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Disappointing .sexy launch shows the importance of the channel

Kevin Murphy, February 27, 2014, Domain Registries

.sexy not so sexy after all?

Uniregistry’s first new gTLDs to launch, .sexy and .tattoo, have showed a poor first-day performance after the company failed to secure Go Daddy as a registrar partner.

During the 60-day sunrise period and the first 30 hours of general availability, .sexy sold just shy of 2,700 domains, judging by zone files, while .tattoo racked up a pitiful 700 registrations.

This makes .sexy the 19th most popular new gTLD. On the DI PRO league table it’s sandwiched between .holdings and .camera, and .tattoo the 28th, between .voyage and .careers.

It’s not a completely terrible performance for .sexy — .camera and .holdings have been on the market for three and four weeks respectively — but one might have expected better sales for a string that isn’t tied to a particular vertical niche and is, arguably, just intrinsically attractive.

.sexy’s first-day performance is in the same ball park as Donuts’ .gallery and .estate, hardly strings to get excited about.

For .tattoo, the story is less gray — under 1,000 domains sold is not a success in anyone’s book.

I think there are a couple reasons for the poor showing.

First, the strings themselves. While I can see .sexy proving popular with regular buyers, it doesn’t easily lend itself to domain names that are instinctively attractive to domainers.

You can put pretty much any profession or product name in front of a .guru and it is meaningful as a brand or a rather grandiose self-appointed title. Not so with .sexy.

Ironically, this appears to be Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling’s “Toilet Paper Test” in action.

Schilling argues that the test of how generic, and by extension popular, a gTLD is should be whether toiletpaper.[tld] works. I think toiletpaper.guru works, but toiletpaper.sexy does not.

Second, Uniregistry lacked distribution.

While it had big registrars such as eNom and NameCheap (almost 50 in total) on its books, it lacked Go Daddy and 1&1 — the two companies that have been pushing pre-registrations more heavily than any other.

The reason Donuts’ gTLDs performed better in their first hours is that these companies, mainly Go Daddy, had been collecting pre-regs for weeks and spammed the registry with registration requests at the first second they were able. Day one registrations actually represent weeks of marketing and leads.

Uniregistry took an awfully big risk by demanding registrars hand over part of the customer relationship to the registry, and it seems to have impacted its sales.

The company plans to shortly launch its own registrar, and is betting hard of this being a successful sales channel.

I’m somewhat skeptical about this strategy, at least in the short term.

Go Daddy has spent tens (hundreds?) of millions of dollars on marketing over the last decade or so. It has a lot of eyeballs already and it’s going to be nigh-on impossible to replicate that degree of success.

Uniregistry is not the only new gTLD portfolio registry enthusiastically embracing vertical integration.

The trail was blazed by Minds + Machines, which launched its own registrar last November. Today, it’s difficult to tell on the company’s web site where the registrar ends and the registry begins.

What’s M+M’s launch channel going to look like? We’re not going to know for sure until its first TLDs hit the market.

Are the big registrars going to make the vertically integrated business model difficult to carry off successfully? While registries are obliged to give access to any registrar that wants to sell their names, registrars have no obligations to carry any TLD they don’t want to.

Here’s why registrars are boycotting .sexy

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2014, Domain Registries

Will .sexy and .tattoo trip on the starting blocks today due to registrars’ fears about competition and Whois privacy?

Uniregistry went into general availability at 1600 UTC today with the two new gTLDs — its first to market — but it did so without the support of some of the biggest registrars.

Go Daddy — alone responsible for almost half of all new domain registrations — Network Solutions, Register.com and 1&1 are among those that are refusing to carry the new TLDs.

The reason, according to multiple sources, is that Uniregistry’s Registry-Registrar Agreement contains two major provisions that would dilute registrars’ “ownership” of their customer base.

First, Uniregistry wants to know the real identities of all of the registrants in its TLDs, even those who register names using Whois privacy services.

That’s not completely unprecedented; ICM Registry asks the same of .xxx registrars in order to authenticate registrants’ identities.

Second, Uniregistry wants to be able to email or otherwise contact those registrants to tell them about registry services it plans to launch in future. The Uniregistry RRA says:

Uniregistry may from time to time contact the Registered Name Holder directly with information about the Registered Name and related or future registry services.

We gather that registrars are worried that Uniregistry — which will shortly launch its own in-house registrar under ICANN’s new liberal rules on vertical integration — may try to poach their customers.

The difference between ICM and Uniregistry is that ICM does not own its own registrar.

The Uniregistry RRA seems to take account of this worry, however, saying:

Except for circumstances related to a termination under Section 6.7 below, Uniregistry shall never use Personal Data of a Registered Name Holder, acquired under this Agreement, (a) to contact the Registered Name Holder with a communication intended or designed to induce the Registered Name Holder to change Registrars or (b) for the purpose of offering or selling non-registry services to the Registered Name Holder.

Some registrars evidently do not trust this promise, or are concerned that Uniregistry may figure out a way around it, and have voted with their storefronts by refusing to carry these first two gTLDs.

