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Radix premium renewals approach $1 million

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2020, Domain Sales

New gTLD registry Radix made almost a million bucks in the first half of the year from renewal fees on its premium domains.

That’s one data point that jumps out from Radix’s latest premium sales report, released last night.

The company said that it made $1.96 million at the top line from premiums in the period, up 19% on the second half of 2019.

It added that $996,771 of that was from renewals, up from $903,687 in H2 2019.

Radix is one of the registries that charges a premium fee every year over the lifetime of the registration, a practice controversial among domain investors.

Still, it appears there is demand (or, at least, acceptance) among end users. Radix said it saw a 41% sequential increase in the number of premium sales in H1.

.tech, .online and .store were the biggest sellers, with the vast majority of sold names clustering in the $250 to $2,500 range.

The renewal rate after the first year was 63%, growing to 72% at the second renewal and a very respectable 78% thereafter.

Radix said it saw .store premium sales grow by more than fivefold during the half, which it attributed to the coronavirus pandemic:

While premium registrations and revenue have grown steadily for five quarters since Q2 2019, the 2020 pandemic has led to significant demand in eCommerce and have urged businesses from all verticals to build a strong web presence.

This has led to a surge in the adoption of premium domain names on meaningful extensions that are most suited for these businesses such as .STORE. Premium registrations for .STORE in Q2 2020 was up by 5.5X compared to Q2 2019.

More stats can be found here.

ICANN ordered to freeze .hotel after “serious questions” about trade secrets “theft”

Kevin Murphy, September 3, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN has been instructed to place the proposed .hotel gTLD in limbo after four applicants for the string raised “sufficiently serious questions” that ICANN may have whitewashed the “theft” of trade secrets.

The order was handed down last month by the emergency panelist in the Independent Review Process case against ICANN by claimants Fegistry, MMX, Radix and Domain Ventures Partners.

Christopher Gibson told ICANN to “maintain the status quo” with regards the .hotel contention set, meaning currently winning applicant Hotel Top Level Domain, which is now owned by Afilias, won’t get contracted or delegated until the IRP is resolved.

At the core of the decision (pdf) is Gibson’s view that the claimants raised “sufficiently serious questions related to the merits” in allegations that ICANN mishandled and acted less than transparently in its investigation into a series of data breaches several years ago.

You may recall that ICANN seriously screwed up its new gTLD application portal, configuring in such a way that any applicant was able to search for and view the confidential data, including financial information such as revenue projections, of any other competing applicant.

Basically, ICANN was accidentally publishing applicants’ trade secrets on its web site for years.

ICANN discovered the glitch in 2015 and conducted an audit, which initially fingered Dirk Krischenowski — who at time was the half-owner of a company that owned almost half of HTLD as well as a lead consultant on the bid — as the person who appeared to have accessed the vast majority of the confidential data in March and April 2014.

ICANN did not initially go public with his identity, but it did inform the affected applicants and I managed to get a copy of the email, which said he’d downloaded about 200 records he shouldn’t have been able to access.

It later came to light that Krischenowski was not the only HTLD employee to use the misconfiguration to access data — according to ICANN, then-CEO of HTLD Katrin Ohlmer and lawyer Oliver Süme had too.

HTLD execs have always denied any wrongdoing, and as far as I know there’s never been any action against them in the proper courts. Krischenowski has maintained that he had no idea the portal was glitched, and he was using it in good faith.

Also, neither Ohlmer nor Krischenowski are still involved with HTLD, having been bought out by Afilias after the hacking claims emerged.

These claims of trade secret “theft” are being raised again now because the losing .hotel applicants think ICANN screwed up its probe and basically tried to make it go away out of embarrassment.

Back in August 2016, the ICANN board decided that demands to cancel the HTLD application were “not warranted”. Ohlmer barely gets a mention in the resolution’s rationale.

The losing applicants challenged this decision in a Request for Reconsideration in 2016, known as Request 16-11 (pdf). In that request, they argued that the ICANN board had basically ignored Ohlmer’s role.

Request 16-11 was finally rejected by the ICANN board in January last year, with the board saying it had in fact considered Ohlmer when making its decision.

But the IRP claimants now point to a baffling part of ICANN’s rationale for doing so: that it found “no evidence that any of the confidential information that Ms. Ohlmer (or Mr. Krischenowski) improperly accessed was provided to HTLD”.

In other words, ICANN said that the CEO of the company did not provide the information that she had obtained to the company of which she was CEO. Clear?

Another reason for brushing off the hacking claims has been that HTLD could have seen no benefit during the application process by having access to its rivals’ confidential data.

HTLD won the contention set, avoiding the need for an auction, in a Community Priority Evaluation. ICANN says the CPE was wholly based on information provided in its 2012 application, so any data obtained in 2014 would have been worthless.

But the losing applicants say that doesn’t matter, as HTLD/Afilias still have access to their trade secrets, which could make the company a more effective competitor should .hotel be delegated.

This all seems to have been important to Gibson’s determination. He wrote in his emergency ruling (pdf) last month:

The Emergency Panelist determines that Claimants have raised “sufficiently serious questions related to the merits” in in relation to the Board’s denial of Request 16-11, with respect to the allegations concerning the Portal Configuration issues in Request 16-11. This conclusion is made on the basis of all of the above information, and in view of Claimants’ IRP Request claim that ICANN subverted the investigation into HTLD’s alleged theft of trade secrets. In particular, Claimants claim that ICANN refused to produce key information underlying its reported conclusions in the investigation; that it violated the duty of transparency by withholding that information; that the Board’s action to ignore relevant facts and law was a violation of Bylaws; and further, to extent the BAMC and/or Board failed to have such information before deciding to disregard HTLD’s alleged breach, that violated their duty of due diligence upon reasonable investigation, and duty of independent judgment.

