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.vu to relaunch under mystery new registry

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2019, Domain Registries

Vanuatu is to attempt to broaden the appeal of its .vu domain globally by switching to a new shared registry system.

The changes were initiated last week in Kobe, when the ICANN board of directors gave the final stamp of approval on the redelegation of the ccTLD.

.vu is now delegated to country’s Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator (TRBR), having been managed since 1995 by Telecom Vanuatu Limited (TVL). The government passed a law in 2016 calling for the redelegation.

Under its new management, the market for .vu domains will be opened up at the registrar level. To date, TVL has operated as a sole source for .vu domains. From now on, it will just be one registrar among (presumably) many.

A registry back-end has already been selected, after tenders were received from nine companies, but it’s still in contract talks and TRBR is not ready to name the successful party just yet.

The Vanuatu government wants to encourage local ISPs and web developers to consider signing up as registrars or resellers, but the SRS will also be open to established international players.

Brand protection registrars and TLD completionists will no doubt begin to carry .vu directly as soon as they’re able to plug in to the new system.

But off the top of my head, I’m struggling to think of a strong global sales pitch for the string, other than a phonetic similarity to “view”.

It doesn’t stand for much as an acronym, doesn’t seem to work well in English as a domain hack, and doesn’t seem to mean much in other widely spoken languages (other than French, where it means “seen”, as in “déjà-vu”).

We can only hope the new management doesn’t attempt to market it with some kind of pathetic backronym.

Domains in .vu currently cost $50 (USD) per year when bought from TVL. I have no current data on how many .vu domains are registered.

InternetNZ’s Keith Davidson assisted in the redelegation and is handling comms during the handover.

Vanuatu is a Pacific archipelago nation, previously known as the New Hebrides, that gained independence from the UK and France in 1980. It had roughly 272,000 inhabitants at the last count.

O.com might be a one-off for Verisign

Kevin Murphy, March 14, 2019, Domain Registries

Verisign today was finally given approval to auction off o.com, the first single-character .com domain to hit the market since the early 1990s.

The ICANN board of directors voted to approve a contractual amendment that will lift the ban on single-character .coms in this instance, but it may not necessarily mean more will be sold in future.

The resolution passed in Japan states that the approval is “limited to the unique circumstances of this particular domain name, and the approval of the amendment does not establish a precedent that applies in other circumstances.”

So if Verisign decides it wants to sell off the remaining 22 one-letter .com domains in future, it’s going to have to go through the same lengthy approval process again, with no guarantee that ICANN will give it the nod.

Still, if the o.com proposal is hunky-dory this time around, I fail to see why ICANN would reject an identical proposal to sell a different domain.

As I explained in a blog post a week ago, Verisign will only get $7.85 a year for the domain, regardless of how many millions it raises.

The rest of the money will be distributed to non-profit causes by an independent third party.

While the auction has already cost Verisign far more money than it will make, it’s a nice PR win for the next time its .com price-raising powers are questioned.

Overstock.com, which has been lobbying ICANN and Verisign for the release of o.com for years is a virtually guaranteed bidder.

Former ICANN bigwig Kurt Pritz said recently that Overstock offered to pay ICANN $1 million to $2 million for the domain (somewhat shadily, it has to be said) over a decade ago.

Other O trademark owners that may show up include sporting goods vendor Oakley and future President of the United States Oprah Winfrey.

I hope bidders have to sign a no-suing covenant, as this is the kind of thing that could easily wind up in court.

Radix sees revenue up 30%

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2019, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry Radix said today that its revenue increased by 30% in 2018, largely due to an end-of-year boost.

The company, which runs nine gTLDs including .online and .site, said that gross revenue was $16.95 million last year.

It added that net profit was up 45.6%, but the privately held company does not actually disclose the dollar value of its bottom line.

Radix said that the fourth quarter of the year, which presumably saw the benefits of Operation September Thrust, was its strongest quarter.

The company said that 27% of its revenue came from standard-price new registrations and 60% from renewals.

Its premiums brought in $1.9 million, 56% of which were premium renewals.

