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Google could shake up the registry market with new open-source Nomulus platform

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2016, Domain Registries

Google has muscled in to the registry service provider market with the launch of Nomulus, an open-source TLD back-end platform.

The new offering appears to be tightly integrated with Google’s various cloud services, challenging long-held registry pricing conventions.

There are already indications that at least one of the gTLD market’s biggest players could be considering a move to the service.

Donuts revealed yesterday it has been helping Google with Nomulus since early 2015, suggesting a shift away from long-time back-end partner Rightside could be on the cards.

Nomulus, which is currently in use at Google Registry’s handful of early-stage gTLDs, takes care of most of the core registry functions required by ICANN, Google said.

It’s a shared registration system based on the EPP standard, able to handle all the elements of the domain registration lifecycle.

Donuts contributed code enabling features it uses in its own 200-ish gTLDs, such as pricing tiers, the Early Access Period and Domain Protected Marks List.

Nomulus handles Whois and likely successor protocol RDAP (Registration Data Access Protocol).

For DNS resolution, it comes with a plug-in to make TLDs work on the Google Cloud DNS service. Users will also be able to write code to use alternative DNS providers.

There’s also software to handle daily data escrow to a third-party provider, another ICANN-mandated essential.

But Nomulus lacks critical features such as billing and fully ICANN-compliant reporting, according to documentation.

So will anyone actually use this? And if so, who?

It’s too early to say for sure, but Donuts certainly seems keen. In a blog post, CEO Paul Stahura wrote:

As the world’s largest operator of new TLDs, Donuts must continually explore compelling technologies and ensure our back-end operations are cost-efficient and flexible… Google has a phenomenal record of stability, an almost peerless engineering team, endless computing resources and global scale. These are additional potential benefits for us and others who may contribute to or utilize the system. We have been happy to evaluate and contribute to this open source project over the past 20 months because this platform provides Donuts with an alternative back-end with significant benefits.

In a roundabout way, Donuts is essentially saying that Nomulus could work out cheaper than its current back-end, Rightside.

The biggest change heralded by Nomulus is certainly pricing.

For as long as there has been a competitive market for back-end domain registry services, pricing has been on a per-domain basis.

While pricing and model vary by provider and customer, registry operators typically pay their RSPs a flat fee and a buck or two for each domain they have under management.

Pricing for dot-brands, where DUM typically comes in at under 100 today, is believed to be weighted much more towards the flat-fee service charge element.

But that’s not how Nomulus is to be paid for.

While the software is open source and free, it’s designed to run on Google’s cloud hosting services, where users are billed on the fly according to their usage of resources such as storage and bandwidth consumed.

For example, the Google Cloud Datastore, the company’s database service that Nomulus uses to store registration and Whois records, charges are $0.18 per gigabyte of storage per month.

For a small TLD, such as a dot-brand, one imagines that storage costs could be reduced substantially.

However, Nomulus is not exactly a fire-and-forget solution.

There is no Google registry service with customer support reps and such, at least not yet. Nomulus users are responsible for building and maintaining their registry like they would any other hosted application.

So the potentially lower service costs would have to be balanced against potentially higher staffing costs.

My hunch based on the limited available information is that for a dot-brand or a small niche TLD operating on a skeleton crew that may lack technical expertise, moving to Nomulus could be a false economy.

With this in mind, Google may have just created a whole new market for middleman RSPs — TLD management companies that can offer small TLDs a single point of contact for technical expertise and support but don’t need to build out and own their own expensive infrastructure.

The barrier to entry to the RSP market may have just dropped like a rock, in other words.

And Nomulus may work out more attractive to larger TLD operators such as Donuts, with existing teams of geeks, that can take advantage of Google’s economies of scale.

Don’t expect any huge changes overnight though. Migrating between back-ends is not an easy or cheap feat.

As well as ICANN costs, and data migration and software costs, there’s also the non-trivial matter of shepherding a horde of registrars over to the new platform.

How much impact Nomulus will have on the market remains to be seen, but it has certainly given the industry something to think about.

Donuts will cut off sham .doctors

Kevin Murphy, October 17, 2016, Domain Registries

Donuts has outlined plans to suspend or delete .doctor domain names used by fake medical doctors.

Despite protestations from governments and others, .doctor will not be a restricted gTLD when it goes to general availability next week — anyone will be able to register one.

However, Donuts said last week that it will shut down phony doctor sites:

While we are firmly committed to free speech on the Internet, we however will be on guard against inappropriate or dangerous uses of .DOCTOR. Accordingly, if registrants using this name make the representation on their websites that they are licensed medical practitioners, they should be able to demonstrate upon request that in fact they hold such a license. Failure to so demonstrate could be considered a violation of the terms of registration and may subject the registrant to registrar and registry rights to delete, revoke, suspend, cancel, or transfer a registration.

