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Are Auctions the Last Resort to Determine gTLD Winners? I Vote Open Business Plan Competitions

Constantine Roussos

I have been reading through the last gTLD applicant guidebook and have wondered whether all my efforts, traveling, attending all major music conference and lobbying come with any merit. How do you define a community? What is the difference between a dotGreece, dotGay or dotMusic community? For dotGreece you have a geographical/cultural community representation. For dotGay you have a demographic/cultural community representation. For dotMusic you have a psychographic/cultural and a commercial/non-commercial stakeholder community.

ICANN chooses a point system to determine the validity of these claims. I always get asked the question on how I am dealing with the issue of getting all the points of community. My answer has always been the same: My goal is to connect the music community together, whether it is the indie community, the major music community, non-profits, associations or governments/departments of culture whose goal is to promote their region's music internationally. I can worry about the points later. What is the point of a score if it is not authentic anyways or if you cheat the system to get the score?

My main goal with .music is to be as real, authentic as I can be and cater the music community with a solution that helps them. Merely a domain extension called .music would not accomplished that. The goal is the value added. Does the extension offer something beyond an extension that adds value beyond the name?

Whether we like it or not, the point system is what ICANN has set up to determine the winners. If you were to ask me I would create a different method of scoring. It is one of open competition. That means applicants declare they are going for a particular string and go at it. The market, web users, community can decide who is the best choice with the prerequisite of explaining how one applicant is a better fit than another. We as .music have done a lot of homework beginning with employing a bottom-up approach. First get the largest and most affected constituents of the community. The web users and the indie artists across the globe who have no affiliation with commercial music entities. Our .music TLD initiative has reached nearly 1 million signatures, nearly 250,000 followers across our 11 theme-based Twitter accounts and nearly 40,000 friends on Myspace. And yes, we are still augmenting those numbers.

Despite all this "proof" or "authenticity" the auction is a possibility. I am not a stranger to auctions and the concept of fairness and commercial interests. I was interested in the music.mobi domain name that was auctioned by dotMobi/mTLD at Sedo auctions. The servers crashed and announced me the winner at $66,000. A lot of money was left on the table by dotMobi/mTLD and Sedo so their decision was to restart the auction. I bid the name to $611,000 which was when I decided to stop. We finally took the matter to court and there was a confidential settlement. Music.mobi was added to our generic music business plan and mobile domain to the Music.us domain which led the .music initiative.

As you can tell, I have no problems with auctions if they are performed fairly and the benefits of the seller are transparent in regards to where the monies are distributed. I can not see how a non-profit such as ICANN can legitimately call for auctions as a last resort. To me it seems like it is a component of 2 things. The first is that ICANN is acting as a for-profit and trying to maximize returns from the application process or/and ICANN wants to be protected and avoid making a decision on who the winner should be. In my opinion, if one is paying $185,000 I would assume that an evaluator or business plan expert can make a decision. Decisions are made in politics and businesses every day. Wasn't there a decision made for who would manage .org, where the stakes were high? Legally speaking ICANN can select a 3rd party to look at the applications so they would not be liable or be the decision makers. This is strange to me. Isn't ICANN the governing body of the Internet? Isn't the Board of ICANN responsible to make decisions about how the Internet is run for the best interests of the web community and other stakeholders e.g. music stakeholders.

Since ICANN is a non-profit, then I think a policy should be added in the new guidebook, (if auctions are still part of the guidebook), where the auction winner can select which non-profit or government-based organization they would like the auction monies to go to relating to the theme of their gTLD extension. Why would more monies go to ICANN for one application and less for another? Why would one application pay while the other not pay due to lack of decision making on who the winner is? Take .music for example. Our initiative would like monies to go to the music community and music related institutions. This idea applies to the registry/registrar integration which we support. So if there is an auction and we win, I would like to opt-in to give the auction amount to the Cyprus Ministry of Culture of Education or a Department of Music at a University or Educational Institution.

If ICANN is truly a non-profit, I believe it should allow auction winners to distribute their monies to the appropriate equivalent non-profit organization. Money for a .music application flows into the music community, not out of it. If I am going to open up my wallet, I would hope that I have the right to choose where the monies go to aid my cause: music. Transparency is key here.

I am not an auction-process endorser, given my experiences with auctions. I strongly oppose that process because it only generates more problems than it brings, especially for a non-profit such as ICANN. I prefer ICANN to implement an open competition approach. Hidden competitors for communities do not do the public any favors. Stealth-modes are for the military. Why not hold business plan presentations in the open for competitors for competitive strings? Bring it on. I know we are ready in either case. But if were going to have auctions, let us do them now and not waste any more time and resources. Where do I bid?

By Constantine Roussos, Founder of DotMusic
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Related topics: Domain Names, ICANN, New TLDs, Web
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