Verisign gets approval to sell O.com for $7.85

ICANN is to grant Verisign the right to sell a single-character .com domain name for the first time in over 25 years.

The organization’s board of directors is due to vote next Thursday to approve a complex proposal that would see Verisign auction off o.com, with almost all of the proceeds going to good causes.

“Approval of Amendment to Implement the Registry Service Request from Verisign to Authorize the Release for Registration of the Single-Character, Second-Level Domain, O.COM” is on the consent agenda for the board’s meeting at the conclusion of ICANN 64, which begins Saturday in Kobe, Japan.

Consent agenda placement means that there will likely be no further discussion — and no public discussion — before the board votes to approve the deal.

Verisign plans to auction the domain to the highest bidder, and then charge premium renewal fees that would essentially double the purchase price over a period of 25 years.

But the registry, already under scrutiny over its money-printing .com machine, would be banned from profiting from the sale.

Instead, Verisign would only receive its base registry fee — currently $7.85 per year — with the rest being held by an independent third party that would distribute the funds to worthy non-profit causes.

ICANN had referred the Verisign proposal, first put forward in December 2016, to the US government, and the Department of Justice gave it the nod in December 2017.

There was also a public comment period last May.

The request almost certainly came about due to Overstock.com’s incessant lobbying. The retailer has been obsessed with obtaining o.com for well over a decade, but was hamstrung by the legacy policy, enshrined in the .com registry agreement, that forbids the sale of single-character domains.

Whoever else wants to buy o.com, they’ll be bidding against Overstock, which has a trademark.

It’s quite possible nobody else will bid.

When Overstock briefly rebranded as O.co several years ago — it paid $350,000 for that domain — it said it saw 61% of its traffic going to o.com instead.

All single-character .com names that had not already been registered were reserved by IANA for technical reasons in 1993, well before ICANN took over DNS policy.

Today, only q.com, z.com and x.com are registered. Billionaire Elon Musk, who used x.com to launch PayPal, reacquired that domain for an undisclosed sum in 2017. GMO Internet bought z.com for $6.8 million in 2014.

With the sale of o.com now a near certainty, it is perhaps only a matter of time before more single-character .com names are also released.

No gTLD approved after 2012 has a restriction on single-character domains.

As a matter of disclosure: several years ago I briefly provided some consulting/writing services to a third party in support of the Verisign and Overstock positions on the release of single-character domain names, but I have no current financial interest in the matter.

At eleventh hour, most .uk registrants still don’t own their .uk names

Less than a quarter of all third-level .uk registrants have taken up the opportunity to buy their matching second-level domain, just a few months before the deadline.

According to February stats from registry Nominet, 9.76 million domains were registered under the likes of .co.uk and .org.uk, but only 2.27 million domains were registered directly under .uk, which works out at about 23%.

Nominet’s controversial Direct.uk policy was introduced in June 2014, with a grandfathering clause that gave all third-level registrants five years to grab their matching .uk domain before it returns to the pool of available names.

So if you own example.co.uk, you have until June 25 this year, 110 days from now, to exercise your exclusive rights to example.uk.

Registrants of .co.uk domains have priority over registrants of matching .org.uk and .me.uk domains. Nominet’s Whois tool can be used to figure out who has first dibs on any given string.

At least two brand protection registrars warned their clients this week that they will be at risk of cybersquatting if they don’t pick up their direct matches in time. But there’s potential for confusion here, after the deadline, whether or not you own a trademark.

I expect we could see a spike in complaints under Nominet’s Dispute Resolution Service (the .uk equivalent of UDRP) in the back half of the year.

Nominet told DI in a statement today:

The take up right now is roughly in line with what we envisaged. We knew from the outset that some of the original 10 million with rights would not renew their domain, some would decide they did not want the equivalent .UK and some would leave it to the last minute to decide or take action. The feedback from both registrants and registrars, and the registration data, bears this out.

The statement added that the registry has started “ramping up” its outreach, and that in May it will launch “an advertising and awareness campaign” that will include newspapers, radio and trade publications.