Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

ShortDot adds fourth gTLD to its stable, plans March launch

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2021, Domain Registries

Another unused new gTLD has changed hands, ending up at ShortDot, the registry best-known for high-volume .icu.

ShortDot confirmed to DI today that it has acquired .cfd from its former owner, DotCFD.

The original plan for .cfd, one of the Boston Ivy collection of investment-related new gTLD applications, was for it to represent CFDs, or “contracts for difference”, a risky type of financial instrument that has proved sufficiently controversial that they’re not even legal in the US.

Since 2012, when the string was first applied for, CFDs have come in for serious criticism from market regulators and others due to the risk of significant losses they present to retail investors.

No .cfd domains have ever been sold, and it doesn’t appear to have ever properly launched, even though it’s been in the DNS root for five years.

But ShortDot COO Kevin Kopas tells me the plan is to repurpose the domain for an entirely different market.

“When we were contemplating the purchase and subsequent marketing angle we found that the traditional meaning of a CFD in the finance world doesn’t have the most positive connotation to it,” he said.

“We’re branding .cfd for the Clothing & Fashion Design industry and will be marketing it to entrepreneurs, bloggers, vloggers and others that are on the cutting edge of the fashion industry,” he said.

If that sounds like a stretch, you’re probably right — as far as I can tell, the fashion industry has never used that acronym and creating demand there will be a tall order. We’re in “professional web” territory here.

But Kopas said that ShortDot is already working with some influencers in the space “to create some pioneer cases that will go live at launch”. It’s also planning to attend fashion industry events after pandemic travel restrictions are over.

The company is planning to launch the domain with a first-come, first-served sunrise period beginning March 10 and ending April 12. General availability is slated for April 13 with a seven day early access period.

It’s the fourth unwanted gTLD ShortDot has acquired, repurposed and relaunched.

Its biggest success to date is .icu, a low-cost domain that proved popular almost exclusively in China and currently has 2.5 million domains in its zone file (down from a peak of 6.3 million less than a year ago).

ShortDot has shifted, then lost, so many .icu domains over the last two years that you’ve really got to factor out its influence if you want to get any sensible picture of what the new gTLD industry’s growth looks like.

It also runs .bond (2,500 names in its zone today) and .cyou (with 65,000).

Nominet boss has epiphany and calls for calm as his job hangs by a thread

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2021, Domain Registries

Nominet’s CEO has abruptly taken a conciliatory tone with members in a new blog post, as support grows for his ouster.

Russell Haworth today posted that the organization and its members need to change the tone of their often-hostile arguments, and agreed to play his part in doing that in future.

In the next several weeks, Nominet will be forced to hold an Extraordinary General Meeting in which members will try to fire Haworth and most of the board of directors.

He also called for members to be “pragmatic” about Nominet’s strategy, reminding them that the internet is a very different and more dangerous place than the idealistic technology Eden that birthed it 25 years ago:

Nominet was founded at a time when the Internet was a palpable source of hope and optimism, long before it was considered critical national infrastructure, and before the very real challenges all of us now face keeping things running and safe.

We try to manage Nominet for the Internet that we have, even as we keep striving for the world where technology continues to deliver on its potential as a force for good.

As we know, today’s Internet sadly has too many bad actors bent on destruction and equipped with increasingly complex digital weaponry. Managing crucial elements of the UK’s Internet infrastructure requires that we bring a cold realism to the challenge and that we equip ourselves professionally and commercially to succeed.

This appears to be a justification for the company’s venture into commercial network security services, which Nominet’s critics believe is non-core, eating up resources that could otherwise be diverted to public benefit causes.

Simon Blackler of the registrar Krystal Hosting, who launched the petition for the EGM at PublicBenefit.uk, told DI:

He seems to be saying that Nominet needs to protect against bad actors; something we’ve not disagreed with. Of course Nominet should secure critical .UK infrastructure. That’s just a part of the core business. It’s more questionable whether it needs to be making forays in to commercial “cyber defence”, something that’s being covered by the private sector (and presumably Government) already.

One of PublicBenefit’s criticisms has been that spending on board compensation, and Haworth’s pay in particular, has risen even while operating profits have declined.

Haworth’s post goes on to say that Nominet staff are regularly headhunted by other tech firms, which may or may not be a response to this criticism.

Addressing the “tone” of the debate, Haworth acknowledges that Nominet has been at odds with some members for a very long time. Members have been angered by changes such as the decision six years ago to allow direct, second-level registrations, he notes.

Perhaps as a result of the length of some of these disagreements, we all may have found ourselves approaching our interactions with the wrong tone.

In order to make progress, that needs to change. I commit to playing my part to make that happen. Starting now.