The Emergency Panelist echoes concerns that were raised initially by the Despegar IRP Panel regarding the Portal Configuration issues, where that Panel found that “serious allegations” had been made188 and referenced Article III(1) of ICANN’s Bylaws in effect at that time, but declined to make a finding on those issues, indicating “that it should remain open to be considered at a future IRP should one be commenced in respect of this issue.” Since that time, ICANN conducted an internal investigation of the Portal Configuration issues, as noted above; however, the alleged lack of disclosure, as well as certain inconsistencies in the decisions of the BAMC and the Board regarding the persons to whom the confidential information was disclosed and their relationship to, or position with HTLD, as well as ICANN’s decision to ultimately rely on a “no harm no foul” rationale when deciding to permit the HTLD application to proceed, all raise sufficiently serious questions related to the merits of whether the Board breached ICANN’s Article, Bylaws or other polices and commitments.

It’s important to note that this is not a final ruling that ICANN did anything wrong, it’s basically the ICANN equivalent of a ruling on a preliminary injunction and Gibson is saying the claimants’ allegations are worthy of further inquiry.

And the ruling did not go entirely the way of the claimants. Gibson in fact ruled against them on most of their demands.

For example, he said their was insufficient evidence to revisit claims that a review of the CPE process carried out by FTI Consulting was a whitewash, and he refused to order ICANN to preserve documentation relating to the case (though ICANN has said it will do so anyway).

He also ruled against the claimants on a few procedural issues, such as their demands for an Ombudsman review and for IRP administrator the International Center for Dispute Resolution to recuse itself.

Some of their claims were also time-barred under ICANN’s equivalent of the statute of limitations.

But ICANN will be prevented from contracting with HTLD/Afilias for now, which is a key strategic win.

ICANN reckons the claimants are just using the IRP to try to force deep-pocketed Afilias into a private auction they can be paid to lose, and I don’t doubt there’s more than a grain of truth in that claim.

But if it exposes another ICANN cover-up in the process, I for one can live with that.

The case continues…

Here’s what’s in the NamesCon Online schwag bag

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2020, Domain Services

NamesCon is fully online-only this year, due to the pandemic, but that hasn’t stopped the organizers sending out schwag bags to paid-up attendees. Mine arrived this morning in an A4 card envelope. Here’s what was inside.

Schwag

  • A totally unnecessary lanyard, sponsored by a web site security company called Sectigo.
  • An equally unnecessary face mask, sponsored by a company I’d never heard of before called FlatSite. These guys appear to be in the business of providing a service that simplifies WordPress to be more suitable for managing large numbers of small static sites.
  • An “I [heart] Domains” sticker sponsored by domain monetization company Bodis. I guess you’re supposed to slap this to your laptop.
  • A larger “YOLO” sticker sponsored by Radix.
  • A NamesCon pin/badge/button. Apparently if you post a selfie while wearing it to the NamesCon platform you’re entered into a draw for a $200 Amazon gift card.

NamesCon Online runs for three days from September 9. Prices range from free to newcomers to $399 if you want a year of DNAcademy thrown in. The standard price is $59.

NamesCon Online ticket prices and name change revealed

Kevin Murphy, July 7, 2020, Domain Services

NamesCon has published the ticket price list for its upcoming virtual conference, and the first hit’s for free.

Standard tickets start at $59 — which includes a schwag bag delivered to your door if you register before the end of July — but the price is expected to go up after the end of August.

NamesCon has also entered into a promo deal with Michael Cyger’s DNAcademy, an educational service for domainers. If you buy a $399 annual subscription, the NamesCon ticket is free.

Finally, there’s a rather generous offer of a free ticket for those who have never attended a NamesCon event before.

Newcomers have to take a short survey, but there doesn’t appear to be any identity verification going on, so it seems to me there’s a possibility of its generosity being abused.

The conference also said last week that it’s changed its name from NamesCon 360° to NamesCon Online, after .online registry Radix became a sponsor. The domain is now namescon.online.

The conference will run 24/7 from September 9 to September 11 in your bedroom.

Hacking claims resurface as .hotel losers force ICANN to lawyer up again

Kevin Murphy, February 7, 2020, Domain Policy

The fight over .hotel has been escalated, with four unsuccessful applicants for the gTLD whacking ICANN with a second Independent Review Process appeal.

The complaint resurrects old claims that a former lead on the successful application, now belonging to Afilias, stole trade secrets from competing applicants via a glitched ICANN web site.

It also revives allegations that ICANN improperly colluded with the consultant hired to carry out reviews of “community” applications and then whitewashed an “independent” investigation into the same.

The four companies filing the complaint are new gTLD portfolio applicants MMX (Minds + Machines), Radix, Fegistry, and Domain Venture Partners (what we used to call Famous Four).

The IRP was filed November 18 and published by ICANN December 16, but I did not spot it until more recently. Sorry.

There’s a lot of back-story to the complaint, and it’s been a few years since I got into any depth on this topic, so I’m going to get into a loooong, repetitive, soporific, borderline unreadable recap here.

This post could quite easily be subtitled “How ICANN takes a decade to decide a gTLD’s fate”.

There were seven applicants for .hotel back in 2012, but only one of them purported to represent the “hotel community”. That applicant, HOTEL Top Level Domain, was mostly owned by Afilias.

HTLD had managed to get letters of support from a large number of hotel chains and trade groups, to create a semblance of a community that could help it win a Community Priority Evaluation, enabling it to skip to the finish line and avoid a potentially costly auction against its rival applicants.

CPEs were carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit, an independent ICANN contractor.

Surprisingly to some (including yours truly), back in 2014 it actually managed to win its CPE, scoring 15 out of the 16 available points, surpassing the 14-point winning threshold and consigning its competing bidders’ applications to the scrap heap.

There would be no auction, and no redistribution of wealth between applicants that customarily follows a new gTLD auction.

Naturally, the remaining applicants were not happy about this, and started to fight back.

