Importance of the index
ICANN is thinking big. The Health Index will be part of the more comprehensive ICANN KPI dashboard, which is intended to let outsiders see how ICANN is performing in relation to its strategic objectives. In other words, the Health Index is potentially of strategic importance to the organisation. ICANN has therefore set up an Advisory Panel of twenty-eight industry professionals to design the new index. One of the Panel members is our own Marketing Manager Michiel Henneke. Professor Hemant Bhargava of the Wharton Business School has also been appointed as an external advisor.
What's happened so far?
The Health Index is now a weighty document covering more than thirty indicators. As such, it is a laudable initiative to shed light on the global market for gTLD domain names. The proposed indicators are extremely varied, relating to things such as the number of distributors in a region, levels of cybercrime, customer service and pricing. The beta version of the Index was published in July and was open for comment until the end of September.
A great deal of feedback on the Index has been received from the ICANN community. The main issue highlighted is that monitoring a global market – a challenge under any circumstances – is complicated by defining that market in a way that doesn't mean much to consumers. Markets are normally defined from the consumer's viewpoint. Most consumers around the world don't think of the market in terms of gTLDs. They want a website or an e-mail account, and they look for a domain name to go with it. They're unlikely to know much about the various types of domain name available to them and unlikely to understand what a gTLD actually is. Because nearly all standard market definitions are consumer-centric, there will always be a mismatch between the Health Index and, for example, the market definitions used by competition authorities.
Is ICANN overlooking diversity?
Another point made by many commentators is that the global indicators don't take account of the characteristics of national and regional markets. One example is the number of registrars in a region. If a region has very few local registrars, that says very little about the amount of competition on the regional market. The level of competition also depends on the activities of non-local registrars, resellers and ccTLDs, all of which are disregarded.
Is the Health Index effective?
Finally, there is no evidence that some of the indicators are actually valid markers of the parameters that ICANN wants to measure. For example, Whois accuracy is proposed as an indicator of confidence in the market, although it has never been demonstrated that the accuracy of Whois data is linked to confidence.
What happens next?
Advisory Panel 'meetings' are in the form of monthly videoconferences, so that the threshold to participation is as low as possible. "It's great to work with a group of experts from all over the world, without having to contend with jetlag!" says Michiel Henneke. "It's enjoyable and instructive at the same time." ICANN plans to refine various aspects of the gTLD Health Index over the coming months, before publishing a finalised version in June 2017. At the moment, however, much remains to be done, and the community still has much to discuss.