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Will Anyone Qualify As a Community TLD?

Antony Van Couvering

Some Top-Level Domain (TLD) applicants have been saying that they're "community" applications, which means that would avoid an auction and prevail over even deep-pocketed competitors. But according to ICANN's Applicant Guidebook, very few if any applications will qualify as a community. If you're an applicant who's been telling your supporters or investors that you're going to win because you're a community, you might want to take a step back.

This post will look at the reality of who will gain community status under ICANN rules. A few already-announced TLD applications that are commonly thought to be communities — but none of them are even close to qualifying.

One announced applicant for .ECO keeps putting out notices about the ".ECO community." A .GAY applicant makes lots of references to the gay community. And a well known .MUSIC applicant wrote a blog post just a few months ago that he would file a community application. (Note: Minds + Machines has announced support for bids for .ECO and .GAY — so we've looked at this question closely.)

Most people would say there is such a thing as the gay community, maybe music and eco communities not so much. But it doesn't matter: from the ICANN point of view none of them will qualify for "community status" in their gTLD application. Under ICANN rules, even the "ICANN community" wouldn't qualify as a community.

Scoring the Apps

Let's score .ECO, .GAY, and .MUSIC. Turn to section 4.2.3 of the Guidebook, called "Community Priority Evaluation Criteria" and read through how they will score each criterion. Remember, you have to get 14 out of 16 points to beat out your non-community competitor. If you don't get 14 points, you can still proceed to an auction, but you're stuck with all the rules you put in place to try to qualify as a community.

Here is a table showing how I would score each of these TLDs would score in a "community priority evaluation." If you go through the guidebook and score them yourself, you might disagree by a point or maybe two, but if you did, they would get a lower score. The scoring I used is very generous. Explanations follow the table:

Community Priority Evaluation: Need 14 points to qualify
CRITERIA (14 points to pass)Poss. Pts..ECO.GAY.MUSIC
1: Community Establishment
  Part A: Delineation2111
  Part B: Extension2222
2: Nexus with string
  Part A: Nexus3132
  Part B: Uniqueness1010
3: Registration Policies
  Part A: Eligibility1111
  Part B: Name Selection1111
  Part C: Content and Use1111
  Part D: Enforcement1111
4: Community Endorsement
  Part A: Support2111
  Part B: Opposition2000
TOTAL1691210

Let's go through it. There are four criteria groupings, and subparts below each one.

Criterion 1: Community Establishment

Part A is "delineation," which means a "clear and straightforward membership definition." Members of .ECO are...? People who believe in ecological causes? Not terribly clear. Score of 1. .MUSIC? People who like music? Even worse but there is some connection, a charitable score of 1. .GAY? People who say they are gay? Leaving aside how they're going to check (that comes later), it's not super clear, especially as the gay community itself typically embraces bisexual and transgendered people. Generously, we will give .ECO 1, .GAY 1, .MUSIC 0.

Part B is "extension," which means a community of "considerable size and longevity." If you accept that these are communities, everyone here scores 2 out of 2.

Criterion 2: Nexus of the Proposed String and Community

Part A is "Nexus," which looks at how closely the TLD name describes the supposed community. ECO doesn't really match the name of the movement (it is also called the green movement, or the conservation movement), MUSIC isn't really about people, but OK, and GAY pretty much means gay people. Out of a possible 3, I score .ECO 1, .GAY 3, .MUSIC 2.

Part B is "Uniqueness," which asks if there is any other meaning of the word. ECO could easily mean "economics," GAY doesn't really mean anything else these days, and MUSIC means lots of things, as big generic words do. Out of 1, .ECO gets 0, .GAY 1, and .MUSIC 0.

Criterion 3: Registration Policies.

The stricter you are, the higher you score. Because you can set your own registration policies, everyone gets the maximum score on this one, though on an application they might not, since super-tight registration rules are suicidal for most TLDs. Also, if you don't pass the community test, you still have to enforce your registration policies (more on that below). So, as a very generous "gimme": out of 4 possible points: .ECO 4, .GAY 4, .MUSIC 4.