The first port of call was a Request for Reconsideration, which all six losers filed jointly in June 2014. It accused the EIU of failing to follow proper procedure when it evaluated the HTLD community application.

That RfR was rejected by ICANN, so a request for information under ICANN’s Documentary Information Disclosure Policy followed. The losing applicants reckoned the EIU evaluator had screwed up, perhaps due to poor training, and they wanted to see all the communications between ICANN and the EIU panel.

The DIDP was also rejected by ICANN on commercial confidentiality grounds, so the group of six filed another RfR, asking for the DIDP to be reconsidered.

Guess what? That got rejected too.

So the applicants then filed an IRP case, known as Despegar v ICANN, in March 2015. Despegar is one of the .hotel applicants, and the only one that directly plays in the hotel reservation space already.

The IRP claimed that ICANN shirked its duties by failing to properly oversee and verify the work of the EIU, failing to ensure the CPE criteria were being consistently applied between contention sets, and failing in its transparency obligations by failing to hand over information related to the CPE process.

While this IRP was in its very early stages, it emerged that one of HTLD’s principals and owners, Dirk Krischenowski, had accessed confidential information about the other applicants via an ICANN web site.

ICANN had misconfigured its applicant portal in such a way that any user could very access any attachment on any application belonging to any applicant. This meant sensitive corporate information, such as worst-case-scenario financial planning, was easily viewable via a simple search for over a year.

Krischenowski appears to have been the only person to have noticed this glitch and used it in earnest. ICANN told applicants in May 2015 that he had carried out 60 searches and accessed 200 records using the glitch.

Krischenowski has always denied any wrongdoing and told DI in 2016 that he had always “relied on the proper functioning of ICANN’s technical infrastructure while working with ICANN’s CSC portal.”

The applicants filed another DIDP, but no additional information about the data glitch was forthcoming.

When the first IRP concluded, in February 2016, ICANN prevailed, but the three-person IRP panel expressed concern that neither the EIU nor ICANN had any process in place to ensure that community evaluations carried out by different evaluators were consistently applying the CPE rules.

The IRP panel also expressed concern about the “very serious issues” raised by the ICANN portal glitch and Krischenowski’s data access.

But the loss of the IRP did not stop the six losing applicants from ploughing on. Their lawyer wrote to ICANN in March 2016 to denounce Krischenowski’s actions as “criminal acts” amounting to “HTLD stealing trade secrets of competing applicants”, and as such HTLD’s application for .hotel should be thrown out.

Again, to the best of my knowledge, Krischenowski has never been charged with, let alone convicted of, any criminal act.

Afilias wrote to ICANN not many weeks later, April 2016, to say that it had bought out Krischenowski’s 48.8% stake in HTLD and that he was no longer involved in the company or its .hotel application.

And ICANN’s board of directors decided in August 2016 that Krischenowski may well have accessed documents he was not supposed to, but that it would have happened after the .hotel CPE had been concluded, so there was no real advantage to HTLD.

A second, parallel battle against ICANN by an unrelated new gTLD applicant had been unfolding over the same period.

A company called Dot Registry had failed in its CPE efforts for the strings .llc, .llp and .inc, and in 2014 had filed its own IRP against ICANN, claiming that the EIU had “bungled” the community evaluations, applying “inconsistent” scoring criteria and “harassing” its supporters.

In July 2016, almost two years later, the IRP panel in that case ruled that Dot Registry had prevailed, and launched a withering attack on the transparency and fairness of the ICANN process.

The panel found that, far from being independent, the EIU had actually incorporated notes from ICANN staff into its CPE evaluations during drafting.

It was as a result of this IRP decision, and the ICANN board’s decision that Krischenowski’s actions could not have benefited HTLD, that the losing .hotel applicants filed yet another RfR.

This one lasted two and a half years before being resolved, because in the meantime ICANN launched a review of the CPE process.

It hired a company called FTI Consulting to dig through EIU and ICANN documentation, including thousands of emails that passed between the two, to see if there was any evidence of impropriety. It covered .hotel, .music, .gay and other gTLD contention sets, all of which were put on hold while FTI did its work.

FTI eventually concluded, at the end of 2017, that there was “no evidence that ICANN organization had any undue influence on the CPE reports or engaged in any impropriety in the CPE process”, which affected applicants promptly dismissed as a “whitewash”.

They began lobbying for more information, unsuccessfully, and hit ICANN with yet another RfR in April 2018. Guess what? That one was rejected too.

The .hotel applicants then entered into a Cooperative Engagement Process — basically pre-IRP talks — from October 2018 to November 2019, before this latest IRP was filed.

It’s tempting to characterize it as a bit of a fishing expedition, albeit not a baseless one — any allegations of ICANN’s wrongdoing pertaining the .hotel CPE are dwarfed by the applicants’ outraged claims that ICANN appears to be covering up both its interactions with the EIU and its probe of the Krischenowski incident, partly out of embarrassment.

The claimants want ICANN to be forced to hand over documentation refused them on previous occasions, relating to: “ICANN subversion of the .HOTEL CPE and first IRP (Despegar), ICANN subversion of FTI’s CPE Process Review, ICANN subversion of investigation into HTLD theft of trade secrets, and ICANN allowing a domain registry conglomerate to takeover the ‘community-based’ applicant HTLD.”

“The falsely ‘independent’ CPE processes were in fact subverted by ICANN in violation of Bylaws, HTLD stole trade secrets from at least one competing applicant, and Afilias is not a representative of the purported community,” the IRP states.

“HTLD’s application should be denied, or at least its purported Community Priority relinquished, as a consequence not only for HTLD’s spying on its competitors’ secret information, but also because HTLD is no longer the same company that applied for the .HOTEL TLD. It is now just a registry conglomerate with no ties to the purported, contrived ‘Community’ that it claims entitled to serve,” it goes on.

ICANN is yet to file its response to the complaint.

