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AusRegistry scores Japanese .brand deal

Kevin Murphy, April 28, 2010, Domain Registries

AusRegistry, the .au registry, has inked a deal with Brights Consulting, a company offering .brand domain services to the Japanese corporate market.

The company said the deal will mean AusRegistry will provide the technical back-end for any successful new gTLD applications that Brights manages to secure.

Other companies competing for new gTLD business include old hands VeriSign, Neustar and Afilias, as well as hungry newcomers such as Minds + Machines.

AusRegistry currently manages Australia’s .au, .qa for Qatar and .ae for the United Arab Emirates.

Brights is a corporate, rather than retail, ICANN registrar. I may be wrong, but it looks like the company counts Sony among its clients.

Could there be a .sony on the horizon?

.co enters pricey global sunrise

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2010, Domain Registries

Trademark holders can from today apply for their brands as .co domain names, even if they do not do business in Colombia.

The second stage of .CO Internet’s sunrise period allows owners of non-Colombian trademarks to apply for their domains through one of 10 chosen launch registrars.

Prices vary from $225 with OpenSRS to $335 through Dotster, with most deals comprising non-refundable application fees plus first-year registration. Go Daddy is charging $299.99 and Network Solutions is charging $279.99.

With the possible exception of .xxx, I’ve got a suspicion that this could be one of the last “generic” TLD launches with such expensive sunrise periods.

It’s quite possible there could be pricing pressure if ICANN quickly approves a few hundred new gTLDs next year. If each charges ~$300 for a pre-launch, it could cause some some registrants to rethink their defensive registration strategies.

The .co sunrise ends June 10. General availability begins July 20.

Kurds seek new cultural gTLD

Kevin Murphy, April 26, 2010, Domain Registries

A Kurdish company will apply to ICANN for a .kurd or .kur top-level domain to represent cultural Kurds.

The application will join the likes of .cat, and expected gTLD applications including .scot, .cym, .bzh, and .gal, which promise representation to “cultural”, but non-geographic, user bases.

The potential community for .kurd is around 35 million people, according to Wikipedia, over three times the size of the international Catalan community represented by .cat.

While many Kurds live in middle-eastern nations such as Iran and Iraq, there are almost 14 million living in Turkey, likely soon to be part of the European Union, according to the CIA World Factbook.

I’ve been told that a non-profit cultural gTLD needs only about 10,000 registrations to stay afloat; this seems easily achievable.

The dotKurd application has a web site and a Twitter feed.

The brains behind the TLD is a German-resident software developer called Aras Noori. He recently wrote to ICANN chief Rod Beckstrom, outlining his plan.

Two-letter .info auctions get go-ahead

Kevin Murphy, April 25, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has approved Afilias’ request to auction off its reserve of one and two-letter .info domain names.

The company seems to be planning to allocate the names both at auction and through a request-for-proposals process that would see registrants promise to develop and market their .info sites.

Any big partnerships could provide a welcome profile boost to .info, which has been around for a decade but still only grows about as much in a year as .com does in a month.

While auctions could also bring a nice windfall to the company, Afilias can expect to come under pressure from certain trademark holders to keep their brands off the market.

Volkswagen’s lawyers apparently “threatened every action in the book” to keep vw.biz out of Neustar’s allocation process for two-letter .biz names last year.

ICM launches .xxx letter-writing campaign

Kevin Murphy, April 24, 2010, Domain Registries

ICM Registry looks like it has taken a leaf from its opponents’ playbook, and is encouraging supporters of the proposed .xxx top-level domain to send form letters to ICANN.

The company has revamped its web site this week, to make it look a little less 2005, and part of the revamp is this page, which allows users to quickly send emails supporting the TLD to ICANN’s public comment forum, which ends May 10.

The letter addresses the substantial concerns of the comment period — namely, how ICANN should process the .xxx application in the light of February’s IRP decision, which says ICANN was wrong to reject .xxx in 2007.

In recent weeks, Christian groups and the pro-porn Free Speech Coalition have organized campaigns aimed at protesting .xxx. Both campaigns have resulted in large numbers of emails flooding ICANN.

The Christian letters are way off-topic, basically just anti-porn rants.

While the FSC letters do address ICANN’s question, they largely challenge the idea that .xxx has community support. This may end up not being a consideration for the Board.

By contrast, ICM’s letters go directly to ICANN’s core mantras of accountability and equality.

Its letter says: “Picking and choosing elements of the Panel’s declaration, or adding unnecessary procedural steps in adopting the review’s findings, would be a clear sign to the global Internet community that the organization cannot be relied upon to do its job fairly and objectively.”

The new ICM web site does, however, bear the new slogan “It’s time for adult websites to self label”.

It seems to me that this could be quite easily interpreted as a call for all adult web sites to use .xxx, which I’m pretty sure is not ICM’s intention.

Porn group starts anti-XXX campaign

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2010, Domain Registries

Now that the Christians appear to have quietened down, the adult entertainment industry has unleashed its own letter-writing campaign aimed at crippling ICM Registry’s bid for the .xxx TLD.

The Free Speech Coalition has started urging its members to lobby ICANN with emails demanding that the .xxx proposal is rejected.

The front page of its web site started carrying the call to action earlier today, already resulting in over a dozen form complaints.

