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Twitter “completely unresponsive” on clickable domains, says ICANN

Kevin Murphy, February 21, 2024, Domain Tech

Elon Musk’s Twitter is “completely unresponsive” to outreach about Universal Acceptance of domain names, including problems such as the lack of linkification of new gTLD domains, according to an ICANN technologist.

Speaking at an ICANN 79 Prep Week session yesterday, senior UA technology manager Arnt Gulbrandsen said the Org has been attempting to work with major platforms such as Google’s Gmail and WordPress to encourage support for newer, longer gTLDs and internationalized domain names, but with mixed results.

“What we are doing is identifying the most important, the biggest actors… testing, reaching out or contributing changes,” he said. “We don’t work equally with all. If someone’s unresponsive, then we more or less stop talking to them and hope that they grow less important as time passes.”

“This means Twitter,” he said. “Twitter is completely unresponsive.”

Twitter and other platforms such as WhatsApp have been criticized recently by the people behind gTLDs including .music and .tube for failing to “linkify” their domains. When you tweet a .music domain without the http:// prefix it will not automatically become clickable, for example.

Twitter’s cut-off point for recognizing TLDs appears to be mid-2020. The three gTLDs delegated after that — .spa, .music and .kids — do not currently linkify.

Gulbrandsen said ICANN has been getting a more encouraging response from developers within the WordPress ecosystem, where ICANN discovered that UA support relies a great deal on just three software components maintained by volunteer developers — linkify-it, phpautolink and phpmailer.

“I’m really happy about the responses from some of these obscure, open-source maintainers,” he said. “They really want to do the best for the world, and they are volunteers mostly.”

Two of the identified components currently support UA and ICANN is working with phpmailer, he said. ICANN has also been contributing UA code even further down the stack, to programming languages such as Java, Python and Ruby, he said.

Gulbrandsen’s presentation came during the ICANN 79 Prep Week session on UA, which included contributions from members of various UA working groups and focused largely on IDN and email problems. You can listen to the session in full here.

New gTLD lottery to return in 2026

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2024, Domain Policy

Remember The Draw? It was the mechanism ICANN used to figure out which new gTLDs from the 2012 application round would get a first-mover advantage, and it’s coming back in 2026.

The Org is currently considering draft Applicant Guidebook language setting out the rules for how to pick which order to process applications in the next round.

There’s no mention of Digital Archery this time. ICANN is sticking to the tried-and-tested Prioritization Draw, a lottery method in which applicants buy a paper ticket for a nominal sum ($100 last time) and ICANN pulls them out of a big bucket to see who goes first.

Applicants for internationalized domain names will have an advantage again, but it’s arguably not as strong as in the 2012 round, when all the IDN applicants that had bought tickets were processed first.

This time, the draw will take place in batches of 500 applications, according to the latest version of the draft AGB language.

The first batch will contain at least 125 IDN applications — assuming there are 125 — and they will be drawn first, before any Latin-script strings get a look. In subsequent batches, the first 10% of tickets drawn will belong exclusively to IDN applicants.

In the 2012 round, the first 108 applications selected were IDNs. The Vatican won the lucky #1 spot with .天主教, the Chinese term for the Catholic Church, while Amazon was the first Latin-script application with .play (which Google eventually won but still hasn’t launched, over 11 years later).

Due to California’s gambling laws, applicants will have to show up to buy a ticket in person. If they can’t make it, they can select an Angeleno proxy from a list provided by ICANN to pick it up on their behalf.

Last time around, The Draw took over nine hours to sort all 1,930 applications and was the social highlight of the community’s calendar. Santa Claus even showed up.

D3 signs up crypto gTLD client number five

Kevin Murphy, February 15, 2024, Domain Services

New gTLD consultancy D3 Global has signed up its fifth blockchain gTLD client since launching last September.

The company today announced a deal with Core Chain to apply for .core when ICANN next opens a new gTLD application window, currently expected mid-2026.

Core Chain makes a software platform for developers that want to building decentralized applications on blockchains. It says it has over five million connected cryptocurrency wallets.

