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Two more new gTLD bids dropped

Uniregistry and LʹOréal, two of the highest profile new gTLD applicants, both withdrew applications today.

Uniregistry has pulled out of the .marketing race, leaving it a two-way battle between Tucows and Donuts. It’s the first application withdrawn by the company, which has applied for 54 gTLDs.

Its .marketing bid was due to get its Initial Evaluation results today. By withdrawing before this happens, the company gets a much bigger refund from ICANN.

LʹOréal, meanwhile, has withdrawn is fourth dot-brand, .maybelline, which is due its IE results next week. The company has 10 applications, a mixture of brands and closed generics, outstanding.

Nominet fires CCO over baby death “cover-up”

Nominet has terminated its recently appointed chief commercial officer, Jill Finney, who was today alleged to have been involved in the “cover-up” of baby deaths at a British hospital.

The allegations concern Finney’s previous job as deputy CEO of the Care Quality Commission, which regulates the UK’s National Health Service.

According to reports today, Finney was one of three people responsible for suppressing an internal CQC report detailing its own failure to spot problems at a maternity unit.

Poor standards of care at the hospital in question led to the deaths of as many as 16 babies and two mothers, the Guardian reported today.

It’s a big story in the UK, where a tendency for NHS executives to put the reputations of their hospitals over transparency and patient care has become a political football.

In a statement, Nominet, which regularly faces its own complaints about transparency and accountability, said:

The increasing public scrutiny over our CCO’s former role at CQC has made it impossible for her to continue with her role and responsibilities at Nominet.

With regret, we felt it necessary to terminate Jill Finney’s employment with immediate effect. Ms Finney will be paid one month’s salary in lieu of notice.

Finney joined Nominet directly from the CQC in February. Her name had been associated with transparency failures at the CQC even then, which made the hire seem odd at the time.

Next new gTLD auction set for August 13

Innovative Auctions today announced that its second new gTLD auction is scheduled for August 13 and that several companies have already signed up to participate.

The news follows the settlement of the first round of auctions, which saw $9.01 million shared between losing applicants and Innovative for the rights to six new gTLD strings.

“[A]ll of the participants from this auction who have additional strings in contention have signed on to use the process to resolve their remaining contentions,” Innovative said.

That would mean Afilias, Merchant Law Group and XYZ.com, which took part in this month’s auctions, are all likely to attempt to settle their outstanding contention sets with Innovative.

That’s another roughly 40 strings on top of Donuts’ already-committed monster portfolio.

Of course, the auctions will only be able to go ahead if all of the other applicants in each contention set also agree to participate, which in some cases will be a non-starter.

The money from the first auctions has already been distributed to the losing applicants, according to Innovative.

Nominet brings back second-level .uk proposal

Nominet has resurrected Direct.uk, its plan to allow people to register domain names directly under .uk.

But the proposal, which was killed off in February, has been significantly revised in response to complaints from domain investors and others.

The idea is one of a collection being announced by Nominet this afternoon.

It’s also proposing to shake up how it accredits .uk registrars and, borrowing a page from the current ICANN playbook, how .uk registrant Whois information is verified.

Second-level domains make a comeback

If the Direct.uk proposal is approved and you own a .co.uk, .me.uk or .org.uk domain name, you’ll get rights to the matching .uk name, according to Nominet COO Eleanor Bradley.

“The registrant of oldest current domain name at the third level will have first right of refusal to register that name at the second level,” she said.

When a .uk is contested by, for example, the owners of matching .co.uk and .org.uk domains, the older registration would win the name.

The clock on registration period is reset to the date of the current registration if the domain has ever dropped before, but not if it’s been transferred between registrants, she said.

This change may settle some of the concerns emerging from the domain investor community, which was outraged by Nominet’s original plan to give trademark holders first rights to .uk names.

Giving the .uk and .co.uk to different people would stand to confuse internet users, they said, not to mention devaluing their portfolios.

It wasn’t just domainers that stood to lose out under the old plan, however.

British domainer Edwin Hayward compiled a some examples of big brands that have invested in generic .co.uk domains but do not own matching trademarks, meaning they would not necessary get the second-level.

Barclays owns bank.co.uk and Kellogg owns breakfast.co.uk, for examples. Under the new Nominet proposal, it looks like these companies would get first dibs on the matching .uk addresses.

“We feel we’re responding to the feedback we heard, but it’s also our strong view that registrations at the second level are really important for what we do to maintain the relevance of .uk going forward,” Bradley said.

Plans to ramp up Whois verification

The revamped plan will also see Nominet drop its demands for mandatory extra security features under second-level .uk names.

Some critics had said that this would ghettoize .co.uk by suggesting it’s not secure.

Instead, the company is proposing blanket Whois verification for the whole of .uk — second and third-level — and a suite of optional security services to be provided in-house and via partners.

The Whois checks will take the form of email verification, in much the same way as ICANN has proposed for gTLDs in its new Registrar Accreditation agreement.

Nominet also plans to check physical mailing addresses against public databases to make sure they’re genuine. This apparently already happens to an extent.

Three tiers of registrar

The company today also unveiled plans for three types of registrar: Self-Managed, Channel Partner and Accredited Channel Partner.

Self-Managed would be domainers and big corporate users that manage their own portfolios. Channel Partners would be the vanilla registrars we know today, and Accredited would have been certified as having a certain level of security and Whois quality, among other things.

Existing registrars could do nothing and become Channel Partners, or migrate to one of the other two tiers, Bradley said.

Those in the Self-Managed and Accredited tiers would get free inter-registrant transfers, she said. Accredited registrars would also be trusted to handle their own Whois verification.

The proposals are still currently proposals, but it sounds like Nominet is determined to get it right this time.

The Direct.uk consultation is not expected to be over until November, so we’re not likely to see any movement until next year.

Demand Media commits Designs.com to new gTLDs

Demand Media has announced a new web publishing service that it says is designed specifically for new gTLD registrants, at the category-killing domain Designs.com.

Designs.com will provide users with tools to quickly build web sites for their new domains, with no coding experience required, according to the site.

Conceptually, there’s nothing new about selling do-it-yourself web site building services alongside domain names of course; they’ve been around for over a decade.

But Demand says it’s tailoring the product to niche gTLDs, promoting certain features depending on the gTLD string in which the customer has bought. From a press release:

“A consumer using .FAN needs features related to sharing, ‘liking’ and growing a community, while a professional using .ARCHITECT needs features related to a strong visual portfolio and self-promotion,” explained Nick Nelson, general manager of Designs.com for Demand Media. “Until today, tools and templates have been designed for no-one in particular. New gTLDs are for specific audiences, so we must have tools that create a web presence with the same tailored approach, making the website and web address inseparable.”

It’s exactly the kind of marketing effort that new gTLDs are going to need if they’re going to be successful, particularly if they’re targeting greenfield opportunities such as small business owners.

Based on the little we know today, it almost sounds like innovation.

The Designs.com service will be made available via partnering registrars, according to the company. We can only assume that eNom and Name.com are a shoo-ins.

On the registry side, there’s nothing stopping the company adding the service to pretty much every new gTLD for which, as a registrar, it is accredited.

Demand has 26 active new gTLD applications and has rights to buy into about 100 of Donuts’ gTLDs, should they be approved by ICANN and win their contention sets.