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Donuts acquires its 242nd gTLD

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2019, Domain Registrars

Donuts, the registry with the largest stable of new gTLDs, has added its 242nd string to its bow.

The company seems to have acquired .contact from, nominally at least, smaller portfolio rival Top Level Spectrum.

The ICANN contract for the gTLD was transferred to one of Donuts’ subsidiaries a couple weeks ago.

According to TLS CEO Jay Westerdal, while TLS was the signatory of the contract the “economic owner” of the TLD was Whitepages.com, an online directory services provider, which paid for the original uncontested .contact application.

Whitepages.com doesn’t appear in the application, the registry agreement, or the IANA records. I was unaware of the connection until today.

Despite being in the root since December 2015, .contact never actually launched. Donuts has not yet filed its launch dates with ICANN either, but it’s usually fairly speedy about pumping out strings.

CentralNic gets 680,000 AlpNames domains for free, kinda

CentralNic has emerged as the gaining registrar for AlpNames’ entire portfolio of gTLD domains.

The company announced late last week that three registrars in its stable — Moniker, Key-Systems LLC and Key-Systems GmbH — will take over roughly 680,000 domains that were left stranded when AlpNames management went AWOL.

US-based Key-Systems LLC appears to be the biggest gainer. It will be taking over domains in every gTLD except .biz, .com, .info, .net, .org, which are going to Moniker, and .pro, which are going to the German Key-Systems division.

While most registrars see their domains under management concentrated in these legacy gTLDs, by volume AlpNames had far more registrations in new 2012-round gTLDs.

It had just 19,000 .com DUM at the last count, compared to hundreds of thousands in new gTLDs such as .top and .gdn.

CentralNic said in a press release that ICANN selected its registrars after a competitive bidding process, which I’ve previously outlined here, but that it did not pay for the names. So AlpNames, presumably, won’t be getting the payday it could have received under the rules.

The transfer won’t be entirely cost-free, of course. CentralNic is going to have to provide support to its incoming customers — who will all be emailed with the details of their new Moniker accounts — for starters.

There’s also the issue of abuse. AlpNames was notorious as a haven for spammers and the like, due to its cheap prices and bulk-registration tools, so CentralNic may find itself having to deal with this legacy.

But CentralNic said it expects these incidental costs to be “minimal”.

The transfers are a big boost for CentralNic’s registrar volume, at least in the short term. The three selected registrars had a combined total of roughly two million gTLD domains at the last count. CentralNic says it acts as registrar for over seven million domains across its 13 accreditations.

For every AlpNames domain that gets renewed, CentralNic gets paid. But if AlpNames’ own track record is any guide, I suspect there’s going to be a lot of drops over the coming year.

UPDATE August 12 2020: AlpNames former CEO Iain Roache recently wrote to DI and stated the following:

Alpnames itself worked closely with ICANN for months to arrange for its exit from the Registrar business and with a number of Registrars to arrange for the transfer of the customers. Your article does not reflect the detail of what transpired and is inaccurate.

NameSilo nets $1.5 million profit

Kevin Murphy, March 28, 2019, Domain Registrars

Fast-growing registrar NameSilo yesterday reported its financial results for 2018.

The Canadian company reported revenue of CDN 17.2 million ($13.3 million) for the year, up from CDN 10.4 million ($8.1 million) in 2017.

Net income was CDN 1.92 million ($1.48 million), compared to CDN 565,000 ($435,000).

Bookings were CDN 28.78 million ($21.45 million), up from CDN 14.04 million ($10.81 million) in 2017.

These are the results of NameSilo LLC, the operating registrar subsidiary of the listed entity, NameSilo Technologies Corp, which is listed on the Canadian pink sheets. The former reversed into the latter in August.

NameSilo says it has added 850,000 new domains under management since then, and now has about 2.7 million names.

According to the most-recent registry transaction reports, NameSilo was the second-fastest growing gTLD registrar in November and the 16th-largest by DUM. It ranks higher if you group registrar accreditations into families.

After NZ shooting, Epik has a Monster PR problem

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2019, Domain Registrars

Domain name registrar Epik.com has come under fire from prominent domain investors and others after CEO Rob Monster suggested that video of the recent mosque shootings in New Zealand, which he hosted on an Epik service and shared on social media, was a hoax.

Domainer-bloggers including Shane Cultra, Konstantinos Zournas, and DNPlaybook.com have questioned Monster’s decision, and one of his own senior staffers, former DomainNameWire contributor Joseph Peterson, took to a domainer forum to in parts criticize and defend his boss.

