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Flood of wait-and-see dot-brands expected this week

ICANN expects to sign as many as 170 new gTLD contracts with dot-brand applicants over the coming week.

Dot-brands that have been treading water in the program to date are up against a hard(ish) July 29 deadline to finally sign a Registry Agreement with ICANN.

VP of domain name services Cyrus Namazi told DI today that ICANN expects most of the backlog to be cleared in the next couple of weeks.

“The end of the July is a bit of a milestone for the program as a whole,” Namazi said. “A substantial number of contracts will be signed off and move towards delegation.”

“I think within a short period after the end of July most of these will be signed off,” he said.

There are currently 188 applications listed as “In Contracting” in the program. Namazi and myself estimate that roughly 170 are dot-brands, almost all of which have July 29 deadlines.

Namazi said that ICANN has planned for a last-minute rush of “hundreds” of applicants trying to sign contracts in the last month.

The July 29 deadline for dot-brands was put in place because of delays creating Specification 13 of the RA — that’s the part that allows dot-brands to function as dot-brands, by eschewing sunrise periods for example.

For most dot-brand wannabes, it was already an extension of nine months or more from their original deadline.

But it seems inevitable that some will miss the deadline.

Namazi said that those applicants that do miss the deadline will receive a “final notice” about a week later, which gives the applicant 60 days to come back to the process using the recently announced Application Eligibility Reinstatement process.

That creates a new deadline in early October. Applicants that miss that deadline might be shit outta luck.

“They’ll essentially just sit in a bucket that will not be proceeding,” Namazi said. “We don’t have a process to reactivate beyond that.”

So why are so many dot-brand applicants leaving it so late to sign their contracts?

The answer seems to be, essentially: lots of them are playing wait-and-see, and they still haven’t seen.

They wanted to see how other dot-brands would be used, and there’s not a lot of evidence to draw on yet. The number of dot-brands that have fully shown their cards could be counted on your fingers. Maybe even on just one hand.

“Some of them have a different level of enthusiasm for having their own TLD,” Namazi said. “Some of them don’t have their systems or process in place to accept or absorb a new TLD. Some of them don’t even know what to do with it. There may have been some defensive registrations in there. There were probably expectations in terms of market development for new TLDs that have gone a bit slower than some people’s business plans called for.”

“That has probably made some of the large brands more hesitant in terms of rushing to market with their new TLDs,” he said.

.sucks won’t discount its fee for $10 domains

Vox Populi Registry is looking for a free speech advocate partner willing to absorb hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of dollars in costs.

The .sucks registry has for many months promised that later this year it will introduce a Consumer Advocate Subsidies program that will enable people to get a .sucks for the deeply discounted price of $10 a year.

Currently, the standard recommended retail price of a .sucks is $249, with a registry fee of $199.

Users of the subsidy program would get their names for $10 or under but they’d have to agree to host a free forum on the site, open to anyone that wanted to criticize (or, I guess, praise) the subject of the domain.

It has been broadly assumed that the subsidy would be matched by a discount in the registry fee.

But it’s emerged that Vox Pop has no plans to lower its own fees in order to offer the subsidy.

Essentially, it’s looking for a partner willing to swallow a cost of essentially $189 a year for every subsidized domain name.

CEO John Berard said in a blog post this week, and has subsequently confirmed to DI, that the subsidy is a subsidy and not a discount.

Vox Pop will still demand its full wholesale registry fee for every .sucks domain that is sold. Berard blogged:

Whether a registration is subsidized, the price to the registrar and registry is unaffected. That is the nature of a subsidy. Neither is the program to be offered by the registry. We are talking to a number of free speech advocates and domain name companies to find the right partner.

“The partner has to be one committed to free speech and confident in its ability to rally contributions to underwrite the activity,” Berard told DI.

To me, this proposition suddenly looks hugely unattractive.

There are over 6,000 domains in the .sucks zone today, just a month after general availability began, and that’s with registrants paying $250 to $2,500 a year.

With a $10 free-for-all, the number of registrations would, in my view, spike.

Unless there was some kind of gating process in place, the subsidy partner would likely face hundreds of thousands of dollars in recurring annual fees almost immediately. It could escalate to millions a year over the long run.

I’m trying to imagine how an organization such as Which? (which I’m guessing is the kind of organization Vox Pop is talking to) would benefit from this arrangement.