Criterion 4: Community Endorsement

This is where community applications go to die. If there is any significant objection to your application carrying the banner for the community, you will lose two points, which means that you have to be perfect on every other point — highly unlikely.

Part A is "Support." If everyone supports you, 2 pts; if you have some support, 1 pt.; no support, a zero. Out of 2 pts., .ECO gets 1, .GAY gets 1, .MUSIC gets 1

Part B is "Opposition," which can easily come from your competitors. The standard is "relevant opposition from one [or more] group of non-negligible size." They don't have to prevail in their opposition for you to lose points — they just have to file. I think all of these applications will have some opposition from more than one quarter. Out of a possible 2 pts., I have .ECO with 0, .GAY 0, .MUSIC 0.

.GAY is clearly the strongest case for community of these three applications, but still falls far short at 12 pts out of 16. .ECO and .MUSIC don't even come close.

So Who Is a Community?

The only way to make sure you qualify as a community is to *be* the community. The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) could get .AARP as a community TLD, because they own the entire name: there is no-one who could object. In this sense a community in the ICANN sense is just like a brand, complete with intellectual property rights, except that it may not have a corporate structure or a profit motive. Otherwise I can see very little difference.

The key factor in the way ICANN has set this up is that although it's very hard to qualify as a community, it's very easy to object to one, and that's where community applications will falter even if they are strong in other areas. Any institution of "non-negligible size" that claims to represent a community (loosely defined) can object to a community (very tightly defined) application. If one such institution objects, you lose a point. If two or more do, you lose two points. (They can object even if you're not a community, but in that case they have to prevail — a community application loses points even if the objection is not upheld.)

Bottom Line: Think Very Hard Before Applying As a Community

If you have a competitor with some support, or if you haven't made sure that every organization in your community is on board, you are highly unlikely to pass the community priority evaluation. And since that evaluation only happens if you do have a competitor or a community objection, in most cases it makes no sense to apply as a community. If you have credible competition, you almost certainly will not pass the community priority evaluation, and you will be stuck with restrictive policies that will be very hard to change later.

By Antony Van Couvering, CEO of Minds + Machines. Antony Van Couvering also contributes to the Minds + Machines weblog located here.

Related topics: Domain Names, Registry Services, ICANN, Top-Level Domains, Web

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Comments

Antony,If you will be scoring other Initiatives Constantine Roussos  –  Jul 14, 2011 7:52 PM PST

Antony,

If you will be scoring other Initiatives and quote them, I suggest you have a more deep understanding of each of those Initiatives, their plans, their community and their subject-matter before posting a score. You do not seem to have a clear understanding on our .MUSIC, so before you publicly call our Initiative a failure to meet ICANN community scoring, it would be smart not to rely on mere guesswork and false assumptions.

Music is based on songs and an Industry that is composed of songwriters, labels, artists, industry professionals and companies.

Intellectual property is paramount and a non-restrictive .MUSIC TLD would be a terrible idea and would invite rampant piracy and trademark infringement. Policies need to be as strict as possible in regards to a .MUSIC TLD. We are pretty open to having restrictive policies. It is the responsible way to go and the only way to go. So your advice to not be restrictive is detrimental to some communities. It might be good for Internet users (free, pirated music) but not for their corresponding makers and Industry.

If you wanted to write an article perhaps it is whether generics can be communities or not. In the end Antony it is all about launching successful TLDs serving your corresponding Industry and Internet users in a safe, secure and responsible manner.

You are right on one thing. Music does not mean people. But there is a Music Community and Industry. A community is a group sharing common characteristics or interests and perceived or perceiving itself as distinct in some respect from the larger society within which it exists. So there is a Music Community/Industry that can be substantiated. Every community is a "community of something." The ICANN community is an example.

I disagree with your whole assessment here. Your arguments are weak especially in the case of .MUSIC especially since you are not involved with my Initiative that you quote. If your company is planning on going for .ECO, .GAY and .MUSIC as a community perhaps this is a representative score that you believe you will get not others.

