What does ICANN mean by Community?
With the start of the new gTLD application behind us and a new Application guidebook in front of us, all hope that the harsh Community Priority Evaluation Regime defined in the Application Guide Book(AGB) would be adjusted, is abandoned. So the question becomes: is the guidance that the evaluation panel will get adequate to allow all deserving communities to be considered as ICANN validated Communities. Many, have argued eloquently that it is impossible to be survive Community Evaluation in the ICANN New gTLD sweepstakes. I have never thought this was true, despite my concerns about the crude evaluation metrics.
In a press conference given in the hours leading up to the start of this the third gTLD round, Rod Beckstrom, CEO and President of ICANN, spoke about how a community has priority over a trademark under defined conditions. For a second I felt waves of great joy. But then I realized he mean ICANN validated Communities, and not communities in the normal sense.
So what does ICANN mean by a Community and how close is that definition to what would be considered a community in other circumstances? How will ICANN judge that something is a Community? The New gTLD application claims objectivity for a definition based on a 16 point scale. Applicants for new gTLDs who can achieve 14 points out of 16 on a series of questions on the application will be defined as worthy of the Community designation. Of those 16 possible points, only 4 of them pertain to the definition and description of the Community itself, with the other 12 points relating to conditions such as the what, the who and the how of the applicant and the string applied for.
In this note I want to explore the notion of the Community contained in those critical 4 points and look at its relevance to the reality of being an actual community in the world. Reminder: as mentioned above, many claim that it is impossible for any real community to pass the the ICANN Community Priority evaluation. I have argued that it must be possible, but for one reason only: I cannot beleive that ICANN would intentionally define a scale no one could pass. So in the definition as provided, there must be a path that can be discovered to reach the vaunted Community designation. Yes, I still have hope.
The text of the application question for those 4 points reads:
(a) Provide the name and full description of the community that the applicant is committing to serve. In the event that this application is included in a community priority evaluation, it will be scored based on the community identified in response to this question. The name of the community does not have to be formally adopted for the application to be designated as community-based
Descriptions should include:
• How the community is delineated from Internet users generally. Such descriptions may include, but are not limited to, the following: membership, registration, or licensing processes, operation in a particular industry, use of a language.
• How the community is structured and organized. For a community consisting of an alliance of groups, details about the constituent parts are required.
• When the community was established, including the date(s) of formal organization, if any, as well as a description of community activities to date.
• The current estimated size of the community, both as to membership and geographic extent.
In many respects they do seem to be asking the right questions, and do seem to offer a wide scope for response. The definition recognizes that there are:
- Communities based on delineations from the norm;
- Communities of individual or of organizations;
- Communities that have members and those which don’t
- Communities where participants are certified as belonging
- Communities where participation are self-selected in a bottom-up manner
- Communities of different sizes
- Communities for whom geography is an identifier and those for whom it isn’t
- Communities defined in ways the question lists and in way it does not list
One component of this question that troubles some is the bullet that focuses on organization and structure. I admit that this is tricky, but when one thinks about the many forms of organization and social structure it is clear that there are many ways in which the organization and structure of a community can be defined. The trick will be defining it clearly. Some fear that the only type of structure that will be accepted is a simple hierarchical structure. I believe that this is a very corporatist way of looking at the idea of structure and that it does not even begin to scratch the scope of possible organizational structures. More about the social sciences of community theory later in this and later notes.
What else does ICANN mean by Community
ICANN has another use for the word Community. That usage comes in the context of the Objection process:
Community Objection – There is substantial opposition to the gTLD application from a significant portion of the community to which the gTLD string may be explicitly or implicitly targeted.
188.8.131.52 Community Objection
Established institutions associated with clearly delineated communities are eligible to file a community objection. The community named by the objector must be a community strongly associated with the applied-for gTLD string in the application that is the subject of the objection. To qualify for standing for a community objection, the objector must prove both of the following:
It is an established institution – Factors that may be considered in making this determination include, but are not limited to:
• Level of global recognition of the institution;
• Length of time the institution has been in existence; and
• Public historical evidence of its existence, such as the presence of a formal charter or national or international registration, or validation by a government, inter-governmental organization, or treaty. The institution must not have been established solely in conjunction with the gTLD application process.
It has an ongoing relationship with a clearly delineated community – Factors that may be considered in making this determination include, but are not limited to:
• The presence of mechanisms for participation in activities, membership, and leadership;
• Institutional purpose related to the benefit of the associated community;
• Performance of regular activities that benefit the associated community; and
• The level of formal boundaries around the community.
The panel will perform a balancing of the factors listed above, as well as other relevant information, in making its determination. It is not expected that an objector must demonstrate satisfaction of each and every factor considered in order to satisfy the standing requirements.
To what extent are the criteria for Community in the Objection Process, related to those defined for an Applicant? Is the same definiton of the word ‘community’ being used?
