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Was this the first-ever .uk domain?

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2010, Domain Registries

Last night I attended a party, held by Nominet at the swanky Somerset House in London, celebrating 25 years of .uk.

During opening remarks, chief executive Lesley Cowley said that Nominet still hasn’t tracked down the first-ever registered .uk domain name. I reported on this for The Register a couple of weeks ago.

After doing a little digging, I think I may have a strong contender.

ucl.ac.uk

This is the domain for University College London. There are a few reasons to believe ucl.ac.uk could lay claim to be the “first” .uk domain.

It’s well known that the .uk namespace predates Nominet by over a decade. Before Nominet was formed, registrations were handled by a Naming Committee.

According to the Milton Mueller book “Ruling The Root“, and various other sources, the .uk top-level domain was originally delegated to UCL’s Andrew McDowell. This probably happened in 1984.

Digging through some old mailing list archives, I’ve found McDowell making references to running ucl.ac.uk and cambridge.ac.uk, albeit on a test basis, as early as June 1985.

The namedroppers mailing list back then was used by academics to test their newfangled domain name system, so it’s a good place to look for firsts. I’ve mentioned it before, in this blog’s inaugural post.

In one message sent to namedroppers on June 24, 1985, McDowell writes about running .uk, ucl.ac.uk and cambridge.ac.uk on his test-only name servers. The email was sent from a .arpa address.

On July 4, 1985, he sent his first email to the list from a ucl.ac.uk email address, which suggests that the domain was up and running at that time.

That’s 20 days before .uk was delegated, according to the official IANA record.

For this reason I think ucl.ac.uk may have a strong claim to be the first .uk domain.

However, it’s possible the reality may be rather less exciting (yes, even less exciting than something already not particularly exciting).

Anonymous Coward comments posted on The Register are perhaps not the most reliable source of information, but this guy seems to know what he’s talking about:

I believe .uk was the third top level domain to be established after .edu and .us. This predated dns and would have been in 1982 or 3.

.uk was run with a hosts.txt file and the first sub-domains being either ucl or mod.

dns came in in 85 or 86 and the first sub-domains in that were copied from the UK NRS from the X.25 world (ac.uk, co.uk and mod.uk) so there probably wasn’t a first dns sub-domain for uk.

This work was done by UCL CS and at least 2 people directly involved are still there.

If that is to be believed, it looks like there may have been a “first batch” of .uk names that were put into the DNS, rather than a single domain name.

However, given that UCL was managing the system at the time, I’d hazard a guess that ucl.ac.uk was probably the first to be used.

Vertical integration was not a slam dunk

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2010, Domain Registries

Two members of ICANN’s board voted against the decision to allow registrars and registries to own each other, according to a preliminary report from its November 5 meeting.

The decision was a surprise when it was announced last week, as it was diametrically opposed to the board’s previous stance essentially opposing vertical integration.

The new position, already incorporated in the Applicant Guidebook, allows registrars to apply to run new top-level domains, subject to a code of conduct.

From the board of directors’ meeting report:

Eleven Board members voted in favor of the Resolution. Two Board members were opposed to the Resolution. Two Board members did not participate in the discussion or the vote on the Resolution due to conflicts of interest. The Resolution carried.

I believe Bruce Tonkin was one of the people who recused themselves from the vote. I’m not certain who the other was.

We won’t discover who the dissenting opinions belonged to, or what they were, until the minutes are published, probably not long after the Cartagena meeting next month.

Is ICANN too scared of lawsuits?

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2010, Domain Registries

Arguments about the new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook kicked off with a jolt this week, when ICANN was accused of abdicating its responsibilities and being too risk-averse.

In what I think was the first case of a top ICANN staff member publicly discussing the AGB, senior veep Kurt Pritz fielded questions about “morality and public order objections” on a packed and occasionally passionate conference call (mp3).

On the call, Robin Gross of IPJustice accused ICANN’s of shirking its duties by proposing to “fob off” decisions on whether to reject controversial TLDs onto third-party experts.

She said:

I’m concerned that there’s a new policy goal – a new primary policy goal – which is the risk mitigation strategy for ICANN. I don’t remember us ever deciding that that was going to be a policy goal. But it seems that now what is in the best interest for the Internet is irrelevant. The policy goal that rules is what is in the best interest for ICANN the corporation

A cross-constituency working group (CWG) had said that controversial TLDs should be rejected only after a final nod from the ICANN board, rather than leaving the decision entirely in the hands of outside dispute resolution providers.

There was a concern that third parties would be less accountable than the ICANN board, and possibly more open to abuse or capture.

