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What does the Overstock commercial mean for .co?

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2010, Domain Registries

Judging by the number of exclamation marks being deployed over on the .CO Internet blog today, it’s a fairly safe bet that the company is rather happy with Overstock.com’s latest TV commercial.

It’s the first high-profile commercial to feature a .co domain, in this case o.co, which could go some way to raise the newly relaunched TLD’s profile in the US.

While it’s a nice first step for .CO, I wouldn’t say its TLD has necessarily “arrived” yet, on the basis of this ad, for a few reasons.

First, what’s this “shortcut” business?

Overstock.com commercial

Should this be troubling?

The biggest marketing coups .CO has inked to date have been for x.co and t.co, URL shorteners offered by Go Daddy and Twitter respectively. Now, Overstock is using its o.co as a “shortcut”, which bounces visitors to overstock.com.

True, Overstock’s .com domain is its brand, and that’s not about to change, but its use of o.co as a “shortcut” may perpetuate the short-term perception that .co’s primary purpose is short URLs.

On the upside, the company is actively encouraging customers to type a .co domain into their browsers.

Getting this “type-in awareness” is something I know that .CO Internet is looking to foster, something that the Twitter deal does not necessarily bring to the table.

It’s also encouraging that Overstock feels comfortable using a .co domain where it does not own the equivalent .com. That said, nobody does. Most single-letter .com domains are still reserved.

While this may be a branding risk for Overstock, could it actually be helpful for .CO, training fat-fingered users the difference between .com and .co domains? It seems possible.

It’s interesting to note that Overstock is using “www.” for its .co, but not for its .com, presumably in order to train viewers that “this is a URL”, much the same as .com domains were once uniformly advertised with the www prefix.

A reliable sign that .co has “arrived” would be when an advertiser feels happy to drop the www.

Nominet study reveals advertisers’ favorite TLDs

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2010, Domain Registries

Domains ending in .uk are more popular among advertisers in the UK than .com domains, but not massively so, according to research published today by Nominet, the .uk registry.

A study of 10,000 UK ads found that 65% of them contained a URL, and that 55% of those was a .uk, compared to 42% that were .com names.

I find that first number quite surprising – why are 35% of advertisers not doing something so simple and risk-free as including their domains in their ads? It doesn’t seem to make much sense.

The break-down between .uk and .com surprises me less. In my experience on both sides of the Atlantic, fewer Brits than Americans think of .com as a purely US-oriented TLD.

We share a language after all, and the pervasiveness of the phrase “dot-com” in the late 1990s saw many big British online brands, such as LastMinute.com, opt for generic domains.

Interestingly, Nominet also managed to uncover a correlation between how business-focussed a publication was and use of .com domains over .uk.

Computer Weekly, a trade publication, had .uk addresses in only 33% of its ads, while Computer Shopper, a consumer publication, had them 64% of the time.

At the two extremes, news weekly The Economist had .coms in 82% of its ads, while Auto Express ads were 80% .uk addresses. The average across all magazines was 60% in favor of .uk.

It’s the most comprehensive study of .com versus .uk I’ve read, containing far too many statistics to enumerate here, but it’s also a quick read. It can be downloaded here.

dotFree reports 15,000 .free preregistrations

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2010, Domain Registries

The dotFree Group, which intends to apply for the .free top-level domain, says it has taken almost 15,000 preregistrations in its first 48 hours.

Dominique Piatti, chief executive of the Czech-based company, tells me the domain count at the two-day mark was 14,831, preregistered by 2,787 users, an average of five domains each.

About 4,000 of those came in the first hour.

Considering that it’s not possible to preregister tens of thousands of “premium” strings – dotFree plans to auction those – that strikes me as a not-bad start.

As I discovered on Monday, the company has also banned the preregistration of any string ending in the number 4, presumably due to the “for.free” pun.

If dotFree’s .free ever gets approved – which is of course by no means certain – it would be at least 18 months from now before any of these preregistrations convert into actual usable domain names

One-letter .uk domains coming December 1

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2010, Domain Registries

Nominet will start taking applications for one and two-letter .co.uk domains next month, starting with a sunrise period for trademark holders.

The registry said 2,831 previously reserved names are being released under its phased process, which also extends to the .org.uk, .net.uk and .me.uk domains.

Nominet’s decision to hold a sunrise – actually it’s planning two – is quite unusual. Other TLDs that have released super-short domains usually carry out an RFP process first.

The first sunrise, for companies with “registered rights” ends January 17. The second sunrise, for those with “unregistered rights” will start at some point after that.

Domains will be auctioned in the event of competing successful applications, with the profits going to the Nominet Trust.

There’s still no firm date on the open-doors landrush phase, in which registrants without trademarks will be able to bid on the domains.

