So where are we up to with these new Internet extensions?

by Kieren McCarthy on May 8, 2009

An official update on the new gTLD program / Applicant Guidebook process has just been published. Most of you reading this will immediately know what that means but I’m going to use a third label which isn’t ICANNese to talk about it: Internet extensions.

ICANN has been working on a process for widely opening up the Internet space for a number of years. As that process has got closer to reality, people have started paying it more and more attention.

The “new gTLD program” envisions a very significant increase in the number of “generic top-level domains” – or Internet extensions like dot-com, dot-net, dot-info etc. At the moment there are 21 of these extensions of three characters or more. But the gTLD program is estimating a further 500 within the next two years or so. It’s a huge change in the Internet’s domain name system.

The “Applicant Guidebook” is what it says it is – a guidebook for those that plan to apply for a new Internet extension. In it, all the rules, procedures and processes are outlined in some depth. And currently ICANN is running an extensive and ongoing public comment and review process using that guidebook as the focus for discussion.

Which leads to the question of this blog post: so where are we up to with these new Internet extensions?

The Sydney meeting

ICANN makes its big decisions at international public meetings where the Internet community comes together and thrashes things out. There are currently three a year and the next one is at the end of next month, 21-26 June in Sydney, Australia.

It makes sense then to outline progress of the new gTLD work in terms of ICANN meetings – what will be done before the meeting, happen at the meeting, and be done for the next meeting (in Seoul at the end of October).

So, following the announcement made last night:

  • We won’t be producing a third version of the Applicant Guidebook for Sydney (the first was published in October 2008 for our Cairo meeting in November; the second in February 2009 for our Mexico City meeting in March)
  • Instead, the focus will be on what we have called “overarching issues” – particular areas of concern flagged up by the community
  • However, there will be some excerpts of the guidebook with suggested changes following community feedback from the second version

Overarching issues

There were four overarching issues identified back in February:

  • Trademark protection
  • Security and stability
  • Malicious conduct
  • Demand and economic analysis

ICANN’s staff has been working hard with the community to find solutions to the questions and concerns raised about each.

Most visible has been trademark protection. In a nutshell, people are concerned that an explosion in Internet extensions will also see an explosion in cybersquatting and companies will either not be able to keep track or they will have to spend small fortunes making sure they are. So they want additional protections in place to stop this from happening.

On the flipside, many in the Internet community are concerned that if companies get too many controls on this expansion of the Internet that they will end up with too much influence and this may damage the innovative edge that the Internet has become renowned for. So a careful balance is being sought.

To cut a long story short, there is currently a report produced by those companies most concerned about this issue which has been put out for public comment and that comment period closes on 24 May – in time for comment to be summarized and the results to be discussed in Sydney. The hope, of course, is to get closer to a solution by the end of the meeting. There will no doubt be other suggestion solutions but at the moment this report is the focus of community attention.

So, that’s trademark protection. Oh – no – a quick addition. After Sydney, once ICANN (hopefully) has a fairly solid solution, the staff are going to run four meetings in London, New York, Hong Kong and Abu-Dhabi during July/August so that word gets out and people are able to make suggestions for any further tweaks.

This is one of the problems of overseeing a global network – you have to get the word out around the world so that people don’t feel as if they didn’t have a chance to comment on the proposal before it happens.

Also, just to give a quick insight into the difficulties of this sort of work, if the community in Sydney still disagrees widely about the best solution to trademark protection, ICANN staff wouldn’t have much to take around the world and so would have to consider cancelling the planned global meetings
(as well as devise another way of trying to find a solution to the issue).

Anyway, quickly going through the rest of the overarching issues:

  • Security and stability: the Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) has long been a part of ICANN and it has been looking at the issue of what impact a large number of new Internet extensions may have on the domain name system. The SSAC will have a series of public meetings in Sydney discussing their work on this so far.
  • Malicious Conduct. I think this has been renamed “malicious behavior” because we are talking about people behaving in ways that may be legal but which are still “malicious” – and “conduct” has legal implications. Anyway, the very popular “e-crime” session from the last meeting in Mexico City has been adapted to become a “malicious behavior” session – so serving two purposes in one session in Sydney.
  • Demand and economic analysis. This was about trying to foresee the economic impact that the new Internet extensions may have – so everyone has a clearer idea about what we were embarking upon. ICANN commissioned two reports to this end and they were published for Mexico City and put out to public comment. I’m not sure what additional work has been done in this regard but there will be something for Sydney.

