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Pro-.com analyst “sponsored” by Verisign. Is this a big deal?

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2015, 15:47:52 (UTC), Domain Registries

Verisign has admitted it “sponsors” an analyst who has written more than a dozen articles singing the praises of .com and questioning the value of new gTLDs over the last few years.

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst at ZK Research. He writes a regular column for Network World called Network Intelligence.

Last week, domain industry eyebrows were raised by the latest in a series of pro-.com articles — all of which seem to have been removed by Network World in the last 24 hours — to appear in the column.

The latest article was entitled “Why more companies are ditching new domain names and reverting to .com“.

Kerravala basically mined domain industry blogs, including this one, for examples of companies preferring .com over ccTLDs and new gTLDS, to support a view that .com is awesome and other TLDs are not.

He could have quite easily have used the same method to reach the opposite conclusion, in my view.

The Halloween-themed article concluded:

The good news is that .com will be here now and into the future, just like it has been for the past 30 years to provide treats to businesses after they have been “tricked” by other TLDs.

The article, and 12 more before it dating back to August 2012, looked to some like Verisign spin.

Other headlines include “Why .com is still the domain of choice for businesses” and “New generic top-level domain names do more harm than good” and “Companies are movin’ on up to .com domain names”.

They’re all basically opinion pieces with a strongly pro-.com slant.

The opinion that .com is better than the alternatives is not uncommon, especially among domainers who have lots of money tied up in .com investments.

The fact that Kerravala, who doesn’t usually touch the domain industry in his column, has written a dozen stories saying essentially the same thing about .com over the last couple of years looked a bit odd to some in the domain industry.

And it turns out that he is actually on the Verisign payroll.

A Verisign spokesperson told DI: “ZK Research is a sponsored industry analyst and blogger.”

The company declined to answer a follow-up question asking whether this meant he was paid to blog.

Kerravala told DI that Verisign is one of his clients, but denied blogging on its behalf. He said in an email:

they are a client like many of the other large technology firms. Although I blog, like many analysts, I am first an foremost an analyst. I have paid relationships with tech vendors, service providers, end user firms, resellers and the financial community.

Verisign pays me for inquiry time and to have access to my research. Verisign has many relationships like this with many analyst firms and I have this type of relationship with many other technology firms.

In no way do vendors pay me to write blogs nor do they influence my research or my opinions. Sometimes, I may choose to interview a vendor on a certain topic and include them in the article.

Kerravala had not disclosed in his Network World articles or boilerplate biography that Verisign is one of his clients.

In a January 2014 article published on SeekingAlpha, “New Generic Top Level Domain Names Pose No Threat To VeriSign“, contains a disclosure that reads in part “I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.”

Kerravala said in an email that although his relationship with Verisign started in 2013, the company was not a client at the time the SeekingAlpha article appeared.

The relationship came to light after new gTLD registry Donuts emailed Kerravala via a third party — and Kerravala says under false pretenses — claiming to have liked his most recent article and asking for a contact name at Verisign.

He would have responded honestly to just being asked directly by Donuts, he said.

In a telephone conversation yesterday, he said that his articles about .com represent his genuinely held beliefs which, as we agree, are not particularly unusual.

He observed that DI has a generally pro-TLD-competition point of view, and that many of my advertisers are drawn from the new gTLD industry, and said that his relationship with Verisign is not dissimilar to DI’s relationship to its advertisers.

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Comments (29)

  1. IU says:

    well….this does explain Joseph Peterson.

    • Ahmed says:

      Joseph Peterson is a troll.

      The author of the article not telling people he is paid by Verisign and putting out articles pro-Verisign is a terrible work. Almost criminal.

      Both are not truthful, but just in different ways.

  2. Acro says:

    Odd coincidence, also noticed the article’s disappearance yesterday.

    Network World removed the article(s) on whose request?

    All that’s left from Zeus’s thunderous articles are Cisco related content. http://www.networkworld.com/author/Zeus-Kerravala/

  3. Rubens Kuhl says:

    I don’t agree with Mr. Kerravala assessment of DI independence or lack thereof. It’s a bad justification of something that is not “Kosher”, even being lawful.

    • I wouldn’t be so quick with the “even being lawful” part. The US Federal Trade Commission has had quite a bit to say about paid bloggers and “social influencers”, and the relevant FTC rules on undisclosed paid endorsements.

      The other thing to look out for, by those paying “social influencers” is when the paid influencer goes beyond endorsing a product, to disparagement of competitors. It can be difficult for, say, Company A to be able to say, “well I didn’t pay him/her for THAT” when Company B makes out a claim for what has historically been called “trade libel” or disparagement, absent having specifically tied Company A’s payments of the social influencer to specific statements.