D3 has recently announced similar partnerships with NEAR Foundation (.near), Gate.io (.gate), Viction (.vic) and Shiba Inu (.shib).

The company says its mission is to help blockchain companies operate on the traditional DNS as well as the blockchain-based alternate naming systems.

How to qualify for a $40,000 gTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 13, 2024, Domain Policy

Organizations from most of the countries of the world, including some very wealthy economies, could find themselves eligible for a discount of up to 85% on ICANN new gTLD application fees, according to draft rules published for public comment today.

By my count, small businesses from 177 of the world’s countries and territories could qualify for cheap applications in the next round, expected in 2026, assuming they meet the new Applicant Support Program’s other criteria.

The list of qualifying nations includes the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), oil-rich nations such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, wealthy Asian territories such as Hong Kong and South Korea, and some European nations, such as Serbia and Montenegro.

The draft ASP rules propose to subsidize applications from non-profits, intergovernmental organizations, indigenous/tribal groups, and small businesses that provide a “social impact or public benefit” from anywhere in the world.

It also promises subsidies to small businesses located in and owned by people based in several UN-designated economic regions: Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries, Economies in Transition, and Developing Economies.

Lists of these countries can be found in this UN document. China, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong are among dozens on the “developing economies” list. Russia counts as an “economy in transition” along with a handful of other east European and west Asian nations.

There’s no requirement to have a public benefit or charitable mission to qualify as a “Micro or small sized business from a less-developed economy”, you just need to have fewer than 50 employees, less than $5 million in the bank, and less than $5 million of annual sales (or meet two of those three criteria).

According to my tally, there are 177 distinct territories on the applicable UN lists. The same UN document lists just 36 nations that qualify as “developed” economies.

Because the application fees for the next round are not yet fixed, the discount eligible applicants can get isn’t either. The placeholder text in the current draft says the discount will be in the range of 50% to 85%.

ICANN has previously said that the base fee could be as much as $270,000, so an 85% discount would be worth almost $230,000, reducing the fee to about $40,000. Each applicant would be limited to one gTLD.

Support applicants under any category also have to pass various background screening checks — they can’t be affiliated with another registry, for example — and have to show that paying the full base gTLD application fee would be a “financial hardship”.

This is defined as: “Cost of the subsidized base gTLD application fee ([X%] of the [$X] USD fee) is greater than 20 percent of the organization’s annual revenue”. So, if we assume a discounted fee of $40,000, only companies with revenue under $200,000 would qualify.

The 2012 round’s Applicant Support Program worked a little differently. Applicants could be from anywhere in the world, but they could earn points under the score-based rules by being from a developing nation.

There were only three applicants using the ASP in 2012, and only one — DotKids Foundation, based in Hong Kong and founded by the same businessman who founded DotAsia and currently sits on the ICANN board of directors — ended up qualifying for the cheaper application fee.

For the next round, ICANN has penciled in a Q4 2024 date to start accepting applications for the discount. The application window is expected to close a year later, at least six months before the new gTLD application window opens.

Anyone thinking about trying to game the system should note that ICANN promises that anyone “found to have abused the intent of the program” will be banned from the new gTLD program forever.

The proposed ASP rules are open for comment for 50 days here.

Registry service provider evaluation handbook published

Kevin Murphy, February 12, 2024, Domain Registries

ICANN has released the first draft of its RSP Handbook, the guidelines and questionnaire for registry service providers that want to get pre-approved by the Org ahead of the next new gTLD application round.

The Handbook is aimed at the few dozen companies that offer back-end services to gTLD registries — companies such as GoDaddy, Identity Digital and CentralNic — to guide them through the process of getting approved under the new Registry Service Provider Evaluation Program.

The program was called for by the GNSO community in order to minimize the amount of time-consuming, expensive evaluation work required for each new gTLD application. If a gTLD applicant’s selected RSP has been pre-approved by ICANN, it’s an automatic pass on the technical part of the application.

The new Handbook 1.0 envisages four types of RSP. A “Main RSP” is a full-service provider that looks after all technical aspects of a registry back-end. There are also categories for companies that provide DNS resolution only and DNSSEC services.

