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Afilias calls to explain .info fiasco

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Afilias gave us a bell this afternoon to raise a few problems it has had with our coverage of the .info registration process and explain what it is doing to clear up the mess from the first top-level domain launch since the Internet's origins.

"It has not been the smoothest, most error-free launch," Roland La Plante, chief marketing officer of Afilias admitted. "But please keep in mind no one has launched a new TLD in recent years."

Are there any lessons to be learnt? "Yes," he told us. "If we did it again, before we went live we would test it under a more significant load. We would also have taken steps to make it more difficult to put the wrong information into the [domain registration] form. For example, we didn't specify how to put dates in, we just had a date field. This has made it harder to do an effective search."

And the same with the trademark box - in which some people managed to register domains during the trademark-only period if they typed "No trademark" in it? "There may have been ways in which we could have screened applications better." However, in the search for those bogus applications - estimated to be between 15 and 25 per cent on applications in a report but given the more conservative 10 to 20 per cent by La Plante - there have been situations in which a bogus application has turned out to be true - just not in the US. "There is no international database of trademarks," he tells us.

The applications that have been wrongly accepted during the trademark-only or "sunrise" period are now subject to a challenge procedure by those companies with trademarks. However La Plante expresses with surprise "not that many, only around 400" have been seen yet.

This opens the way for Afilias to send "5,000 or more" suspicious applications to WIPO at the end of December. Afilias will pay WIPO a fee for each one considered, although not as much as the $295 that trademark holders (and domain owners) currently have to pay to be considered at the domain dispute arbitrator.

If someone's application does go to WIPO, they will have 20 days to reply with evidence of trademark or the domain will be put into a pot for a second "land grab" in February/March. The names will be published on the Afilias site, Mr La Plante told us.

What of complaints that Afilias' real-time registering system for the public had to be pulled down? "We did pull down our system for 46 hours to do some tweaking but it has been running very smoothly ever since. All the major issues have been resolved and we are able to handle demand. But you have to understand that all of this was done on a global stage and was an open process."

So far that demand has stretched to 435,000 registered .info domains, expected to reach half a million by next week.

Mr La Plante was also keen to give the other side of Robert Connelly's argument with the company. Bob Connelly and his company PSI-Japan was one of the original companies of the Afilias conglomerate but he pulled out following the revelation that a large percentage of early registrations had been bogus.

Bob Connelly contends that the refusal by Afilias to give him a list of the domains registered (fair and bogus) was an example of the company trying to avoid bad publicity. Afilias says it didn't want to give any registrar or director an unfair advantage in terms of information.

Mr La Plante suggests Mr Connelly wanted the list in order to know which domains not to attempt to register. While he acknowledges the list was finally made available very soon after Mr Connelly's public condemnation of the process, Mr La Plante denies this is evidence of Afilias' stalling and claims the file simply wasn't ready before that time.

He also refutes suggestions that the setting up of a new company under the name Afilias USA was an attempt to get away from Mr Connelly's potentially embarassing future revelations (as a director Mr Connelly is entitled to the minutes of all meetings).

Afilias USA is a wholly owned subsidiary of Afilias (an Irish company) and has been set up solely to run payments in dollars and avoid the problems with transatlantic money changing, we were told - Afilias has no idea how Bob Connelly missed it.

"I don't think we could have developed a perfect system," Mr La Plante told us, reflecting on the past few months. Although it could certainly have been better than the one which was offered. Only time will tell whether Afilias can tidy up the mess it created. It has already put a system in place to do so and appears to have learnt as well that honesty about what it's doing is just as essential as an effective setup when running a domain root. ®

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