Always good to back your scores with real facts and representative assumptions.

I believe ICANN will award the real, authentic and legitimate communities "community status." ICANN wants new TLDs to be a success story and not a cybersquatting fiasco where fans steal band names to make fan websites (e.g VanHalen.com). Add the component of piracy, then you have yourself loads of problems. I actually think the high bar to achieve community status is a good idea. It separates the true communities from the fakers.

Constantine Roussos
.MUSIC

I sympathize Antony Van Couvering  –  Jul 14, 2011 10:43 PM PST

Constantine, I sympathize, and as you know M+M fought to have the community scoring loosened, to no avail.  But however real your (or anyone's) community is, I don't see how you can escape the cold and comfortless reality that any competitor can easily arrange for an objection or two to be lodged, and that it's far from obvious how "music" (or most other words, which is my point) can score perfectly on the rest of the criteria.  Your comments about restrictive policies are well taken, but those are points I conceded in my scoring, where all the apps I scored got full points. 

The way I read it, .MUSIC will definitely lose a point each on the "uniqueness" and "nexus" criteria, and if you add to that any objection, which you must expect given the number of announced .MUSIC initiatives, it's game over.  I hope for your sake I'm wrong, but I don't think I am. 

Antony

Antony,I believe the strongest candidate will win Constantine Roussos  –  Jul 15, 2011 12:00 AM PST

Antony,

I believe the strongest candidate will win if they do have major support from their community and also a solid plan that would serve their corresponding constituents and a credible track history showcasing such activities.

The way that I see it, why would ICANN introduce community-based applications if no-one can qualify for them? If what you say is right, then we have been wasting years working on the guidebook and submitting hundreds of comments to ICANN. Everything would be pointless if the real name of the ICANN game is auctions.

Let me illustrate an example for you. Let us say for the sake of the argument no-one gets community status as you assert. I doubt this but let us pretend for a second. Let us say there are multiple applicants for a TLD and one is a billionaire tycoon who has decided to go after .MUSIC in an auction because it is a "sexy" extension with no respect to intellectual capital concerns. He wins the auction and launches an open TLD. Make no mistake users will register most of the top artists names and label them as fan sites. "Bad faith" domainers also jump and register not only musician names but also company names that have not gone through sunrise. What happens to the TLD? I have looked at some of those "pre-registrations" of .MUSIC domains that we have not supported and shake my head when I see the names being pre-registered. Most of them are famous band names or company names. This is the reality of how a TLD launch can backfire if ICANN decides not to do their homework and treat the new TLD process like a factory. The truth is, it is a case by case scenario and the responsibility is huge.

I guarantee you ICANN is smarter than that and I believe you are not giving them much credit. The repercussions of such an action, especially in an area where intellectual property is critical, will surely put ICANN in a difficult position if they select auction over a trusted community application with support that would benefit its constituents. You thought trademark issues are bad. Just imagine adding copyright now. Music is intangible and can be pirated online. Most TLDs such as .GAY or .ECO do not face this huge problem.

I assure you the game is not over. The bottom line is that ICANN wants new TLDs to be launched and be success stories and be run by the right people for the right purpose. They want TLDs to be used in new innovative ways and would want to showcase best practices and why they fought so hard to launch the TLD program. They will ultimately select the most obvious candidates who beyond reasonable doubt showcases not only technical ability to run a registry but also bring a host of new innovations and benefits to their community and the Internet as a whole.

I do believe in the cause we have fought for all these years and that ultimately the right decisions will be made by ICANN. I do believe ICANN will make the best calculated decisions that will mitigate their legal risk and try to showcase as many success stories as possible for its credibility's sake.

Constantine Roussos
.MUSIC

You forgot objections Antony Van Couvering  –  Jul 15, 2011 12:07 AM PST

The reason the billionaire tycoon might not win .MUSIC (though billions would definitely help) is the same reason very few applications will achieve community status — objections.  The GAC and IP interests lobbied ICANN hard for the ability to easily object, and they got it.  The RIAA or ASCAP or some other music association might well object to the billionaire's .MUSIC, and if they pulled out all the stops they might get a government to object, or the whole GAC.