Other issues

Those aren’t the only issues surrounding the program but they are the big ones. Other issues include the complexities surrounding the fact that the new gTLD program will also include for the first time ever Internet extensions in other scripts and languages (called Internationalized Domain Names, or IDNs). So you will be able to have extensions in Chinese, Arabic, Hangul and so on. As you can imagine this is an additional layer of complexity.

And there is also an issue of “geographic names” – where people may apply for an Internet extension that is the name of a country or a city, town etc. Governments are, for obvious reasons, concerned about this. But at the same time there are already some people that have got the backing of the city councils and so on to apply for and run an Internet extension named after that city. So, this is another area where there needs to be careful discussions about what to do so everyone is comfortable with the final solution.

Your participation and comments

It is worth noting at this point that the reason ICANN goes through this extensive and repetitive comment and review process is so that everyone has a chance to make their case and have their views noted and listened to. We do this with every piece of important work.

One of the most common gripes however is that ICANN has “ignored” someone’s comments. No matter how many times staff try to explain that changes are only made once a huge variety of different views have been considered, it is of little consolation to those who believe strongly that their perspective was the correct one but that it wasn’t followed.

We do understand this frustration and so recently we have been producing extensive and objective summaries and analyses of the comments received on important pieces of work. The idea is that while you may still be annoyed that your suggestion wasn’t included, you can see all the other ideas and options outlined by others. Where possible, ICANN staff explains the logic and reasoning behind going one route rather than another.

Staff are never going to get it right straight off and so that is why the big items of work – and this new gTLD program is the biggest at the moment – are put through several iterations of public comment so that the careful compromises are then put out again for review. The idea of course is that over time people grow more and more comfortable with the proposed solution.

Anyway, with that in mind, we should be producing an extensive summary/analysis of the comments made to the second version of the Applicant Guidebook before the end of this month.

Third version

Normally that summary/analysis would be used to produce a third version of the Applicant Guidebook. But because work is still continuing on the overarching issues, it was decided not to put out an entire new version that would have big, undecided gaps in. Particularly when the overarching issues will have an impact in many different sections of the overall guidebook.

So, the focus is on the overarching issues for Sydney, plus there will be excerpts of parts of the guidebook that include suggested changes derived from the feedback received to the second version. The idea is to progress both with the overarching issues and with those parts of the guidebook that people specifically focussed on last time around.

Timeline

So there you go, that’s where we’re up to. An enormous amount of work to be done in Sydney. The hope is that the various meetings go well enough that it will be possible to produce the third version of the Applicant Guidebook in time for the Seoul meeting in October.

If that happens, and if people are pretty happy with it in Seoul (so there are comparatively few changes), then it should be possible to get the whole thing agreed to and signed up by the end of the year. And then the whole process could open up in the first quarter of 2010.

So that’s the current timeline – although it is all dependent on you, the community, to find consensus on a lot of still-undecided issues. Staff is doing all it can to get that agreement as fast as possible without rushing people. If it all goes smoothly, we will see an extraordinary expansion of the Internet’s naming system in 2010 – and who knows how that will change how we all see this revolutionary network.

But if there are still problems and issues, ICANN — us as staff and you as the community — will continue working away until we get there.

See you all in Sydney.

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Kelechi Okorie 05.09.09 at 2:03 pm

It is really important that these issues are trashed out at this period in time. We, in Nigeria are currently meeting trying to see how the developing world can take a full advantage of this situation

M. Menius 05.11.09 at 2:59 am

Kieren, your post lists most of the primary issues which is good. One of my overriding concerns has been that ICANN cannot seem to identify major problems on their own. And prepare themselves to move forward much too quickly. Only because of enormous public insight are ICANN able to pause and to address problems, which if had not been identified by the public, would have launched a domino effect of serious consequences.

