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: Delineation||2||1||1||1|
|Part B: Extension||2||2||2||2|
|2: Nexus with string|
|Part A: Nexus||3||1||3||2|
|Part B: Uniqueness||1||0||1||0|
|3: Registration Policies|
|Part A: Eligibility||1||1||1||1|
|Part B: Name Selection||1||1||1||1|
|Part C: Content and Use||1||1||1||1|
|Part D: Enforcement||1||1||1||1|
|4: Community Endorsement|
|Part A: Support||2||1||1||1|
|Part B: Opposition||2||0||0||0|
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.
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