The post comes as the PublicBenefit.uk campaign hits 176 supporting members representing 13% of all potential votes.

That not may not seem like a lot, but due to Nominet’s complicated system of vote caps and the fact that EGN turnout is not usually very high, it could well be enough to get the 50%+1 of votes cast required to ouster Haworth and the other targeted board members.

On the “tone” question, Blackler disputes Haworth’s narrative, telling us:

I find it surprising that he feels the need to address “tone”. The campaign I’ve put together is based on fact and where there’s emotion from me it’s to do with the staggering waste of an opportunity with regards to Nominet’s public benefit mandate

He said he talked this week to chairman Mark Wood, who’s also on the EGM hit-list, and the tone was “entirely civil”.

An impetus for the current campaign was Nominet’s decision to close down its age-old web-based member discussion forum, which happened live during the company’s Annual General Meeting last year.

While Haworth described the forum at the time “increasingly become aggressive and hostile” towards Nominet staff, many members took the move as a deliberate slap in the face and an indication the company was no longer interested in engaging with members.

It is now.

Defensive windfall on the cards for .spa? It’s not just for spas any more

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

Forthcoming new gTLD .spa has published its planned launch dates and registrations policies, and it’s not just for spas any more.

Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council, the registry, has informed ICANN that it plans to take .spa to sunrise for 30 days starting April 20 and expects to go to general availability around the start of July.

But despite being a “Community” gTLD under ICANN rules, it appears to be also marketing itself at any Italian company that uses the S.p.A corporate suffix, which is generally equivalent to the US Inc/Corp and UK Plc.

According to its eligibility criteria (pdf), under the heading “Coincidental Community Guidelines”, proof of an Italian business address should be enough for any SpA company to qualify to register.

The registry’s web site at nic.spa currently says:

Apart from the spa and wellness industry, .spa can also be a abbreviation to represent:

  • Società per Azioni (a form of corporation in Italy, Public Limited Companies By Shares)
  • Sociedad por acciones (Joint-stock company in South American Countries)

This offers a great opportunity for entitles in Italy and South American Countries to registered a wonderful name.

This is interesting, because ASPWC applied for .spa as a Community applicant dedicated to the spa and wellness industry.

The primary reason it’s getting to run .spa rather than rival applicant Donuts is that ASPWC won a Community Priority Evaluation, enabling it to avoid a potentially costly auction against its deeper-pocketed competitor.

There’s no mention of Italians or South Americans in its 2015 CPE result (pdf).

Donuts fought the CPE result in ICANN’s Cooperative Engagement Process for three years, but eventually backed away for unknown reasons.

In its original application, ASWPC spends a lot of time discussing its “intended use” of .spa and possible overlap with other meanings of the string. Among this text can be found:

The use of “S.p.A.” as a short form for the Italian form of stock corporation: “Società Per Azioni” is also relatively much less prevalent than the word as intended for the spa community. Furthermore, a more proper and popular way of denoting the form of corporation is “S.p.A.” with the periods included. While this is an important usage of the string “SpA”, the Registry believes that it should not take away from the significant meaning of the word “spa” in its intended use for the spa community as a TLD. Furthermore, additional preventive measures can be put in place to mitigate against any concerns for abusive utilization of the TLD in this manner.

I could find no text explicitly ruling out the Italian corporate use in the application, nor could I find any indication that it was part of the hard-C “Community” upon whose behalf ASWPC was applying for, and eventually won, the gTLD.

The application does seem to envisage some kind of reserved names list that could include S.p.A companies, but that doesn’t appear to be what the registry has in mind any more.

Two more dot-brands take the easy way out

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

A US insurance giant with close to $50 billion in annual revenue has taken the decision to kill off its two dormant dot-brand gTLDs.

Nationwide Mutual Insurance has informed ICANN that it wants to cancel its .nationwide and .onyourside gTLD contracts.

Neither was being used beyond the obligatory nic.example web sites.

In fact, it appears that Nationwide cared so little about its dot-brands that both NIC sites inadvertently plug another, unaffiliated gTLD.

nationwide

The text on both sites reads:

To better serve our members, Nationwide has secured a top-level domain.

Now, when you visit a Nationwide.Insurance website, you can have confidence that it’s from the company you trust – Nationwide.

But Nationwide does not run .insurance, that’s owned by fTLD. It does however have nationwide.insurance registered and parked with the same messaging.

They’re the 87th and 88th dot-brands to cancel their ICANN registry agreements.

EURid reports 3% growth in final quarter before Brexit crunch

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

The .eu ccTLD grew by 108,682 domains in the fourth quarter of 2020, the last reporting period before the full impact of Brexit is felt.

The registry said this week that it ended December with 3,684,984 names under management, a number which also includes .ею and .ευ. That’s a 3% increase over the three months.

