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TLDH raises $33.6m to fight new gTLD auctions

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2014, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has raised £21 million with an institutional investor share placement to help it win some new gTLD contention set auctions.

Its total war chest following the $33.6 million-ish placement will be about $63 million, albeit with $15 million of that earmarked for a single, as-yet-unspecified auction.

The company is currently in 43 contention sets, most of which it apparently wants to resolve via private auction. TLDH said in a statement:

The Company believes private auctions provide a significant opportunity for the Company both to increase the number of high-value gTLDs within its portfolio and to generate cash from those gTLDs which it chooses to relinquish. Under the private auction process, the winning bid is divided equally and paid to the losing applicants net of the auctioneer’s fees.

As part of TLDH’s transition from a revenue-free penny stock to a trading company, it’s going to change its name to Minds + Machines Limited, via a reverse takeover of its subsidiary of the same name.

The company said the move will help with “stakeholder communications and branding”.

Finally, TLDH said that founding director Guy Elliott is to leave its board of directors and be replaced by new non-executive director Elliot Noss. Noss is of course CEO of rival registry/registrar Tucows.

First Donuts new gTLD sunrise periods looking tiny

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2014, Domain Registries

It’s possible that fewer than 1,200 domain names were registered in Donuts’ first seven new gTLD sunrise periods, judging by the latest zone file data.

According to Donuts zone files dated January 31, just 1,164 proper domain names currently exist in .clothing, .bike, .guru, .ventures, .holdings, .singles and .plumbing.

By TLD, the names break down like this:

.clothing — 560
.holdings — 166
.bike — 146
.ventures — 125
.guru — 117
.singles — 50
.plumbing — 44.

As far as I can tell, based on sample Whois lookups, all the names were registered during the gTLDs’ respective sunrise periods, not during the currently ongoing Early Access Program.

On the face of it, these look like very small sunrise periods indeed (consider .co, which had 11,000 registrations during its sunrise in 2011) but there are number of important caveats here.

First, this data might be wrong. There have been hiccups and glitches in registry zone file provision for weeks, and this might be one of those cases. I don’t think it is, but you never know.

Second, the data might be still incomplete. Names were to be allocated after the conclusion of Donuts end-date sunrise, which was January 24. Not all of these domains might have been allocated yet.

Third, these numbers don’t reflect “dark” domains. These are domain names that are not configured with name servers and therefore won’t show up in DNS zone files.

Fourth, and most importantly, domain names that have been blocked by trademark holders under Donuts’ parallel Domain Protected Marks List service do not show up in zone files.

DPML is the Donuts offering to trademark owners that drastically reduces the cost of blocking a mark — potentially to just a few dollars per domain per year — across all of the company’s gTLDs.

We already know from a bit of Whois detective work by World Trademark Review that the likes of Microsoft, Apple, Wal-Mart and Samsung blocked their brands across all seven of these TLDs.

DPML is a bit of a bargain if you’re dead-set on blocking your brand in as many TLDs as possible, and it’s possible — maybe even likely — that the number of DPML subscriptions outstripped actual sunrise registrations.

It’s a given that most valuable brands are more interested in preventing misuse than they are in participating in the new gTLD expansions — Microsoft has no use for microsoft.plumbing.

Judging by the zone files, domains registered during sunrise are largely appropriate to the gTLD — .clothing and .bike are full of clothing and biking brands, with very little crossover between the two, for example.

But there are plenty of exceptions to that rule.

Some other stuff I noticed

I had a dig through the files and did a few Whois look-ups whenever I saw a name that piqued my interest.

There are no hugely obvious examples of widespread gaming to be seen but some arguably generic names did go to some domain industry folk who have inside knowledge of the new gTLD program.

Notably, several people associated with new gTLD applications managed by Beverly Hills IP lawyer Thomas Brackey of Freund & Brackey seem to have picked up nice-looking generic domains during sunrise.

Luxury Partners of .luxury managed to get its hands on domains including luxury.clothing, for example, while What Box?, which applied for six gTLDs, grabbed realestate.guru and wedding.guru.

That’s right, apparently there are trademarks on “real estate” and “wedding” somewhere out there, and domain registry What Box? was able to provide the required proof that it’s using them in commerce.

Brackey himself is listed as the registrant of cloud.guru and direct.[tld] across the seven gTLDs, among others.

George Minardos of .build applicant Minardos Group acquired build.guru during sunrise too.

I wonder if any sunrise names will be challenged under Donuts’ Sunrise Dispute Resolution Policy.

While .guru has only attracted 117 registered names so far, it does appear to be the one place notoriously domain-shy Apple decided to actually play, presumably due to the support “gurus” it employs in its stores — ipad.guru, mac.guru and iphone.guru all went to the company.

There’s a “religious” flavor to some of the registrations there too — scientology.guru and darshan.guru were both registered by their respective organizations.

Amazon appears to be the most sunrise-happy of all registrants, grabbing dozens of (probably) useless names including kindle.plumbing, prime.ventures and aws.bike.

Some porn publishers seem to have gone a bit crazy too, with names such as m4m.plumbing and cam4.clothing making an appearance.

I found a few domains on my trawl that appear to have empty Whois records — christ.holdings and ghost.bike to name two amusingly appropriate examples — which doesn’t seem to be in the spirit of sunrise.