Whether the IRP will be successful is anyone’s guess, but what’s beyond doubt is that if it runs its course it’s going to add at least a year, probably closer to two, to the delay that .hotel has been languishing under since the applications were filed in 2012.

Potentially lengthening the duration of the case is the claimants’ demand that ICANN “appoint and train” a “Standing Panel” of at least seven IRP panelists from which each three-person IRP panel would be selected.

The standing panel is something that’s been talked about in ICANN’s bylaws for at least six or seven years, but ICANN has never quite got around to creating it.

ICANN pinged the community for comments on how it should go about creating this panel last year, but doesn’t seemed to have provided a progress report for the last nine months.

The .hotel applicants do not appear to be in any hurry to get this issue resolved. The goal is clearly to force the contention set to auction, which presumably could happen at Afilias’ unilateral whim. Time-to-market is only a relevant consideration for the winner.

With .hotel, and Afilias’ lawsuit attempting to block the .web sale to Verisign, the last round of new gTLD program, it seems, is going to take at least a decade from beginning to end.

DI Leaders Roundtable #4 — Big predictions for 2020

Hindsight is 2020, right? Not this time!

We’re rolling up to the end of the year, so for the fourth DI Leaders Roundtable I thought I’d task my panel of industry experts with the wholly original and unpredictable question:

What do you think will be the major trends or developments in the domain name industry in 2020?

I’m wonderfully happy to report that the panel grasped the opportunity with both hands and delivered an absolute smorgasbord (selection of open sandwiches) of informed opinion about how they reckon 2020 will play out.

From potential changes to security practices to ongoing consolidation to increased government regulation to the death of new gTLDs to the growth of new gTLDs, 2020 is certainly going to be a fun year to report on.

In no particular order, this is what they said:

Rick Schwartz, domain investor

Mugshot2020 is going to be just a fabulous year.

It comes down to two words: re-branding and upgrading.

Businesses that have gotten domains that may have not been prime to begin with want prime domains now to help them grow and be taken more seriously.

Businesses, especially global businesses that made the mistake of using non-dotcom domains, have realized their mistake and want to upgrade to a dotcom domain because of their own self-interest. They don’t care what domainers think! They only care about what they think and their bottom line, and in that regard they only have one choice and they all know it.

It’s mandatory if they want to grow and become part of the largest franchise ever known to mankind. The dotcom franchise.

If you add up all the net worth of every company on earth using the dotcom brand, the number is unfathomable.

As we go into the seventh year of the new gTLD experiment, they are meaningless. They haven’t been adopted by almost anybody. Circulation is poor. So many registrations are questionable or penny-promotional. The majority are parked and not in use nor will they ever be. And 99.9% of the people on this planet could not name a single one of them! Not a one!

The poor roll-out, poor marketing, poor circulation, questionable tactics and rolling out hundreds of extensions at one time was a death wish. A demolition derby as I have described and look at the HUNDREDS that are truly dying on the vine. They are not viable!

The registries themselves wanted the same result as dotcom but they smothered their own product by holding back anything they deemed to have any value whatsoever. They wanted the same result as dotcom but they certainly didn’t use the same playbook. There was no such thing as premium domains with Network Solutions. That was what gave life to the aftermarket.

They changed the recipe and it is what it is. Instead of replacing dotcom domains they should have marketed them as an on-ramp to their main dotcom website. That was a fatal choice.

Country-code extensions with dual purposes have outperformed all the new gTLDs put together.

.org has legs. Even .net domains seem to be in better shape than any of the new extensions.

According to NTLDStats.com there are 400 extensions with less than 20,000 registrations. Not viable! Over 300 of them have less than 10,000 and more than 200 have less than 5,000 and most of those have 2,000 or less.

On the other hand, there have been a lot of gimmicks used by the top 10 to gain HOLLOW registrations. Those 10 control 63% of all new gTLD registrations. Leaving the other 37% to be divided by over 500 other extensions. It’s laughable.

And when it comes to aftermarket sales, 2019 was worse than 2018 and 2017. Wrong direction for something that is supposed to be “emerging.”

According to TheDomains.com reported sales, of new gTLD’s are in a nosedive for 2019 vs 2018 and 2017. And most were done by registries themselves and not individual domain investors. Wrong direction!

2017

1,007 Total Sales
$5.2m Dollar Volume
$5,118 Average Price
$500.3k High Price

2018

1,490 Total Sales
$5.7m Dollar Volume
$3,847 Average Price
$510k High Price

2019

865 Total Sales
$3.4m Dollar Volume
$3,940 Average Price
$335k High Price

To me, 2020 is a year of total clarity. The experiment is over.

Get on board or get run over.

Sandeep Ramchamdani, CEO, Radix Registry

Mugshot

Within the new domains space, we will see a clear separation between the top 10 most popular extensions, and everything else. Many new TLDs have been able to jump volumes by operating at ultra-low prices. As the reality of renewals hit next year, the top TLDs by DUMs will more closely represent the most popular strings overall. Registrars will naturally tend towards focusing on these strings at the cost of everything else.

We will continue to see the normalization of new strings, as its visibility driven by legitimate end-user usage, rises. Our hope is that more registries play an active role in driving adoption by highly visible end-users and accelerate this evolution.

Jeff Neuman, Senior VP, Com Laude

MugshotLooking into my domain name industry crystal ball for 2020, I can see the continuation of some of the same activities, the start of some new debates, and even more maturation of the industry. Here are my views on three of the policy issues likely to be center-stage in 2020 (in no particular order).

Transitioning to a new Steady State of New TLDs.

OK, so the next round of new gTLDs will not open in 2020. However, there will be some real progress made towards the next round. The Subsequent Procedures PDP will complete its policy work on its review of the 2012 round and deliver it to the Council, who in turn will approve (hopefully) the policy work and submit to the Board.

