On Wednesday the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which is responsible for maintaining the internet's domain name system, will reveal the list of applications for the first round of new generic top level domains (gTLDs).
The new domain names, which may be generic, along the lines of .auto or .bank, or brand specific — .coke for example — are set to dramatically expand the internet's namespace.
After the list is revealed, applications will be part of an evaluation process. ICANN announced on 6 June that it will process the domain applications in batches of 500. ICANN has received more than 1900 applications for new TLDs. Which batch a domain application will be evaluated in will be determined by "digital archery": Applicants will nominate a particular time then attempt to click a mouse button as near to that time as they can, with those closest to the nominated time receiving preferential treatment when the applications are divided into batches.
"ICANN’s batching system arbitrarily creates winners (those in the first batch) and losers (those in the second and subsequent batches)," Antony Van Couvering, CEO of registry services company Minds + Machines, wrote in a blog entry.
"Network latencies, vagaries of the DNS, and other factors can all have an impact on how close a click comes to the target. We have also observed slowdowns on ICANN’s servers, as if caused by other processes running on them, resulting in skewed times. Fearful of being accused of running an illegal lottery, ICANN is billing digital archery as a game of skill. But really it’s a game of trying to reduce random elements – even the most skillful game players cannot be assured of winning, but only of reducing their chances of losing."
"That’s right, those with shaky hands or a slow internet connection will go to the back of the queue, to be processed in a later batch. Perhaps it’s time to put a call into the friendly high-frequency trading firm? The land grab may well turn into an arms race," argued Thies Lindenthal, a researcher studying virtual real estate at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in an article for Forbes.
"I think batching was something that ICANN brought in when it didn't know any better," said Adrian Kinderis of ARI Registry Services. "ICANN could have had 10,000 applications and in that sense a batching process to enable ICANN to piecemeal that large body of work made sense. However forward we now know that there is approximately 1900 applications; there will be operational efficiencies that ICANN can draw.
"We've seen that there are a large number of single applications going for a large number of domains… We've been lobbying ICANN and got a groundswell of support that hopefully does away with this batching process, that says 'Look we'll do everybody at once. We might take a little bit longer to do that, but if that 's 10 months then that's fine by the community and that doesn't give anyone first mover advantage.'"
"If you're not in that first batch you could be waiting a number of years to come through," Kinderis said.
"I'd like to see a level playing field and let first mover advantage be something that's driven by [getting] something to market rather than the constraints of the process… What we want to see is everyone come through that initial application at the same time."
ICANN will likely make a decision at the ICANN 44 conference in Prague, which will be held 24-29 June, Kinderis said.
Following the initial evaluation process, there will be a string contention phase for applicants that applied for the same domains — which will take the form of a meeting between applicants that attempts to hammer out an agreement over the domain, or, if that fails, an auction process. Simultaneously there will be an objection process, where people and organisations can object to particular domains on moral grounds or because of trademark infringement, and a government string review.
"After that process, if you're an uncontested application with no objections you haven't gone off to any extended evaluation because your technical answers weren't quite up to scratch, you go to contract negotiation [with ICANN]," Kinderis said.
Once a contract is signed there will be pre-delegation testing, then the domain will get added to the root DNS servers and go live. "That whole process will take about a year so it will at least be a year before we start seeing these names coming through," Kinderis said.