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New gTLD events in London this week

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2011, Domain Policy

If you’re in London, UK today or tomorrow, there are a couple of events relating to the new top-level domains program you may wish to attend.

Tonight, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom is hosting an informal gathering for UK domain name geeks and internet governance wonks from 5.30pm at the POP Bar of the Hilton Park Lane Hotel.

It’s an open-invitation event so, despite rumors I’ve seen on Twitter, I’m 99% certain it will not be a free bar.

I’m going anyway.

Tomorrow morning, there’s going to be a panel discussion and Q&A session on new gTLDs at the offices of the PR company Edelman.

Panelists include Beckstrom, Nominet chief executive Lesley Cowley, Com Laude director Lorna Gradden, and me. It’s being chaired by Edelman’s Jonathan Hargreaves.

Breakfast is served at 8am, and the panel runs from 8.30am until 10am. It’s an RSVP event, but I believe the venue holds 150, so there’s bound to be still plenty of available seats.

RSVP details can be found here.

Hopefully it will be an interesting discussion. If you’re attending and would like to introduce yourself, at these kinds of things I’m usually the guy looking vaguely out of place.

Get your first look at ICANN’s new gTLDs microsite

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN is stepping up its so-far lackluster new top-level domains outreach campaign with the launch tomorrow of a microsite dedicated to the topic.

The site is expected to host the long-anticipated “final” or production version of the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook, which could be published as early as Monday evening.

It’s designed to educate potential gTLD applicants from outside the usual crowd of insiders.

The site is scheduled to go live at roughly 1930 UTC tomorrow, but DI has had a sneaky peek and can bring you some exclusive preview screen captures today.

Unlike icann.org, which strikes many as confused and a little bewildering, the microsite adopts a more conventional, basic, business-focused design.

Abstract clip art? Check. Businessperson pointing to bar graph? Check. Globe? Check. Smiling Asian lady? Check.

Here’s a a grab of the front page.

ICANN new gTLDs

And the Program Status tab gives an indication of what ICANN is planning for the web site a few months down the line.

ICANN new gTLDs

Director of marketing and outreach Scott Pinzon also has a new blog on the microsite, possibly the first of a few.

Here’s a grab of the Applicant Guidebook page. The links are not yet working, but note the date.

ICANN new gTLDs

The site has a video page. ICANN’s very well-received plain-English overview of new gTLDs has been uploaded, in addition to plain-French, plain-Russian, plain-Chinese and plain-Spanish versions.

There are several talking-head featurettes, which edit together soundbites from gTLD registry executives, giving a very high-level flavor of what it’s like running a registry. Here’s a sample.

Overall, it looks like an encouraging step in the right direction.

The design is clean and accessible and there’s very little ICANNese and very few acronyms. As a gateway for the new gTLD program, it appears to be easily up to the task.

Cheap gTLD drive adds to ICANN’s to-do list

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN may be given a huge to-do list before it starts accepting new top-level domain applications, in order to help level the playing field between rich and poor countries.

If sweeping new recommendations are approved, ICANN would have just a couple of months to create a new gTLD application review process, to find a panel to police it, and to find the money to cover it.

Since March 2010, a volunteer working group known as JAS has been debating the hows, whos and how muches of a program to provide financial support to gTLD applicants from developing nations.

It’s now come up with its Final Report (pdf), which contains a laundry list of things that JAS says ICANN needs to do before it starts accepting applications from anyone.

JAS has called for a reduction in the application fee from $185,000 to $47,000, as well as a provision allowing qualified applicants to pay the fee on a staggered schedule.

It also asks ICANN to create and partially fund a foundation to provide financial support, in addition to fee reductions, that eligible applicants would be able to draw from and pay back over time.

To qualify for the cheaper fees and other support, applicants would have to come from a developing economy found on certain UN lists. By my count, more than 80 countries would be eligible.

Recognized indigenous peoples – apparently including developed-world groups such as Native American tribes or Aboriginal Australians– would also qualify for assistance.

(I don’t know about you, but I immediately thought about the “Indian casino” model used to evade gambling prohibitions in parts of the US.)

Supported applicants would have to demonstrate that their gTLD would serve an under-served community or language group, and provide “genuine social benefit”.

So-called “.brand” applicants would be specifically excluded, but commercial entities operating in the public interest would be able to apply for the fee reductions and financial support.

The application procedure would be governed by a yet-to-be written Support Evaluation Process, overseen by a not-yet-created Support Application Review Panel, comprised of expert volunteers from inside and outside ICANN’s existing community structures.

The unpaid SARP panelists would have to be knowledgeable about the domain name industry and likely gaming patterns, in order to help prevent applicants exploiting the system.

The JAS says that all of this needs to be in place before the first round of applications:

there is a serious concern that, if support is not available to eligible applicants in the first round, the most obvious and valuable names (ASCII and IDNs) would be taken solely by wealthy investors.

Given the uncertainty regarding further rounds of new gTLD applications following the round planned for January 2012, it is necessary to make support available in the initial January 2012 round.