The ICANN Board will put out the report for public comment and we will see those that oppose any new more new TLDs come back out of the woodwork to file the same type of comments reminiscent of 2009/2010. They will claim that more TLDs are not needed, we should not be moving too fast (despite nearly a decade between rounds), and that we should not be adding new TLDs until we solve DNS Abuse, Name Collision, WHOIS/SSAD/GDPR/RDAP/UAM, (insert your own issue), etc.

Despite the likely negativity from some, the community will realize that there is value to additional new gTLDs and maintaining a competitive landscape. There is still value in innovation, encouraging consumer choice and competition. The community will rise above the negativity to realize that many of the issues we experience in the industry are in fact related to the artificial scarcity of TLDs and that we need to continue to push forward towards completing one of the original missions of ICANN.

Rights Protection Mechanisms move to Phase 2.

Admittedly most of the community has not been paying attention to the Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs) Policy Development Process PDP. Currently it is working on Phase 1: Reviewing the RPMs introduced for the 2012 Round of New gTLDs. This work includes looking at the Trademark Clearinghouse, Sunrise Processes, the URS and the Trademark Claims process.

2020 may likely see the beginning of its second phase, the first ever review of the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).

The UDRP was the first of ICANN’s Consensus Policies, and one that has been in place for more than to decades. Great care must be taken in the review of this policy which most will argue has been ICANN’s most successful policy in its relatively young history. The UDRP not only protects the intellectual property community by going after the bad faith registration and use of gTLD domains, but it also has been instrumental for registries and registrars to stay out of the middle of domain name disputes.

Prior to the UDRP, the one domain name registry/registrar was constantly in court defending itself against claims of contributory infringement and hoping that courts would not impose liability on it for allowing the registration of domain names by cybersquatters and not taking back names when notified about the abuse that was occurring on those names.

The passage of the UDRP drastically changed all of that. Registries and Registrars could extricate themselves from domain name disputes by referring the parties to the UDRP and agreeing to following/implementing the decisions. Courts agreed that following the UDRP served as a shield of liability for those registries and registrars that faithfully followed the policy. The bottom line in my view is that domain name registries and registrars need the UDRP as much as the IP Community.

The DNS Abuse Debate continues.

Although some progress has been made in defining and mitigating DNS Abuse with a number of registries and registrars signing a Framework to Address DNS Abuse, more discussions by the ICANN community will continue to take place both within and outside of ICANN. In my opinion, those registries and registrars that are serious of addressing true DNS abuse, will continue to educate the community on the already positive steps that they have been taking to combat phishing, pharming, malware, botnets, etc. as well a number of other non-DNS abuse issues (illegal pharmaceuticals, child exploitation, etc.).

Other groups will continue to press registries and registrars to do more to combat all sorts of other non-DNS forms of abuse, while others will strenuously argue that the more that is done, the more we threaten the civil liberties of domain name registrants. The community will realize that there is no right side or wrong side in this debate. Each side of those complicated debate is right.

Hopefully, a true sense of “multi-stakeholderism” will arise where domain name registries and registrars continue to mitigate abuse while disassociating themselves from those that are not as serious about combating abuse, ICANN will develop tools that will constructively assist with mitigating abuse (as opposed to focusing on contractual regulations), and the rest of the community will work on how to combat the growing problem without trampling on the rights of registrants. At the end of the day, all of us have a role in protecting end users on the Internet.

Note: I know the ePDP work on Universal Access will of course be ongoing, but I am sure others will give their thoughts on that. From a non-policy perspective, the domain name industry will continue to consolidate. We may very well see more registry/registrar combinations, registries purchasing other registries and private equity investment. We will see some more innovative uses of brand TLDs and others following suit.

Christa Taylor, CMO, MMX

Mugshot

  1. The predicted 2020 recession will reward agile organizations who embrace machine learning to enhance operational efficiencies, customer experiences and protect corporate profit margins. Naturally, organizations with high operating costs will be the hardest hit with impacts being felt in the second half of 2020.
  2. The potential recession combined with mounting pressures to increase efficiency will lead to a renewed focus on reaching niche markets to expand business.
  3. Protection and representation movement of identities will continue to gain strength and momentum in 2020 as more and more people recognize the importance of controlling their own personal data.
  4. Horizontal and vertical consolidation along with increased synergies will continue throughout the industry.
  5. The 4th industrial revolution (IoT, VR, AI, BC) will gather momentum and provide additional opportunities for the use of domain names.
  6. The next round of new gTLD applications will encounter unanticipated challenges causing delays.
  7. New gTLDs registrations will continue to grow in 2020.

Michele Neylon, CEO, Blacknight

MugshotI suspect we’ll see more consolidation across the domain and hosting space. Afilias will probably acquire a few more under-performing registry operators. Some will already be on their platform, while others will be using their competitors. CentralNic will continue to acquire companies that fit with their portfolio of services.

There’ll be more mergers and acquisitions across the hosting and domain registrar space with a small number of companies dominating most developed markets.

The PIR acquisition by Ethos Capital will close and the sky won’t fall. PIR will increase their wholesale price by a few percentage points which will upset domain investors. There’ll be increased calls on ICANN to take action, but these will be rebutted.

More country code operators will start using AI to combat abusive registrations. In some cases I suspect we’ll see more stringent registrant validation and verification policies being introduced, though many ccTLD operators will find it hard to balance maintaining new registration volumes while also increasing the overall “quality” of the registration base.

There’ll be an increase in internet shutdowns in less-developed democracies, while governments in Europe and elsewhere will increase pressure on social media companies to stop the spread of propaganda. Internet infrastructure companies will come under more pressure to deal with content issues.

As we enter a new decade the role of the internet in our daily lives, both business and personal will continue to grow.

The big challenges that lie ahead are going to be complex. Without increasing security there’s a tangible risk that consumers will lose trust in the system as a whole and governments will want to impose more regulations to ensure that. One of the challenges is going to be balancing those increased levels of security and consumer confidence while not stifling innovation.

It’s going to be a fun future!