Ownership of the customer relationship is a pretty big deal for registrars, especially when domain names are often a low-margin entry product used to up-sell more lucrative services.

What if a future Uniregistry “registry service” competes with something these registrars already offer? You can see why they’re worried.

A lot of registrars have asserted that with the new influx of TLDs, registrars have more negotiating power over registries than they ever did in a world of 18 gTLDs.

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling is basically testing out this proposition on his own multi-million-dollar investment.

But will the absence of these registrars — Go Daddy in particular — hurt the launch numbers for .sexy and .tattoo?

I think there could be some impact, but it might be tempered by the fact that a large number of early registrations are likely to come from domainers, and domainers know that Go Daddy is not the only place to buy domains.

Schilling tweeted at about 1605 UTC today that .sexy was over 1,800 registrations.

Longer term, who knows? This is uncharted territory. Right now Uniregistry seems to be banking on the 40-odd registrars — some of them quite large — that have signed up, along with its own marketing efforts, to make up any shortfall an absence of Go Daddy may cause.

Tomorrow, I’d be surprised if NameCheap, which is the distant number two registrar in new gTLDs right now (judging by name server counts) is not the leader in .sexy and .tattoo names.

Mistake blamed for “Germans only” .voting policy

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2014, Domain Registries

It seems the new gTLD .voting will not be restricted to Germans after all.

We reported earlier today that .voting registry Valuetainment had submitted a registration policy that required all registrants to have a presence in Germany.

The language used in the policy was identical, we later discovered, to that found in the equivalent policy for .ruhr, a German geographic gTLD operated by a different registry.

But Thomas Rickert of the German law firm Schollmeyer & Rickert, which has both .voting and .ruhr registries as clients, just called to let us know that the policy as submitted to ICANN was a mistake.

It seems there will be no local presence requirement for .voting after all.

Valuetainment will be submitting a revised policy to ICANN without the error. The German-language version of the policy does not contain the error, Rickert said.

Rickert said he’d like it to be known that the registry was blameless in this instance.

.wedding and .green gTLD auctions raise millions

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2014, Domain Registries

Two more new gTLDs — .wedding and .green — have been auctioned off, with proceeds amounting to millions of dollars.

Top Level Domain Holdings said in a press release that it won .wedding and lost .green, which cost it a net $2.23 million.

That’s the amount it paid for .wedding, minus its share of the .green winning bid and its ICANN refund for withdrawing its .green application.

I don’t think we can infer the exact sale price of .wedding from that, other than to say that it was definitely over $2.2 million.

TLDH did not say who won the .green auction. The only other remaining applicants, after Dot Green’s withdrawal last year, were Rightside and Afilias. Neither has withdrawn their applications yet.

In the .wedding auction, conducted by Applicant Auction, it beat rival portfolio applicants Donuts and What Box?

An English new gTLD restricted to Germans?

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2014, Domain Registries

Reading through the policies of new gTLD registries has given me cause to double-take several times, but .voting has to be one of the oddest yet.

Ostensibly an English-language gTLD, managed by a registry based in Switzerland, .voting domains will be essentially restricted to residents of Germany, according to its policies.

[UPDATE: The policy was actually submitted by mistake. See this story for an update.]

The Domain Name Registration Policy (pdf) submitted to ICANN by the registry, Valuetainment, states:

Registrants are obliged to supply an individual resident in the Federal Republic of Germany as contact person for all registered domains. This contact is generally described as the administrative contact (Admin-C). The registrant ca name himself as Admin-C.

My German isn’t great, and I’m aware that German speakers are very relaxed about adopting English words into common usage, but I’m pretty sure the language has its own verb for voting.

What makes the Germans-only admin contact policy weirder is that Valuetainment is Swiss and its policies state that the registration agreement is subject to Swiss law.

The .voting policy only states that the Administrative contact in Whois has to be German, which means that the main Registrant contact could technically be based in any country.

But if that registrant can’t name a German as an Administrative contact, technically they’ll be in violation of the rules.

It’s possible that registrars will be able to supply a local proxy in Germany, if they have one or want to go to the expense of setting one up, but it seems like a hassle.

There are a few other oddities in .voting’s policies.

Notably, Valuetainment is not just selling you a domain name, it’s granting you a license to use its “.voting” European Community trademark. Its Eligibility Policy (pdf) states:

For the duration of the registration, the Registry grants the user of a . VOTING domain a right of use with regard to the European Community Trade Mark No. 1111568 (. VOTING]. The license fees are included in the registration fee.

Registrants will be banned from charging for their services — .voting web sites must all be provided free of charge unless they’re providing “statistical voting evaluations”.

They’ll also be banned from offering directories of .voting sites, because Valuetainment intends to offer such a service and doesn’t want any competition.

Also, presumably so the registry can comply with local laws, any attempt to deny the Holocaust will cause your domain to be yanked under the company’s Rapid Takedown Policy (pdf).