But ICANN rejected that recommendation, and others, on “risk mitigation” grounds. Explanatory notes accompanying the new AGB (pdf) say:

Independent dispute resolution is a cornerstone of the risk mitigation strategy. Without outside dispute resolution, ICANN would have to re-evaluate risks and program costs overall.

Almost a third of every new TLD application fee – $60,000 of every $185,000 – will go into a pool set aside for ICANN’s “risk costs”.

These costs were based on an estimate that there will be 500 applications, and that ICANN will need $30 million to cover risks.

These are often thought to be primarily risks relating to litigation.

There’s a fear, I suspect, that ICANN could become embroiled in more interminable .xxx-style disputes if it allows the board to make subjective calls on TLD applications, rather than hiring independent experts to make decisions based on uniform criteria.

On Monday’s conference call, Gross said that ICANN’s treatment of the CWG’s recommendations was a “really big shock”. She added:

clearly here this is just a fobbing off of that responsibility, trying to again avoid litigation, avoid responsibility rather than take responsibility and take accountability

But ICANN says that the risk mitigation strategy benefits TLD applicants by removing uncertainty from the program, as well making ICANN more credible.

Pritz said on the call:

the risk to the program is in creating a process or procedure that isn’t transparent and predictable for applicants. By what standard can a TLD be kicked out? It’s got to be: here’s the standards, here’s the decision maker and here’s the process.

When I talk about risk, it’s risk to this process.

If this process attracts a lot of litigation, and ICANN published the process and then did not follow it, or that the process wasn’t clear so that the applicant had no way of predicting what was going to happen to its application, the risk is then litigation would halt the process and undermine the ICANN model.

So it doesn’t really have anything to do with the people that are the directors or the people that are the staff; it has to do with the credibility of ICANN as a model for Internet governance.

In other words, if TLD applicants pay their fees and go into the process knowing what the rules are, and knowing that there’s little chance of being jerked around by the ICANN board, there’s less chance of the program as whole being disrupted by lawsuits.

Seems fair enough, no?

Happy 10th birthday new TLDs!

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2010, Domain Registries

With all the excitement about ICANN’s weekend publication of the new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook, it’s easy to forget that “new” TLDs have been around for a decade.

Tomorrow, November 16, is the 10th anniversary of the ICANN meeting at which the first wave of new gTLDs, seven in total, were approved.

The recording of the 2000 Marina Del Rey meeting may look a little odd to any relative newcomers to ICANN.

The open board meeting at which the successful new registries were selected took well over six hours, with the directors essentially making up their selection policies on the spot, in the spotlight.

It was a far cry from the public rubber-stamping exercises you’re more likely to witness nowadays.

Take this exchange from the November 2000 meeting, which seems particularly relevant in light of last week’s news about registry/registrar vertical integration.

About an hour into the meeting, chairman Esther Dyson tackled the VI idea head on, embracing it:

the notion of a registry with a single registrar might be offensive on its own, but in a competitive world I don’t see any problem with it and I certainly wouldn’t dismiss it out of hand

To which director Vint Cerf, Dyson’s eventual successor, responded, “not wishing to be combative”:

The choices that we make do set some precedents. One of the things I’m concerned about is the protection of users who register in these various top-level domains… If you have exactly one registrar per registry, the failure of either the registrar or the registry is a serious matter those who people who registered there. Having the ability to support multiple registrars, the demonstrated ability to support multiple registrars, gives some protection for those who are registering in that domain.

Odd to think that this ad-hoc decision took ten years to reverse.

It was a rather tense event.

The audience, packed with TLD applicants, had already pitched their bids earlier in the week, but during the board meeting itself they were obliged to remain silent, unable to even correct or clarify the misapprehensions of the directors and staff.

As a rookie reporter in the audience, the big news for me that day was the competition between the three registries that had applied to run “.web” as a generic TLD.

Afilias and NeuStar both had bids in, but they were competing with Image Online Design, a company that had been running .web in an alternate root for a number of years.

Cerf looked like he was going to back the IOD bid for a while, due to his “sympathy for pioneers”, but other board members were not as enthusiastic.

I was sitting immediately behind company CEO Christopher Ambler at the time, and the tension was palpable. It got more tense when the discussion turned to whether to grant .web to Afilias instead.

Afilias was ultimately granted .info, largely due to IOD’s existing claim on .web. NeuStar’s application was not approved, but its joint-venture bid for .biz was of course successful.

This was the meat of the resolution:

RESOLVED [00.89], the Board selects the following proposals for negotiations toward appropriate agreements between ICANN and the registry operator or sponsoring organization, or both: JVTeam (.biz), Afilias (.info), Global Name Registry (.name), RegistryPro (.pro), Museum Domain Management Association (.museum), Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques (.aero), Cooperative League of the USA dba National Cooperative Business Association (.coop);

If any of this nostalgia sounds interesting, and you want to watch seven hours of heavily pixelated wonks talking about “putting TLDs into nested baskets”, you can find the video (.rm format, that’s how old it is) of the MDR board meeting buried in an open directory here.