I hear you voicing a lot of belief, but these things are not scored on faith.  The application scoring is supposed to be objective, and not about who "right people" are who deserve a TLD.  Every indication is that the evaluators are going to follow the rules as written.

Antony

It is exactly my point Antony. This Constantine Roussos  –  Jul 15, 2011 12:24 AM PST

It is exactly my point Antony. This is not a can of worms ICANN would want to open. The "right people" encompasses what constitutes the Music Community and Industry, not a single entity.

Given the complexities of some TLDs where copyright is crucial I believe those will be treated in a just, objective manner.

In regards to other TLDs where there are no serious copyright concerns or clear-cut vested Industry groups with special interests, I do believe the propensity for an auction will be much higher.

I personally have no problem with the TLD process just as long as it is fair, objective and not gamed.

Constantine Roussos
.MUSIC

Constantine, please explain The Famous Brett Watson  –  Jul 15, 2011 4:30 AM PST

I've read the exchange above, and I feel that I understand Antony's points, but I am confused by Constantine's responses. After a couple of false starts at constructing a reply, I have decided that a different approach might be better.

Constantine, I understand Antony's score-card evaluation of these domains, and I think it is reasonable. Clearly you do not, but I don't understand your rationale. It would make things clearer for me if you could go through the score-card criteria where you think Antony has awarded you too low a score, and explain why a higher mark should be awarded. You only need to make up for four points to justify your position.

I agreed on his rationale that his Constantine Roussos  –  Jul 15, 2011 8:38 AM PST

I agreed on his rationale that his scoring would probably be true for an applicant with no significant support and with no clearly delineated community. Also "music" has no alternative definitions. When someone refers to "music" it refers to "organized sound." I stress the word "organized":

e.g

1. Music are sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified, and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm, and timbre.
2. Vocal or instrumental sounds possessing a degree of melody, harmony, or rhythm.

However, "gay" could mean "happy" or it could mean "homosexual." These mean two different things. "Eco" could mean "economics" and "ecology" that have two different meanings.

Constantine Roussos
.MUSIC

Please address the criteria explicitly The Famous Brett Watson  –  Jul 16, 2011 1:45 AM PST

Constantine, you haven't done what I asked. "Music" has only one meaning — so what's your point? Are you saying that this is reason to be awarded an extra point in criterion 2B? An extra point in criterion 2A? How does the specificity of the term "music" relate to the "nexus" and "uniqueness" criteria? Don't make me fill in the blanks for you — you won't like the results.

In order to qualify for one point in the uniqueness criterion (2B), the string must have "no other significant meaning beyond identifying the community described in the application" [p4-12], but this is clearly not the case. "Music" means "organised sound" (your definition), not "people involved in the production of organised sound". If your domain name were ".musician", I might grant the point, but "music" is what musicians do, not the musicians themselves. I agree with Antony's score, if not his explanation.

But possibly you mean to argue criterion 2A, "nexus". Three points are awarded if "the string matches the name of the community or is a well known short-form or abbreviation of the community name." [p4-11,12] I can't find grounds to grant this. "Music" is not the name of the community, so we are limited to a "well known short-form or abbreviation". "Music" is a lexical subset of "The Music Community", but it is not a well known short-form or abbreviation. I think we would be hard pressed to find a single instance in common usage where "music" refers to a community of people, let alone establish that such usage is well known. Antony granted two points, to be awarded if the "string identifies the community but does not qualify for a score of 3." [p4-11,12] If we grant that "music" is referring to a community, then it follows that it is referring to "the music community", so this is reasonable.

I've taken your arguments about the definition of "music" into consideration and can see no grounds to adjust Antony's score.

There is a fundamental problem with the Constantine Roussos  –  Jul 16, 2011 12:45 PM PST

There is a fundamental problem with the scoring and the assessment. Firstly, I believe it is quite inappropriate that Minds and Machines is grading Initiatives other than their own.