Dave Piscitello, Partner, Interisle Consulting Group

MugshotExpect increased scrutiny of the domain registration business. Our study and others to follow will continue to expose enormous concentrations of abuse and criminal domain registrations at a small number of registrars.

Domains registered using bulk registration services will attract the most attention. We call these “burner domains”, because cybercriminals use these in a “register, use, and abandon” fashion that’s similar to how drug dealers use disposable or burner mobile phones.

Governments will become more insistent that ICANN does more than acknowledge their recommendations and then defer adoption. They will increase pressure to validate domain registration data and legitimate businesses will happily comply with the additional validation overhead because of the abuse mitigation benefits they’ll receive.

There’s a possibility that a government other than the EU will adopt a data protection regulation that exposes the flawed logic in the ill-conceived Temp Spec “one redaction fits all”. Having decided to “run with GDPR”, what will ICANN do when faced with a government that insists that email addresses be made public?

The governance model will also fall under scrutiny, as the “multi” in multi-stakeholder appears to be increasingly dominated by two stakeholder interests and public interest barely receives lip service.

Ben Crawford, CEO, CentralNic

Mugshot

  • There will be more creative ways to bake identity, cyber security, crime prevention and policing, and IP protection measures into domains and registration services
  • More registries will be auctioning their own deleting domains
  • Large tech firms, finance players and telcos will play and increasing role in the domain industry
  • Further consolidation of gTLDs as the bigger registry operators continue to acquire some of the smaller ones
  • More regulations impacting the domain name industry
  • Smart independents like .XYZ, Radix and .ICU (which went from zero to 4+ million DUMs in 18 months) will continue to dominate the nTLD space (without blowing $100m on the rights to their TLDs)

Jothan Frakes, Executive Director, Domain Name Association

Mugshot

Consolidation will continue — look for a lot of M&A activity and corporate development. Lots of moves and role changes with people changing companies as the consolidation occurs. With change comes great opportunity, and there will be a lot of change.

The industry is kicking off the year with oomph — the new location and format for NamesCon, billed as as the Domain Economic Forum in Austin. The event looks promising, as it begins refreshed and demonstrates the strengths of the team who produce Cloudfest. Austin, like Las Vegas, is a mecca for tech startups, but larger, so hopefully the convenience of the venue to the local tech companies, along with with GoDaddy demonstrating a heavier presence at the event this year will be a big lure to attract more new faces to this great industry (and event).

There will be more focus on making things easier for new customers to use and activate services on domain names. Cool technologies such as DomainConnect or other methods that enable “app store” type activation of domain names will continue to make it simpler for a domain name owner to activate, build and use their domains. This is a crucial evolutionary step in the business, as it plays a significant role in renewal rates and overall customer growth.

We’ll see further innovation in the use of domain names become more mainstream. IoT, GPS/Geo, AI, Bots, voice, AR/VR and other technologies will drive expanded use of domain names. Even Blockchain, which seems to have gotten more pragmatic about purpose, has a lot of promise with how it can interact with DNS now that the hype has scaled back and the designated drivers that remain are plowing forth with their efforts to deliver on the core purpose/benefits they set out to deliver.

Domains, as well as the cool things that you can do with them, will continue to be a growing business that enables people and organizations to build and do great things.

A very happy new year to all DI readers and supporters!

DI Leaders Roundtable #2 — Should we kill off “Whois”?

Kevin Murphy, November 11, 2019, Domain Tech

Should we stop using the word “Whois” to describe registration data lookup services?

That’s the question I posed for the second DI Leaders Roundtable.

I’m sure you’re all very well aware that the Registration Data Access Protocol (RDAP) is the imminent replacement for the Whois protocol, as the technical method by which domain registrant contact information is stored, transmitted and displayed.

ICANN also regularly refers to Registration Data Directory Services (RDDS) as a protocol-independent blanket term covering the concept of looking up Whois or RDAP data.

You may also recall that ICANN, which is ostensibly a technical body, appears to bedeprecating the word “Whois” in favor of “Lookup” on its own web-based query service.

ICANN has a track record of introducing new acronyms to describe already well-understood functions. The IANA has technically been called “Public Technical Identifiers” for years, but does anyone actually call it “PTI”? No, everyone still talks about “IANA”.

So I wanted to know:

Should we continue to call it “Whois” after the technical transition to RDAP is complete? Will you continue to refer to “Whois”? Should we change to a different word or acronym? Should the industry standardardize its language one way or the other?

There seems to be a general consensus that “Whois” ain’t going anywhere.

The responses, in no particular order.

Jothan Frakes, Executive Director, Domain Name Association

Mugshot

The term WHOIS won’t quickly leave the zeitgeist due to the decades of its use as a description of the lookup process. Lookup is somewhat confusing, as there is DNS Query lookup that works across the resolution system, and WHOIS Lookup that works to find registrant info via the registration system. As far as the term “Lookup” as the label for the new normal that is poised to replace WHOIS? It is better than the acronym “RDDS”. The general public probably would not assume that RDDS is a way to find out about a domain owner or registration information, because it sounds like it involves dentistry (DDS) if one is not following the ICANN world as close as insiders. Despite the evolutionary path the basic function seems to be on, it is likely that WHOIS continues to be what the nickname for the lookup process called, regardless of the support technology layers below it not literally being WHOIS.

Frank Schilling, CEO, Uniregistry

Mugshot

WHOIS IS DEAD, LONG LIVE WHOIS.

The echo of “Whois” will live long after Whois is dead and gone. The very nature of its replacement word “Lookup” ensures that the information hungry public will expect more fulsome data than ICANN intends the word to provide. There will continue to be services who try to engineer a Whois hack and provide accurate underlying data for paying customers. Whois is going to outlive all of us. Even those who diet, exercise, and eat organic food.

