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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.

Mohan takes the reins at Afilias

Ram Mohan appears to have taken over the C-suite at Afilias.

The long-time chief technology officer was also yesterday named to the newly created role of chief operating officer, with the suggestion that he’s also taken over much of the work of CEO Hal Lubsen.

Afilias said Mohan will continue to report to Lubsen, but that “most all of Mr. Lubsen’s previous direct reports will now report to Mr. Mohan”.

Lubsen, who has been listed on the Afilias web site as “72 years old” for at least four years, will “continue to be responsible for and oversee finance, mergers and acquisitions and most legal matters.”

Mohan has been with the company as CTO since the very outset, when it was awarded .info back in 2001. He wrapped up a 10-year term on ICANN’s board of directors last October.

He’s going to carry on with the CTO’s job “initially”, Afilias said, but it sounds like a replacement will be sought.

Nevett headhunts top execs from three rivals

Public Interest Registry has filled out its executive team by poaching senior staff from rivals Afilias, Donuts and Neustar.

Judy Song-Marshall of Neustar has joined as chief of staff, Joe Abley of Afilias is the new chief technology officer and Anand Vora has joined from Donuts as VP of business affairs.

They’re the first senior level appointments to be announced since Donuts co-founder Jon Nevett was appointed CEO three months ago.

PIR, the non-profit which runs .org and related gTLDs, has also let it be known that it’s looking for a chief financial officer. The job ad can be found here.

Internet to lose its .co.ck? Cook Islands mulls name change

The government of the Cook Islands is reportedly thinking about changing its name, putting a question mark over the long-term longevity of its .ck top-level domain.

The AFP is reporting that an exploratory committee has been set up to pick a new name for the country, which is currently named after British explorer James Cook.

The new name would be in the local language, Cook Islands Maori, but would also reflect the country’s Polynesian heritage and “strong Christian belief”, AFP reports.

The Cook Islands is in the Pacific Ocean, about 3,000km from New Zealand. It gained independence in 1965 but retains strong ties to NZ. It has about 12,000 citizens.

Telecom Cook Islands has been running its ccTLD, .ck, since 1995. Registrations, which are a few hundred bucks a year, are only possible at the third level, under .co.ck, .org.ck and so on.

It appears from reporting that any formal name change is still a long way off, but it seems possible that a change of name could well lead to a change of ISO 3166-1 string and therefore a change of ccTLD.

As I explained in my post about the possible loss of .io last week, any such change would take years to roll through the ICANN system. Nobody would lose their domains overnight.

But perhaps the most famous .ck domain appears to have already gone dormant.

Fictional mid-noughties hipster Nathan Barley, antihero of the Charlie Brooker sitcom of the same name, owned trashbat.co.ck, as the opening shot of the show established.

Trashbat

Sadly, that domain, which unlike clownpenis.fart actually existed and was used to promote the short-lived series, appears to stop resolving three or four years ago.