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Refunds uncertain as .nxt says sorry for cancelation

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2012, Domain Services

It’s not yet clear whether people who paid for tickets for the .nxt conference will get full refunds.

In an apologetic email sent to attendees last night, organizer Kieren McCarthy said that .nxt is “trying to recoup” money already paid to the conference venue. The email states in part:

For a number of reasons – the most significant being the fact that the ICANN process is still in flux – we were not able to get the number of attendees or sponsors needed.

Having communicated with a large number of people that the conference was directly aimed at, the conclusion would appear to be: right idea, wrong time. The conference was designed as a meeting place for a new industry to meet and interact. It is now clear that that effort was premature.

Unfortunately that does not resolve the fact that you are currently out of pocket, whether through a conference ticket, hotel room or flight to London.

.Nxt is currently trying to recoup money we have paid to the hotel venue so we are in a position to reimburse at least some of those costs. We will keep in touch with any developments.

Fewer than 100 people were registered for the $950-a-ticket three-day event, .nxt said. The first two conferences, held in San Francisco last year, attracted closer to double that number.

The company plans to offer some of its planned sessions online instead, according to the email and a statement on the conference web site.

McCarthy is currently calling would-be attendees to explain the situation. Many have been understanding, according to the email.

Some attendees have told us they want full refunds for their tickets and hotel rooms, when the hotel was booked via .nxt. Recouping money spent on airfare is a different matter, of course.

The conference, which also left some attendees out of pocket when it was postponed in June, is unlikely to return.

Confirmed: .nxt conference canceled

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2012, Domain Services

The .nxt conference on new gTLDs has indeed been canceled, according to organizer Kieren McCarthy.

The show was expected to run next week, August 29-31, in London, following two successful events in San Francisco last year.

It was originally expected to run in June, but was postponed in May due to ICANN-related program delays.

I had planned to hold off posting the news until I had the full details, but I’ve received several emails this morning from people wondering what was going on so I thought I’d share what I know.

McCarthy is currently phoning attendees individually to explain the situation, so if you’re already a paid-up delegate I expect you’ll be getting a call soon. An announcement is expected later today.

ARI Registry Services tweeted this morning that .nxt is not offering refunds, but I cannot confirm that at this time.

More when we get it…

June .nxt conference canceled

Kevin Murphy, May 23, 2012, Domain Services

The .nxt conference on new generic top-level domains, planned for London next month, has been postponed until later this year, the organizers have announced.

.nxt CEO Kieren McCarthy blamed the ongoing uncertainty surrounding the new gTLD program timetable following ICANN’s six-week TLD Application System outage.

McCarthy wrote on the .nxt web site:

Our main goal for this conference is to give a comprehensive overview of the new gTLD process, including: providing an understanding of this new market; assisting applicants in moving forward; learning lessons from the past; and giving everyone a significant new industry an opportunity to meet, debate and network. We just don’t feel this is going to be possible for the 20-22 June timeframe.

We gave serious consideration to running the conference despite the lack of information and tight timeline but decided in the end it would be better for everyone to hold a conference that was in a position to achieve its aims.

The conference had already signed up almost twice the number of attendees than the previous two San Francisco-based events (which were in the 150-200 range), according to McCarthy.

Tickets for the June event will be honored for the rescheduled .nxt, which is likely to happen in the late third or early fourth quarter, he said.

People who booked hotels through official channels will get a full refund, but those who made their own arrangements will have to make their own cancellations.

.nxt new gTLD conference open for registration

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2012, Domain Registries

The third .nxt conference on new generic top-level domains opened for early bird registrations today.

Having appeared twice in San Francisco, this time it’s my home town of London’s turn to host the event.

Organizer Kieren McCarthy is hoping to attract an international audience passing through London on their way to the ICANN 44 public meeting in Prague, Czech Republic.

The conference will be held at the Park Plaza Victoria in central London on June 20 to 22, ending just before the first day of meetings in Prague.

The three-track agenda can be found here.

I attended the first two .nxts in person and remotely and I’ve found that McCarthy is pretty good at lining up an excellent range of compelling speakers and panelists.

The main drawback some have found is that many of the attendees are likely to be the same faces you’ll see at ICANN meetings.

