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ICANN Takes "Fail" To A Whole New Level

Michele Neylon

Today is April 12 2012. It's also meant to be the day that the new TLD application window closes.

Now it's not.

No.

ICANN has spectacularly failed to manage the new TLD process and will miss its own deadline by over a week.

Any prospective new TLD applicant will be greeted with the following message if they try to access the TAS (the online system ICANN provides for submitting new TLD applications):

ICANN's new TLD application system is offline. (Click to Enlarge)In a rather badly worded announcement ICANN states that it's extending the deadline for online applications (the only way to apply) until April 20th at 23:59 UTC.

The announcement was also emailed to existing applicants.

Here's the full text of the announcement:

From: new gTLDs [mailto:do-not-reply@gtld.icann.org]
Sent: 12. april 2012 13:52
Subject: TAS Temporarily Offline

Attention Applicants,

ICANN constantly monitors the performance of the TLD Application System (TAS). Recently, we received a report of unusual behavior with the operation of the TAS system. We then identified a technical issue with the TAS system software.

ICANN is taking the most conservative approach possible to protect all applicants and allow adequate time to resolve the issue. Therefore, TAS will be shut down until Tuesday at 23:59 UTC — unless otherwise notified before that time.

In order to ensure all applicants have sufficient time to complete their applications during the disruption, the application window will remain open until 23:59 UTC on Friday, 20 April 2012.

We apologize for any inconvenience this has caused. If you have any questions, please contact the gTLD Customer Service Center (CSC) via the CSC portal.

If you have any questions, please contact the Customer Service Center here: http://newgtlds.icann.org/applicants/customer-service

Best Regards,
New gTLD Team

What amuses me most is both the email and the announcement are entitled "TAS Temporarily Offline". I run a hosting company and my concept of "temporarily offline" is not offline for 4 days! And this is the same organisation that wants to impose SLAs on both registries and registrars? Seriously?

I previously posted about the "big reveal" and how I thought it would be delayed, as ICANN's track record wasn't exactly stellar.

Guess I've been proven correct!

So what does this mean?

I'm sure some will try to argue that a week's postponement of the deadline isn't that much "in the grand scheme", but others, including myself, would have to wonder about how ICANN invested in systems and infrastructure that were so fragile that they need this much unplanned downtime.

Any takers on my latest crazy prediction that ICANN will announce their new CEO in the next 48 hours to deflect people's attention from this massive screw up?

And for those new TLD applicants who were planning on celebrating the "big reveal" in Vegas, will they be asking for a refund from the hotel?

UPDATE: A couple of applicants have confirmed that the TAS issues were due to its inability to handle certain characters e.g. ">" and "<". So the multi-million dollar new TLD application program was brought to a standstill due to some programmers inability to properly encode and "escape" characters? Seriously?

By Michele Neylon, MD of Blacknight Solutions. More blog posts from Michele Neylon can also be read here.

Related topics: ICANN, Top-Level Domains

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Comments

Not about escape characters Antony Van Couvering  –  Apr 12, 2012 10:00 PM PDT

Michele,

The characters "<" and ">" were showing up as bookend characters in fully-formed web links copied from Word into the TAS.  They would cause the link not to show up in the HMTL output from the TAS. Annoying, but not the end of the world; they could removed by hand.

I don't think that's why the TAS closed, however. We and others were noticing errors where questions were repeated, questions were missing, and what we were *sure* were proper entries were not outputting properly.  It smells like a database error to me.  We were doing lots of checking, double checking, triple checking of everything.

Given how treacly slow the TAS became, a breakdown didn't come as a huge surprise to me.  I just hope ICANN's reasonable about it, and gives applicants a chance finish with a system that's working, and aren't dogmatic in their scoring if/when errors that might have been caused by this breakdown show up in the final answers.

It still beats me why they insist on this TAS system, which apart from being expsnsive is hell for applicants. Instead of telling the story of your application in a document that reads front to back in one piece, applicants are forced to work in little pieces, using little windows where you can't see all text, and where attachments aren't visible, virtually guaranteeing mistakes and misplacements. 

I understand that ICANN wants a standard interface to make it easy on the evaluators and to "ensure fairness," although I don't quite understand how TAS is supposed to achieve that.  I understand that with hundreds of applications, and evaluation teams across the globe, document management is an issue.  But there's nothing like paper (or a PDF) with easy-to-read type, illustrations, clear headings (and so on) to convey meaning, and it strikes me that ICANN has given up a lot of richness merely to enforce uniformity. 

ICANN should have been thinking about the quality of their submissions, not the ease of evaluating them.  That the TAS system, which encourages sterility in order to ramp up efficiency, is also producing delay and confusion, is richly ironic.

The irony continues because now ICANN evaluators are likely to have to do intensive manual reviews to identify and compensate for any errors to applications that may have been introduced by the TAS, thereby losing all the uniformity and efficiency that was to have been achieved by automation.

Minds + Machines has competed in a number of tender bids over the last few months. In every one of those, formatted paper and/or electronic copies were required, sometimes in multiple copies, with lots of rules about packaging and delivery and so on. But at the end of the day, it was a much easier process than the TAS, and a lot less prone to error, with many fewer possible points of failure. 

In future rounds, I would encourage ICANN to use a more human and rational system, allowing for formatted documents, in order to get the best applications, instead of just the easiest to process. I think the applications we are submitting are quite good, but they would have been easier to read, more comprehensive, less prone to repetition, and would have conveyed more of the joy of innovation if we'd been able to compose them in Word (or similar) and submit as such or as PDF files.  And in the end, I suspect it would be easier for evaluators too.

Thanks for the article,

Antony

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