nGTLD awareness and timetable for the next round
The theme of the first day was universal awareness of TLDs and the timetable for the next round of applications for new top-level domains (New gTLDs: Getting to the Subsequent Round).
Various registrars reported finding it hard to sell nGTLDs. People aren't familiar with them and consequently don't think of them when buying domain names. It was felt that a global education programme about nTLDs would help.
ICANN’s financial reserves have been boosted considerably by the first big round of applications for new gTLDs. A lot of people therefore took the view that ICANN should fund the desired programme. ICANN responded cautiously to that suggestion. With a view to giving the proposal some practical substance, an ad hoc session was organised, at which participants looked at the subject more closely. It remains unclear, however, whether an education programme will actually be organised. Many more meetings will be needed before a definite strategy emerges.
Several studies are currently in progress in preparation for a further gTLD application round. If all the working groups involved succeed in meeting the deadline, the next round of applications will take place in 2019. However, there was a lot of support at the GDD for acting before 2019. Various brand-owners are keen to launch their own brand TLDs as soon as possible. If they have to wait until 2019, interest may well have dissipated. The contract with ICANN that registry operators are asked to sign requires the operator to support subsequent ICANN policy changes. People present at the GDD felt that that justified going ahead with the next application round before 2019: the contract provision guaranteed the implementation of any changes identified as necessary by the ongoing studies. It is likely, however, that policy developers (not represented at the GDD) will take a different view.
ICANN Audit and changing backend provider
On day 2, the sessions entitled ICANN Audit Discussion and Changing Backend Providers proved particularly interesting. There was a lot of comment on communications from ICANN's Audit Department. The communications have been written in legal language that even English native speakers have found opaque. ICANN has indicated that it is open to feedback, but has attached the caveat that it will not be possible to satisfy everyone. The registry operators and registrars are, after all, diverse and globally dispersed groups. ICANN has drawn up templates to improve the quality of its communications, but in practice they are not always used.
At the Changing Backend Provider session, participants discussed what would be involved in switching to another backend provider (RSP). The same procedure would have to be followed if any one of the five critical systems needed replacing. The accreditation of registry service providers (RSPs) was also considered. An accreditation system would simplify the process of switching providers. At the moment, if a TLD operator wants to switch, specific testing is required. An accreditation system would mean that an RSP had to be tested only once, and could then be assumed to be capable by operators interested in using the RSP's services. That would save operators a lot of time and money. The establishment of such a system would be of interest to SIDN, because we act as RSP for the nGTLDs .amsterdam and .politie.
Brand TLDs and DNA lunch
On day 3, I participated in a session entitled Brand & Single Registrant TLDs Ideas & Feedback and attended the Domain Name Association Lunch. A total of 596 brand TLDs are now live, with 2284 active domain names between them. The current leaders are .BNPParibas and .seat. The former has four active domain names, each linked to a fully fledged website with good SEO and Alexa rankings. Meanwhile, Seat has created a .seat domain name for each of its dealers in Spain. Linked to each dealer domain name is a website, where visitors can book their cars in to be serviced, and so on.
The Domain Name Association represents the interests of the global domain name industry. Roelof Meijer, SIDN's CEO, is a member of the DNA's Board. The DNA was closely involved with organisation of the GDD.
For more information on the DNA, see www.thedna.org.
GDD Amsterdam was three busy but interesting days, providing useful discussion sessions and ample opportunity to mix with and talk to leading figures from the industry.