Portugal was the big driver, due to local registrar promotions. It was up 64.8% sequentially and 116% year-over-year. Portuguese registrants owned 105,895 names at the end of the year.

The Q4 numbers show 77,000 names registered to UK registrants and do not reflect the impact of the Brexit transition, which ended at the end of the year.

EURid said last month that it had suspended around 80,000 domains belonging to about 48,000 registrants, as the UK fell out of eligibility.

Some of those will likely be recovered during Q1, as UK-resident EU citizens are still eligible for .eu domains.

Fire the board! Registrars attempt a coup at Nominet

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

The registrars are revolting — again — at Nominet.

Members representing 12.2% of the .uk registry’s voting rights have put their names to a call for five of the company’s unelected directors, including CEO Russell Haworth, to be fired and replaced with two hand-picked alternatives.

The plan is to shake up the company by slashing wholesale .uk prices and donating more money to worthy “public benefit” causes.

Nominet has warned in response that such a move would be “highly disruptive to our work and our team”.

The campaign, which can be found at PublicBenefit.uk, was kicked off by the registrar Krystal Hosting, which has about 45,000 .uk domains under management.

Signatories want to call an Extraordinary General Meeting that would vote on kicking out Haworth, along with chair Mark Wood, registry managing director Eleanor Bradley and directors Benjamin Hill and Jane Tozer.

Four elected non-exec directors and two non-elected directors would remain.

A second resolution would replace these directors with former BBC Trust chair Sir Michael Lyons and former RIPE NCC managing director Axel Pawlik, who have both confirmed their interest in the positions. Lyons would be chair.

Only 5% of Nominet’s voting rights — calculated largely from how many domains each member manages — are needed to call an EGM. At 12.2%, the campaign has already succeeded in passing that threshold. It would need 50%+1 of those attending the EGM to actually carry the resolutions.

The campaign claims that Nominet has gone downhill ever since Haworth was appoint five years ago.

It claims that the amount of money Nominet donates to “public benefit” causes has shrunk from £26 million ($35.5 million) in the preceding five years to £9.8 million in the five years since. That’s even while its wholesale prices for .uk domains increased 50% from £2.50 to £3.75 a year.

Director pay has gone up by 70% over the same period, it claims.

The registry also stands accused of frittering away money on acquisitions and pointless diversification into non-core businesses. Krystal founder Simon Blackler wrote:

This is not a VC-backed Silicon Valley startup that needs to take risks, make speculative acquisitions, “pivot” or worry about unnecessary diversifications. This is Nominet, the guardian of the .UK namespace and we’d like it back, please.

A second — and arguably more-important, if you’re a cynic — goal is to get the price of .uk domains to come down. This would reduce the carrying cost of portfolios held for resale by some Nominet members.

In response, Haworth has blogged that “an EGM and change of board at this time would be highly destabilising to Nominet and disrupt a range of fantastic programmes that are currently underway or planned”. He wrote:

I understand that there are frustrations and disagreements about how we run the business, and we are open to looking at those and making any adjustments that are in the interests of the company and the wider stakeholder community we serve. More on that to come.

The company has just approved a pricey multi-year investment in improving the registry infrastructure, he wrote.

The board has also approved a new Registry Advisory Council, which would be made up of members and have the ability to make recommendations on pricing, which could address concerns that Nominet has not been especially responsive to its members, he wrote.

Nominet came under fire last year when it unilaterally closed down the discussion forums on its web site, announcing and executing the move during its Annual General Meeting, saying posters had become “increasingly aggressive and hostile” towards Nominet staff.

At time of writing, 153 Nominet members, including four of the top 20 by .uk domain volume, have signed up to the campaign.

UPDATE: This article was updated 1248 UTC to correct the composition of the board and voting thresholds.

.club back over a million names as Clubhouse drives growth

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

The .club gTLD’s zone file is back into seven figures as of last week, largely due no doubt to the increasing popularity of the new Clubhouse app.

As of yesterday, 1,005,145 domains could be found in the .club file, up from a recent low of 960,000 in early January.

The Clubhouse app, unaffiliated with .CLUB Domains, launched in April last year but started gathering mainstream media attention in mid-January, prompting a flurry of speculation in .club names. From what I gather, it’s an audio chatroom service.

It’s currently invitation-only, and only available on Apple’s iOS devices, which limits it reach. One assumes there could be upside potential for .club when the app fully opens up.

.club peaked at about 1.25 million domains in late 2019.

Eight years after asking, Israel to get its Hebrew ccTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

Israel is likely to be awarded the Hebrew-script version of its ccTLD, at a meeting of ICANN’s board of directors next week.