While I’ve no doubt that the ICANN board of directors will be picking over these proposals during its two-day retreat, which kicked off today, the JAS report now needs to filter through the GNSO and the ALAC – the two ICANN community bodies that commissioned its work.

Realistically, the earliest ICANN can rubber-stamp these recommendations is at its meeting October 28 in Dakar, Senegal, which would give ICANN staff just two months to create and deploy the entire applicant support program and to educate likely users.

ICANN’s new chief financial officer could also have to oversee the recalculation of the new gTLD program budget to reflect the JAS group’s ideas about how the program should be funded.

For example, the JAS report states that the $60,000 component of a single full application fee currently designated to “risks” could be instead be used to cover the shortfall between the $47,000 supported-applicant fee and the $100,000 in anticipated processing costs for such an application.

If ICANN were to adopt the recommendation, it would beg the question of how well the $185,000 “cost recovery” fee was calculated in the first place.

While not unexpected, the JAS proposals are a complex, audacious 11th-hour bump in the wire for ICANN, which already appears to be struggling to get its ducks in a row in time for January 12.

Regardless of whether the program can be rolled out in time, its likely users are already at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier counterparts, which at least have numbers to put in their own budget.

Windows 8 and the emotional reaction to new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, September 14, 2011, Domain Policy

Watching videos and reading reports about the Windows 8 demos at Build 2011 yesterday, I found myself experiencing a quite overwhelming feeling of despair.

I’m not usually what you’d call an early adopter.

I did buy my current laptop on the day Windows 7 was released. Not because I’m a Microsoft fanboy; I just needed a new laptop and figured I may as well wait for the new OS to come out.

I resisted buying a mobile phone until 2006. The one I have now cost me £5. I have literally no idea if it does internet or not. The thing I thought was a camera lens turned out to be a flashlight.

I bought an iPod once, but the only reason I haven’t stamped it to pieces yet is because it’s full of photos of loved ones I cannot retrieve because it’s “synched” to a PC that I did stamp to pieces.

I’ve never owned a touch-screen device, and I don’t really want to.

I’m not interested in gestural interfaces or chrome-free environments; I want menus that tell me what the software does and let me click on the thing I want it to do.

Hence my despair at Windows 8, which appears to be doing away with useful stuff in favor of, I dunno, looking nice or something. Microsoft appears to be trying to appeal to (shudder) Apple users.

I felt the same about Google+, which I have yet to join. Apparently it’s quite good, but my initial reaction to its launch earlier this year was “For god’s sake, why?” and “Do we really need more shit to update?”

I fear change…

(tenuous link alert)

…and I feel certain I’m having exactly the same emotional reaction to Windows 8 as many people are having to ICANN’s new gTLD program.

Just as I don’t want to have to think about typing onto a screen (a screen, for crying out loud!) there are millions of people just as pissed right now that they’re being forced to think about new gTLDs.

“But we don’t need them!” they wail. “Everything works just fine as it is!”

Yeah, well that’s how I feel about all the shiny shiny fondlelabs everybody else in the world seems to be currently obsessing over.

I share your pain, Bob Liodice.

But sometimes technology companies come out with new stuff because they think that’s the way to innovate and (of course) make more money.

It’s just the way it is. You’ve got to accept it and move on. If you’re smart, you’ll figure out a way to turn the thing to your advantage.

Everybody currently using Windows 7, Vista or XP will eventually upgrade to Windows 8, even if it’s probably going to be a prettier but less useful version of its predecessors.

If you still buy DVDs, one day you’ll probably be forced to buy a Blu-ray player, just the same as you were forced to upgrade from VHS.

And if you think VeriSign’s mindshare monopoly on the domain name system is the way things should stay forever, new gTLDs are going to make you think again.

ICANN “not an advocate” for new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, September 13, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN is a facilitator of, not an advocate for, new top-level domains.

That’s the message ICANN is choosing to present as its executives begin their global awareness-raising campaign for the new gTLD program.

President Rod Beckstrom was in Sao Paolo, Brazil, at the Futurecom conference yesterday. In his address there, he said, according to an ICANN press release:

I want to make clear that ICANN is an organization that is not advocating new gTLDs for anyone. Our role is merely facilitation to implement the policy and the programs approved by our community, so we are here to educate not to advocate.

That will come as little surprise to anyone familiar with ICANN’s communications plan – it needs to tell people what new gTLDs are, and what they are not, without sounding like a salesman.

Senior ICANN staff, as well as chair Steve Crocker, are scheduled for a deal of outreach-focused globe-trotting over the next few months.

Beckstrom is due in London next week for a panel discussion on new gTLDs, and I understand similar events in Paris and Berlin have also been lined up.

I’m also on the London panel, along with Nominet’s Lesley Cowley and Lorna Gradden from Com Laude. The value of this kind of thing is in the questions, so hopefully there’ll be a decent turnout.

Beckstrom is also slated to appear at Gitex in Dubai next month.

Crocker is keynoting the newdomains.org conference in Munich in two weeks, and the Bulgarian Domain Forum event is also anticipating ICANN staff participation.