My assumed answer is that, of course, the usage of Community for objections must be an extension of the use of Community for applicants and thus the criteria defined for the Community based Objection will act guidance for those measuring the degree to which an applicant referenced community is a Community in the ICANN sense, and vice versa.
In judging ICANN performance in terms of Community, the relationship between the usage in these two areas of application processing will be an important indicator. And to be sure, ICANN will be judged in terms of its processing of Community applications and objections. Failure in this respect will be seen, and more importantly felt by the communities that are parties to ICANN processes. That damage that ICANN can do by denying communities their proper status in applications and objections will be one important criteria of the program’s success and of ICANN ability to manage such a complex and delicate process.
What do others mean by community?
There is a rich social science of community. As with most questions in the social sciences, there isn’t one answer to the question of “what is community?”. There are many answers and they mostly invovle considerations of behavior of several types discussed briefly below.
A community is defined in three dimensions
- a bottom-up process of self realization - “we are a community”
- a top down recognition - “yes, you are a community”
- a third party recognition - “they are a community”
In the ICANN Community Priority Evaluations and Objections processes, the applicants and objectors will make their claims from the first of these perspectives. Those making the evaluations on behalf of ICANN, and the Board that is responsible for the oversight, will be looking at it from the second point of view. The global Internet that will judge ICANN’s performance will be looking from the third perspective.
A community is often defined along several axes
- Place or territory where the thing people have in common is location
- Common notions of selfhood: these relate to ethnicity, identity, occupation, sexual orientation and/or religious belief.
- Common attachment to an activity or idea
All of these dimensions are included in the ICANN Application guide description of Community.
A community is defined being bordered
In most communities, there is a border between what is in-community and what is out-of-community. While this border may, in some cases be fuzzy when looked at closely, it does represent a clear boundary for most communities. In general, once a community is defined, people can tell whether some entity is a member of the community or not.
A community is often defined as network or social systems
Very few communities can be defined as single entity with a strict hierarchical structure and one apex, the so called apex communities. Most communities, including those like the multistakeholder holder community that is ICANN, are defined by a distributed patchwork of sub-groups organized along lines of subsidiarity. So one will find an organizations ranging from those where a clear hierarchical structure can be found, for example the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) which has become for ICANN one of the commonly cited examples of a community that is easy to define, to communities like Occupy Wall Street, that exists as a loose network of individuals who have accepted a common cause and common method of communications (though of course they probably would not meet ICANN requirements for time in existence and longevity).
A community is often defined in terms of qualities
- A tolerance for other members of the community
- A reciprocity among members of the community
- A sense of trust based on expectations of the behavior of other members of the community.
Of course, similar to the dynamic in families, the relationships in a community can be defined in terms of intolerance and distrust. But what will still remain the case is that there is an expectation within a community that these qualities are important among the members.
Community organization is about democracy
There are many models of community organization from ancient tribal organization, to the local community theatre group. When looked at in terms of social dynamics, many of the processes within a community are related to finding way to increase the social well being of the participants and of society at large.
A Community is hard to define
A federal judge at a FCC workshop said “Community is like pornography, I don’t know how to define it, but I sure know it when I see it.” (Quotes from Community Building, Renewing Spirit and Learning in Business as reference by Nancy White)
Conclusion, for now
From the begining of the GNSO effort to define the conditions for this gTLD round, the notion of community was special, it came up in almost every discussion about how to choose between competing applications for the same string. The experience of the Sponsored TLD (sTLD) round taught about the importance of community and about the difficulty of providing a one size fits all definition. That round had taught that a competitive evaluation that required the Board to choose the best applicant of a worthy TLD string was fraught with all the dynamics and pitfalls of a beauty contest. So the GNSO mandated that community applicants would have preference for a string of significance to their community and would be able to stop an applicant that applied for a string that caused harm to their community. The GNSO was quite specific in its Implementation guideline for this round:
If there is contention for strings, applicants may:
i) resolve contention between them within a pre-established timeframe
ii) if there is no mutual agreement, a claim to support a community by one party will be a reason to award priority to that application.
For the most part, the Board and the Staff have argued that they tried to remain true to the words and intentions of the GNSO and its policy process in the implementation of this round. For now I chose to accept this claim and to predict that communities will be able to find the priority that is their place in this recently initiated round.
As with any prediction or act of faith, time will tell. It is possible that those responsible for grading the Community Priority challenge will take a wide approach. It is also possible that they will be instructed to take a narrow approach. The grading system does not leave much room for variability - it is as in a black and white picture of a very colorful scene, a lot of the complexity and information is lost. One can easily argue that the current process has set an incredibly high bar for the claim based priority that the GNSO mandated. But while the work to define a community in the application may require a certain amount of rigor, I return to my belief that it can be done successfully. The guidance by which the adjudication will be done, however, still remains opaque.