Cultra was particularly harsh in his criticism this week, calling for domainers to move their domains out of Epik and for his friend, Epik director Braden Pollock, to remove himself from the board.

He wrote: “I would like to think that any respectable domain investor remove their domains from Epik… Rob Monster’s agenda has no place in our industry”.

DNPlaybook wrote that Monster has become “Facilitator of Hate and Promoter of Conspiracies”.

Other domainers have written that they have removed, or will remove, their domains from Epik, though Monster wrote earlier this week that the impact on its business so far has been minimal.

Epik is an ICANN-accredited registrar with about 400,000 gTLD names under management at the last count. It’s almost doubled in size over the last two years.

The company and its CEO have been subject to criticism for months over their decision to provide services to web sites that enable the promotion of far-right ideologies such as white supremacism and Nazism.

But the latest row kicked off on March 15, when Monster used his personal Twitter account to share a link to the self-shot, first-person video of one of the terrorist attacks at a mosque in Christchurch.

Fifty people, all Muslims attending Friday prayers or in the vicinity of the mosques, were killed by the same person during the attacks.

The first attack was live-streamed on Facebook from a head-mounted camera. Apparently viewed live by fewer than 200 people, copies were nevertheless widely circulated on social media and elsewhere.

The copy of the video linked to by Monster was hosted by Epik-owned privacy services provider Anonymize.com, on an “effectively uncensorable” file-sharing service the company is currently developing.

In a subsequent tweet, Monster threw doubt upon whether the footage was real, writing: “Shell casings simply vanish into thin air. Etc. It looks like low budget CGI”.

Anyone with a grain of common sense who has seen the video will tell you that Monster is clearly talking absolute bollocks here. It’s not a fake.

Monster’s Twitter account has since been deleted. According to Peterson, Epik’s director of operations, Monster deleted it himself. Reading between the lines, it appears he was pressured to do so by his staff, including Peterson.

Monster has not yet deleted — and is in fact still actively using — his @epik account on Gab.com, the Twitter clone often used by far-right activists who have been banned from or choose not to use Twitter due to their views.

A March 15 post on Gab by Monster links to a copy of the Christchurch killer’s rambling “manifesto”, again hosted on anonymize.com. This link is still live, but I’ve redacted it in the screen-cap below, which shows Monster effectively using the manifesto to promote the forthcoming Anonymize service.

Monster on Gab

I’ve been unable to confirm whether Epik is still hosting the video of the attack, though there are reports that it was taken down a matter of hours after posting. (UPDATE 1816 UTC: the video is in fact still live on the Anonymize service).

Epik and Monster drew attention last November when Monster publicly offered to become the registrar for Gab.com, after the domain was suspended by GoDaddy.

Monster at the time said the move was to protect freedom of speech online.

Epik again attracted attention last month when it acquired BitMitigate, a denial-of-service protection startup which has been providing services to unapologetic Nazi propaganda site The Daily Stormer since August 2017, when Cloudflare told the site to GTFO.

It’s also taken on the domain business of video hosting site BitChute, which is often used as a refuge for political vloggers (including some on the far right) who have been demonetized or banned by YouTube.

For these reasons, in January Epik attracted the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an anti-racist group based in the US. The SPLC wrote that “Epik is cornering the market on websites where hate speech is thriving”.

The post, and other news reports, strongly hint that Monster’s own political views might be more aligned with those of his customers than he cares to admit.

Monster naturally rebuts these suggestions, calling the SPLC post “highly defamatory and inaccurate”. In one of his most recent posts on Namepros, before his staff asked him to back away from the public square for a while, he wrote:

As for those members of the domain community who have taken the opportunity this week to rebuke me for allowing free speech to continue on the Internet, please know that I am neither seeking publicity or controversy. I am of sound mind. I am not a Nazi, an anti-semite, a homophobe, a misogynist, a bigot, or a racist. I believe love and understanding will overcome hate and divisiveness.

The future of the domain industry is being determined in 2019. Censorship, WHOIS privacy, sinkholing, DDoS, deplatforming, demonetization, unpersoning, are all symptoms of the disease which is a relentless desire by the few to dictate the narratives and choices to be consumed by the many.

Peterson has also denied that his boss harbors secret extremist views, in a series of lengthy, nuanced posts (starting here) on Namepros this week.