      It also doesn’t matter if the influencer raises a claim of “but that’s what I believed anyway”. While that’s a happy alignment of interests, and while it is the way that a lot of social influencers manage to get noticed in the first place, whether or not the influencer believes the claims is secondary to being paid to make them.

  4. @Ahmed,

    2 strangers show up to badmouth me in the comments section of an article that isn’t about me and doesn’t even mention me. Yet I’m a troll?

    @UI,

    How does this Zeus Kerravala fellow “explain” me?

    Does this explain the thousands of nTLD domains I’ve purchased? Does this explain the nTLD domains I sell? Does this explain the nTLD domains I’ve recommended to clients?

    Does this explain me calling nTLDs a good option in Entrepreneur magazine, where I gave an interview? or at EuropeanDomainCentre.com, where I’ve written a few pieces?

    Does this explain why the web is full of me making positive comments about nTLD domains? Just last week Mike Berkens wrote negatively about .LIVE; and I disagreed with him, explaining how I thought that TLD makes sense and will be used. I could give dozens if not hundreds of similar examples.

    Roughly half my portfolio is non-.COM, and that has always been true. My first sale was .ES. My recent sales include .CLUB, .NET, and .CO. If anything, my financial bias would be AWAY from .COM. Percentage-wise, Micheal Berkens is much more of a .COM purist than I am; and some people accuse him of being biased in favor of the new TLDs. Make up your minds, people!

    If I followed the money in this industry, I’d be paid by Uniregistry or other new TLD registries. Those are the companies struggling to achieve visibility; so that’s where the advertising dollars are.

    To date, I have never accepted a penny from any registry or registrar. To my knowledge, I’m the only broker who turns away 100% of sellers. Why? Because I regard that as a conflict of interest with respect to my cosulting clients. Yes, that has meant turning away wheelbarrows full of cash.

    Very few people in this industry can claim to be truly independent. Kevin Murphy, who wrote this article about Zeus what’s-his-name, is himself paid by advertisers and sponsors. That’s fine. It’s transparent. Andrew Allemann at DNW (where I write) has his advertisers too.

    But I personally have NEVER taken any such money. The irony that – of all the sponsored bloggers in the domain industry – some morons have decided that I – who have turned away ALL affiliate relationships – am biased … is stupefying.

  5. Al Hall says:

    The old saying people in glass houses. Kevin your not clean on this either.

  6. Never Stop! Great reporting.

  7. Al Hall says:

    Just doing the math, your site promotes ntld through adverts and your writing has pro ntld leanings. You might say they don’t influence but it’s hard to say it’s doesn’t when money is exchanged.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      You might find it amusing to look at which companies advertise here, then look at what I’ve written about those companies.

      • Yes, I was surprised to see today that .XYZ is paying you, given what you had written last year.

        • Kevin Murphy says:

          XYZ has never paid for advertising on DI.

        • @Kevin,

          “CentralNic has an exclusive deal to market and manage the .xyz web domain on behalf of Daniel Negari,” according to CentralNic.com.

          So, unless I’m mistaken, you’re being paid be the company that officially markets .XYZ to display a large purple ad for .XYZ, which redirects to Gen.xyz – the official blog of .XYZ.

          Seems a bit coy to maintain that .XYZ has never paid for advertising on your blog.

          Am I still missing something? I don’t mean to impugn your integrity, Kevin. It’s quite possible to be paid by a company and yet do objective work. Sometimes remaining objective can be tricky. But every newspaper has its advertisers.

          • Kevin Murphy says:

            All the ads are plainly visible on every page of the site.

            • Yes, but I do authors the honor of reading what they say. Typically I don’t even glance at who their sponsors are.

              Ads are so omnipresent that we’re trained toward ad blindness.

            • Kevin Murphy says:

              Ain’t that the truth.

              If you’re worried about DI’s coverage of its advertisers, or companies you think might be advertisers, a good way to settle your mind would be to put the name of the company into the search box (top left) and see what I’ve published about them.

  8. Randall Jones says:

    If he had been writing Kevin had been writing pro .xyz articles without the presence of XYZ advertising that would be comparable. As it is stands you couldn’t say they have been bias and the relationship is clearly displayed through the advertising, a bit different to the subject of this article.

    I wonder how much of an impact the perceived success of the new gTLD program impacts Verisign’s share price and whether these types of articles are altering that perception, by design or otherwise.

  9. Steven White says:

    Kevin,

    I tend to agree with Joseph and Al that the fact that you have an ad for .xyz but then you tend to be anti .com seems like you have a biased opinion. I know you say that the ad is paid for by another company but you’re still advertising .xyz.