There is “quite an interest” in signing up to become the subsidy partner, Berard said. He said that in some cases potential partners are looking for marketing opportunities or ways to “enhance their reputation”.

Details of subsidy program are expected to be announced early in the fourth quarter.

TLD to be removed from the DNS next week

The DNS has been growing by, on average 1.1 top-level domains per day for the last 18 months or so, but that trajectory is set to change briefly next week when a TLD is removed.

The ccTLD .an, which represented the former Netherlands Antilles territories, is expected to be retired on July 31, according to published correspondence between ICANN and the Dutch government.

Three territories making up the former Dutch colony — Sint Maarten, CuraƧao, and Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba — gained autonomy in 2010, qualifying them for their own ccTLDs.

They were granted .sx, .cw and .bq respectively. While the first two are live, .bq has not yet been delegated, though the Dutch government says it is close to a deal with a registry.

The Dutch had asked ICANN/IANA for a second extension to the removal deadline, to October 31, but this request was either turned down or retracted after talks at the ICANN Buenos Aires meeting.

Only about 20 registrants are still using .an, according to ICANN.

The large majority of .an names still showing up in Google redirect to other sites in .nl, .com, .sx or .cw.

.an is the second ccTLD to face removal this year after .tp, which represented Portuguese Timor, the nation now known as East Timor or Timor Leste (.tl).

Time for .bloomberg after Twitter hoax?

Could the fake Bloomberg story about Twitter being acquired act as an impetus for the company to activate its mostly dormant dot-brand gTLD?

Twitter shares yesterday reportedly spiked as much as 8% on the “news” that it was the target of a $31 buyout bid.

The story was published on bloomberg.market, a cybersquatted domain hosting a mirror of the real Bloomberg web site.

While it was reportedly quite sloppily written, it nevertheless managed to convince at least one US cable news network to run with it, one reporter even tweeting the bogus link to his followers.

The story was quickly outed as a fake and within a few hours Rightside, the .market registry as well as owner of its registrar, eNom, suspended the domain for breaching its terms of service.

Rightside wrote in a blog post:

it pains us so greatly that, in the early stages when so many people are forming their first impressions of the new TLD program, these numerous positive examples are sometimes overshadowed by the malicious practices and behaviors of a very small group of people.

Bloomberg’s not at fault here, of course. No company should be expected to defensively register its trademark in every one of the 1,000+ TLDs out there right now.

But could the hoax persuade it to do something of substance with its .bloomberg gTLD, perhaps taking a leaf out of the BNP Paribas playbook?

Bloomberg has been populating its dot-brand with hundreds of domains since May — both the names of its products and keywords related to industries it’s known for covering — but currently they all seem to redirect to existing web sites in .com or .net.

It’s long been suggested by proponents of new gTLDs that dot-brands can act as a signal of legitimacy on the web, and that’s the attitude banks such as Barclays and BNP Paribas seem to be taking right now.

Could .bloomberg be next?

.cruise heading to auction despite “closed generic” protest

Ownership of the contested gTLD .cruise will be resolved by auction, despite protests from one applicant that the other left it too late to drop its “closed generic” plans.

Applications from Cruise Lines International Association and Viking River Cruises were both placed in “In Auction” status by ICANN overnight.

Both original applications had been to operate .cruise for the registry’s own exclusive use, a so-called closed generic bid.

However, following objections from its Governmental Advisory Committee in April 2013, ICANN eventually decided to disallow such applications.

CLIA changed its plans in September 2013 as a result of the GAC advice.

But it wasn’t until mid-June this year, around about the same time as ICANN was mulling its final determination on the matter, that Viking changed its application to remove the exclusive access bits.

This prompted an angry response from CLIA.

In a letter to ICANN last month (pdf) the group accused Viking of waiting too long to change its application and said it should be given a chance to formally object.

CLIA further accused Viking of deliberately delaying the .cruise contention set so its own dot-brand, .viking, could get a head-start. The .viking gTLD is contracted and currently in pre-delegation testing.

ICANN dismissed CLIA’s request, however, saying that applicants can amend their applications at any time and that there are no plans to reopen the objection filing period for one special case.

The gTLD now seems set to head to an ICANN auction or private settlement between the two parties.