So there are definitely some oddities out there, but so far it does not appear to me based on my first look that massive numbers of trademark owners have been held to ransom, nor does there appear to have been any wholesale gaming of the system.

Moment of truth as first seven new gTLDs go on sale

Kevin Murphy, January 29, 2014, Domain Registries

We’re finally going to see if there’s any demand for new gTLD domain names.

The first seven new gTLDs — .bike, .clothing, .guru, .holdings, .plumbing, .singles and .ventures, all operated by Donuts — hit first-come, first-served general availability this afternoon.

I understand that the precise time they’re due to become available is 1600 UTC.

But these are going to be unlike any new TLD launches we’ve seen to date.

We’re unlikely to see the kind of mad gold-rush that was enjoyed by the likes of .mobi and .co in their first 24 hours, largely due to the high prices Donuts intends to charge for early adopters.

Under its Early Access Program, any domain registered in these TLDs on day one is going to cost over $10,000 for the first year. The price will come down to $2,500+ tomorrow and will be reduced each day until settling at regular pricing a week from now.

Go Daddy, which commands about half of the retail market, has previously indicated that its day one pricing for Donuts’ gTLDs will be $12,539.

Judging by the Go Daddy web site today, it’s treating EAP as one of its “priority pre-registration” phases distinct from general availability, which it says will kick off February 5.

The EAP is Donuts’ alternative to the landrush-with-auctions model we’ve become accustomed to in previous TLD launches.

The questions are whether this will affect domain investors’ willingness to dive in and grab some premium real estate and whether it will encourage actual end-users to register early.

It seems pretty obvious that while day one of GA for Donuts’ gTLDs is the first big test of its pricing strategy, it’s not going to be the yardstick for volume performance that we’ve seen in previous launches.

I think it’s a pretty safe bet that today’s volumes for Donuts will not come close to GA-day numbers for the likes of .co, .xxx or .mobi, which were in the five or six-figure range.

But with pricing for .bike et al today literally 200 times more expensive than .xxx’s GA pricing, Donuts doesn’t need to sell a great many names to have made a nice return.

ICM Registry said it sold 55,367 .xxx domains in the first 24 hours of GA back in December 2011. With a registry fee of $62, that’s revenue of $3.43 million to the company.

To make the same amount of money from a single gTLD such as .guru, with its $10,000 (I believe) registry fee, Donuts only needs to sell 343 domains today.

.CO Registry sold 194,000 domains in its first 24 hours, at a registry fee I believe was $20, for approximately $3.88 million in revenue. Donuts would only need to sell 388 .clothing domains to make the same return.

These might be achievable numbers. .CO, which operated a landrush-with-auctions period, sold at least 38 domains for over $10,000 and 227 for over $2,500, based on its published results.

Volume matters for the long-term health of a gTLD with public visibility and an aftermarket, but not so much anymore for the financial health of the registry itself.

UPDATE: An earlier version of this story reported that the premium EAP prices recur for every year of the registration. They actually revert back to standard Donuts pricing in the second year.

Taryn Naidu is a *%@$! Rightside bans company “ridicule” in its new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2014, Domain Registries

If you register a domain name in one of Rightside Registry’s new gTLDs, you’ll be banned from using it to mock the company or any of its employees or shareholders.

That’s according to its Acceptable Use (Anti-Abuse) Policy (pdf) published by ICANN today.

As well as prohibiting the usual kinds of malicious hacking and spamming activity, child abuse material and so on, the policy bans:

Holding of [United TLD Holdings] (including its affiliates) or their employees or shareholders up to public scorn, ridicule, or defamation.

I can’t recall seeing that kind of clause in a domain name registration agreement before.

While “defamation” is obviously illegal in most places (as determined by a court), “scorn” seems to be a pretty broad term that could capture a lot of free speech commentary.

Rightside has applied for 26 new gTLDs. Several are the kinds of places you might expect to see some edgy discussion: .republican, .democrat, .army, .actor and .gay to name a few examples.

It seems the simplest route to getting a web site you don’t like shut down in any of these gTLDs would be to buy a single Rightside share and file an abuse complaint.

Also banned by the policy is:

Impersonating any person or entity, including, but not limited to, a UTLDH official, or falsely stating or otherwise misrepresenting your affiliation

Rightside, aka United TLD, is the Demand Media domain name retailer and new gTLD registry currently being spun off into a standalone company under CEO (and thoroughly nice bloke) Tayrn Naidu.

Trademark Clearinghouse using .uno to plug new gTLDs to Spanish markets

Kevin Murphy, January 24, 2014, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry Dot Latin has scored an early anchor tenant win, as the Trademark Clearinghouse has agreed to use two .uno domain names to market rights protection mechanisms in Spanish-speaking markets.

The TMCH, run by Deloitte and IBM, will use trademark-clearinghouse.uno and tmch.uno. The non-hyphenated version of the longer domain has not been delegated.

Both domains currently redirect to the Spanish-language version of the TMCH’s main .com site.

It’s a nice awareness-raising move for Dot Latin, potentially (depending on how well the TMCH markets it) getting its gTLD’s brand in front of major Spanish trademark-owning eyeballs.

The company signed its ICANN Registry Agreement in mid-September, so its 120-day waiting period before it was allowed to hand out second-level domains is already up.

The .uno sunrise period is due to end February 7.