The anti-porn complaints that have flooded ICANN’s forums for the last week focussed largely on the alleged harmful effects of porn, and will probably be politely ignored.

But unlike the Christians, the FSC has read the background documents – which request comments on how ICANN should process ICM’s application – and its letters are therefore on-topic

They urge ICANN to “Adopt Option #3” by agreeing with the dissenting minority view of the Independent Review Panel that recently ruled ICANN was unfair to reject ICM back in 2007.

“Regardless of the option chosen, I ask that ICANN continue to consider the widespread opposition of the sponsored community in any further decisions concerning a .XXX sTLD,” the letters add.

The campaign is not unexpected, but it won’t make ICANN’s board of directors’ decision any easier. After all, .xxx is ostensibly a “sponsored” TLD, and a significant voice within its potential customer base does not appear to want it.

There may also be other power games at play.

ICM president Stuart Lawley claimed during his IRP cross-examination in September that the FSC had offered to support ICM in 2003, but only if it could control the sponsoring organization and collect the associated $10 per domain per year.

The ICANN comment period runs until May 10. The FSC’s own comments, from boss Diane Duke, are here.

TLDH sells off domain portfolio, waits for new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, April 15, 2010, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has reported blah revenue for its fiscal 2009, as it reorganized itself in preparation for ICANN’s forthcoming new gTLD round.

The company, which owns registry services firm Minds + Machines and has interests in dotNYC and DotEco, is listed on London’s low-cap AIM market.

It today reported revenue for the 12 months to October 31, 2009 of £315,000 ($487,000), up from £232,000 ($358,000) a year earlier, with an operating loss of £1.4 million, ($2.2 million) down from £1.5 million ($2.3 million).

TLDH also revealed that it sold off its entire parked domain name portfolio for $250,000 last November, after the end of its financial year, after it found parking revenue on the decline:

The Company’s domain name portfolio comprising mainly German and other European parked domain names that receive direct navigation and search traffic which can be monetized through search links to generate click-through advertising revenues generated a lower revenue in the period and were subsequently sold following the period end for US$250,000 in cash.

TLDH recorded an impairment charge of £154,000 ($238,000) for this transaction, suggesting the company sold its portfolio for approximately half of its previously reported paper value.

The firm says its strategy is “to build a portfolio of gTLD applicants and infrastructure technologies”, and believes ICANN’s recent Nairobi meeting decisions continued “a trend of increasing the barriers to application for non-experts”.

TLDH still looks like it has more than enough cash on hand to see it through to when ICANN begins officially accepting new TLD applications, barring further delays, with £4.3 million ($6.6 million) in the bank at the end of October.

.xxx jumps on social media bandwagon

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2010, Domain Registries

ICM Registry, the firm behind the proposed .xxx TLD, has belatedly joined the social media revolution, setting up a Facebook fan page and a Twitter account to expound the benefits of pornographic domain names.

I’d hazard a guess that this is in response to the deluge of negative opinion currently directed at it in ICANN’s public comment forum.

If you can wade through the Christian spam there, you’ll find only a handful of people backing ICM.

Some of these comments come from policy wonks, urging ICANN to show it can be as accountable as it says it is.

Others come from random individuals, suspiciously based in ICM’s home state of Florida.

If this woman, for example, is not British ICM president Stuart Lawley’s green card lawyer, I’ll eat my beanie.

Hat tip: @mneylon

.jobs aiming to become a gTLD by the back door?

Employ Media, the company behind the sponsored TLD .jobs, looks like it’s making a play to become a significantly more open gTLD.

The company has proposed a substantial relaxation of its registration policies, based on what may be a loophole in its ICANN registry contract.

Currently, the .jobs namespace is one of the most restrictive TLDs. Only company names can be registered, and registrants have to be approved HR professionals at those companies.

As you might imagine, it’s been phenomenally unsuccessful from a business point of view, with only about 15,000 domains registered since it went live five years ago.

Employ Media now wants to be able to register “non-companyname” domains, and is to apply to its sponsorship body, the Society for Human Resource Management, for permission.

At least, that’s what it looks like. The documents posted over at policy.jobs are pretty opaque.

Indeed, as ERE.net points out, the “proposed amendment” to its charter reads more like a claim that no amendment is required.

The company appears to be pursuing a business model whereby it could auction off (continue reading)

UK domains get government oversight

With the passing of the Digital Economy Bill last night, the UK government has created powers to oversee Nominet, the .uk registry manager, as well as any new gTLD that is “UK-related”.

The Bill would allow the government to replace a registry if, in its opinion, the registry’s activities tarnish the reputation or availability of UK internet services.

It also allows the minister to apply to a court to alter the constitution of a registry such as Nominet.

The legislation was created in response to concerns that the registry could be captured by domainers, following a turbulent few years within Nominet’s leadership.

Nominet has since modified its constitution to make this unlikely, and is now of the position that the government will have no need to exercise its new powers.

The Bill does not name Nominet specifically, but rather any domain registry that is “UK-related”.

An internet domain is “UK-related” if, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, the last element of its name is likely to cause users of the internet, or a class of such users, to believe that the domain and its sub-domains are connected with the United Kingdom or a part of the United Kingdom.”

This almost certainly captures the proposed .eng, .scot and .cym gTLDs, which want to represent the English, Scots and Welsh in ICANN’s next new gTLD round.