However, with this being the first .nxt to happen after April 12 – when hundreds of new companies have filed their applications and committed to enter the domain name industry – there very well might be a broader range of delegates at the London show.

Early bird pricing, available before April 12, starts at £399 ($632) plus 20% tax for the full three days. It then goes up to £599 ($949) plus tax. Day passes are also available.

You can take advantage of the discounted pricing by registering here.

IFFOR hires McCarthy to handle .xxx outreach

Kevin Murphy, October 10, 2011, Domain Registries

Kieren McCarthy, CEO of the .nxt new top-level domains conference, has reportedly joined the International Foundation For Online Responsibility to manage policy communications.

IFFOR is the sponsoring organization for ICM Registry’s new gTLD, responsible for setting the policies that will govern .xxx domain names.

ICM’s opponents in the Free Speech Coalition fear IFFOR, claiming it will be both toothless in the light of ICM’s “veto power” over policies (which ICM disputes) and dangerous to .xxx domain holders.

As well as outreach, McCarthy will be tasked with “developing the tools through which Internet community members and IFFOR Policy Council members can reach consensus positions”, according to Xbiz.

He has the right background. He’s the former general manager for public participation at ICANN, and lately one of its fiercest critics. More recently, he’s also done some consulting work for ICM.

Hopefully one of his first actions at IFFOR will be to add DI to the press release mailing list, so I don’t have to source Xbiz the next time the organization has news to report.

Should new gTLDs be delayed?

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2011, Domain Policy

Is the world ready for the new generic top-level domains program? Is ICANN ready?

It’s been well over two months since ICANN approved its new gTLD program, and the initial sense of excitement and purpose in the industry seems to have given way to virtual silence from ICANN and a profound lack of audible enthusiasm from the internet at large.

What’s going on with the program? Where’s the final Applicant Guidebook? Who are the experts ICANN is going to hire to actually decide which applications succeed or fail?

Is four months really sufficient time to put the world on notice that new gTLDs are coming and to give everybody enough opportunity to prepare?

Is anybody outside the industry even paying attention?

Read this quote (with my emphasis) from Friday’s wrap-up session at the .nxt conference in San Francisco and see if you can guess whose mouth it came out of.

My takeaways, if I can run through them quickly…

…a sense of relief that this program is finally underway as of June 20 has suddenly now turned into a worry. There’s a whole lot of people who can’t believe it’s happening, and there’s a sense of worry that it’s all going to happen too fast. So that’s quite interesting. There’s a hell of a lot that has to be done between now and launch.

Some things are not yet done… We haven’t got the information about the [Trademark] Clearinghouse yet, we don’t know what the [Governmental Advisory Committee] processes are going to be, and we actually have to design registry systems and explain those two to customers and show how they are going to fit together and we can’t. So there’s a problem there about the rush.

You may be thinking that those are the words of some naysayer in a stuffed shirt – a hater from the trademark lobby or the advertising industry who wants to put the stoppers on new gTLDs.

Actually, that’s the opinion of Peter Dengate Thrush, who was chairman of the ICANN board of directors when it voted to approve the program, despite concerns that it wasn’t ready yet, in June.

Dengate Thrush is now of course executive chairman of Minds + Machines, which is in the position of actually having to deal with the program in its incomplete state.

His words were, I believe, offered up as an analysis of the mood of the conference, rather than some kind of mea culpa, if you were wondering about the context or tone.

Nevertheless, he had a point.

Here are some of things that don’t seem to have been finalized yet:

The Applicant Guidebook

Incredibly, the most recent version of the application rulebook posted on the ICANN web site dates from May. It’s still essentially still an almost-done draft document.

ICANN’s board voted in June to amend the Applicant Guidebook before the first round of applications opens.

So, where is it? Where’s the final Guidebook?

Who’s going to sign a check investing in new gTLDs when the rules are still open to change?

Still minding the GAC

How, precisely, will the Governmental Advisory Committee decide whether to intervene to thwart a gTLD application on public policy grounds?

ICANN has agreed to let the GAC make up its own rules governing how it reaches consensus before it objects to applications, but so far it has not said what those rules are going to be.

If you think you might apply for a potentially controversial gTLD string – or even if you don’t – you still don’t have enough information today to make a fully informed risk analysis.