Also I believe that the scoring implies that even with Major Industry support, the maximum amount of points would be 12. That is 2 points away from the threshold.

The fundamental problem that ICANN needs to figure out is how to launch a safe, responsible and secure new TLD program. In regards to music, there would be no music without the Music Industry. Copyright is just as big of an issue as trademarks are. I would even argue that copyrights are even more important. How does ICANN protect the Music Industry from 3rd parties launching a irresponsible TLD? Just the mere checking of whether a candidate has no criminal record or that they have less than 3 cybersquatting cases over the last few years is not enough. Then add the ease of objecting and you have a catastrophe waiting to happen.

Some extensions do require special attention. If this is about creating value and serving corresponding Industries such as the Music Industry, then these issues need to be taken into consideration.

So Antony suggests here to "think hard about applying for community" and basically prepare for auctions. This might be the unfortunate truth because this process will be gamed. I have been an ICANN delegate long enough to realize this. There are some that would put making money, exploiting others and gaming the system i.e taking shortcuts above what we call "best practices" and "ethical behavior."

The task at hand is serving your communities and doing what is in their best interest. I have to say I am worried by your assessments and fear for the repercussions if they are true. I tend to disagree since I believe in our .MUSIC Initiative body of work over the years. Also I do believe ICANN should give special consideration to Industries such as the Music Industry that has been plagued with copyright infringement and piracy over the web. Make no mistake, this TLD will be primarily copyright and trademark driven. We are talking about a TLD here that describes the subject-matter: music. That means copyrights.

I hope ICANN takes this into consideration in their grading and takes a hard look at who is applying and what the real driving force of the application is. Is it for personal gain on the backs of the Music Industry or to serve the Music Industry?

I hope it is about serving not only the Music Industry but also music fans who would trust a secure, restricted .MUSIC. All the recommendations about going "open" because you might be stuck with policies can be quite irresponsible in many cases. Policies are good. Sometimes it is not about volume and numbers.

Constantine Roussos
.MUSIC Initiative

I don't this this is a great suggestion Avri Doria  –  Jul 17, 2011 10:47 AM PST

From the approach AVC has taken, one can see his strategy for competing with Community Applications.  To go through his score card line by line with the reasons one think they might do better, would be to give him extra intelligence with which to fight those applications.  Time enough for that when applications are published.  In a major sense, this is a psych-out: to scare those who are considering an application in ICANN's only category to bow out and leave the field clear for those who want to exploit communities instead of serve them.

Also I may have more hope than AVC thinks possible, because as problematic as I sometimes think ICANN can be, I do not think they would create a category test that could not be passed.  True I and many others have considered the scoring too rigid since the beginning, but ICANN has refused our comments and argued that it is a fair test.  So, perhaps it is only hope, but at this point I have to take them at their word - it will be possible for applications to get community status.

But, while I have hope, I also advise caution.  Whenever I advise someone thinking of a community application (pro-bono and for a fee) I always advise them to plan on a two prong strategy, apply for the community as best they can and make sure a sponsor with deep pockets is standing in the wings to help with the auction.  But it will a pity if ICANN's procedures are such as to push communities into paying back investors instead of supporting their communities.  So I guess, I also plead with ICANN not to make the scoring instructions given to the evaluators so draconian that community status cannot be obtained.

Taking ICANN "at their word" means reading the guidebook Antony Van Couvering  –  Jul 17, 2011 5:12 PM PST

Avri,

I made the exact same point about communities in May 2009, and I was one of those who argued, very hard, for loosened rules.  See http://www.mindsandmachines.com/2009/05/how-to-make-sure-new-top-level-domains-are-meaningful-and-useful-and-how-they-will-clean-up-the-internet/ — go down a bit and look at the section on community and community scoring.  At that time, I scored a potential .golf — same result.

You can call it a psych-out if you want, or reach into my conscience to divine that exploitation is my motive (isn't everything better in black and white?), but if you leave all that fun stuff aside and read the rules, they are pretty clear to me, and I don't think I'm reading them different than any evaluator would.

