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Donuts withdraws its .vote bid, raising questions about new gTLD auctions

One down, only 306 to go! Donuts has withdrawn its application for the .vote new gTLD, leaving an Afilias joint venture as the sole remaining applicant, it emerged today.

It’s reasonable to assume that this is the first result of the private string auctions, designed by Cramton Associates, that are being run by Innovative Auctions this week.

Donuts had submitted .vote to this auction and has previously said that auctions were its preferred method of resolving contention sets.

Either way, the winner of the contention set is Monolith Registry, a joint venture of .info registry Afilias and two individual investors based in Utah.

Monolith is also the only applicant for the Spanish translation, .voto.

It’s the first example of a contention set between competing business models being resolved.

The result tells us a lot about how money talks in the new gTLD program and how it does not evaluate applications based on criteria such as inclusiveness or innovation.

Donuts had proposed a .vote with an open registration policy and no special purpose. People would have been able to register domains there for essentially any reason.

Afilias, on the other hand, intends to tightly restrict its .vote to “official and verified governments and office seekers” in only the United States.

Remarkably, it has the same US-only policy for the Spanish-language .voto, though both applications suggest that eligibility will be expanded to other countries in future.

Cybersquatting is not infrequent in electioneering, so .vote could give voters a way to trust that the web site they visit really does contain the opinions of the candidate.

Pricing is expected to be set at $60 “for the first year” ($100 for .voto), and Afilias reckons there are upwards of one million elected officials and candidates that would qualify for the names in the US alone.

It’s a potentially lucrative business, in other words.

But did the program produce an ideal result here?

Is it better that .vote carries a high price and will be restricted to American politicians? Is it right that other, non-governmental types of voting will be excluded from the TLD?

Or does the result show that the program can produce innovative uses of TLDs? With a couple of restricted namespaces, where voters and politicians can trust the authenticity of the contents (insert politicians-are-liars joke here) is Afilias adding value to the internet?

These types of questions are going to be asked over and over again as more contention set results emerge.

Today’s new gTLD withdrawals: .play and .design

Two new gTLD applications have been withdrawn today: Directi’s .play and Starting Dot’s .design.

They’re the second application to be withdrawn by Directi after .movie, which it pulled last month for undisclosed reasons, and the first of Starting Dot’s five bids to die.

Starting Dot said that it has bowed out of the .design fight because there were “simply too many” other applicants in the contention set: eight including itself.

“It is now setting its focus and energy supporting and helping to grow its four other domains, and especially the two which are single applicant, .ARCHI and .BIO,” the company said.

I don’t believe either string was the subject of the private auctions that are happening this week. At least, they weren’t on the lists published by Demand Media or Donuts.

Directi’s .play bid, the first of the four-way contention set to be withdrawn, faces competition from Amazon and Google — both with “closed generic” models — as well as Famous Four Media.

The gTLD deadpool now comprises 71 withdrawals.

Huge registrar shake-up coming to .biz and .info

Afilias and Neustar will be soon able to sell .biz and .info domains direct, and may have to shut down registrars that refuse to sign up to the new 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

Those are two of the biggest changes proposed to the companies’ ICANN contracts, drafts of which were published this morning six months after their last registry agreements expired.

The new .biz and .info deals would allow both companies to vertically integrate — that is, own a controlling position in a registrar that sells domains in their respective gTLDs.

This would remove unwanted friction from their sales and marketing efforts, but would mean both registries would start competing with their own registrar channel in the retail market.

That’s currently not allowed in almost all gTLD contracts, but is expected to become commonplace in the era of new gTLDs, which have no such ownership restrictions.

These new vertical integration clauses were not unexpected; it’s been envisaged for a couple of years that the restrictions would be dropped in legacy gTLDs.

What is surprising are newly proposed clauses that would oblige Neustar and Afilias to terminate accredited registrars’ access to their TLDs if they don’t sign up to the 2013 RAA.

Under the process set out in the contracts, when registrars representing 67% of the domains in each given TLD have signed up to the 2013 RAA, all the other registrars would have between 270 and 330 days to also sign up to it or lose their ability to access the .biz/.info registries.

That would mean no selling new names and no accepting inbound transfers — a growth death sentence in the affected TLDs.

In the case of .info, in which Go Daddy has a 45% market share, it would only take the top four registrars to sign up to the 2013 RAA before the clock started ticking for the others.

However, this 67% rule would only kick in for Afilias and Neustar if Public Interest Registry and Verisign also voluntarily agree to the same rules for their .org, .com and .net gTLDs.

It’s a pretty aggressive move by ICANN to push the 2013 RAA onto registrars via its contracts with registries, but not the first.

In the separately proposed base New gTLD Registry Agreement, expected to be finalized in the next few weeks, registrars can only sell new gTLD domains if they’re on the 2013 RAA.

Other changes to the .biz and .info contracts include giving the registries the ability to block certain domains from registration to deal with security threats. Registries have been doing this since Conficker, but now they’ll be explicitly allowed to under their contracts.

They’ll also now be subject to the same emergency back-end transition provisions as new gTLDs, in the event of a catastrophic failure.

Both companies will also get to keep their ability to raise registry fees by 10% a year.

Presumably, given that the US Department of Commerce is not party to the .biz and .info deals, neither registry will get the same nasty surprise that Verisign got last year when Commerce froze its prices.

Both proposed contracts are now open for public comment at ICANN, here and here.

The previous contracts actually expired last December but were extended for six months due to ICANN’s focus on new gTLDs and the fact that it wanted to bring both agreements closer to the new gTLD contract.

Uncontested .catalonia drops out of gTLD race

The regional Government of Catalonia has withdrawn its application for .catalonia.

This is a bit of a weird one.

The application was designated officially “geographic”, but also presented as a single-registrant “dot-brand”, exclusively for the government’s use in promoting tourism.

It wasn’t contested, had no objections and was not covered by Governmental Advisory Committee advice.

Residents of Catalonia, a region of Spain, are of course already served by the .cat TLD, which served as the model for a multitude of regional and cultural gTLD applications.

TLDH bags $10m in share sale

Top Level Domain Holdings has raised roughly $10 million by selling shares to institutional investors and directors.

The company, listed on the Alternative Investment Market in London, said today it has placed 110,375,276 new ordinary shares at £0.06 apiece.

The money will be used to help the company win some new gTLD contention set auctions and to promote the uncontested geo .london, which TLDH has been hired to manage.

The company is involved in 88 new gTLDs, some as applicant and some as back-end registry provider via its Minds + Machines subsidiary.

TLDH said it expects to start launching TLDs in the fourth quarter.