Look at the biz/info/org contract renewal of 2006. If the public had not pointed ICANN’s attention in the proper direction, we would have been left with a trojan horse, and all safety & discretion left in the hands of registrars! That ICANN never considered the dire implications of allowing unregulated pricing was a shocking omission of competence. Sorry to be critical here, but it’s a fact.

That being said, it scared the hell out of many people – that the organization entrusted to protect could blindly ignore such a serious contract handicap. And the final straw was the immense time & energy that had to be paid by domain registrants to enact the proper pricing regulation in the contracts. ICANN should have immediately recognized their error and quickly included the necessary language so that all of us could get on to bigger and better things. But it became a protracted war that left a bad taste.

This is, in part, why so many are concerned presently. ICANN needed to be made aware of the many potential problems with the new gTLD proposal. The effect on internet stability & consumer confusion -> Did ICANN identify this area of concern on their own? The possibility of unprecedented TM infringement and numerous scams -> Did ICANN recognize the need to ensure comprehensive safeguards?

It’s as if a comparatively tiny group within ICANN craft the beginnings of an idea and then commit wholeheartedly to making it a reality … before engaging in proper due diligence. I believe that individuals and companies understand the benefit of internet innovations, but pursuing this must be done with a healthy respect for what is already working, and not subject accumulated accomplishments to needless risks … such as has appeared to be the case with unlimited new gTLD’s.

The last concern is why the rush? Why are ICANN so deadset on sticking to an arbitrary timeline for introducing new gTLD’s when the issues raised are so complex? I’m suspicious of the motivations at work. Everything that we have read and now understand about the potential risks necessitates that ICANN ease up, take more time, consider the collective input of all parties concerned in a non-hurried fashion. Why do not ICANN release several tld’s per year and allow for assimilation into the business community? Why open a possible flood gate?

Seriously Kieren, I’m asking you this question. With tld’s historically being adopted very slowly by the global internet, why the floodgate proposal? It is inherent in this type of floodgate approach that any problems which crop will be instantly magnified, duplicated many times over, and consequently much more difficult to control or resolve.

Why the “unlimited release” vs. several select tld’s at a time? I’m asking.

Kieren McCarthy 05.11.09 at 8:53 am

@ M Menius: I understand what you’re saying but I think the problem may be that you have a view of ICANN that does not exist in reality.

People tend to equate ICANN with ICANN’s staff as if the two are one in the same. They really are not. ICANN is the organization, an open organization with a multitude of advisory committees and supporting organizations, with the Board at the top. The staff is the secretariat to ICANN – to the community.

So while your comments are logical in the sense that it would have been much better if issues now on the table had been identified earlier, your argument that staff are somehow to blame for not having uncovered them doesn’t hold water.

Staff does as much as it can to predict where the community may have concerns and to highlight them so discussion can start. And it has done that many hundreds of times already with this very complex new gTLD process, but it is not realistic to assume that staff can predict and pre-empt every aspect of community concern.

The whole model is set up for the community to provide input and then for ICANN as an organization to act on that input (with staff acting as the oil in the gears). Staff numbers are low in order to provide what the wider community has said it wants – a flexible and lightweight decision-making model.

If ICANN had a staff of 1,000, and 100 of them were focussed on the new gTLD process alone then, yes, you could and should expect many of the issues to be identified and thrashed out early on in the process. But that’s not what ICANN is. It is a noisy, collaborative model with a small staff of just over 100 and 10 people working on the gTLD process.

Re: the liberalizing of the domain name space – opening it up widely as opposed to slowly. Well, again, this is what the community – not staff – specifically decided on several years.

There were two periods of small increases in gTLDs in 2000 and 2003 – where just seven gTLDs were added each time. The purpose of them was precisely what you outline – to go slowly, see what impact this had, what the best process was. So, with two rounds done, and then following two years of policy work with the lessons learnt, we have what is now the Applicant Guidebook.