Frankly, there's nothing "draconian" about it, because a loose definition of community also means an even looser definition of who can object, and one of my major points was that the objection procedure is where a community application can really get clobbered unless it's really buttoned up.  Would you prefer that it should be harder for a community to object to an application?  Wouldn't that, in your words, "leave the field clear for those who want to exploit communities instead of serve them"?

Taking ICANN "at their word" means reading the guidebook.  The guidebook is the Word, that's what took us 3 years to nail down.  Are the evaluators going to read through reams and reams of commentary to decide what ICANN "really" means, or are they going to follow the procedures in the guidebook?  Anyone who's going to plunk down $185,000 of their own money, or that of an investor/sponsor, had better be pretty clear-eyed about what they're doing and what their chances are. 

If bringing this to people's attention before they risk their hard-earned cash is a "strategy," then mea culpa. But if it were my money on the line, I'd want to be sure that my Community Application was on a very solid footing.

Antony

I agree with Avri on this one Constantine Roussos  –  Jul 17, 2011 6:02 PM PST

I agree with Avri on this one and her advice is solid. As she mentions, there is a opportunity cost to bringing in outside investors if you are aiming at community and serving them under a true multi-stakeholder governance model. There will be a tendency from the outside investors to want to get paid as soon as possible. Incentives are not aligned in this case. This is an additional danger to auctions. Outside investors will on their own right demand returns if they invest in the auctions. This puts pressure on a revenue-generating at-any-cost approach, including auctioning premium domains that your community will no longer can participate in and adopting a volume-based approach, a strategy that would possibly tarnish your brand in the long run.

It is always good to have a strong contingency plan just in case this happens. If there is one thing I agree with Antony on this issue, it is that if you are planning to apply as a community, it will be difficult to gain, especially if you really have not done your homework, the appropriate outreach and considered the repercussions of each possible scenario. It is about having a community application that has a very strong footing and is not only authentic, but it also serves those communities in the way that benefits them and what is important to them.

Constantine Rousos
.MUSIC

Yes, but Avri Doria  –  Jul 17, 2011 6:00 PM PST

There is no harm in making a community application.  Except that you need to establish rules that pertain to the protection of the gTLD for the use of the community.  And then you need to live by them, even if you don't get the community rating. And that is not a bad thing in itself.

So the worse that can happen in the case of a community application is that one will need to be subject to an auction against profiteers if they fail the evaluation.  And as I said in my previous comment, I also recommend that anyone contemplating a community application be ready for the auction.  Yes, that will prevent them from doing as much good as they might while paying of the investors, but at least they will have the gTLD, and they will have it in a form that serves a community.

And who knows, I might be right and the evaluators might actually see things more positively than you do and be able to actually understand when a community really is a community, even if there are professional nay sayers saying it can't happen.

"Difficult" is not "Impossible" John Berryhill  –  Jul 22, 2011 10:26 AM PST

I don't understand Anthony to be saying "it can't happen".  Someone will win the Tour de France on Sunday.  It is more likely at this point that person will be named Schleck, and less likely they will be named Voeckler or Contador.  I can say with certainty it won't be Doria.  That doesn't make it impossible to win the Tour de France.  It only makes it more likely for some names than others, and impossible for most.

Messrs. Roussos and Van Couvering appear to be talking past each other and, of course, neither of them can be objective.  A TLD which relates to subject matter inherently involving intellectual property would do well to have restrictive policies, sure.  But a non-community application relating to such an industry can also have restrictive policies, and can objectively apply them without suspicions that are normal in an "industry" (which seems in some posts above to be interchangeably used with "community") noted for significant divisions and interests among its members.  Whether one can pull off a "community" which includes chanting Tibetan monks, white power metal fans, corporate titans, and vendors of African thumb pianos, without an objection from somewhere is an open question.  It is particularly open in an environment where others have incentives to find, fund and nurture objectors. 

Can one organize enough transgendered straights to oppose a .gay community application in favor of a .lgbt non-community application?  Maybe.  If it means the difference between losing a seven figure bet, then one has quite an incentive to go looking for them.

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