A Donuts spokesperson said that the registry will have the right to conduct spot-checks on sites, but at first will only police the gTLD in response to complaints from others.

“We have the right to spot check, but no immediate plans to do so,” he said.

In a few fringe cases, the failure to present a license would not result in the loss of a domain.

For example, a “registrant is in a jurisdiction that doesn’t license doctors (if that exists)” or a “registrant that represents him/herself as a licensed medical doctor, but uses the site to sell cupcakes”, the spokesperson said.

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee had wanted .doctor restricted to medical doctors, but Donuts complained noting that “doctor” is an appellation used in many other fields beyond medicine.

It can also be used in fanciful ways to market products, the registry said.

ICANN eventually sided with Donuts, allowing it to keep an open TLD as long as it included certain Public Interest Commitments in its registry contract.

.doctor goes to GA October 26.

Rightside new gTLD renewals can top 80%

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2016, Domain Registries

Rightside says it is seeing encouraging renewal figures from its oldest batch of new gTLDs.

The company this week revealed that renewals after two years of ownership on average stand at 81%.

In a blog post, Rightside broke out some numbers for .dance, .democrat, .ninja, .immobilien, .social, .reviews and .futbol.

Those seven are the only ones in its portfolio to have gone through two full renewal cycles.

The renewal rate after year one was a modest 69% — in other words it lost almost a third of its installed base after 12 months — but this increased to 81% after the second year.

The actual number of domains involved in quite tiny — 81% equates to just 21,000 names across all seven TLDs.

Breaking out a couple of TLDs, Rightside wrote:

Our first gTLD to market, .DANCE, saw a 70% renewal rate in year one expand to 83% in year two for that same subset of domains. Our best performing gTLD of the seven is .IMMOBILIEN, which renewed at 83% in its first year, and grew to a stupendous 87% in its second—which certainly makes sense given the permanent nature of real estate.

But Rightside reckons the numbers reflect well on the new gTLD industry. It said:

domain investors with portfolios including new gTLDs recognize the long-term value of these domain names, and rather than let them drop after the first year, are holding onto them to find the right buyer continue to earn parking revenue. Second—and likely the more significant driver—is that end users are actually picking up these domain names and putting them to use.

.xxx to get lower ICANN fees, accept the URS

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2016, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has negotiated lower ICANN transaction fees as part of a broad amendment to its Registry Agreement that also includes new trademark protection measures.

The company’s uniquely high $2 per-transaction fee could be reduced to the industry standard $0.25 by mid-2018.

As part of the renegotiated contract, ICM has also agreed to impose the Uniform Rapid Suspension policy on its registrants.

URS is the faster, cheaper version of UDRP that allows trademark owners to have domain names suspended in more clear-cut cases of cybersquatting.

The $2 fee was demanded by ICANN when ICM first signed its RA in 2011.

At the time, ICANN said the higher fee, which had doubled from a 2010 draft of the contract, was to “account for anticipated risks and compliance activities”.

The organization seemed to have bought into the fears that .xxx would lead to widespread misuse — something that has noticeably failed to materialize — and was expecting higher legal costs as a result.

The companion TLDs .adult, .porn and .sex, all also managed by ICM, only pay $0.25 per transaction.

The overall effects on registrants, ICANN and ICM will likely be relatively trivial.

With .xxx holding at roughly 170,000 domains and a minimal amount of inter-registrar transfer activity, ICM seems to be paying ICANN under $400,000 a year in transaction fees at the moment.

Its registry fee is usually $62, though a substantial number of domains have been sold at lower promotional pricing, so the cost to registrants is not likely to change a great deal.

The reduction to $0.25 would have to be carried out in stages, with the earliest coming this quarter, and be reliant on ICM keeping a clean sheet with regards contract compliance.

Under the deal, ICM has agreed to adopt many of the provisions of the standard Registry Agreement for 2012-round gTLDs.

One of those is the URS, which may cause consternation among domainers fearful that the rights protection mechanism may one day also find its way into the .com registry contract.

ICM has also agreed to implement its existing policies on, for example, child abuse material prevention, into the contract as Public Interest Commitments.

The RA amendment is currently open for public comment at ICANN.

The DNA loses second exec director in a year

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2016, Domain Registries

The Domain Name Association has lost its second executive director in less than a year.

The trade group has let go industry newcomer Roy Arbeit, who was hired just six months ago following the November 2015 departure of Kurt Pritz.

It does not plan to replace Arbeit, according to an email circulated to DNA members by chair Adrian Kinderis on Friday.

Instead, the day-to-day operations will be outsourced to Virtual, a trade association management company that has been working for the DNA for some time, Kinderis wrote.

The executive director was basically the only full-time DNA employee. The group is steered by a board of directors comprising representatives of major registries and registrars.

The decision to lose the position seems to be a cost-cutting measure, designed to allow the DNA to spend more on public relations campaigns promoting TLD acceptance and diversity, according to the email.