US opposes ICANN on gTLD rollout

Just as ICANN preps for the rollout of its much-hyped gTLD program, the US Dept. of Commerce comes along and makes a scene.

I read the Dept. of Commerce letter and it basically says that ICANN hasn’t prepared fully for gTLDs and is now trying to move too quickly to roll them out.

gTLD stands for generic top-level domain; it includes .com, .org, .biz and other “global” domains.

ICANN wants to to add more gTLDs to the DNS.

Why?

Here’s what ICANN says is behind the new gTLDs:

Some of the reasons for introducing new gTLDs cited during the policy development discussions include allowing for greater innovation and choice within the Internet’s addressing system, currently represented by 21 gTLDs and over 250 ccTLDs (country-code Top-Level Domains). The program is expected to provide Internet users with new opportunities for creating digital identities, accommodating new ASCII and IDN TLDs. Brand holders and organizations seeking to manage their own name as a top-level domain may have an interest in securing these rights in the early phases of the new gTLD program for future branding purposes. With the limited availability of .com domain names, some companies may opt to become early adopters of new TLDs to satisfy their marketing needs. There will also be opportunities to apply for community and geographic top-level domains, such as .blog, .brand, and .city.

I have no great insights into the forces pushing for and against gTLDs. Clearly, ICANN stands to make a great deal of revenue if every major corporation wants its own top-level domain. Imagine .sony, .apple, .ge etc.

I’ve got nothing against gTLDs. It might be nice to enter http://apple and go to the company home page.

My issue with gTLDs is that I’m rather concerned ICANN is taking its eyes off of internationalized domain names (IDNs).

This has been a big year for IDNs, with more than 20 receiving ICANN approval.

But approval is just the end of the beginning, as they say.

There are a whole host of technical obstacles yet to be overcome for IDNs to go mainstream. Try inputting an Arabic IDN into any browser and you’ll see what a complete disaster IDNs are with bidirectional scripts. There are real and perceived security issues — which ICANN can play a lead role in mitigating. So many questions are going to arise as IDNs become more common. For instance, does your input form accept non-ASCII URLs? And how do these URLs get parsed internally? Sorted? Searched? Lots of nasty bugs are just waiting to be discovered.

I’d like ICANN to be more focused on IDNs which offer significantly more usability improvements for the world at large than gTLD. Let’s get IDNs running smoothly before moving on to all shapes and sizes of gTLDs.

But that’s just me.

UPDATE: ICANN quickly responded to the US with the gTLD Economic Study Phase II report. Will this be enough?

UPDATE 2: ICANN has delayed gTLDs again, but only for a few months it appears. Like them or not, gTLDs are coming…

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Author: John Yunker

John co-founded Byte Level Research in 2000 and is author of The Web Globalization Report Card. He also co-founder of Ashland Creek Press.