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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.

How many brands will lie in their gTLD applications?

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2011, Domain Policy

The Association of National Advertisers and related groups are currently telling ICANN and anyone who will listen that big brands don’t want new top-level domains.

But many of the ANA’s members, including members of its board, are understood to be currently talking to domain consultants and registries about applying for their own .brand gTLDs.

Assuming that the ANA is not lying, and that its members don’t want .brands, what on earth are these companies going to say in their applications next year?

If they are thinking about applying purely defensively (and I use that word loosely), truly believing that new gTLDs are useless, how will they answer the all-important Question 18(b)?

How do you expect that your proposed gTLD will benefit registrants, Internet users, and others?

The question, which was added to the Applicant Guidebook this year at the request of the Governmental Advisory Committee, is not scored, but is expected to be answered.

The answers will be published, and they will also be used in ICANN’s future reviews of the program.

The ANA is already on-record stating “there are no material or obvious benefits”, so an answer to 18(b) from one of its members that states anything other than: “We don’t think it will benefit anyone.” is going to look like a horrible lie.

And lying isn’t allowed. It’s in the Guidebook’s terms and conditions:

Applicant warrants that the statements and representations contained in the application (including any documents submitted and oral statements made and confirmed in writing in connection with the application) are true and accurate and complete in all material respects

Any company that lies in its application runs the risk of losing its whole $185,000 application fee and having its application rejected.

Okay, I admit, I’m being a bit cheeky here – I don’t really think anyone will be rejected for using a bit of colorful marketing BS in their applications. I doubt the evaluators will even notice.

I am perhaps suggesting that the ANA’s outrage today may not fully reflect the diversity of opinions among its board and general membership.

Either way, it’s going to be fascinating to read the applications filed by ANA members, and to compare their words to the positions they’re allowing ANA management to put forth on their behalf today.

If you pre-register a domain, you are the product

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2011, Domain Registries

“If you’re not paying for it, you are the product.”

That’s a maxim that has been doing the rounds on the internet for the last few years to describe services such as Facebook, which gets users in for free and then monetizes them to third parties.

It struck me today that this saying also applies to services that allow you to pre-register domain names in non-existent top-level domains.

If you’ve recently registered your interest in a domain in a new gTLD – example.web, say – you’ve gained nothing and potentially lost a lot.

Pre-registering creates two main benefits as I see it, and neither accrues to the registrant.

First, you’re now on the company’s mailing list. When your selected new gTLD(s) go live, the company you pre-registered with is going to try to convert you into a paying customer.

Second, you’ve just freely contributed information to an extremely valuable database, possibly to your own detriment.

When new gTLDs launch, many registries are going to reserve thousands of premium domains to either sell or auction at a later date, to periodically drum up interest in their extensions.

How will these companies decide which domains to add to their premium lists? A database of hundreds of thousands of pre-registrations would be a great place to start looking.

If you pre-register, what you may be doing is voting for your desired domain to be reserved by the registry, for possibly years, and then sold at a large premium.

Something to think about.