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The New gTLD Program Now Needs Momentum and Focus

Johnny Du

Once again, and hopefully for the final time, the internet community has an official time-line for the arrival of new generic top-level domains. ICANN's recent decision to publicly name May 30, 2011 as the planned launch date for new gTLD program was courageous, welcome, and absolutely necessary. The ICANN Board and staff alike should be congratulated for their bold commitment to opening the first-round application window less than seven months from now, and for providing the community with visibility into its working plan. After almost two years of delays, which have left many potential applicants tapping their toes in frustration, it is gratifying that ICANN has finally enabled its many enthusiastic and committed supporters to see some light at the end of the tunnel.

Now that the opening day for applications has been scheduled, it is imperative that ICANN and the ICANN community keep up the momentum, maintain the focus, and avoid the kind of distractions that have plagued the process over the few years since it was first announced. As can be inferred from the recent rash of announcements and commentary following the ICANN Board's decision, many organizations are already brushing the cobwebs off their applications, entering strategic relationships, and beginning to roll out their marketing plans. The announcement of the May 2011 launch date was a starting pistol that will see many applicants quickly ramp up their efforts to finalize and implement their strategies and to accelerate outreach efforts with their respective communities.

Geographic and cultural TLD registries, and applicants for IDN TLDs, now also have a target date for securing the local support that will be needed to help them bring user-friendly addressing to disenfranchised communities around the world, helping create a truly worldwide and inclusive domain name system. ICANN will be able to make good on its "One World. One Internet. Everyone Connected." slogan, dramatically improving its credibility on the international stage. The forthcoming expansion of the DNS will be an exciting time for the global internet, and ICANN should be commended for putting the wheels in motion that will now make it happen on a timely basis.

The proposed "final" Applicant Guidebook (now referred to as the AGB) is scheduled to be published tomorrow (11/09/2010) for a 30-day public comment period, which will close immediately before the next ICANN Board meeting, on the penultimate day of the Cartagena meeting next month. It's possible, even likely, that some opponents of the new gTLD program will use this opportunity to stuff the comment period, back-loading it with as many negative comments and attempted eleventh-hour surprises as they can muster, in a last-ditch attempt to delay the process. They will complain that their voices have not been heard and that more time, consultations and comment periods are needed to work out the kinks in the AGB. But as anybody who has been involved with the process for the last few years will appreciate, the time for such rhetoric has long passed. Every affected community has now been heard, and we're now on the verge of a policy that takes all interested parties' views into account.

ICANN's timetable has generously provided enough room for the AGB to be refined a little before the program officially launches — think tweaks rather than fundamental changes — and it also leaves enough time for some fat to be trimmed from the process, particularly with regard to the length of the application window itself. ICANN's recent "Delegation Rate Scenarios For New gTLDs” paper states that ICANN will accept applications for new gTLDs for 90 days following the closure of the four-month communications campaign. With a May 30 opening date, a window this wide would mean that ICANN may not even begin to start processing applications until late August 2011 at the earliest. With the AGB currently predicting eight months of processing time for even very simple and non-controversial applications, and given a likely 30-to-90-day pre-launch ramp-up for successful new gTLD registries, it could be July 2012 before the first registries begin their sunrise periods and almost two years from now before any new domains are generally available to everyday registrants.

Given its unfortunate track record of delays, ICANN could now do the community a great service by finding efficiencies in the application process where it can. Reducing the length of the application window from 90 to 30 days would be an excellent place to start, cutting the bloat and streamlining the program's launch. As many others have already commented, most applicants will very likely wait until the very last minute before filing their applications, limiting the utility of such a long application period. An unnecessarily long window would harm those organizations that have already spent a great deal of time and resources preparing their applications, while benefiting only those applicants — likely to be negligible in number — who hear about the new gTLD program only at the very end of ICANN's four-month publicity campaign. Let us not forget that ICANN first promised new gTLDs in 2008, and the process has been receiving publicity broadly in the media and elsewhere ever since. Over the next six or seven months, dozens of applicants will carry out their own communications campaigns in the their own communities, raising the profile of the new gTLD program still further. It will not be long before it will be impossible for anybody with an ear to the media to present a plausible excuse why they were not aware of the program's existence.

The fact that ICANN has approved a timetable for the opening of the new gTLD application window is excellent news for the domain name industry and the internet at large. The global rewards from increased competition and more inclusive community representation will be huge, and ICANN should be sincerely thanked for finally making it happen. All that is required now is a fervent commitment to the momentum created by this announcement and an honest desire to retain focus over the coming months.

