ICANN playing ostrich

Does ICANN have its head stuck in the sand on new gTLDs? The campaign against the Internet governance organisation has been building up in the past few months, with public protests from entities like the American national advertisers’ association ANA or CRIDO, a group of major corporations.

The protest themselves play like a broken record.

"Where’s the economic studies to show that new gTLDs are needed?" or "new gTLDs will make it more difficult to deal with crime on the Net."

ICANN has done economic studies. But how can a study predict innovation? Did studies prove that Facebook or Google might work? Thankfully, there was no need. Those major Internet initiatives where the result of private enterprise doing what it does best: innovating without being constrained by politics.

Those worried about crime point to the WHOIS as a potential flaw that might be exploited by cybercrooks. There again, this is waving away years of policy development by the ICANN community to try and find solutions to these (very real) problems.

That community is still working hard. Recent results include fresh proposals on how to improve WHOIS.

But in the light of a US Senate hearing happening today on "ICANN’s Expansion of Top Level Domains", it’s the critics that are getting all the press. As former ICANN staffer Kieren McCarthy notes, ICANN is missing a lot of PR opportunities here by simply not responding to critics.

Worse, this is the second such hearing where ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom has chosen not to attend in person but rather to send his Senior VP Kurt Pritz. While Kurt, as the man in charge of the new gTLD program, is probably one of the most knowledgeable people in the world on this topic, you might have expected ICANN to front its CEO for such an important event.

Because despite the fact that the launch date has been set at Jan 12, 2012, new gTLDs aren’t here yet. And as storm clouds gather in an ever-more ominous show of protest from the new gTLD naysayers, ICANN needs to be as convincing as it can be today in front of the US Senate, with a panel where Kurt Pritz can expect to feel very much on his own opposite staunch critics like ANA VP Dan Jaffe or ex ICANN Board member turned ICANN opponent Esther Dyson.

Promoted tweets, has Twitter finally found a way to make money?

Promoted tweets, has Twitter finally found a way to make money?

A promoted .XXX tweet appearing as a permanent fixture at the top of a #icann search column.

I’m obviously way behind the times here, not being a Twitter fanatic, but thanks to the domain name industry, I’ve just noticed a new development on the short message site: promoted tweets. Perhaps Twitter has been doing this for months and I’ve just not seen it…

Today, I noticed one American registrar using these, as well as .XXX registry ICM.

According to Twitter’s help center, promoted tweets will stay at the top of a search page used to display all tweets related to the promoted search term. And it works. For example, the .XXX promoted tweet that I can see now sits at the top of my #icann search column in my (excellent) Twitter client Tweetdeck.

Looks like Twitter’s actually got around to selling stuff, and promoted tweets comes across as a good idea and an unobtrusive way of doing advertising.

Russia’s Cyrillic Internet success

As Russia opens up its .?? (.RF in Cyrillic) domain to foreign (non-Russian) applicants (the new rules apply from November 11, 2011), comes another reminder of the country’s incredible success with its IDN ccTLD (Internationalised Domain Name country code Top Level Domain).

Registration in the Cyrillic domain opened on November 11, 2010. Today, more than 900,000 domains have been registered! An incredible number, underlined by the fact that 68% of those names have been delegated (i.e. they are ready to be used on the Internet) and 25% are linked to working websites.

Russia’s sense of national pride remains as strong as ever, as shown by the fact that the TLD has proven most popular with individuals. They account for 70% of registrations, businesses covering the remaining 30%.

One leading Russian registrar polled its clients and found that a whopping 90% of private individual domain owners plan to renew, and that 62% of registrants consider that the Cyrillic domain is easier to use and understand for them than the equivalent ASCII domain.

New gTLDs and ICANN face renewed pressure

The forces of resistance to change and innovation are stepping up their fight against the rollout of new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs).