Your best strategy right now might be to ensure that your string complies with Sharia, or to pay off a bunch of government officials to ensure they fight your corner.

Where are the experts?

ICANN has not yet named the company or individuals who have been or will be hired to process the hundreds of gTLD applications that are likely to be received next year.

As Dengate Thrush noted, it also hasn’t appointed a Trademark Clearinghouse, which is a critical component of two mandatory new gTLD rights protection mechanisms.

Currently, it’s hard to say for certain what integration between registries and the Clearinghouse will entail financially or technologically.

That may not be an enormous problem, but it could make writing an application slightly trickier.

Watching the watchmen

ICANN is in receipt of letters from competition authorities in the US and European Union, telling it in fairly blunt terms that its decision to allow registries and registrars to integrate is Bad Policy.

The rules that separate registrars like Go Daddy from registries such as VeriSign have been good for consumers, they say, and should be kept in place under the new gTLD regime.

ICANN, also in its June 20 vote, has already agreed to talk to these authorities about possibly scaling back the proposed liberalization of the vertical integration rules.

But if this is already happening, it’s happening behind closed doors, because we’ve not heard a peep about it from ICANN or the two governments since June.

If this situation escalates when everybody gets back from vacation, I will not be surprised.

Where’s the outreach?

ICANN has promised a four-month communications campaign before the start of the first round of applications. That means it has to kick off by September 12, just two weeks from now.

This campaign actually began at the press conference about half an hour after the June 20 board vote, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom said at the time, but apart from a couple of plaintive cries for help there’s been precious little visible outreach since then.

Director Bertrand de La Chapelle evidently gave Beckstrom a hard time about this during a board meeting a month ago, according to the minutes.

A new ICANN web site devoted to new gTLDs is expected to launch next month, and I understand that staff including Beckstrom will hit the road for a world tour around the same time.

But given the recent mock outrage from ad industry shills such as the Association of National Advertisers, it’s arguably a little late for ICANN to start to worry about framing the issue.

Most people reading about new gTLDs in the press the last few weeks probably came away thinking new gTLDs are nothing but a money grab by registries and cybersquatters/domainers.

(It is that, of course, but it’s lots of other nicer things too.)

From a public relations perspective, ICANN will be starting on the back foot. Its outreach efforts may turn out to be not be so much about educating the world about its program but re-educating it.

Oh, and it only has $750,000 to pull off this feat.

As a very wise man said at .nxt on Friday: “The size and scale of that [budget] doesn’t really match up to the problem it’s trying to address.”

(Yeah, that was Dengate Thrush again)

Welcome to the cheap seats

ICANN has committed $2 million from reserves to a mechanism whereby needy applicants from developing nations will be able to get a discount (TBC) on their application fees.

That mechanism does not yet exist. Such applicants are today at a disadvantage compared to their wealthier competitors when it comes to planning applications and raising funds.

A volunteer working group known as JAS has been working out the details, meeting by phone two or three times a week, but reaching consensus seems to have been a very tough slog.

Policies developed from the bottom up have a convoluted chain of custody before they get approved. A deadline missed by a day or two can delay the ICANN rubber stamp by weeks.

The way things look today, the JAS applicant support policy is going to be cutting it extremely fine if it wants to make it before the ICANN board’s October meeting in Dakar.

Wither round two?

Perhaps the most intractable problem underlying the whole program is the absence of a launch date for the second-round application window.

Speakers at the .nxt conference last week reckoned lawsuits over individual contested gTLDs are inevitable, and that they could delay the second round until as late as 2017, if it happens at all.

It’s in that context that large companies, already nervous about entering into a new, unmeasurable, unproven marketing paradigm, are being asked to commit potentially millions to new gTLDs today.

It’s arguably like being asked, in 1991, to pay $500,000 for sex.com, with no idea whether this newfangled “hypertext” thing is going to take off.

Sounds like a great deal today, but back then it would have sounded like a 419 scam.

As Yahoo lawyer J Scott Evans said at .nxt, many companies feel they have “a gun to their heads”.

It’s hardly surprising some of them have persuaded their trade groups to lobby against the program, threatening to bring their pocket Congressmen down on ICANN’s head and/or file a lawsuit or two.

Which brings me to my headline

Which brings me to my headline. Would another delay be good for the new gTLD program?

