A date certain for Round N+1 is needed to keep Round N manageable
A potential applicant who is unsure as to whether it should submit an application for a TLD will consider the potential cost missing the coming application deadline.
That cost can depend on what the applicant’s competitors do, especially for brand-based TLDs. If competitors of brand holder X successfully use a TLD while the brand holder X had decided to defer applying, then the cost X’s deferral will be proportional to the time between the rounds.
For instance, if Canon were achieve a competitive advantage thanks to .canon, and if Nikon had deferred applying for .nikon, then Nikon's disadvantage would be proportional to the time it took ICANN to organize the next round.
Many brand-based applicants will therefore decide to apply immediately as this is a lesser risk. The sheer number is then likely to lengthen the time it takes until the next round takes place. Potential applicants will include that effect in their calculations. Typical estimates, inspired by ICANN’s track record of delays, is that it will take over 4 years until the subsequent round takes place. That pushes even more undetermined applicants to become "panic applicants". Delays become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The solution is therefore to announce a date certain for the subsequent round. For the announcement of Round N+1 to be credible, it should not be later than 1 year after Round N.
It is no problem if the processing of Round N overlaps with the Round N+1. It is no problem either if some applications from Round N remain unresolved even when Round N+2 or N+3 have begun.
By the same token, it is necessary to begin the evaluation of Round N long before all of its applications have been resolved. A belated evaluation is as useful as no evaluation at all. This necessarily implies that evaluation will have to be based on the partial data, and that as time goes by, it is completed with additional insights. Additional insight may come in the form of GAC advice, ICANN Board decisions, objections filed, or any other fact. All of these will be known to later applicants if ICANN adheres to its transparency rules. This means that any insight gained from any previous round, and any ICANN action likely to be taken in response to such insight, is can be declared to be part of the terms agreed to by the applicant.
The correct time to start evaluation is immediately at the moment when all strings are published.
The evaluation of Round N will necessarily be almost meaningless if Round N was dominated by panic applicants. The only meaningful lesson that could be learned from it would be that a reasonably close round M+1 must always have been announced when Round M takes place.
I therefore urge the ICANN to announce the opening of the coming 60-day TLD application period for a set day in November 2011, and to announce at the same time that the subsequent round will open on a set in November 2012.
Respectfully, Werner Staub