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ICANN terminates 450 drop-catch registrars

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2017, Domain Registrars

Almost 450 registrars have lost their ICANN accreditations in recent days, fulfilling predictions of a downturn in the domain name drop-catch market.

By my reckoning, 448 registrars have been terminated in the last week, all of them apparently shells operated by Pheenix, one of the big three drop-catching firms.

Basically, Pheenix has dumped about 90% of its portfolio of accreditations, about 300 of which are less than a year old.

It also means ICANN has lost about 15% of its fee-paying registrars.

Pheenix has saved itself at least $1.2 million in ICANN’s fixed accreditation fees, not including the variable and transaction-based fees.

It has about 50 registrars left in its stable.

The terminated registrars are all either numbered LLCs — “Everest [1-100] LLC” for example — or named after random historical or fictional characters or magic swords.

The move is not unexpected. ICANN predicted it would lose 750 registrars when it compiled its fiscal 2018 budget.

VP Cyrus Namazi said back in July that the drop-catching market is not big enough to support the many hundreds of shell registrars that Pheenix, along with rivals SnapNames/Namejet and DropCatch.com, have created over the last few years.

The downturn, Namazi said back then, is material to ICANN’s budget. I estimated at the time that roughly two thirds of ICANN’s accredited registrar base belonged to the three main drop-catch firms.

Another theory doing the rounds, after Domain Name Wire spotted a Verisign patent filing covering a system for detecting and mitigating “registrar collusion” in the space, is that Verisign is due to shake up the .com drop-catch market with some kind of centralized service.

ICANN reckoned it would start losing registrars in October at a rate of about 250 per quarter, which seems to be playing out as predicted, so the purge has likely only just begun.

Hammock swings from Rightside to MarkMonitor

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2017, Domain Registrars

Statton Hammock has joined brand protection registrar MarkMonitor as its new vice president of global policy and industry development.

He was most recently VP of business and legal affairs at Rightside, the portfolio gTLD registry that got acquired by Donuts in July. He spent four years there.

The new gig sounds like a broad brief. In a press release, MarkMonitor said Hammock will oversee “the development and execution of MarkMonitor’s global policy, thought leadership, business development and awareness strategy”.

MarkMonitor nowadays is a business of Clarivate Analytics under president Chris Veator, who started at the company in July.

After slow launch, .africa looks to add hundreds of resellers

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2017, Domain Registrars

ZA Central Registry is opening up .africa and its South African city gTLDs to potentially hundreds of new registrars via a new proxy program.

The company today announced that its new registrar AF Proxy Services has received ICANN accreditation, which should open up .africa, .joburg, .capetown and .durban to its existing .za channel.

ZACR is the ccTLD registry for South Africa and as such it already has almost 500 partners accredited to sell .za names. But most of these resellers are not also ICANN accredited, so they cannot sell gTLD domains.

The AF Proxy service is intended to give these existing resellers the ability to sell ZACR’s four gTLDs without having to seek out an ICANN accreditation themselves.

“Effectively, all users of the AF Proxy service become resellers of the Proxy Registrar which is an elegant technical solution aimed at boosting new gTLD domain name registrations,” ZACR CEO Lucky Masilela said in a press release.

While reseller networks are of course a staple of the industry and registries acting as retail registrars is fairly common nowadays, this new ZACR business model is unusual.

According to ZACR’s web site, it has 489 accredited .za registrars active today, with 52 more in testing and a whopping 792 more in the application process.

Depending on uptake of the proxy service, that could bring the number of potential .africa resellers to over 1,300.

And they’re probably needed.

The .africa gTLD went into general availability in July — after five years of expensive legal and quasi-legal challenges from rival applicant DotConnectAfrica — but has so far managed to put just 8,600 names in its zone file.

That’s no doubt disappointing for TLD serving a population of 1.2 billion and which had been expected to see substantial domain investor activity from overseas, particularly China.

.museum soon could be open to all (no haters please)

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2017, Domain Registrars

The 15-year-old .museum gTLD could soon be open to a great many more potential registrants, following an ICANN contract renewal.

The registry, MuseDoma, has negotiated a new Registry Agreement that rewrites eligibility rules to the extent that soon basically anyone should be able to register a name.

Since the gTLD went live back in 2002, it has been tightly restricted to legitimate museums and museum associations, as well as verifiable museum workers such as curators.

But the new proposed contract expands eligibility to “individuals with an interest or a link with museum profession and/or activity” and “bona fide museum users”.

It’s not at all clear how one proves they are a “bona fide museum user”, but the language suggests to me that the registry is likely to take registrants at their word and enforce some kind of post-registration review of how the domains are being used.

Indeed, the new contract contains the following new restriction:

Registration implies compliance with a fair use that only allows a use harmless to the image of museums and the community. Non-compliance will result in suspension or termination of the domain name.

So if you are fundamentally opposed to the idea of museums and want to set up a .museum web site trashing the entire concept, you probably won’t be allowed to.

Even though .museum was part of the “test-bed” application round from 2000, the proposed new contract has acquired chunks of the standard new gTLD RA from 2012.

As such, MuseDoma has agreed to take on the Uniform Rapid Suspension rights protection mechanism. This may prove somewhat controversial among those opposed to URS being “forced” on legacy gTLD registries before it has been approved as full ICANN policy.

The way ICANN fees are calculated — .museum’s flat fees are much lower — has not changed.

.museum has had a fairly steady 450 to 600 domains under management for the entirety of its existence.

The contract is open for public comment until October 3.

Former MarkMonitor execs join new brand protection registrar

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2017, Domain Registrars

Two former MarkMonitor executives have teamed up with a Fairwinds co-founder to launch a new “next generation” brand protection registrar.

The new company is Brandsight. It was set up by CEO Phil Lodico, who left brand consultancy Fairwinds about a year ago, and was accredited by ICANN earlier this month.

The first two hires are Matt Serlin, who until a couple months ago was VP of client services at MarkMonitor, and Elisa Cooper, who joins after being VP of marketing at the intellectual property management company Lecorpio.

Cooper, who also worked for MarkMonitor in the same position until a couple of years ago, will be Brandsight’s head of marketing and policy. Serlin will head up operations and client services.

The two told me yesterday that Brandsight will attempt to differentiate itself from its alma maters through a combination of better technology, expertise and use of data.

Both have many years experience in the domain industry and ICANN and, one imagines, thick contacts books of potential clients.

The Brandsight site, which went live today, will feature improved workflow via a streamlined user interface, they said.

The company also hopes “better leverage big data to help companies make better decisions and streamline processes around domain management”, Cooper said.

“Legacy registrars haven’t been focused on building new technology, some for almost 10 years,” she said.

It looks like it’s going to be a boutique operation at first — I believe Lodico, Serlin and Cooper are the only three employees right now — but Cooper said the plan is to staff up over the remainder of the year in areas such as sales.

The idea is to be a company that is purely focused on corporate domain services as its core competency, as opposed to what they called the “legacy” larger registrars that have domains as just one service among many, Cooper and Serlin said.

Brandsight is based in New York state and funded by private investors.