Dave Piscitello, Partner, Interisle Consulting Group

MugshotJust as most of the world isn’t familiar with new TLDs, most have no appreciation for the differences between Whois and RDAP. The term “Whois” is convenient, memorable, and embedded. It also represents a service to most users, not a protocol, so if we do “standardize” we should use “RDS”. While we sort out the disastrous effects of ICANN’s Temp Spec policy on both investigators and victims of DNS abuse, most parties involved with educating policy makers and legislators should continue to use Whois for consistency’s sake.

Christa Taylor, CMO, MMX

MugshotAs the old adage goes, “Don’t fix what’s not broken.” While “Whois” may have lost some of its luster due to GDPR I prefer to retain the term — it’s simple, representative of the information it provides and avoids adding any confusion especially for people outside of ICANN. Employing standardized language is, of course, logical and after twenty years of using “Whois” it is the accepted term both inside and outside the industry.

Sandeep Ramchamdani, CEO, Radix Registry

MugshotFirst up, the transition to the RDAP system is much needed given the fundamental flaws of Whois.

It would help in placing some guardrails around customers’ privacy while still providing agencies such as law enforcement authenticated access that they need to do their work.

Whois is a major cause of spam and in the age where privacy is top currency, public, unauthenticated availability of personal data is unacceptable.

It should also smooth out inter-registrar transfers and lower customer frustration while moving out to a different service provider.

When it comes to its name, calling it “RDAP” or “Lookup” would be a branding error. It would cause some confusion and for those not intimately involved in the industry, who may find it hard to discover the new system.

In my mind, keeping the original nomenclature “Whois”, while making it clear that it’s a newer avatar of the same solution would be the way to go.

Can’t think of a better term than “Whois 2.0”.

Very easy to understand that it’s a newer, more advanced iteration of the same product.

Michele Neylon, CEO, Blacknight

Mugshot

Whois was originally a simple little protocol that allowed network operators to contact each other to address technical issues. It predates the usage of domain names or the “web”.

When domains were introduced the same concept was simply transposed over to the new identifiers.

However over the past 20 plus years the way that people viewed Whois has morphed dramatically. The first time I spoke at an ICANN meeting 12 years ago was on the subject of Whois!

Now the term is used both to talk about the technical protocol, which is being replaced in the gTLD space and the data that it is used to store and possibly display. We talk about “Thin Whois”, “Thick Whois” and so many other services and issues linked back to it.

Whois as a protocol is far from perfect, which is why replacing the technical side of it makes a lot of sense.

So with the world slowly moving towards a new technical method for processing domain registration data then maybe we should come up with another word for it. However I’m not sure if there’s much to be gained by doing that.

We are all used to the floppy disk icon to save a document, even if floppy disks are no longer used. With the term “Whois” being part of people’s vocabulary for the nearly a quarter of a century. it’d be pretty hard to find a simple replacement and have people adopt it widely. Sure, in the more technical conversations it makes sense to use more accurate terms like “RDAP”, but the average punter just wants to be able to use a term that they can understand.

Those of us who work with domains and internet technology in our day jobs might care about the “correct” terminology, but we’re in a minority. We all get excited when the mainstream media picks up on a story involving domain names or the DNS and even gets half of it right! If we conjure up some new term that we think is accurate it’ll take years before anyone outside our bubble is comfortable with it. So I don’t think we should.

We should simply accept that “Whois” is a term used to refer to domain registration data no matter what technology under the hood is used to handle it.

Rick Schwartz, domain investor

MugshotHate to give the same basic answer to two questions in a row, but who cares?

Really!! Who cares? Nobody!

This is inside baseball that doesn’t affect anyone on the entire planet except for a handful of domain investors and ICANN etc.

Call it whatever you like just make sure it’s public info.

Introducing… the DI Leaders Roundtable

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2019, Leaders Roundtable

Today, I’m introducing what I hope to be the first of several regular features, the DI Leaders Roundtable.

Every week or two, I’ll be putting a single question to a collection of domain industry and ICANN community leaders and compiling their responses in order to gain some insight into current thoughts on hot topics or broader industry trends from some of the space’s top thinkers.

I’ve tried to reflect a broad cross-section of the industry, with a mix of business, policy and technical expertise from registries, registrars, back-ends, new gTLDs, legacy gTLDs, investors, etc.

The initial line-up for the panel, which will likely evolve as time goes by, is, in alphabetical order.

Ben Crawford, CEO, CentralNic

MugshotCrawford is CEO of CentralNic, a triple-play domain company based in London and listed on the Alternative Investment Market. Initially a vendor of pseudo-gTLDs such as uk.com and gb.com, CentralNic has over the course of the last seven years evolved into a company that sells both its own self-managed TLDs, such as .sk, as well as acting as a back-end for the likes of .xyz, .site and .online. Describing itself as a consolidator, the company nowadays makes most of its money via the registrar side of the house as a result of a series of mergers and acquisitions, particularly the merger with KeyDrive last year.

Jothan Frakes, Executive Director, Domain Name Association

MugshotA long-time industry jack-of-all-trades, Frakes is currently executive director of the Domain Name Association, the prominent industry trade group. Frakes has acted in a number of roles at domain name companies, as well as co-founding the popular NamesCon conference back in 2014. His technical credentials can be exemplified by, among other activities, his participation in Mozilla’s Public Suffix List, while his policy nous could be vouched for by many who have worked with him during his 20 years of ICANN participation.

Richard Kirkendall, CEO, NameCheap

MugshotKirkendall founded leading budget registrar NameCheap in 2000 and has occupied the office of CEO ever since. A long-time Enom reseller, NameCheap’s popularity was for many years shrouded in mystery. It finally transferred the last of its Enom names over to its own accreditation in January 2018, revealing it to have 7.5 million gTLD names under management. It added a further two million over the next 18 months, and says it has over 10 million names in total. NameCheap is known for its low prices and for its occasional support for pro-freedom political causes such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Milton Mueller, Professor, Georgia Tech

MugshotMueller is an academic and among the most prominent voices in ICANN’s Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group. Based at the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, he founded the Internet Governance Project, an independent policy research outfit, in 2004. He’s the author of several books on the topic, and very active in ICANN policy development, including the current effort to balance privacy rights with commercial interests in the Whois system.

