Oh, ICANN…

FairWinds Partners —  January 27, 2012

Sometimes it seems like we spend a lot of time ragging on ICANN here on gTLD Strategy. It’s not that we have some inherent beef with the organization. But sometimes, like that kid in grade school who always corrected your grammar (“Actually, it’s ‘you and I ,’ not ‘you and me’”), ICANN does things that make it hard to love. Really hard.

Last week, we talked about the revolving cadre of absolute and suggested deadlines. Now, we’ve discovered another discrepancy that applicants should be aware of: Question 11.

Question 11 pertains to the applicant’s background, asking for information like full names, countries of birth, permanent addresses, and contact information for relevant board members and shareholders, as well as other information. It also asks questions about the legal background of all of the persons named in the application, and whether they have ever been convicted of any number of crimes. The version of Question 11 printed in the New gTLD Applicant Guidebook lists a dozen different types of crimes that run the gamut from hacking to violent sexual offenses. That version of the question also asks about cybersquatting – not only whether the applicant has ever been involved in cybersquatting, but if it had ever been a party in a UDRP proceeding, as either a Complainant or a Respondent.

The question is nothing if not thorough. Unfortunately, the version of the question that appears in ICANN’s TLD Application System (TAS) is not.

The version of Question 11 that appears in the TAS is a truncated version of the Guidebook’s Question 11. Essentially, it asks for a whole lot less detail. Moreover, the TAS says nothing to indicate that the applicant should answer the questions according to how it is worded in the Guidebook, versus how it is worded in the TAS.

Instead, applicants have to rely on the “Quick Start Guide” that ICANN published to go along with the TAS. That document, which is accessible at the bottom of ICANN’s TAS web page, describes (among other things) how applicants should create their TAS profiles. Under that section, it says, “The information requested in this section represents Applicant Guidebook questions 1-11.” In other words, answer the version in the Guidebook, not the version in the TAS.

Ultimately, this is not a huge problem. Most applicants who are serious about applying for and operating a new gTLD are meticulous enough to do all their homework and read through all the necessary documents (especially FairWinds’ clients, if we may be shamelessly self-promoting for a minute). But the question we’re left asking is, why even let this discrepancy appear? Why would ICANN even take that chance, when it has been developing this program for over six years? Isn’t it worth packing in the extra text into the TAS to make sure that there is zero margin for error?

And while we’re at it, how is it possible that an organization that works so closely with the people who make the Internet work produced an application system that looks like it was built for Internet Explorer 6?