I hope this is useful,

Kieren

M. Menius 05.11.09 at 9:42 pm

This is useful. As an outsider very invested in the outcome of certain decisions, this helps to better explain how some of the seeming oversights by ICANN occurred.

So it is a relatively small group. And consequently, the community feedback process is actually instructive, and obviously necessary (in retrospect) to help ICANN clearly see all angles. Kieren, you write:

“… your argument that staff are somehow to blame for not having uncovered them doesn’t hold water.”

To this I will agree. Perhaps it’s not realistic to expect ICANN staff to recognize the presence of certain inevitable conflicts. But, once ICANN have been properly informed, and their attention raised, then it is incumbent upon ICANN to look closely at the problems which have been exposed. And to craft solutions supported BY THE MAJORITY before moving forward.

To not fulfill this “majority consensus” means that a few from within ICANN have pre-empted the entire process in lieu of fulfilling their own personal agenda. And have made a mockery of the public input process.

I believe this is where ICANN “individuals” become immediately more important to the outcome of decisions. With projected problems now raised by a majority, for ICANN’s enlightenment, ICANN must abandon any false timelines that were initially constructed without the benefit of all relevant facts.

The guidebook for example. The guidebook is an attempt to eradicate certain gTLD problems highlighted by the larger internet community. It is ICANN’s attempt to devise and implement needed fixes. However, all of the input into the guidebook and all the collective examination of gTLD issues, is but a a start. It is obvious that ICANN needed more input well into their plan to release unlimited tld’s. That there was little opposition in the early going is really a moot point. In that the myriad of problems now raised are real, consequential on a large scale, and will require thorough solutions.

If it takes ICANN 6 months, or 6 years, to fully eradicate the real hurdles, then that’s what it will take. Again, new tld’s do not have to happen. And the floodgate, unlimited approach to which ICANN is married seems unnecessary and contrived with no substantial rationale attached to it.

Guidebook or not, timeline or not, preconceived desires of a select few ICANN visionaries or not, the new gTLD proposal cannot be allowed to be blindly pushed forward … until the serious issues are comprehensively corrected.

To me this is a very common sense approach. Even irrefutable logic. Until ICANN have addressed & corrected the identified gTLD problems, to the public’s satisfaction, nothing can move forward. It would make no sense to request the community’s collective input/wisdom, receive it, and and then drive forward anyway with a tld proposal that is both optional and fraught with potential complications.

So from my point of view, the new gTLD proposal was a near replay of the biz/info/org contract fiasco of 2006. ICANN made errors of omission in that situation – that were ultimately corrected only through Herculean efforts of domainers and the internet community.

ICANN is under scrutiny right now because public trust has been burned before. There is precedent for being hypercritical and watchful of ICANN. The way in which you interact with the community over the new gTLD issue will be very telling.

We have a responsibility to offer you measured criticism and concern, that is thoughtful and reality-based. ICANN have a responsibility to tune in very carefully to the stated concerns of stakeholders. And to honor the will of the majority over any internally driven politics at ICANN.

No one at ICANN should have the power, or incentive, to drive the new gTLD proposal forward … until all its issues are corrected to the satisfaction of the public. The public is ICANN’s permission slip.

Kieren McCarthy 05.12.09 at 7:43 am

@ M. Menius: I agree with you and I think that is what ICANN – both organization and staff – are trying to do as we speak.

Back in February, four specific “overarching issues” that the community had pointed at as real concerns were pulled out and highlighted by staff so that the community could focus on finding solutions to them. Timelines were set back, plans were rearranged and the focus adjusted.

What the announcement last week highlighted was that ICANN actively wasn’t going full speed ahead. In fact, the usual run of events – where documents are revised in full for each new meeting – was purposefully stepped away from.

Rather than have a third version of the guidebook, the Sydney meeting will focus on the overarching issues and then those solutions will be pulled into a third version.

So, yes, I agree that if there is a large section of the community unhappy with a particular element then we do need to revisit it and come to a solution – and I think events have shown that ICANN as an organization is doing precisely that.