New TLD guidebook bans domain front-running

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s newly published Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domain operators contains a draft Code of Conduct for registries that, among other things, bans “front-running”.

The code, which I think is probably going to be one of the most talked-about parts of the AGB in the run-up to ICANN’s Cartagena meeting next month, is designed to address problems that could arise when registrars are allowed to run registries and vice versa.

Front-running is the name given to a scenario in which registrars use insider information – their customers’ domain availability lookups – to determine which high-value domains to register to themselves.

While there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence that such practices have occurred in the past, a study carried out last year by researcher Ben Edelman found no evidence that it still goes on.

Front-running was however held up as one reason why registrars and registries should not be allowed to vertically integrate, so the AGB’s code of conduct explicitly bans it.

It also bans registries accessing data generated by affiliated registrars, or from buying any domains for its own use, unless they’re needed for the management of the TLD.

Integrated registries will have to keep separate accounts for their registrar arms, and there will have to be a technological Chinese wall stopping registry and registrar data from cross-pollinating.

Registries will also have to submit a self-audit to ICANN, certifying their compliance with the code of conduct, before January 20 every year.

The code is currently a six-point plan, which, given the past “ingenuity” of domain name companies, may prove a little on the light side.

There’s lots more discussion to be had on this count, no doubt.

Go Daddy’s .co promo is a test

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2010, Domain Registries

Go Daddy is was “testing” the .co top-level domain as its default extension, .CO Internet has revealed.

It’s been widely reported over the weekend that .co is now the first TLD in the drop-down menu on Go Daddy’s front page, but it looks like the news might not be as shocking as originally thought.

.CO Internet chief executive Juan Diego Calle has just blogged:

The GoDaddy test is exciting. Permanent? Not yet. While we have a great and expanding relationship with GoDaddy, we do not expect .CO to remain as the default TLD on a permanent basis. In fact this is only a test to measure conversions, customer feedback, and much more.

Still, onwards and upwards. It’s certainly good news for the marketing of the Colombian TLD.

Personally, I’d be interested not only in data on conversions but also on refunds. There’s bound to be the odd customer who blindly registers a nice-looking domain thinking it’s a .com, right?

UPDATE: Go Daddy is now showing me (and others) .com as the default TLD once more. I guess the data is in.

Could vertical integration kill registrar parking?

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2010, Domain Registries

Will ICANN’s decision to allow registrars and registries to own each other help reduce the practice of registrars parking unused or expiring domain names?

A reading of the new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook in light of the recent “vertical integration” ruling it incorporates certainly raises this kind of question.

The AGB includes a policy called the Trademark Post-Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedure, or PDDRP, which allows trademark owners to seek remedies against cybersquatting registries.

The policy is quite clear that registries cannot be held accountable for cybersquatting by third parties in their TLD, unless they have, for example, actively encouraged the squatters.

But another example of infringement is given thus:

where a registry operator has a pattern or practice of acting as the registrant or beneficial user of infringing registrations, to monetize and profit in bad faith.

Now, this wouldn’t be a cause for concern in the current vertically separated market.

Most registries are only generally able to register domain names in their own TLD by going through an accredited registrar. Proving bad faith intent in that situation would be trivial.

But what of an integrated registry/registrar that also automatically parks recently registered or expiring domains in order to profit from pay-per-click advertising?

This is common practice nowadays. It’s been used to prove a registrant’s bad faith during many recent UDRP proceedings and one registrar is even being sued by Verizon for doing it.

Would a registrar parking an expired, trademark-infringing domain constitute it acting as a “beneficial user” of the domain “to monetize and profit in bad faith”?

Text added to the PDDRP section of the AGB in its most recent revision strongly suggests that “the registrar did it” would not be a defence for a vertically integrated company:

For purposes of these standards, “registry operator” shall include entities directly or indirectly controlling, controlled by or under common control with a registry operator

The PDDRP allows complainants to seek remedies such as injunctions, as well as the suspension of new registrations in a TLD and, exceptionally, the full revocation of their registry contract.

With that in mind, would an integrated registry/registrar want to risk any practice that puts their TLD at risk?

What does ICANN say about terrorism?

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2010, Domain Registries

While it’s true that ICANN has excised specific references to terrorism from its new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook, don’t expect any such groups to be awarded TLDs.

As I reported in September, the AGB no longer contains the explicit mention of “terrorism”, which had caused complaints to be filed by a few members of the community.