By Johnny Du, VP, StableTone Ltd

Related topics: Registry Services, ICANN, Top-Level Domains

 
   
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Comments

Great article Johnny Du. Very well written. Constantine Roussos  –  Nov 08, 2010 5:59 PM PDT

Great article Johnny Du. Very well written. I do not believe ICANN really understands what it needs to do to push innovation and competition. There are many competent and smart people on the Board and on ICANN's Staff but the approach taken lacks authenticity and my worry is this is all about a money grab, a power grab and nothing to do with new top-level domains. I do hope I am wrong and the decision on Vertical Integration will be an indication of this.

If Vertical Integration is not adopted for new entrants, I know there will be repercussions because innovation does not come from adaption to the status quo and finding loopholes (a popular tactic adopted in the domain world). It does not help that many on the Board have special interests with the companies they represent, even though they claim not to vote. I know .MUSIC will certainly post a re-consideration of Vertical Integration because our innovation is based on it and ICANN's credibility for launching new TLDs hangs by it.

ICANN should be consistent with their reasoning of launching new TLDs if they want innovation and I hope the final guidebook will reflect this. Launching new TLDs alone without Vertical Integration will be a disaster because new TLDs will compete on novelty name alone. Ask .travel, .jobs and all the other TLDs how that panned out for them. You can not compete with .COM unless there is innovation.

The other thing I am baffled with is extending the application period to 90 days. Everyone will apply in the last day or week of any window. Look at ICANN comments. 95% of most comments happen in the last few days of closing. Unless ICANN is planning to process applications on a first-come first-serve basis and not all in one batch, then adding additional months to the window is pointless. Might as well add 2 months to the communication period and make it 6 months instead of 4 months.

The communication period is another interesting part of the process. Is ICANN aiming to target new comers with 4 months to understand the ICANN system, be able to put together an application, reach out to their community and all the other things that have taken initiatives such as .MUSIC years to accomplish?

What I want to know is whether a newcomer such as Rod Beckstrom, the CEO of ICANN really understand the Internet DNS and everything ICANN, even after a year at work? What was the learning curve for him? How about newly appointed COO and the rest of the executive team hired by Beckstrom who have minimal experience in ICANN issues. Are they knowledgeable enough to get the job done in such a small amount of time.

If ICANN was all about being smart and doing the right thing, they would have a limited round of new TLDs and a fast track for all those applicants waiting for years i.e the most committed and competent. I get asked the question whether new TLDs will be a success or not. My answer is that most will fail and they will fail bad. This is because ICANN does not understand the nuances of the ICANN learning curve, which is complex. I personally do not believe applicants with less than 1 year of ICANN experience will be able to launch a successful TLD business.

While I respect my Greek philosophy I do not fully agree with Plato's Consensus management style that ICANN is adopting with everything. There is no innovation if everyone has to agree to everything (it seems every decision is unanimous, give or take). Consensus management means that there is no leadership. The bottom-up approach is a myth at ICANN. I saw it first hand and with Vertical Integration not being solved it is becoming obvious. I can give many other examples but let us be optimistic with ICANN. The .xxx fiasco has shown that dodging important decisions is commonplace because ICANN has no apparent strong leadership.

What ICANN does not realize is that they are wasting a lot of the applicants' time, resources, time and also compromising applicant credibility towards their stakeholders with all the unnecessary delays. On one hand ICANN wants competent applicants with resources and commitment but on the other hand they are shopping for new applicants regardless of competence or if they understand the ICANN system.

The 4-month advertising communication campaign might seem that it is outreach but again it is not consistent with the ICANN learning curve for new applicants. However I see the reasoning: increasing the number of applications, making ICANN richer, more powerful regardless if the applicant is competent or not. My question to ICANN is simple: Does ICANN think newcomers can prepare an application in 4 months or less and be able to run a registry?

ICANN is performing a big mistake. Does ICANN ever hire anyone with 4-month or less experience, let alone 1 year? So why invite applicants and prime them to fail? ICANN requires major re-alignment and I strongly believe that their policies are short-sighted with no consistency. ICANN needs to wake up and get the job done for the benefit of the Internet not their pockets, special interests and a money grab.

I will eagerly await some decisions such as Vertical Integration to form my opinion on how new TLDs will be run. All I am asking is for ICANN to be consistent and align the goals with launching new TLDs with their policies. I hope the final guidebook reflects this.

Constantine Roussos
.music

Vertical Integration will help to bring innovations Johnny Du  –  Nov 09, 2010 8:52 AM PDT

Vertical Integration will help to bring innovations to gTLD communities. However, it shouldn't be an issue to drag down the whole new gTLD process.

Yes, once again you are right. I Constantine Roussos  –  Nov 09, 2010 10:36 AM PDT

Yes, once again you are right. I just wish many others shared your opinion on these issues. I think most do but the decisions made show otherwise.