Never mind the fact that the program itself is the result of:

  • 21 months (from 2005 to 2007) of intense work by the GNSO resulting in a consensus vote to approve the program’s guiding principles from the various groups that make up the GNSO – ICANN’s manager of policy development for gTLDs.
  • 7 draft versions of the program’s Applicant Guidebook, documented and augmented by 47 comment periods during which over 2,400 comments were received and analysed by the ICANN team in charge of implementing the GNSO’s new gTLD policy recommendations.
  • 55 explanatory texts or independent reports were produced during this implementation phase which lasted from June 2008 to June 2011.

Since the ICANN Board vote to approve the program on June 20 2011, America’s Association of National Advertisers is the driving force behind a new movement to stop new gTLDs, teaming up with businesses and companies to create the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight, or CRIDO.

On November 10, CRIDO sent a letter to the department of commerce to express its "strong concern with respect to the June 2011 decision by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers".

The letter mentions "troubling conflict of interest questions" which can no doubt be read as references to Peter Dengate Thrush’s move, just after the June 2011 Board vote and as soon as he stepped down from his position as Chairman of the ICANN Board, to a gTLD consultancy firm.

In its letter, CRIDO seems happy to forget that ICANN is no longer under US control and calls on the DoC to postpone the January 12, 2012 application window. The letter is signed by 40 companies, including Amex, Adobe, Coca Cola, Dell, Ford, HP, Kellogg, Nestle USA, and Samsung.

ICANN’s IDN snubs not winning it any Bulgarian friends

ICANN’s IDN snubs not winning it any Bulgarian friends

Valeri Borisov, Bulgaria’s Deputy Minister of Transport, Information Technologies and Communications watches on as ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom attempts to explain his organization’s refusal to allow Bulgaria’s 2 character Cyrillic domain. Photo Domain Forum.

Taking part in the Domain Forum in Bulgaria is turning out to be an extremely interesting experience providing a unique insight into other communities’ concerns and issues with Internet governance in general, and ICANN in particular.

The big issue here is ICANN’s refusal to grant Bulgaria a Cyrillic IDN .BG TLD. In March 2011, ICANN turned down the country’s request, made under the IDN ccTLD fast track program, citing possible confusion problems between the requested TLD and Brazil’s ASCII ccTLD .BR.

This was the second time Bulgaria had submitted the request, after being snubbed by ICANN a first time in May 2010.

Debate today has centered around this issue, with local Internet users obviously still smarting at the ICANN decision and both government officials in attendance mentioning the issue in their respective panel appearances as obvious criticism of ICANN.

ICANN’s IDN ccTLD fast track is considered non transparent by Bulgarians, who do not feel they have had adequate rationale from ICANN on why they are not being allowed to use the Internet in their own script and language.

Valeri Borisov, Bulgaria’s Deputy Minister of Transport, Information Technologies and Communications, in attendance at the Domain Forum event, explained that his country would most likely make a third request for the IDN TLD to ICANN, but perhaps not under the fast track program. Borisov said he hoped to see Cyrillic Bulgarian websites with a couple of years.

Talking new gTLDs in Bulgaria

Talking new gTLDs in Bulgaria

I’m at the Domain Forum in Sofia, Bulgaria, today doing a couple of presentations on new gTLDs. The first is an introduction to the program itself and the following panel I’m on is looking at what registrars will have to face as many new gTLDs come online and they are asked to connect to them.

The Domain Forum itself is a great opportunity to get outside the usual "ICANN bubble" that those of us who are used to attending ICANN meetings and working in that community tend to live in month-in, month-out.

It’s a clear reminder that for some people, the acronyms "new gTLDs", "IDN, "GNSO" or GAC" don’t mean anything. And yet, the GNSO’s recommendations for the new gTLD program were clear: there needs to be enough communication ahead of launch so that as many potential applicants as possible are aware of the program.

Events like the Domain Forum in Sofia are an important part of achieving that aim. Looking around the room, this is clear. ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom is here in Sofia speaking just before me as part of ICANN’s outreach efforts on the new gTLD program. In attendance here in Bulgaria are the country’s minister for IT, the country’s GAC representative, and many people just wanting to learn more about the program itself.

Find out more about the Domain Forum here.