Jeff Neuman, Senior VP, Com Laude

MugshotNeuman is senior vice president of brand-protection registrar Com Laude and sister company Valideus, which provides new gTLD consultancy services to brand owners. From 2000 until 2015, he worked in senior policy and registry business roles at Neustar, helping to apply for and launch .biz in 2001. A noted ICANN policy expert, Neuman has sat on various ICANN working groups and currently co-chairs the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process, which is developing the rules for the next round of new gTLDs.

Jon Nevett, CEO, Public Interest Registry

MugshotNevett is CEO of Public Interest Registry, which manages the 10-million-domain-strong legacy gTLD .org and a handful of new gTLDs. Prior to PIR, he was executive vice president of Donuts, and one of its four co-founders. He’s been in the domain business since 2004, when he joined Network Solutions as a senior VP on the policy side of the house. Nevett has also been involved in ICANN policy-making, including a stint as chair of the Registrars Constituency.

Michele Neylon, CEO, Blacknight

MugshotNeylon is CEO and co-founder of Blacknight Internet Solutions, a smaller registrar based in Ireland. Known for his “often outspoken” policy views, he’s a member of several ICANN working groups, sits on the GNSO Council representing registrars, and is a member of stakeholder group committees for various ccTLD registries including .eu, .ie and .us. Blacknight has almost 60,000 gTLD registrations to its name but also specializes in serving its local ccTLD market.

Dave Piscitello, Partner, Interisle Consulting Group

MugshotPiscitello is currently a partner at security consultancy Interisle Consulting Group, having retired from his role as vice president of security and ICT coordination at ICANN last year. With over 40 years in the security business, he’s also a board member of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) and the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG). Interisle is an occasional ICANN security contractor.

Sandeep Ramchamdani, CEO, Radix Registry

MugshotRamchandani is CEO of Mumbai-based new gTLD registry Radix, which currently has a portfolio of 10 gTLDs and one ccTLD. It’s known primarily for its low-cost, high-volume, pure-generic business model, which has seen its two best performers, .online and .site, rack up almost three million domains between them. Radix is a unit of Directi Group, which is where Ramchandani cut his teeth for almost a decade before taking the reins of Radix in 2012.

Frank Schilling, CEO, Uniregistry

MugshotSchilling started off as a domain investor at the second level, 19 years ago, eventually managing hundreds of thousands of secondary-market domains with his company Name Administration, before founding Uniregistry in order to invest in new gTLDs in 2012. As a registry, Uniregisty has about a quarter of a million names spread across its 22-TLD portfolio; as a registrar it has over 1.2 million domains under management. Schilling is widely considered one of the most successful domain investment pioneers.

Rick Schwartz, aka the “Domain King”

MugshotSchwartz is viewed by domain investors as one of the most successful domainers of all time, and is known for his forthright, blunt criticisms of both new gTLDs and poor domain investment strategies. He’s been buying and selling domain names since 1995, and has sold several category-killer .com domains for seven-figure sums. Schwartz also founded the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. domainer conference in 2004, and it ran for 10 years.

Radix acquires another gTLD

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2019, Domain Registries

Radix has added the 10th new gTLD to its portfolio with an acquisition last month, bringing its total TLD stable to 11.

The company has acquired .uno from Missouri-based Dot Latin LLC for an undisclosed amount.

.uno, which of course means “one” in Spanish, has been around for over five years but has struggled to grow.

It’s current ranked as the 131st largest new gTLD, with 16,271 domains in its zone file. It peaked at about 22,000 about three years ago.

That said, it appears to have rather strong renewals, at least by Radix standards, with no evidence of relying on discounts or throwaway one-year registrations for growth.

.uno names can currently be obtained for roughly $12 to $20 per year.

Radix said its expects to migrate the TLD off its current Neustar back-end onto long-time registry partner CentralNic by “early 2020”.

The company appears to be excited that its only the second three-letter TLD in its portfolio.

It already runs .fun, along with the likes of .website, .tech and .online. It also runs .pw, the repurposed ccTLD for Palau.

.uno was Dot Latin’s only gTLD, though affiliated entity Dot Registry LLC signed its ICANN registry agreement for .llp (for “Limited Liability Partnership”) in August. That TLD has yet to launch.

.tech gTLD startups “raise $2 billion”

Kevin Murphy, August 28, 2019, Domain Registries

Tech startups using domain names in the .tech gTLD have raised $2 billion in venture capital financing over the last two years, according to Radix.

The registry looked at startups listed on Crunchbase as of June and found 650 companies using .tech domains. Of these, 170 of them had raised $2 billion in funding.

About 250 TLDs are in use by Crunchbase-listed startups, according to Radix.

According to a list provided by the company, funding amounts range from a modest $50,000 (obtained by the likes of the VR firm at virtualspaces.tech) to $620 million (obtained by the self-driving car company at aurora.tech).

Not every company on the list is still in business (if name resolution is any guide), and some of the .tech names bounce visitors to longer .com domains.

Meanwhile, domainer Morgan Linton has done a bit of similar research and discovered that 43% of the “top pick” startups appearing at Disrupt, the conference that like Crunchbase is owned by TechCrunch, are not using .com domains.

It’s a smaller sample size, but according to Linton, 18% of them use .io names. Most of the non-coms are on ccTLDs, in fact. The only new gTLD on his list is Google’s .app.

Disrupt made headlines in the domain world in 2010 when it launched its first conference web site on a .co domain, to coincide with the international launch of Colombia’s ccTLD by .CO Internet.

But that marketing deal lapsed after a year. Disrupt is back on techcrunch.com and disrupt.co is back in registry hands as a “premium” reserved name.

.co still appears on Linton’s list, however, so the initial partnership may still be bearing fruit.