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auDA chair racks off after just 18 months

Australian ccTLD manager auDA has lost its chair, again.

Chris Leptos quit abruptly, for undisclosed reasons, earlier this week.

He’d been in the job since November 2017, when he replaced Stuart Benjamin, who had resigned shortly before facing a no-confidence vote from members.

Leptos himself survived a similar attempted ousting last July, despite losing the “popular vote” of members.

auDA’s brief statement does not say why he’s resigned, but notably absent from the release is the usual set of boilerplate quotes talking up the successes of the departed’s tenure, which are pretty standard when a resignation is amicable.

Aussie domain blogger David Goldstein is reporting that Leptos had a disagreement about “governance issues” with CEO Cameron Boardman at a board meeting this week, which led to Leptos filing his resignation letter.

auDA has come under almost-daily criticism for the duration of Leptos’ spell in the chair. Many members are not happy with initiatives such as the registry back-end handover, the imminent release of second-level domains, and myriad general governance and transparency issues.

Leptos has been nothing if not confrontational in return.

During his tenure, a story alleging lavish spending by former directors (including one of auDA’s chief critics) was placed in the national media, and Leptos’ board referred an unspecified number to the Victoria Police.

Leptos has been replaced on an interim basis by Suzanne Ewart, an independent director, while his permanent replacement is sought.

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ICANN launches cash-for-kids scheme

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN will hand over cash to help community members cover their childcare commitments, the organization announced yesterday.

If you show up to an ICANN public meeting with an ankle-biter under 12 years of age, ICANN will give you up to $750 to cover the cost of babysitting.

You’ll have to show receipts, and ICANN will not cover stuff like travel, lodging, tourism or other costs that parents would have during the normal course of owning a kid.

Only volunteer community members will qualify, not staffers. The full list of rules can be found here.

While the announcement may seem unusual, it does not come out of the blue. There have been a number of public calls, from a handful of single parents, for ICANN to lay on some kind of on-site childcare services over the last several years.

It isn’t doing that, however. Good grief, imagine the optics if ICANN accidentally killed a kid…

Instead, it will only give parents a list of nearby childcare providers, which it will not formally vet or recommend, and let them make their own minds up.

The program is a pilot, and will run at the next three meetings in Montreal, Cancun and Kuala Lumpur.

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After $30 million deal, is a .voice gTLD now inevitable?

Do big second-level domain sales translate into new gTLD success, and does the record-breaking $30 million sale of voice.com this week make a .voice gTLD inevitable?

The answers, I believe, are no and maybe.

Before the 2012 new gTLD application round, one way applicants picked their strings was by combing through the .com zone file to find frequently-occurring words that terminated the second level string.

This is where we get the likes of .site and .online from Radix and much of Donuts’ portfolio.

But applicants also looked at lists of high-priced secondary market sales for inspiration.

This is where we get the likes of .vodka, from MMX.

The latter strategy has seen mixed-to-poor results.

Five of the top domain sales, as compiled by Domain Name Journal, were not eligible for gTLD status are they are too short.

Of the remaining 15 strings, “sex” (which occurs twice), “fund”, “porn”, “toys” and “vodka” were all applied for in 2012 and are currently on sale.

The strings “clothes” and “diamond” do not appear as gTLDs, but Donuts runs both .clothing and .diamonds.

Not delegated in any fashion are “porno” (unless you count it as a derivative of “porn”), “slots”, “tesla”, “whisky” and “california”. A company called IntercontinentalExchange runs .ice as a dot-brand.

As well as .clothing and .diamonds, .fund and .toys are both also Donuts TLDs. None of them are doing spectacularly well.

At the lower end, .diamonds currently has fewer than 3,000 domain under management, but has a relatively high price compared to the the higher-volume TLDs in Donuts’ stable.

At the high-volume end, .fund has just shy of 16,000 names and .clothing has about 12,000.

Judging by their retail prices, and the fact that Donuts benefits from the economies of scale of a 240-strong TLD portfolio, I’m going to guess these domains are profitable, but not hugely so.

If we turn our attention to .vodka, with its roughly 1,500 domains, it seems clear that MMX is barely covering the cost of its annual ICANN fees. Yet vodka.com sold for $3 million.

So will anyone be tempted to apply for .voice in the next gTLD application round? I’d say it’s very possible.

