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Why SHRM Must Reject the .jobs Amendment

by
David Manaster
Apr 8, 2010, 10:17 pm ET

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.

The Amendment

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? GoogleFacebookCiscoMonsterIndeed? 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.

Conclusion

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.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to offer specific legal advice. You should consult your legal counsel regarding any threatened or pending litigation.

  1. SHRM Council To Consider .Jobs Friday : ERE.net

    [...] If you are wondering what this all about, there’s plenty of background in the article I posted Wednesday evening. You can find it here. ERE CEO David Manaster also provides a synopses of the events and offers his take on the issue. [...]

  2. Steven Rothberg

    You should be proud, David, of the work that John Zappe and the rest of the team at ERE has done in bringing this important issue some sunlight.

    Perhaps the proposals put forward by Employ Media and Direct Employers will prove to be in the best interests of the HR community and even the general public, but that can’t be known until all of the stakeholders have had an opportunity to understand the issue and weigh in on it.

    With an almost complete lack of transparency over the entire process — even that the issue exists — the process reaks. The work of ERE here has been exemplary.

  3. eric shannon

    What puzzles me to no end, is why any stakeholder would want to give EmployMedia the right to sell or auction the domains in question… that would pull the rug out from under any particular beneficial use the domains might be put to in a partnership.

    If you are an EmployMedia partner, that puts a gun to your head… that doesn’t seem good for DirectEmployers or SHRM or its members.

    Putting the domains to some good use is one thing, and creating an exit strategy for EmployMedia is another.

  4. .jobs aiming to become a gTLD by the back door? | DomainIncite.com - Domain Name News & Opinion

    [...] as ERE.net points out, the “proposed amendment” to its charter reads more like a claim that no amendment is [...]

  5. Master Burnett

    David, you did a great job at articulating why the amendment should be rejected, I echo your points. While the ownership issue disturbs me, the lack of visibility around the proposed changes disturbs me more.

  6. Sarah Welstead

    No one responded to my comment on John Zappe’s original article (about why the sky would fall in because of this) so I came over here to read your piece, David, thinking that perhaps it would answer my question. I also read Laurie Ruettiman’s post and Lance Haun’s posts, on their blogs, on the subject.

    And while I think I now have a better sense of the outrage this whole thing is causing (the lack of transparency and disclosure, the ‘change without due process and input’, etc.), I still can’t quite understand.

    Yes, I understand SHRM wants to prevent fraud and cybersquatters and protect ‘the HR community’.

    But the whole thing reminds me of what happened with the .ca domain (that’s the official domain for Canada) circa 2000: The .ca domain was initially over-protected; you couldn’t get one without submitting a big application proving you had offices in more than one province; they cost a lot more than regular domains; and they had far less credibility than .com or even .co.uk.

    The result? People like me, who started small businesses at the time, were forced into getting URLs like http://www.StayAwake.tv because I didn’t qualify for a .ca domain and the .com one was already taken. Even larger companies sometimes didn’t qualify, and the process was (for the time) such a pain in the neck that they just didn’t bother, and kept using .com.

    The result of THAT? .ca domains never really took off, they didn’t confer credibility, and didn’t take any of the pressure off .com domains – all that happened was that your customers outside Canada (and even sometimes IN Canada) were like “What the heck is your URL about? What’s .ca? Where ARE you?”

    Finally – I think in 2003 – the .ca domain was opened up more widely. There was some of the same hand-wringing about CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority) along the same lines I’m seeing here with SHRM, but in the end, more Canadian companies got more .ca URLs for less money – which gave the .ca domain more credibility and more Canadian companies an easier way to make a name for themselves online. The .ca domain was not suddenly held hostage to zillions of evil cybersquatters, most .ca buyers were legit, and most companies were able to get the URL(s) they needed.

    If the SHRM was so invested in the .jobs domain, and it’s so important for companies and HR practitioners, how come 98% of the recruiting and HR professionals I’ve spoken to in the past 12 months don’t even know it EXISTS?

  7. David Manaster

    @Steven – I’m proud of the work that John has done here as well. He’s been working hard reporting on the new plans for the .jobs domain for months.

    @eric – The rights that Employ Media is requesting seem so different from the rights that I see the other managers of domains exercising that I am amazed that this has not raised more eyebrows in tech and domain policy circles.

    @Master – I’m hoping that there was a serious discusion of exactly that in today’s PDP Council meeting.