A fourth type, the “Proxy RSP”, is aimed primarily at companies that provide secondary registry services in countries that have very restrictive domain licensing rules. That basically means China, and proxies such as ZDNS.

Incumbent gTLD RSPs have a distinct advantage in the Handbook process. If they’re in good standing with ICANN and have complied with their service level agreements for the last six months, they can skip the second, technical part of the evaluation.

Incumbents also get a streamlined process for additional registry services — stuff like name-blocking and registry locks — they wish to offer. If they already offer them in an existing gTLD, they get to skip the full Registry Services Evaluation Process.

The Handbook is a first draft and does not currently include things like fees and dates. It’s not yet open for public comment but you can read the 108-page PDF here.

ICANN expects to launch the pre-evaluation program 18 months before it starts accepting new gTLD applications, so applicants have a list of approved RSPs to choose from. With a Q2 2026 target date for the next application window, that means the RSP program could launch later this year.

D3 announces fourth crypto new gTLD client

Kevin Murphy, February 8, 2024, Domain Services

New gTLD consultancy startup D3 Global, which emerged just five months ago, is signing up would-be applicants at a pretty rapid clip, announcing its fourth client today.

The company said it is working with NEAR Foundation, a Swiss non-profit, to apply for .near when ICANN opens up the next application window, which is currently expected in 2026.

NEAR is behind what it calls a Blockchain Operating System, a set of software designed to make it easier for developers to create apps that work across multiple blockchains.

D3’s specialty is working with companies that want to apply for gTLDs that work on both blockchains and the consensus ICANN DNS root.

It’s already announced deals with Gate.io (.gate), Viction (.vic) and Shiba Inu (.shib).

ICANN insists it is working on linkification

Kevin Murphy, February 6, 2024, Domain Tech

Having been accused of ignoring the lack of universal support for new gTLDs in favor of virtue-signalling its support for multilingual domain names, ICANN has now insisted it is working on the problem.

ICANN chair Tripti Sinha said in a letter (pdf) published today that ICANN staff have been “actively engaging” with the software developer community on a “multitude of efforts” aimed at getting Universal Acceptance for all domain names.

She was responding to an October 2023 letter from .tube CEO Rami Schwartz, whose solo research last year uncovered the fact that many major app developers — including WhatsApp maker Meta — were relying on hard-coded TLD lists up to eight years old to validate domains.

This meant domains in the hundreds of TLDs that went live after November 2015 were not being detected as domains, and therefore not automatically “linkified” into clickable links, in many near-ubiquitous apps and web sites.

But Sinha insists that ICANN has been putting resources into the problem, including creating a “technical UA team” that is “actively engaging with technical organizations and communities, raising bug reports, as well as contributing open-source code where possible”.

The team has been participating in hackathons and conferences to push the UA message, she said, and has engaging in web sites such as Stack Overflow (where coders ask each other questions about tricky programming problems) to educate developers.

She named Meta and WordPress as software companies ICANN has been reaching out to directly.

“The ICANN org team has been meeting with META and reported UA related issues to them, including linkification. The team has recently also reported the issues shared by you related to more recently delegated TLDs, including .TUBE,” she told Schwartz. “META continues to look into these issues and is making progress towards resolving them.”

She also pointed out that ICANN and the ICANN-funded Universal Acceptance Steering Group held a Universal Acceptance Day last year and will conduct another this year.

UA Day is actually dozens of individual events — over 50 last year — that took place across the world over the space of a couple of months. This year’s event appears to be equally diverse, with events taking place from March to May across many locations mainly in Asia, Africa and South America.

The UASG supplies PowerPoint presentations and videos to each event to use if they wish, but the focus is very much on the substantially trickier problem of UA for internationalized domain names — domains or email addresses that use non-Latin scripts or diacritics not present in ASCII — rather than the lower-hanging fruit of getting developers to update their TLD lists more frequently.

Even though there hasn’t been a new TLD delegation for a couple of years, there were still almost 30 TLDs deleted from the DNS root last year. The number of valid TLDs changes perhaps more frequently than many developers realize.

Walking down the street somewhere, I once saw a barbershop called “Every Six Weekly”. Crap brand, certainly, but the message lodged itself in my borderline autistic nerd brain — that’s how often society expects me to get my hair cut, every six weeks.

