ICANN Puts Stop on 'Digital Archery' System for Deciding Suffix Review Order

By Peter Bernstein June 25, 2012

Ever get really angry when tickets to a concert or sporting event you’d like to attend are available online seemingly to everyone, yet you get shut out while broker sites seem to have tickets for sale almost immediately? Well, a funny thing happened to The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) on its way to implementing its Generic Top-level Domain (gTLD) program. Unfortunately, nobody is laughing.  

At a press conference over the weekend in Prague, ICANN executives had to wipe a bit of egg off their faces by announcing that the web-based system they were using to pick the order in which they would process applications, known as “Digital Archery,” would not be used at this time, and its future use is in limbo.

What is going on here?

To bring everyone up to date quickly, what is going on here is as follows. ICANN is looking to expand the number of gTLD’s – those dot names like .com – for the first time in years. There is almost universal agreement that the 22 generics and 280 country codes are not enough. Companies are very interested in a variety of such domains for obvious marketing reasons. 

How interested? There were over 1,900 requests submitted for 1,409 different domains. Applicants had to pay a $185,00 fee to play and for which they will be subject to a minimum $25,000 renewal fee should they get to actually use the suffix. In other words, this is serious business in the competition for such popular terms as “sex,”  “DIY”, etc. It is also critical for global brands to protect themselves from squatters holding them up for brand ransom latter which is why Google and Microsoft are players.  

The issue has been that ICANN can only handle 500 gTLDs at a time, with each batch taking roughly five months to evaluate. Critics have said this would give those in the first batch a real advantage and called the entire process into question. To try and level the playing field as to who got into that first 500, ICANN decided it would use the Digital Archery method to determine order. The idea was that timestamps were allocated for submissions, and applicants had until June 28 to shoot a digital arrow at them to see if they were part of the first batch. The companies closest to the time would be part of the first batch. 

The “rub” was that participants complained that the timestamp system, already used by roughly 20 percent of the applicants, was returning unexpected results. These were blamed on network latency and meant the system responded in a non-uniform manner, i.e., unfairly. The end result was ICANN had to stop the use of the system, and now it is seemingly “back to the drawing board” on how to determine the order. 

As noted in my previous story on this, because of how much is potentially at stake, the process is literally a sitting target for litigation. However, to not even understand how applications will be processed is more than a bit disturbing.

What’s next?

That is a great question with no good answer. ICANN says that despite the glitch, it intends to be able to move forward with evaluating the applications in a timely manner, but has not been able to explain how. ICANN Chief Operating Officer and interim CEO Akram Atallah said the organization will review the Digital Archery procedure and make the results available for everyone to see. However, there was no indication as to what might happen to companies who already aimed for the first of bulls eyes, who are going to be grumpy if down the road they are shut out from initial processing after having spend time and money to get a prime spot.  

Finally, you should also know that, not surprisingly, a cottage industry developed promised applicants better precision for their digital arrows than they might be able to achieve on their own. In fact, one company, Pool.com was promising a bulls eye hit if you paid them $25,000. This leads to a question as to what do they know about this that is not available to anyone else. One can only hope that the ICANN investigation will reveal this and end this nonsense.  

That said, it might be useful to hedge one’s bets. In fact, the next time there is a Bruce Springsteen concert where even my access to pre-public sale tickets via my credit card leaves me ticketless, I am wondering what they might be able to do for me; price will be an object. Let’s hope ICANN, which has had technical problems in the past and is constantly under siege by those questioning its authority and fairness, get this corrected and provides certainty to what is an important expansion of the capabilities of the Internet.    

Edited by Allison Boccamazzo
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