    @Sarah With only about 15,000 sold, most don’t consider the .jobs domain to be a commercial success. Indeed, that lack of commercial success is probably the only reason that this proposed change did not generate more outrage. If the exact same proposal would have been attempted with the .com domain, it would have been front page news in every newspaper in North America.

    To be clear, the amendment considered by the SHRM PDP Council today was not ever going to open up more domains to be purchased by the general public, as you describe in the case of the .ca TLD. In this case, Employ Media was asking SHRM to amend the charter to give them the broad ability to either sell the new domains or maintain ownership of them while still allowing other other parties to use them. Theoretically, they could use this power to allow anyone to buy them, but their announced plans were to develop all of said domains with a single partner, DirectEmployers, which sounds about as far from the opening up of the .ca domain that you describe as I can imagine.

  8. eric shannon

    Sara, you make some good points but try searching Google for ‘stay awake’, I didn’t see your site on the first three pages. Even worse, it doesn’t show for ‘stayawake’. this should give you an appreciation for the common desire for short, relevant, memorable keyword domains likely to appear in search results with reasonable effort.

  9. Sarah Welstead

    @eric I just went to Google, typed in ‘stayawake’ (without quotes) and I see StayAwake.tv (mine) comes up #3. And it should – I’ve had that domain since 2001, so it’s had plenty of time to get there. (Though apparently I need to talk to my web genius, because the redirect from StayAwake.ca – which I didn’t get my hands on til 2005 or so – doesn’t seem to be working.)

    But my personal business isn’t really a good example, since (a) I mostly work under my own name (Sarah Welstead), and that DOES deliver great Google results and (b) all of my clients are referrals. I don’t actually accept ‘random’ clients, so I don’t care how findable StayAwake is from a keyword perspective (and I knew, even 10 years ago, that the chances of being found from a search for ‘stay awake’ as 2 words were virtually nil).

    As a general rule, I agree with you on the desire for ‘short, relevant, memorable’ keyword domains – which is why I think .jobs and other domains should be more widely available. The more of a monopoly .com has on credibility, the worse it is for anyone who doesn’t have $100k to secure (i.e. buy from a cybersquatter) a good .com domain that isn’t some huge long bastardization of their company name/function.

    @David Thanks for the clarification, and I can appreciate the concern around allowing a single 3rd party, for-profit organization to have too much control.

    However, I still think that relaxing some of the regulations would deliver a long-term benefit for everyone, because as I said, NONE of the recruiting and HR professionals I’ve spoken to in the past 12 months (including some very senior, successful ones who tend to know their industry VERY well) had any clue .jobs even existed.

    Maybe one of the benefits of the current hue and cry will be improved awareness…

  10. eric shannon

    @sara I think you are seeing stayawake.tv in first page results because you have not turned off ‘Web history’. Google knows you like to visit that webpage…

  11. Phil Haynes

    Let me toss a comment in here from a job seekers perspective. Job seekers don’t need MORE job sites. 45,000 already. Seems to me this is yet another instance of a vendors (Employ Media and Direct Employers) putting profits in the way of actually helping people get jobs. In the example of http://www.siliconvalley.jobs, does anyone actually think there will ONLY be silicon valley jobs posted? Of course not, companies around the world will post jobs here for tech talent once again confusing the market and confounding the job seekers. Further fragmentation of the job board world guarantees more frustration for job seekers and employers but also profits.
    What a shame. I agree, SHRM needs to do something right and refuse the amendment.

  12. eric shannon

    After thinking .jobs over a lot more, I want to say that as a consequence of lending its name to Employ Media for the promotion of .jobs, SHRM has an obligation to prevent .jobs domain auctions or the sale of those domains through the sale of Employ Media itself. It cannot avoid damaging its constituents if it fails to do this. More background on my blog at http://www.internetinc.com/the-dot-jobs-domain-tax

    -eric

  13. Can We Learn Anything From The .JOBS TLD? | Trademark Blog from IP Lab

    [...] Emply Media has now requested permission from ICANN to loosen up its registration practice for .JOBS, a move already criticized by some industry observers and others. [...]

  14. Open Letter to ICANN: Reject the .jobs Amendment! - ERE.net

    [...] sanction such an arrangement or to turn it down. Regular ERE readers will remember that I wrote a post in April urging SHRM to reject the amendment, but they ultimately approved [...]

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