Maybe ICANN should try something like that.

First chunks of new gTLD Applicant Guidebook drop

Kevin Murphy, February 1, 2024, Domain Policy

ICANN has released for comment the first public drafts of seven sections of the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook, the first of what are expected to be quarterly comment periods for the next 18 months or so.

As I previewed last week, the documents cover topics including geographic names, blocked strings, Universal Acceptance, conflicts of interest and freedom of expression.

The documents were prepared by the ICANN staff/community Subsequent Procedures Implementation Review Team, based on the recommendations of a working group reporting to the Generic Names Supporting Organization a few years ago.

ICANN says it wants to know whether everyone thinks the AGB text it has come up with is consistent with those recommendations.

The comment period is open until March 19. ICANN hopes to have the full AGB ready by May 2025, with the next application round opening April 2026.

ICANN picks the domain it will never, ever release

Kevin Murphy, January 24, 2024, Domain Policy

ICANN has picked the TLD string that it will recommend for safe use behind corporate firewalls on the basis that it will never, ever be delegated.

The string is .internal, and the choice is now open for public comment.

It’s being called a “private use” TLD. Organizations would be able to use it behind their firewalls safe in the knowledge that it will never appear in the public DNS, mitigating the risk of public/private name collisions and data leakage.

.internal beat fellow short-lister .private to ICANN’s selection because it was felt that .private might lure people into a false sense of security.

While it’s unlikely that anyone was planning to apply for .internal as a commercial or brand gTLD in future, it’s important to note that when it makes it to the ICANN reserved list all confusingly similar strings will also be banned, under the current draft of the Applicant Guidebook.

So reserving .internal also potentially bans .internat, which Google tells me is the French word for a boarding school, or .internai, which is a possible brand for an AI for interns (yes, I’m grasping here, but you get my point).

The public comment period is open now and ends March 21.

First bits of new gTLD Applicant Guidebook expected next week

Kevin Murphy, January 23, 2024, Domain Policy

The internet community will officially get eyes on the draft Applicant Guidebook for ICANN’s next new gTLD Applicant Guidebook as early as next week.

The ICANN staff/community Implementation Review Team crafting the language of the AGB is targeting February 1, next Thursday, for opening a formal Public Comment on drafts of seven sections of the document.

These sections mostly cover some of the low-hanging fruits — explanatory text or rules that have not changed a great deal from the 2012 round. They are:

  • Code of Conduct and Conflict of Interest Guidelines.
  • Conflicts of Interest Process for Vendors and Subcontractors. Along with the above, these sections specify what ICANN’s vendors (such as application evaluators) must not do in order to avoid the perception of conflicts of interest, such as not accepting gifts and not entering into deals to acquire applicants.
  • Applicant Freedom of Expression. This section is a single-paragraph disclaimer warning applicants to be “mindful of limitations to free expression”. In other words, if your applied-for string breaks ICANN rules, your free speech rights are forfeit.
  • Universal Acceptance. A brief warning or disclaimer that even successfully applied-for gTLDs may not work everywhere on the internet due to lack of software support.
  • Reserved and Blocked Names. Covers the variety of reasons why an applied-for string will be rejected or subject to additional review, including names that break technical standards, are geographic in nature, or refer to organizations in the ICANN ecosystem.
  • Geographic Names. Specifies when an applied-for string is considered a Geographic Name and is therefore banned outright or requires governmental approval for the application to proceed. There’s at least one potential applicant, thinking of applying for .eth, that I predict will not be happy with one of these rules.
  • Predictability Framework. This is new to the 2026 round. It’s a procedure designed to tackle unexpected changes to process or policy that are required after applicants have already paid up and submitted their paperwork. In some circumstances, it requires ICANN to consult with a community group called SPIRT to make sure applicants are not affected too adversely.

The full AGB is not expected to be completed until May 2025, with ICANN currently hoping to open the next application window in April 2026.

The public comment period on the first batch of docs is expected to run from February 1 to March 19. If you want to get the jump on what is very likely to be published, drafts can be found here.