ICANN is poised to approved ישראל. (the dot goes on the right, in accordance with Hebrew writing practice), which means “Israel”, on February 8.

The beneficiary will be not-for-profit ISOC-IL, which has been running .il for the last 25 years. The Latin-script version currently has just shy of 270,000 domains under management.

ISOC-IL first expressed its interest in an internationalized domain name ccTLD (pdf) in 2012, but only received final technical approval from ICANN last May.

The proposal appears to have been held up by government delays in selecting a registry operator — government approval is a requirement under ICANN’s increasingly inappropriately named IDN ccTLD “Fast Track” program, which began in 2009.

It’s debatable how much demand there is for Hebrew domains. There are fewer than 10 million speakers in the world and most are very familiar with the Latin script.

Verisign’s gTLD קום., a transliteration of .com, has fewer than 1,700 domains in its zone file today, and is on a downward trend, two years after launch. Most are registered via local registrar Domain The Net, which had planned to compete with ISOC-IL for the IDN contract.

UNR getting out of the registry business with $17 million no-reserve auctions on 23 new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2021, Domain Registries

UNR, the former Uniregistry, plans to auction off its portfolio of 23 new gTLD contracts in April.

The company, owned by domain investor Frank Schilling, said on a new web site at auction.link:

In a move to completely dedicate the company and its resources to its backend registry and IP rights protection services, UNR has announced that 23 of its Top Level Domain assets will be sold in no-reserve auctions on April 28, 2021.

The TLDs will be sold individually, rather than as a package.

While they’re all no-reserve auctions, the published starting prices add up to $16,870,000. Some have minimum bids of zero, some are less than the price UNR paid ICANN for its application fee back in 2012.

Here’s a list of the TLDs, along with their starting prices.

.audio$500,000
.blackfriday$350,000
.christmas$350,000
.click$1,000,000
.country
.diet$500,000
,flowers$500,000
.game$3,500,000
,guitars$250,000
.help$1,300,000
.hiphop$250,000
.hiv$0
.hosting$1,000,000
.juegos$0
.link$3,000,000
.llp$0
.lol$500,000
.mom$500,000
.photo$1,300,000
.pics$500,000
.property$850,000
.sexy$570,000
.tattoo$150,000

The prices appear to be based on the reg fee and volume of existing registrations, which range wildly from around 300 for .hiv to 159,000 for .link. The .country gTLD, aimed at country music makers and fans, currently has no starting bid listed.

The most-likely buyers of these gTLDs would be the rapidly dwindling list of fellow portfolio registries, such as Donuts and Radix.

While UNR’s exit from the registry business may be surprising — Schilling was a big fan of new gTLDs and Uniregistry applied for 54 of them, investing $69 million — it’s merely the latest stage of the business being dismantled.

Uniregistry sold its registrar and secondary market businesses to GoDaddy last year, and later sold its stake in three car-related gTLDs to business partner XYZ.com.

UNR said the April auctions will be managed over one day by Innovative Auctions, which is pretty much the de facto standard player in new gTLD auctions.

While the company says the auctions are open to “businesses and individuals”, I’m pretty sure ICANN rules forbid a gTLD being owned by individuals.

The company now plans to focus on being a pure-play back-end registry services provider, with a focus on dot-brand gTLDs, where it will continue to compete with the likes of GoDaddy, CentralNic, Donuts and Verisign.

Amid .club boom, one AV vendor is blocking the whole damn TLD

Kevin Murphy, January 27, 2021, Domain Registries

.club may be experiencing a mini-boom in sales due to the popular new Clubhouse app, but one antivirus vendor has reportedly decided to block the entire TLD.

According to Forbes, the free MalwareBytes Browser Guard plug-in will warn users attempting to visit .club sites that it’s a “suspicious top-level domain”, adding that .club is “frequently used by scam or phishing sites, but can be used by legitimate websites as well”.

Users can click through to dismiss the warning and visit the site if they choose.

It seems a lot like overkill or an algorithmic glitch to me — .club has never been a particularly malware-friendly TLD. According to SpamHaus, only 0.9% of the .club domains that it’s seen in the wild could be considered “bad”.

After a disappointing second half of 2020, which saw about 300,000 domains disappear from its zone file, .club has seen a bit of a recovery in the last two weeks, largely due to a popular new audio social media app called Clubhouse.

Since the app started getting media attention earlier this month, .club has become the latest TLD hit by domain investor speculation with .CLUB Domains CEO Colin Campbell describing sales on January 15 as “absolute pandemonium”.

While .club has added about 30,000 domains to its zone since then, it’s not yet enough to counteract last year’s decline in volume. Luckily for .CLUB, many of its sales have been of premium-priced names.

It’s unlikely that these latest registrations are related to the MalwareBytes block.