He writes that Monster has a “weird conspiratorial streak” and a natural inclination to believe in “false flag” conspiracy theories. He doubts the official story on 9/11 and believes the moon landings were faked, Peterson said. Monster is also a “Bible-believing Christian”, according to his Gab profile.

Peterson also writes that a significant portion of Epik’s employees, including some in important roles, are Muslims. He writes that he was “appalled” by Monster’s decision to post the video, but added:

But to infer that he did this because he hates muslims and condones murder is not just simplistic; it is LUDICROUS. One person murders 30+ muslims. The other person hires them and works with them closely on a daily basis. To equate these 2 is simply wrong. Whatever the reasons Rob felt it necessary to re-publish a link to content others had decided to censor, hatred of muslims was NOT the reason.

He goes on to say:

I object to Epik — the team I work with and the customers we look after — being portrayed falsely as some epicenter of “hate speech” or the alt right. We are not. We are a domain registrar and marketplace with a wide range of services. We are a company whose boss has taken controversial (and in some ways courageous) steps to protect free speech. Unfortunately, that same boss has stepped on that message with some very bad PR moves. When Rob does that, it irritates me to the point of exasperation. And I tell him so.

According to Peterson, Monster and his wife came under attack last year with a leafleting campaign in his local neighborhood, denouncing him as a Nazi.

He suspects this kind of behavior may have caused his boss to “double-down” on exactly the same kinds of activities that invited the controversy in the first place.

Whatever the reason, Epik certainly has got a PR problem on its hands right now.

I doubt this is the last we’ll hear of it.

Whois vacuum AppDetex raises $10 million

Kevin Murphy, March 20, 2019, Domain Registrars

Brand protection registrar AppDetex, which counts Facebook as its key customer, has raised $10 million in funding.

It’s the second round of venture capital for the six-year-old Boise, Idaho company. This one was led by First Analysis, with first-round investors EPIC Ventures and Origin Ventures each also taking an extra piece.

AppDetex says it has raised $17.5 million to date.

The company will be best known to registrars and other DI readers for its attempts last year to vacuum up vast amounts of Whois data, post-GDPR, on behalf of mainly Facebook.

The AppDetex WHOIS Requestor System (AWRS) is a semi-automated service that streamlines the process of requesting unredacted Whois records from registrars. I was given a demo last October.

The company came in for criticism for allegedly misrepresenting the results of its initial testing of the system, using the data to lobby ICANN and to market its product.

But AppDetex is apparently not just about the domains. It also offers brand monitoring services for social media platforms, app stores and web sites.

As a registrar, the company had a little over 1,500 gTLD domains under management at the last count, so the new investment is clearly not based upon its prowess as a volume registrar but rather on its value-added managed services.

AppDetex was founded by Faisal Shah (a founder of MarkMonitor) and Chris Bura (previously of AllDomains.com) in 2012.

The company has been closely affiliated with Facebook for some time.

Back in 2016, Facebook acquired RegistrarSEC, a registrar accreditation run by Shah and Bura that at the time was actually doing business under the name “AppDetex”, in order to protect Instagram.com from a Chinese court.

AppDetex has also hired staff from Facebook, and its general counsel is married to Facebook’s head of domain strategy.

According to data Tucows released a month ago, almost two thirds of the Whois requests it received since GDPR came into effect came from Facebook and AppDetex.

Tucows splurges $30 million on Ascio

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2019, Domain Registrars

Tucows has spent almost $30 million on rival channel-focused registrar Ascio Technologies.

The company announced this morning that the $29.44 million deal will add about 1.8 million domains to its portfolio of managed names, along with an extra 500 resellers.

Ascio was generating $4 million of annual EBITDA before the deal closed, Tucows said in a press release, adding:

The Ascio reseller base fits squarely with Tucows’ core customer profile — ISPs, web hosting companies and website builders serving quality businesses that reward outstanding customer service with long-term loyalty.

Ascio has been owned by CSC Digital Brand Services since 2016, when it was acquired as part of a bundle of registrars in the NetNames group.

As a channel play, it was not really a fit with CSC’s core brand-protection market. It is of course a fit with Tucows, which owns OpenSRS.

The deal, which closed yesterday, has reduced choice in the space, which may not sit well with some resellers.

AlpNames could get PAID for abandoning its customers

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2019, Domain Registrars

So it turns out selling domain names for peanuts to spammers isn’t a viable business model. Who’d have thunk?