If the ANA were to sic its lawyers on ICANN tomorrow, would a temporary restraining order that delayed the program by a few month actually be healthy for it in the longer term?

A great many people and organizations that could make valuable contributions to the domain name industry will not have heard about new gTLDs before June 20.

A delay before January could give ICANN and its community a bit more time to smooth away the rough edges of the program and to address the issues that have not yet been resolved.

It could give potential applicants from outside the established community more time to decide whether to engage with the program, more time to raise funds or secure budgets, and more time to develop their new gTLD application strategies.

I’m referring here not only to large corporations with lengthy budgeting cycles, but also to entrepreneurs with cool ideas and meager resources that perhaps need more time to be able to get on board.

Could a delay also increase the proportion of applicants from outside Europe and North America, and the proportion of IDN gTLD applicants who truly understand their markets?

Bluntly, would a short delay in the launch, whether it came about as a result of legal action or not, make round one of the ICANN new gTLD program less of a clusterfuck?

Yeah, I’m playing Devil’s Advocate here

The best quote I heard during my remote participation in the .nxt conference last week was offered up by Brian Larson from DotMLS as “Larson’s Corollary to Newton’s Third Law”:

Any discussion about what the post-new-gTLD world is going to look like is inherently speculative… For any argument about the post-new-gTLD world there is an equally plausible but opposite argument.

For the avoidance of doubt, if there was any doubt in your mind, that maxim certainly applies to the opinions expressed in this article. I could just as easily write 2,000 words arguing for the opposing view.

Most new gTLDs will fail

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2011, Domain Registries

We’re going to see hundreds of new gTLDs over the coming years, but we’re also going to see potentially hundreds of failures.

That’s the view being espoused by some of the biggest cheerleaders of ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program, including its former chairman, at the .nxt conference this week.

During the opening session on Wednesday, a panel of experts was asked to imagine what the domain name industry might look like in 2017, five years after the first new gTLDs go live.

“My assumption is that many TLDs will have completely failed to live up to their promoters’ hype,” said Minds + Machines executive chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, whose last action as ICANN chair was pushing through approval of the program. “But on the other hand many of them, and I hope a majority of them, will be thriving.”

Anyone expecting to build a business on defensive registrations better think again, panelists said.

“Many ill-conceived generic-term TLDs will have failed by that point, especially those generic term TLDs that are taking comfort in the .xxx Sunrise Part B revenue model,” said Paul McGrady of the law firm Greenberg Traurig.

“There’s definitely going to be burnout in the brand-owner community, so don’t expect the brand owners to show up to to fuel that,” he said.

Others, such as Tucows CEO Elliot Noss, went further.

“I think there’ll be more failures than successes and I’m not fussed by that,” said Noss. “For the users in the namespace, it’s not like they’re left high and dry.”

He compared failing gTLDs to the old Angelfire and Geocities homepage services that were quite popular in the late 1990s, but which fizzled when the cost of domains and hosting came down.

But while the disappearance of an entire gTLD would take all of its customers with it, a la Geocities, that’s unlikely to happen, panelists acknowledged.

ICANN’s program requires applicants to post a bond covering three years of operations, and it will also select a registry provider to act as an emergency manager if a gTLD manager fails.

When gTLD businesses fail, and they will, they’re designed to fail gracefully.

In addition, taking on an extra gTLD after its previous owner goes out of business would be little burden to an established registry provider — once the transition work was done, a new string would be a extra renewal revenue stream with possibly little additional overhead.

Watch the .nxt conference live online

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2011, Domain Policy

The .nxt conference on new top-level domains kicks off in San Francisco later today, but fear not if you were unable to make it in person – much of the content will be streamed live online.

Roughly half of the three-day meeting’s sessions will be made available live, and it appears that the whole lot will be available on demand for the next three months.

If the conference is as informative as the first one, which took place in February, the $95 fee .nxt is charging to access the streams seems like a pretty good deal.

It’s no substitute for being there in person – much of the value in these things lies in the networking opportunities – but if new gTLDs are likely to effect your business you’d be crazy not to check it out.

More details here.

ICANN fights government gTLD power grab

Kevin Murphy, July 22, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has opposed a US move to grant governments veto power over controversial new top-level domain applications.