    Also, you say Mr. Kerravala doesn’t cover .com but then say he’s written over a dozen other articles on the topic. Doesn’t that indicate that he does indeed cover it?

    it seems his opinion is that he is pro .com as you say and you are not. Its good to see bloggers have an opinion. I read so much stuff that is just regurgitating press releases that it’s good to see some one take a stance.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      You should ask Daniel Negari whether he thinks I am pro-.xyz.

    • In fairness, I did not say that Kevin Murphy is biased. Some writers might be swayed by advertiser payments, but not all – not all equally and some not at all.

      I raised the issue of .XYZ sponsoring DomainIncite for a couple of reasons. First, because it’s relevant in a discussion of Verisign possibly having sponsored this Zeus Kerravala. Readers ought to understand that this author is himself sponsored by .XYZ, which is hostile to Verisign. Potentially, that’s a conflict. Raising that concern allows Kevin to refute it. If that issue were not out in the open, however, then Kevin’s article would be suspect.

      Transparency is the key. If Zeus Kerravala is to be blamed for anything, it isn’t for expressing his opinions or accepting sponsorship. Every blogger I know of does that. But failing to disclose sponsorship is a problem, in my view. The domain industry is rife with under-the-table affiliate relationships. It’s a major problem – one I’m more concerned about than most people. That’s partly why I criticized shill bidders and insider “super sellers” on Flippa back in 2014.

      The second reason I mentioned Kevin Murphy’s sponsorship by .XYZ is because people in the comments section here had accused me of being some sort of drooling pro-Verisign troll. For their benefit, I wanted to point out that Kevin Murphy and this blog are partly sponsored by Verisign’s arch-enemy, whereas I’ve had literally zero affiliate relationships from the day I began domaining up until the present day. This doesn’t mean Kevin is biased. It just means a few of his readers are nasty, hasty, and clueless.

      I doubt Kevin Murphy is pro-.XYZ. Actually, he has criticized the company harshly during 2014 and as recently as last month. Also, it seems unlikely that he’s “anti .com”. After all, he has built his brand on a .COM.

      Kevin probably has a few biases; who doesn’t? My hunch is that Kevin might dislike Verisign – possibly as a result of his email correspondence being drawn into their lawsuit, possibly for other reasons, or possibly not. If so, then that’s his right. For my part, I happen to dislike and distrust Daniel Negari, due to the robo-registration scandal last year. Since I despise a company or 2 within the domain industry, I ought to allow Kevin his own antipathies.

      Those attitudes color our reporting; it’s human nature. We can choose to be aware of how or to remain unaware. If they’re bias, then they’re an honestly held bias. We’ve earned the right to form default opinions of people’s character. If we’re sensible, then we’ll pay attention in case we’re wrong.

      Readers will never know the personal biases of writers. Money isn’t the only thing that magnetizes our opinions. Personal relationships and customer interactions gone sour – those play a role. Even world view and upbringing can influence our opinion of something like .BIBLE.

      The best thing to do is to evaluate what someone says, their arguments. Speculating about their motives is often nothing more than an ad hominem, a sideshow.

      • Frankie Easles says:

        Jesuus Chrust, Joseph Peterson. Bugger off and STFU already. You wrote 500+ words. Do you think anyone cares what you have to say about this or Flippa or whatever? Well, maybe some of it is useful but you’re so GD condescending in everything you write.

        Alright, we get it. You’re a frickene genius.

        Yes, Flippa has shill bidding just like every other auction platform in the world.

        Yes, people are influenced by their advertisers. It’s called life.

        Don’t like it? Offer to pay for the services you use and ask them to cut their ties with anyone that can bias their writing.

        • @Frankie,

          You’ve spent 100+ words telling me to “shut the fuck up”. Am I condescending? Why, then, I’ll pattern my manners on yours!

          Yes, some people do care what I say about “Flippa or whatever”, which is why I’m paid by editors to write articles about “Flippa or whatever”. If you find me so upsetting, then skip over my comments without reading them. Since you read them without comprehension, that will save us both trouble.

          “Yes, people are influenced by their advertisers. It’s called life.”

          Then why did Kevin Murphy write this article? Your beef must be with him.

  10. Acro says:

    The bottom line is, Zeus’s article got removed. The tweet is still up at https://twitter.com/Computerworld/status/660169564043374592

    The article should have stayed up, as I was about to debunk its claims.

    Someone seems to have pulled a few strings, however, pointing out the motives behind that compilation of article links and anti-gTLD rhetoric.

  11. Matt says:

    Anyone that reads Kevin knows that he doesnt give unwarranted positive coverage to his advertisers.

    Given who the “decision makers” are at his clients I imagine they agree that its his very independence and lack of bias that makes his site such an important part of the domain conversation. I doubt Frank cares if Kevin criticizes Uniregistry – Its likely part of why he values it!

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