As you’ll have no doubt already read elsewhere, ICANN has shut down AlpNames, the deep-discounting registrar with an unenviable reputation for attracting abusive registrants.

But there’s a chance that the company might actually get paid for its customer base, under ICANN rules.

ICANN today terminated AlpNames’ contract, effective immediately, having discovered the “discontinuance of its operations”.

It’s a rare case of ICANN going straight to richly deserved termination, skipping over the breach notice phase.

The former registrar’s web site has been down for the best part of a week, resolving to a Cloudflare error message saying the AlpNames web server is missing its SSL certificate.

But it appears its customers may have been experiencing problems accessing their accounts even earlier.

Judging by ICANN’s termination notice, the organization has had just about as much luck contacting AlpNames management as DI, which is to say: none.

CEO Iain Roache appears to have simply stopped paying attention to the company, for reasons unknown, allowing it to simply fade away.

At least three members of senior staff have left the company over the last several months, with former COO Damon Barnard telling DI he was asked to leave as a cost-cutting measure as Roache attempted to relocate the company from Gibraltar to the UK.

I gather that Roache is also currently tied up in litigation related to the failure of his old registry management business, Famous Four Media, which was removed by gTLD portfolio owner Domain Venture Partners last year.

So what happens now to AlpNames customers?

Fortunately, most of them should suffer only minor inconvenience.

ICANN has initiated its De-Accredited Registrar Transition Procedure, which will see all of AlpNames’ domains forcibly transferred to another registrar.

This often uses the data that registrars are obliged to periodically escrow, but in this case AlpNames uses LogicBoxes as a registrar back-end, so presumably LogicBoxes still has fresh, live data.

AlpNames had 532,941 domain names across all gTLDs on its IANA tag at the last official count, at the end of November. It’s believed to be closer to 700,000 today.

In November, its top two gTLDs were .top and .gdn, which had 280,000 names between them. It had over 19,000 .com names under management

Almost 700,000 names is a big deal, making AlpNames a top 40 registrar, and would make a nice growth spurt for any number of struggling registrars.

The portfolio could be a bit of a poisoned chalice, however, containing as it likely does a great many low-quality and some possibly abusive registrations.

At least one registrar, Epik, has publicly stated its desire to take over these domains, but due to the volume of AlpNames DUM it could be a competitive bidding process between multiple registrars.

Under the ICANN rules (pdf), a “full application process” is generally favored for defunct registrars with over 1,000 domains, when the de-accredited registrar has not named a successor.

The scoring system used to pick a winner has many criteria, but it generally favors larger registrars. They have to show they have the scale to handle the extra technical and customer support load required by the transition, for example.

It also favors registrars with breadth of gTLD coverage. They have to be accredited in all the gTLDs the dead registrar was. AlpNames supported 352 gTLDs and had active domains in 270 of them, according to November’s registry reports.

Language support may be an issue too, in case for example a substantial chunk of AlpNames business came from, say, China.

All applying registrars that score above a certain threshold are considered tied, and the tie-breaker is how much they’re willing to pay for the portfolio.

Unlike gTLD auctions, ICANN does not receive the proceeds of this auction, however. According to the policy (with my emphasis):

This procedure is not intended to create a new form of revenue for ICANN. To the extent payment is received as part of a bulk transfer, ICANN will apply funds against any debt owed by the registrar to ICANN and forward the remaining funds, if any, to the de-accredited registrar.

That’s right, there’s a chance AlpNames might actually get a small windfall, despite essentially abandoning its customers.

Think about it like the government using eminent domain to buy a house it wishes to demolish to make way for a new road. Except the house’s cellar is full of kidnapped children. And it’s on fire.

Of course, this might not happen. ICANN might decide that there’s not enough time to run a full application process without risk to AlpNames’ customers and instead simply award the dead registrar’s portfolio to one of the registrars in its pre-approved pool of gaining registrars.

That choice would be partly based on ICANN judgement and partly on which registrar is next in the round-robin queue of pre-qualified registrars.

Here’s a handy diagram that shows the procedure.

Deaccred

UPDATE August 12 2020: Roache recently wrote to DI and stated the following:

Alpnames itself worked closely with ICANN for months to arrange for its exit from the Registrar business and with a number of Registrars to arrange for the transfer of the customers. Your article does not reflect the detail of what transpired and is inaccurate.

Ironic eight-figure deal marks more Euro-registrar consolidation

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2019, Domain Registrars

Slovakian registrar WebSupport, which is run by a local politician, has been acquired in a reported eight-figure deal.

