Ever since John broke the news yesterday on ERE.net that a committee of the Society for Human Resource Management was meeting tomorrow to consider amending the .jobs charter, several people have asked for a simpler explanation of what the stir is all about.
In this post, I will attempt to explain the facts of the situation and then explain why I think that if SHRM approves this amendment it will be doing a disservice to the HR community.
But first a little history.
SHRM & Employ Media’s Roles
In 2004, SHRM and Employ Media submitted an application to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) to sponsor and manage a new top level domain (TLD) called .jobs. In 2005, this application was approved and on May 5 the .jobs charter was published. As the sponsor of the TLD, SHRM’s responsibility was to set policy and establish registration requirements, while Employ Media took on the more traditional business responsibilities of managing and marketing the new domains names.
The terms of the contract between SHRM and Employ Media are undisclosed. However, we do know that SHRM receives a flat fee from Employ Media for its role in sponsoring the .jobs TLD, and also that in their role as sponsor, SHRM is contractually obligated to act independently of Employ Media and in the interests of the sponsored TLD community.
A section of the .jobs charter states that:
.jobs domain registrations are limited to the legal name of an employer and/or a name or abbreviation by which the employer is commonly known. All prospective registrants must submit a Qualification Document (generally speaking, proof of status as an employer organization, such as, e.g., in the U.S., a Form 941) which will be reviewed by Employ Media for approval prior to allowing registration. This will significantly minimize fraudulent entities from obtaining a registration. This will also minimize registration of a name by an entity which does not have such a legal name or is not commonly known by such a name. This will minimize cybersquatters and/or domain prospectors. Furthermore, abusive “overreaching” applications (i.e., requesting domains which do not reflect the name of the entity (legal or commonly known)) will be rejected under this practice.
This puts SHRM in an uncomfortable role — it is effectively responsible for enforcing the rules that dictate to whom their own customer is able to sell its product. It is also the only one able to change those rules, which is done by amending the original charter.
So far, .jobs has not made much of a splash — since 2005, only 15,000 have been bought by employers, and the .jobs TLD is widely considered to be a disappointment. In October 2009, Employ Media partnered with DirectEmployers to launch the first of a series of geographic and occupationally focused websites using the .jobs domains, such as Atlanta.jobs and Boston.jobs. Selling these domains is clearly not allowed by the section of the .jobs charter that I quoted above, so Employ didn’t sell them. Instead, it retained the ownership themselves, and simply redirected the domains to DirectEmployers, who provided content to each of the domains. The domains were not “sold,” but Employ Media had still found a way to use them.
When ICANN became aware of this partnership, it sent a letter to SHRM asking that a Policy Development Process (PDP) Council be appointed to consider an amendment by Employ Media to either officially sanction such an arrangement or to turn it down. The proposed amendment was posted to a website bearing both the SHRM and .jobs logos, and the web site announces a public comment period beginning on March 23rd and ending tomorrow, Friday, April 9, 2010. There appears to have been little attempt to notify the public that this public comment period had begun, or indeed that it was almost over, beyond a link buried deep on SHRM’s Copyrights & Permissions page. John’s article yesterday was the first time that the general public heard that the proposed amendment existed.
And that’s the simple version. Yeah, I know.
But I’m not writing this post to give you a history lesson. I’m writing it to explain why the .jobs amendment is a bad idea and why SHRM needs to turn it down.
There are several reasons.
Employ Media’s Role
In the original charter, Employ Media was granted the rights to provide a simple “dumb” utility. A company would submit a claim to a TLD, prove that it owned the trademark, pay them a fee, and they sold them that particular .jobs domain name. This is the same way that it works with any other top level domain — the same way that your company registered its .com domain. For any domain name, it’s simple. First come, first served.
The proposed amendment fundamentally changes Employ Media’s role in this process from a mere marketer of domain registrations to the owner of the domain, deciding at its sole discretion who gets to rent the choicest domain names.
As an example, consider this: Who might want the domain name siliconvalley.jobs? Google? Facebook? Cisco? Monster? Indeed? There are thousands of companies that would pay handsomely for it. This amendment would allow Employ Media to choose who could use the domain. It might even let it auction it to the highest bidder. That could be very lucrative, but it is an inappropriate role for the manager of a TLD to reserve a portfolio of domains for itself and then handpick who gets to use them.
Employ Media is asking for permission retroactively here. In effect, its proposed amendment is asking for permission to do what it already did in their beta. Now it is asking us to trust that it will responsibly manage unilateral powers to assign domain names?
In HR’s Best Interest?
The .jobs charter, published in 2005, mandates the way in which SHRM and Employ Media must manage the .jobs top level domain. The charter explicitly calls the domain types now under consideration “inappropriate”.
A reserved list of names will be employed to prevent inappropriate name registrations. Certain groups of domains will be reserved, such as, e.g., a list of occupational identifiers (e.g., the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics list of SOC occupations), industry identifiers (e.g., healthcare.jobs) and certain geographic identifiers (e.g., northeasternohio.jobs).
The .jobs Issue Report to the .jobs PDP Council that is now under consideration by SHRM summarizes the amendment. It states:
Employ Media has submitted the current Proposed Amendment because it believes that Employ Media may use and register non‐“companyname” domain names in the best interests of the international human resource management community, so long as Employ Media maintains adherence to the .jobs Charter that is enforced by SHRM.
To summarize: In 2005, Employ Media believed that these domains were inappropriate. Today it proposes that it is in the best interests of the HR Community — without explaining why — that it (and it alone) has the power to register these domains. What changed?
Transparency & SHRM’s Responsibilities
Since ERE.net broke the news yesterday about this amendment yesterday, most of the backlash that has appeared on the .Jobs Discussion Board has revolved around SHRM’s incredibly poor disclosure.
The public period for comments was conducted in such a way that almost guaranteed nobody would hear about it. Let’s face it — when a company wants the public to notice something it plasters it on the front page of its website. It certainly doesn’t bury a link on its Copyrights & Permissions page.
Gary Rubin, SHRM’s Chief Publishing, E-Media and Business Development Officer, told ERE.net that SHRM was entirely unaware that there was a public comment period in progress. At best, this means that SHRM needs to be more mindful of its responsibilities under the .jobs charter. It’s pretty bad that the organization responsible for policing these policies is asleep at the switch. And it’s clear to me that someone tried to slip a “public comment period” under the radar without letting the public know that it existed, and that’s downright shameful.
A lot of the uproar over the proposed changed to the .jobs TLD has focused on Direct Employers’ role in .jobs Universe and the exclusive use of the domain names that it was given by Employ Media.
I think that’s a red herring. As the sponsor of the .jobs TLD, it is SHRM’s responsibility to ensure that the TLD is managed to “serve the needs of the international human resource management community,” as the .jobs charter says. It is (in this case) contractually and (always) morally obligated to represent the interests of HR professionals, and in this case, its responsibility is to insure that every one of the professionals that it represents has an equal chance at a .jobs domain.
I have strong feelings about the way this domain has been handled to date. If you do as well, let me hear it in the comments, whether you agree or disagree. I’m not sure if SHRM is paying attention to its own .jobs discussion board, but let them hear it there too.