Of course there is a bigger, wider issue of culture here. ICANN was borne out of the technical community – the people that designed and built the Internet. And a core philosophy of that group is the idea of “rough consensus and running code” – which could also be translated as “if it works, get it out there and make changes later”. It is that approach that has made the Internet what it is today.

On the other side is the governmental approach which likes to have everything agreed to, considered, discussed and nailed down before it moves forward. This is a much more formal approach that has its advantages in that it is less messy but on the flipside it takes much, much longer. And with the pace of the Internet as it is, it is not suitable for making policy for the domain name system.

So ICANN is between the two – but with both sides intricately involved in its decision-making processes. So, again, it’s noisy. But it does work.

Kieren

SilverPyramid 05.14.09 at 1:18 pm

I am about to purchase a website for my company, SilverPyramid designs. I just got out of college a year ago, and after serving a short internship, and a small web design job, Im starting my own buisness. As it is a web design company, it fits to have a site… But my question is, where would I go about purchasing one of these things. Say… dot-sp or something along those lines. Could you clarify?

Pete Trent 05.21.09 at 5:56 pm

My issue is that I launched a .com IDN site, almost 3 years ago, and was told by many parties “full IDNs are coming soon”. Well, 3 years later we are still being told the same thing.

From where we stand, the launch of “full IDNs” has been held back precisely because they are tied into this wonderfully all-encompassing ICANN policy of gTLD expansion.

Why not separate them out? Whilst the need for this general rapid expansion is very debatle, there is absolutely no debate the world needs IDNs, and soon.

thanks,

David 06.06.09 at 3:08 pm

Another potential problem: Say I am starting a business and purchase a domain name on a new extension: mybusiness.wxyz. So I print letterheads, purchase directory listings, and spend a lot of money advertising my new website with the .wxyz extension. A couple years later, perhaps in a recession, the company owning the .wxyz extension doesn’t sell enough domains and goes bankrupt. No other company wants to take over the extension because it is losing money. I would have to rebrand my website on another extension, at enormous cost in advertising. Customers would not find me at the URL that they expected and would go to the competition. I would very nearly have to start over.

“if it works, get it out there and make changes later”
The problem with this approach is that those who trusted and bought into those extensions that “don’t work” are in deep trouble. There is absolutely no reason to rush and every reason to proceed with caution.

Kieren McCarthy 06.08.09 at 11:30 am

@ David: Yes, you are right – and that is why ICANN has been working hand-in-hand with the community for nearly two years on a registry continuity program.

The program is designed to ensure that registrants are not disadvantaged by the possible future collapse of a registry.

A link to the program is available on the front page of the ICANN website. You can go to it directly at http://www.icann.org/en/registries/continuity/.

Kieren

vouchers 07.06.09 at 8:21 pm

Yes, What the announcement last week highlighted was that ICANN actively wasn’t going full speed ahead. In fact, the usual run of events – where documents are revised in full for each new meeting – was purposefully stepped away from.

Signed by Comet Vouchers

nils 08.08.09 at 1:54 pm

New TLDs WILL (I think) Cause Internet Land Rush

Everyone knows that this is the first and maybe the last
chance, they have,to becom the owner of the great new tld.
So i predict that we are going to see.A landrush unlike anything seen befor.With fierce battles between different
Project stakeholders.
Some companies will buy many new TLDs.Better to own to many than to few.
Smart people will investigate the new TLDs potential for earnings and judge if it exceeds the various ICANN fees and Other expenses.
My guess is that most okay-keyword-TLDs will be profitable
and therefor i think we are going to see 1000′s if not 10000′s
of new TLDs.
.stock .oracle .print .company .Airport .BLOG .town .hockey
.Tobacco .tools .business .brokers .hire .logo .peace .date .pool .Bowling .Dolls .dream .game .Boxing .nutrition .bob

games 02.03.10 at 8:06 am

It is really important that these issues are trashed out at this period in time. We, in Nigeria are currently meeting trying to see how the developing world can take a full advantage of this situation

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