But it does contain text that makes it abundantly clear that any group or nation the US considers a supporter of terrorism will have an extremely hard time finding approval.

Under a new section entitled “Legal Compliance”, ICANN notes that it “must comply with all U.S. Laws, rules, and regulations” including the sanctions program overseen by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control.

OFAC administers a List of Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons. If you’re on the SDN list, American companies cannot do business with you without a license.

While ICANN has applied for exemption licenses in the past, in order to be able to deal with organizations in US-unfriendly nations (on ccTLD matters, presumably), the AGB now states:

ICANN generally will not seek a license to provide goods or services to an individual or entity on the SDN List. In the past, when ICANN has been requested to provide services to individuals or entities that are not SDNs, but are residents of sanctioned countries, ICANN has sought and been granted licenses as required. In any given case, however, OFAC could decide not to issue a requested license.

If you’ve never seen this list before, it can be downloaded here. It’s currently 475 pages long, and while it’s certainly a globally inclusive document, parts of it do read like the Baghdad phone book.

(Interestingly, many of the listed a.k.a’s are actually domain names)

Anybody who wanted ICANN to replace the amorphous term “terrorism” with something a little more specific have had their wishes granted.

No more hypothetical debate is required about whether Hamas, for example, is a terrorist group or a movement of freedom fighters. It’s in the book, so it’s probably not getting a TLD.

ICANN’s new TLD rulebook is out

Kevin Murphy, November 13, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN posted its proposed final Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domains a couple hours ago.

The document is now subject to public comment until noon UTC, December 10, just before the ICANN board convenes in Cartagena.

As I speculated earlier in the week, ICANN has reduced the length of the feedback window from 30 days in order to hit its launch deadlines.

Here’s a review of some changes, based on a quick scan of the 360-page redlined document (pdf).

One change that will certainly be of interest of applicants:

If the volume of applications received significantly exceeds 500, applications will be processed in batches and the 5-month timeline will not be met. The first batch will be limited to 500 applications and subsequent batches will be limited to 400 to account for capacity limitations due to managing extended evaluation, string contention, and other processes associated with each previous batch.

A process external to the application submission process will be employed to establish evaluation priority. This process will be based on an online ticketing system or other objective criteria.

Does this mean “get your applications in early” is a winning strategy? I’ll try to find out.

One of the most sensitive outstanding issues, the right of governments to object to TLDs on “morality and public order” grounds, is now called a “Limited Public Interest Objection”:

Governments may provide a notification using the public comment forum to communicate concerns relating to national laws. However, a government’s notification of concern will not in itself be deemed to be a formal objection. A notification by a government does not constitute grounds for rejection of a gTLD application.

The AGB now specifies that such objections must be based on principles of international law, as codified in various international agreements. The string, and the proposed usage, will be subject to these objections.

The section on applicant background checks has also been overhauled. It now makes reference to child sex offenses, and focuses more on intellectual property infringements, but eschews references to terrorism.

However, if any group considered Evil by the United States applies for a TLD, they may be out of luck. The new AGB points out that ICANN has to abide by sanctions imposed by the US Office of Foreign Assets Control.

There are a couple of little oddities in the AGB too. For example, strings relating to the contested geographic term “Macedonia” are singled out as verboten.

Intergovernmental organizations that meet the criteria to register a .int are now also granted special objection privileges.

Contested geographical terms will no longer be subject to the auction process — applicants will have to fight it out between themselves.

The vertical integration issue, resolved by the ICANN board last week, also makes an appearance. Registrars are now able to apply for new TLDs, but ICANN reserves the right to refer such applications to governmental competition authorities.

More later.

Insurance TLD draws interest

Kevin Murphy, November 12, 2010, Domain Registries

An initiative to create a top-level domain for the insurance industry appears to be attracting support in German-speaking countries.

dotVersicherung plans to apply for .versicherung (.insurance) in the first round of new TLD applications next summer, according to its web site.

The domain would be reserved for insurance companies in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Judging by its web site, which is one of the more comprehensive I’ve seen from a new TLD initiative, it has picked up a fair bit of interest from insurance companies already.

The organization reckons it will cost about 2 million euros to launch the TLD, and it currently appears to be inviting investors to get involved.

It disputes the idea that .versicherung is too long for a TLD, saying that there are already 25,000 domains in .de that contain the term at the second level and that most visitors will use search engines, rather than type-in, to find web sites.

It looks like the organization has been around several months, and is currently doing a publicity tour of its target nations. It also looks like Dirk Krischenowski, CEO of dotBERLIN, is involved in an advisory capacity.

I’m getting this information via Google Translate, by the way, so it may not be 100% reliable.

Hat tip to Jean Guillon, who’s been turning the ability to spot new TLD initiatives into a fine art recently.