I think the VI decision has dragged out for too long. I believe ICANN will be forced to make a decision on this sooner than later. Seems that there is a lack of consensus at the Board level, especially since it has not been voted on. This is good news because there are probably some Board members that agree with the most popular proposal that was voted for by the VI working group (free trade) and that new registries should be given a chance to innovate beyond novelty domain names.

Here is a classic example of true conflict of interest at the registry and registrar level. At .MUSIC we have built a platform specifically targeted to the music community (artists, pros, companies). This includes the hosting and programming platform included in the .MUSIC domain bundle. Guess what the bread and butter is for many registrars? It is not the domain name but it is the hosting. The conflict of interest is apparent in this case against the new registry that wants to bundle and vertically integrate to create the network effect. The larger the network and platform usage, the stronger the network effect.

ICANN has not reached out to any applicant to do homework on what innovations to expect so they can better make decisions on things such as Vertical Integration. Playing by old rules will certainly compromise their authenticity and the true reasons for launching new TLDs. I really do hope it is about innovation, competition and choice that extends beyond the traditional system that we know today.

Under the status quo system of today, new TLDs will have to compete for shelf space on registrars such as Godaddy or eNom. Can you imagine 1000 new TLDs competing for shelf space? I can imagine what it would cost and what deals you will have to make to get such a luxury. There are many other reasons I can point out but these are some examples that could lead to abuse of new entrants. Competing on novelty TLD domains on their name alone is a recipe for disaster and all new TLD critics are always showcasing examples of this.

The only possible arguments that could be made about the communication periods and the expansion of the window to 90 days is to give people unaware of the process a chance to apply. There isn't a single person in the domain industry that does not know new TLDs are happening. That said, ICANN is targeting people from outside of the industry to run a complex task and business. What an outsider sees is that it costs $185k to apply and get a new TLD. Sounds simple right? They know nothing about the business, operational costs, set up costs and everything else, let alone understanding how ICANN works.

I will say it again, ICANN will shoot itself in the foot if it does not take a hard look at what it is doing with all the delays as well as pretending that the communication period actually means something. To myself it does seem like an advertisement period for ICANN to lure new entrants who will get smacked in the face when they realize what they are getting into.

Outsiders, for example an entrepreneur running a printing company might think a .printer TLD is a great fit for his business. Problem is his core business is ink, toner, cartridges and printers and the .printer business is another completely unrelated business: selling domains, dealing with the ICANN infrastructures.

ICANN, as smart as most of the executives and staff are, do not realize that there is a huge disconnect there. Take my business for example. I would never accept applicants with no experience in the field I am in. Would ICANN ever hire a sports journalist as their new CEO? Comparing domains (.printer) with printer supplies is the same thing. Like I said earlier, ICANN has specific requirements on who gets on the Board or becomes hired as staff. Experience and years in the field is one of the pre-requisites. There is no alignment with reality and consistency in the new TLD round that reflects this observation.

I just hope the new applicant guidebook actually is a move towards the right direction. At this moment most of the applicants who have been waiting for years have taken a huge financial hit and resource loss without any remorse or apologies from ICANN. And many have have gone out to help other applicants, advise them and put their TLD applications on the line for being public and transparent about their plans. Anyone can write a perfect application and replicate someone. The question is can they execute it given the barriers of the status quo, all the red tape and inconsistencies with policy making?

I find it amazing that ICANN is writing an applicant guidebook and they have not even once reached out to possible applicants to discover what the applicant's plans are, what to anticipate and reflect their findings in the guidebook they are writing. It is called the "applicant" guidebook after all, right?

Let us move forward please.

Constantine Roussos
.music

Constantine, I totally agree with you on Johnny Du  –  Nov 09, 2010 2:22 PM PDT

Constantine, I totally agree with you on Vertical Integration. If we want to see some true innovations instead of just more new extensions in gTLD industry, chances are we have to do the Vertical Integration eventually. Vertical Separation only made sense in the old days when registrants didn't have much choice on registrars and registries. The market landscape has changed a lot over the years and things are quite different now. Besides, many ccTLDs are already integrated. I really don't see the reason why we can't allow VI for gTLDs. If no registrar is willing to sell my gTLD because the community I'm serving is too small to make money or my business model is too innovative to understand, can I sell the gTLD myself? Vertical Integration is the way to go. I believe in the future, we surely will see a new business type in this industry: Registrary = Registrar + Registry.
(Someone already registered the .com domain name:) )

ICANN voted Vertical Integration in. This is Constantine Roussos  –  Nov 10, 2010 3:02 AM PDT

ICANN voted Vertical Integration in. This is fantastic news.

Constantine Roussos
.MUSIC

Fabulous! Johnny Du  –  Nov 10, 2010 7:24 AM PDT

Fabulous!

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