The acquirer is Loopia, a Swedish registrar backed by Danish private equity firm Axcel.

The deal seems to have closed around the same time as Loopia’s acquisition of .SE Direkt from Swedish registry IIS, though news only broke today.

WebSupport reportedly hosts around 173,000 domains, though it’s not clear whether it acts as registrar for all. It’s not ICANN-accredited, but it does resell domains in a wide range of gTLDs.

It reportedly has annual revenue approaching €4 million and sold for “a two-digit figure in millions of euros”.

According to Vladimir Vano, Slovakian comms chief at CentralNic, which acquired .sk registry SK-NIC last year, WebSupport is the largest .sk registrar.

There’s a certain irony with WebSupport being sold into foreign hands.

The co-founder and majority owner of the company is Michel Truban, an entrepreneur-turned-politician who was closely associated with a campaign to have UK-based CentralNic’s acquisition of .sk blocked.

It was alleged (and denied) at the time that the campaign was party-political, though its main concern appeared to be that CentralNic would bastardize .sk into some kind of horrible domain hack.

Today, Truban wrote on his blog “I’m selling WebSupport and I’m going into politics”. In 2017, he co-founded the liberal Progressive Slovakia party.

He said the money from the deal would free him from inappropriate influence by “oligarchs and patrons”.

Google Translate says Truban wrote: “I had an offer that was about a million euros higher, but I declined it. Because it was from people with bad history and at the same time I wanted WS to get an international story.”

Endurance domain revenue dips

Kevin Murphy, February 7, 2019, Domain Registrars

Endurance International put in a poor show when it came to domains name sales in 2018.

Revenue and average revenue per registrant were both down in the fourth quarter and full-year results, which were announced this morning.

Endurance’s registrar business includes BigRock, Domain.com, FastDomain, PublicDomainRegistry.com and others.

Combined, those four brands account for almost 10 million gTLD domains under management, but that number has also been heading south recently.

The company said today that its fourth-quarter domain revenue was $31.3 million, down from $33 million a year earlier. It had 666,000 domain subscribers at the end of the quarter, down from 683,000.

Average revenue per subscriber for the quarter was also down, from $16.63 to $15.63.

For the full year, revenue was down from $133.6 million to $129.9 million and average revenue per subscriber was down from $16.98 to $16.05.

The shrinkage is reflected in the latest transaction reports filed with ICANN, too.

In October, the most recently reported month, all four of Endurance’s biggest registrar brands shrunk in terms of DUM.

PDR was the biggest loser — actually topping the list of shrinking registrars — shedding over 76,000 gTLD domains, over 10,000 of which was from net transfers.

Dark horse NameSilo doubles size in 2018

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2019, Domain Registrars

Domain name registrar NameSilo says it managed to double its size in terms of cash bookings and domains under management in 2018.

The Vancouver-based company said that in 2018 it added 1.27 net new domains, an increase of 106%.

Bookings were $20.1 million, up from the $11.1 million it reported in 2017, according to the company.

NameSilo now says it has 2.49 million domains under management.

That would be a whopping 500,000 increase on the end of September, judging by the latest gTLD registry transaction reports.

The registrar is now the 17th-largest gTLD registrar by DUM, bigger than old hands such as Register.com and Name.com.

And yet I think it’s fair to say the company is a bit of a dark horse. It’s certainly managed to stay under my radar until now.

You’d be hard pressed from its web site to figure out who runs the company or where to find them, despite what ICANN registrar contracts require.

But press releases show it went public, kinda, when it backed into Canadian investment vehicle Brisio Innovations Inc last year, in a deal worth $9.5 million.

It’s now listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange, an alternative investment market, with the rather catchy ticker “URL”.

Given the rapid DUM growth, one might suspect an over-reliance on bargain-bucket new gTLDs, but that does not appear to be the case. About three quarters of its names in September were in .com.

The company credits word of mouth for its recent growth successes, and there may be some truth in that.

NameSilo performed well each month last year in terms of net transfers, often in the five-figure range. It ranked fifth in those terms in September across all gTLDs, beating the likes of Google, NameCheap and AliBaba, with almost 15% of its 90,000 net new DUM coming from transfers.

Given the much larger number of attempted adds and grace period deletes NameSilo experiences every month compared to its similarly sized peers, I rather suspect a lot of its new business is coming in via drop-catching.

The company offers customers API-only access to its platform for drop-catching deleting domains, among other purposes.