First, “voice” is a nice enough string. It could apply to telephony services, but also to general publishing platforms that give their customers a “voice”. I’d say it could gather up enough registrations to fit profitably into a large portfolio, but would not break any records in terms of volume.

But perhaps the existence of voice.com buyer Block.one as a possible applicant will raise some other applicants out of the woodwork.

Block.one, which uses a new gTLD and an alt-ccTLD (.io) for its primary web sites, is certainly not out-of-touch when it come to alternative domain names.

Could it apply for .voice, and if it does how much would it be willing to spend to pay off rival applicants? It still apparently has billions of dollars from its internet coin offering in the bank.

How much of that would it be prepared to pay for .voice at private auction?

That prospect alone might be enough to stir the interest of some would-be applicants, but it has to be said that it’s by no means certain that the highly gameable application process ICANN deployed in 2012 is going to look the same next time around.

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Watch John Oliver take down voice.com’s buyer

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2019, Domain Sales

The blockchain developer that just spaffed $30 million on the domain name voice.com was the subject of a takedown on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver a year ago.

Oliver spent four minutes of a 25-minute rant about cryptocurrency offering some harsh criticisms of Block.one, which made the record-breaking purchase to brand its forthcoming crypto-based social media platform Voice.

He’s primarily concerned with warning viewers that internet coin offerings may be nothing but huge scams, and that a key Block.one backer (who left the company shortly after the show aired) may be a bit shady.

The whole segment’s worth a watch for context, but here’s the part concerning Block.one.

    Last Week Tonight, in case you somehow don’t know, its a weekly topical comedy show that airs on HBO in North America, Sky Atlantic in the UK and Ireland, and The Comedy Channel in Australia. It’s one of the best things on the telly, and I consider John Oliver the de facto UK ambassador to the US.

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Record-breaking $30 million domain sale was financed by cryptocurrency

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2019, Domain Sales

Records were broken yesterday when voice.com became the most-expensive domain name ever sold.

Handed over for a cool $30 million cash, it more than doubled the previous record for a domain-only transaction, 2010’s $13 million sale of sex.com.

The seller was MicroStrategy, an analytics software provider that just happens to have a stash of high-end, one-word .com domains among its assets.

The new owner is Block.one, a blockchain software developer that has raised a staggering amount of money despite not yet having any products.

The voice.com domain will be used for Voice, its first service, a social media platform based on the EOSIO blockchain platform that Block.one develops.

How Voice specifically differs from existing social media offerings is currently a little vague. It’s currently just a press release and a beta-signup form.

But the company says it will be more transparent than competitors such as Facebook or Instagram, with revenue generated feeding its content-creating users rather than the platform owner.

Not even the blogs covering crypto on a daily basis seem to understand the Voice business model yet.

A crucial step in the early stages appears to be enticing so-called “influencers” — social media personalities with large followings — over from the current dominant platforms with the promise of huge financial rewards (presumably paid in cryptocurrency) if they bring their fans with them.

Key differences include the fact that users will need a government-issued ID to sign up (mitigating the problem of anonymous trolling and bots), and that every post will be recorded for eternity in the blockchain.

Is this what social media users are crying out for? More friction and less privacy? I don’t get it, personally. But then I didn’t get Twitter at first either.

The product was announced at a flashy news event in Washington, DV a few weeks ago. An executive discusses the value proposition briefly at around the 20-minute mark in this video recording.

Block.one itself is an equally odd fish.

It has amassed oodles of cash despite having no obvious business model. It may be the only company with a billion-dollar-plus valuation that doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page.

It reportedly raised over $4 billion through an internet coin offering — where speculators buy a basically unused cryptocurrency in the hope that it will be adopted and its value will rise — over the space of a year.

The ICO’s success appears to be partly based on the personal branding of its founders, backers and executives, who have made names for themselves in the burgeoning crypto space.

Since the ICO ended about a year ago, the company has been pumping tens of millions of dollars into third-party projects that use its EOS blockchain, in an attempt to spur adoption.

It also reportedly expects to spend $150 million developing Voice.

So, $30 million is pretty much pocket change to these guys, who’ve rewarded MicroStrategy’s speculation in domain names with the fruits of their own investors’ speculation in another type of essentially worthless digital record.

In many ways, I guess cryptocurrency really is turning out to be to this decade what domain investment was to the last.

Ten years from now, perhaps voice.com will be sold for a trillion dollars, paid for in telepathic tulips or something.

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