period attracts a decent amount of comment from outside the usual suspects, but this controversial proposal seems to be heading that way.

Employ Media wants to amend its registry contract to remove the restriction that limits .jobs registrations to the corporate name of employers, a key component of its original commitments.

This has naturally enough stirred debate in the HR community, which now appears to have divided itself into two camps – employers for the changes and jobs boards strongly against.

Several HR professionals with large companies including IBM, BT and Intercontinental Hotels have already filed brief messages with ICANN in support of the .jobs proposal.

Now, the counterargument is being made by a few operators of employer-independent jobs boards, including CollegeRecruiter.com and SalesGravy.com.

The Employ Media proposal would allow it to fulfil its deal with the DirectEmployers Association, which plans to lease thousands of geographic and industry domains.

The DEA plan would essentially be a single jobs site with thousands of domains acting as entry points to vertical listings. Want a job in Chicago? Type in chicago.jobs.

Importantly – and this may explain why HR folk like it – the site would be ad-supported and free for employers to list their openings.

Naturally, existing listings sites see this as an unacceptable competitive threat.

Steve Rothberg, CEO of CollegeRecruiter.com, said in his comment that Employ Media “went out of its way” to avoid getting feedback from existing jobs sites.

The results of an Employ Media survey submitted as part of its application to ICANN make that point pretty clearly.

Todd Goldstein, founder of AccountingJobsToday.com, observed in his comment that the proposal would dilute Employ Media’s original commitment to be “a place for employers” and accused the registry of trying to “route around” its promises to ICANN.

Employ Media asks ICANN for a .jobs landrush

The company behind the .jobs sponsored top-level domain wants to loosen the shackles of sponsorship by vastly liberalizing its namespace.

Employ Media has applied (pdf) to ICANN to get rid of the current restrictions on .jobs domain ownership and open hundreds of thousands of strings to the highest bidder.

The registry wants to amend its contract with ICANN to cut the text that limits .jobs domains to the exact match or abbreviation of a company name, and add:

Domain registrations are permitted for other types of names (e.g., occupational and certain geographic identifiers) in addition to the “company name” designation.

Employ Media is basically asking for the right to open the floodgates to a complete relaunch of the .jobs TLD with very few restrictions on who can register and what strings they can register.

Phase One of the relaunch would be an RFP “to invite interested parties to propose specific plans for registration, use and promotion of domains that are not their company name”.

It sounds a little like the current .co Founders Program, or the marketing initiatives Afilias and Neustar asked for to supplement the auction of their single-character domains.

In practice, I expect that this first phase is when the DirectEmployers Association would expect to grab hundreds of thousands of .jobs domains under its universe.jobs business plan, in which it intends to offer job listings tailored to “city, state, geographic region, country, occupation [and] skill”.

Phase Two would see your basic landrush auction of any premium domains left over.

Phase three would be “A first-come, first-served real-time release of any domains not registered through the RFP or auction processes.”

While I have no strong views on the merits of this particular proposal, I do think that the application and ICANN’s response to it could wind up setting the template for how to operate a bait-and-switch in ICANN’s forthcoming round of new TLD applications.

If you say you want to do one thing with your TLD, and later decide you could make more money doing another, how much will ground will ICANN give when it comes to renegotiating your contract? It will be interesting to find out.

Reactions so far from the HR community have not been positive.

Steven Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter.com wrote that the process by which Employ Media’s sponsor, the Society for Human Resource Management, approved the new proposal “stunk”.

“The only winner here is Employ Media,” he wrote.

Comments posted at ERE.net, which has been on top of this story from the beginning, express what could be easily described as outrage over Employ Media’s plans.

The comment posted by Ted Daywalt of VetJobs.com is especially worth a read.

The Employ Media proposal has been submitted under ICANN’s Registry Services Evaluation Process, which allows comments to be submitted.