Cutting to the very heart of Obama administration internet governance policy, ICANN has told the National Telecommunications and Information Administration that its recent proposals would “undermine the very principle of the multi-stakeholder model”.

The stern words came in ICANN’s response to the NTIA’s publication of revisions to the IANA contract, the contract that allows ICANN to retain its powers over the domain name system root.

The NTIA’s Further Notice Of Inquiry contained proposed amendments to the contract, including this:

For delegation requests for new generic TLDS (gTLDs), the Contractor [ICANN] shall include documentation to demonstrate how the proposed string has received consensus support from relevant stakeholders and is supported by the global public interest.

This was widely interpreted as a US attempt to avoid a repeat of the .xxx scandal, when ICANN approved the porn gTLD despite the unease voiced by its Governmental Advisory Committee.

As I noted in June, it sounds a lot like code for “if the GAC objects, you must reject”, which runs the risk of granting veto powers to the GAC’s already opaque consensus-making process.

In his response to the FNOI (pdf), ICANN chief Rod Beckstrom says that the NTIA’s proposal would “replace” the “intensive multi-stakeholder deliberation” that created the newly approved Applicant Guidebook.

He also pointed out the logical inconsistency of asking IANA to remain policy-neutral in one part of the proposed contract, and asking it to make serious policy decisions in another:

The IANA functions contract should not be used to rewrite the policy and implementation process adopted through the bottom-up decision-making process. Not only would this undermine the very principle of the multi-stakeholder model, it would be inconsistent with the objective of more clearly distinguishing policy development from operational implementation by the IANA functions operator.

NTIA head Larry Strickling has been pounding the “multistakeholderism” drum loudly of late, most recently in a speech in Washington and in an interview with Kieren McCarthy of .nxt.

In the .nxt interview, Strickling was quite clear that he believes ICANN should give extra authority to governments when it comes to approving controversial strings.

The NTIA concern – shared by other government entities including the European Commission – is that controversial strings could lead to national blocking and potentially internet fragmentation.

While Strickling declined to comment on the specific provisions of the IANA contract, he did tell .nxt:

If the GAC as a consensus view can’t support a string then my view is that the ICANN Board should not approve the string as to do so in effect legitimizes or sanctions that governments should be blocking at the root zone level. And I think that is bad for the Internet.

Where you’re dealing with sensitive strings, where you’ve engaged the sovereignty of nations, I think it is appropriate to tip the hat a little bit more to governments and listen to what they say. On technical issues it wouldn’t be appropriate but on this particular one, you’ve got to listen a little bit more to governments.

He also indicated that the US would not necessarily stand up for its principles if confronted by substantial objections to a string from other governments:

So we would be influenced – I can’t say it would be dispositive – if a large number of countries have a problem with a particular string, even if it was one that might not be objectionable to the United States government.

And that is out of interest of protecting the Internet’s root from widespread blocking at the top-level by lots of governments.

Does this mean that the US could agree to a consensus GAC objection to a .gay gTLD? A .porn? A .freespeech? It certainly sounds like it.

New TLDs conference calls for speakers

The newdomains.org conference on new top-level domains, scheduled for September 26 and 27 in Munich, has put out a call for speakers.

Here’s the catch: if you’re interested, you might need an audition tape. The organizers want to see a short YouTube clip of your presenting skills in action before they consider your pitch.

Ram Mohan, CTO of Afilias, and Tim Schumacher, CEO of Sedo, are both already named on the draft agenda, but there are still plenty of open spots, including the first-day keynote.

Franz Josef Pschierer, IT commissioner of the Bavarian state government, will keynote day two.

The conference is being organized by the registrar United Domains, part of the same family of domain name companies as Sedo and 1&1 Internet.

While newdomains.org will take place in Germany, possibly the biggest market for new TLDs outside of the US, all the sessions will be conducted exclusively in English.

The conference currently looks like it’s shaping up along the same lines as the .nxt conference last month, with sessions on brand protection, community building, marketing and so on.

One notable difference is the addition of coached “workshops” as well as panel discussions.

Extracurricular activities include a tram ride around the city and a visit to the Hippodrom tent at Oktoberfest, the world-famous beer-drinking festival.

Needless to say, I shall be in attendance. For the trams, obviously.

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