Uber-short .travel domains up for grabs

Kevin Murphy, November 1, 2010, Domain Registries

Tralliance, the .travel registry, is to allocate one and two-character domains for the first time, via a request for proposals process.

For the month of December, interested parties will be able to apply to register almost any single or double-character domain without having to pay a tonne at auction. Tralliance said:

This will be your best chance to register a high value domain name in one of the most active industries on the Internet, without paying a premium price, simply by giving us your best ideas for how you will promote your names and .Travel.

This appears to be similar to co-marketing offers made in other TLD registries, such as .biz and .mobi, over the last couple of years.

All the letters of the alphabet and all the numerals will be available. Of the two-letter combinations, only strings matching existing country-code TLDs, such as US and UK, are prohibited.

Tralliance said it will release the names in phases, and that a “very limited” number will be available following the December round.

It’s particularly keen on ideas that somehow tie one super-short .travel domain to a bunch of other normally registered .travels, for maximum visibility.

Tralliance received authorization from ICANN to release these short names in August.

DotFree starts taking .free domain preregistrations

Kevin Murphy, November 1, 2010, Domain Registries

The DotFree Group, which plans to apply to ICANN to run .free as a top-level domain, has become one of the first would-be registries to open its doors for preregistrations.

From noon UTC today, the Czech company has made a tool available on its web site enabling users to reserve their desired strings by handing over their contact information.

Of course, there’s no guarantee any preregistration will actually turn into a .free domain – ICANN may turn down DotFree’s application or award the string to another bidder.

While the plan is to offer some .free domains free of charge, DotFree intends to hold tens (or hundreds) of thousands of “premium” strings for auction or paid-for registrations.

In other words, if you try to register any really juicy strings today, you’re out of luck.

DotFree is one of only a few unapproved TLD registries to accept preregistrations.

ICM Registry started taking .xxx preregs a few years ago, but only after it had already received ICANN’s approval (which was, of course, later revoked).

Another wannabe TLD operator, the MLS Domains Association, is charging “multiple listing service” real estate brokers many hundreds of dollars for the opportunity to own their own .mls domain name.

UPDATE: Messing around with the preregistration tool, I’ve noticed that it appears to ban any string that ends with the number 4. Presumably these will be “premium”, due to the “for” pun.

Sunrise for .so domains starts tonight

Kevin Murphy, October 31, 2010, Domain Registries

.SO Registry, manager of the internet’s newest open-doors top-level domain, will open its systems for sunrise registrations in a few hours, at midnight UTC.

The TLD is the country code for the Republic of Somalia, the mostly lawless east-African nation that is broadly recognized as a failed state.

For that reason, among others, the .so namespace is not likely to be as attractive to registrants as, say, the recent relaunch of Colombia’s .co.

Another reason, perhaps coupled to the fact that .so doesn’t really have a comparable English semantic value to .co, is that the registry appears to have done a rather poor job of publicizing the launch.

There has been no media activity as far as I can tell, and its web site does not currently list its approved registrars.

Key-Systems has press-released its involvement, and a quick Twitter poll earlier today revealed that EuroDNS, Blacknight and NetNames are also among the signed-up.

The back-end for the registry is being handled by Japanese operator GMO Registry.

During the trademarks-only sunrise period, which runs until November 30, companies have to commit to a minimum three-year registration, with a registry fee of $90, cheaper than most sunrise phases.

The .so registry has taken on most of the same sunrise policies as .co – its rules were written by the same people – with the noteworthy exception of the Protected Marks List.

.SO Registry is also the first to require trademark holders use CHIP, the new Clearing House for Intellectual Property, a venture launched earlier this month by sunrise specialist Bart Lieben, who recently joined the law firm Crowell & Moring.

After contested sunrise applications are wound up with a Pool.com auction, a landrush will follow, from December 16 to February 9, 2011. General availability is scheduled to kick off March 1.

.SO Registry recently published its restricted names list (pdf), which appears to be made up mostly of English-language profanities, as well as religiously and sexually oriented terms.

The term “gay” is among the restricted terms.

The registry also appears to have “wildcarded” about 20 strings on its restricted list, including %vagina%, %penis% and %lesbian%.

New TLD applications to open May 2011

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has named the date for its planned launch of the new top-level domain application process.

According to a resolution passed at its board of directors meeting Thursday, ICANN is targeting May 30, 2011 for the opening of applications.

The proposed final version of the Applicant Guidebook is set to be published November 9, and is expected to be approved by the board at its meeting in Cartagena, December 10.

A four-month marketing and outreach period is expected to kick off January 10.

If you’re looking for the specifics of what the Applicant Guidebook will contain, you’re out of luck.

# Vertical Integration – No resolution

# GNSO New gTLD Recommendation 6 Objection Process – No resolution

# GAC Issues Letter including Geographic Names – No resolution

# Affirmation of Commitment Considerations – No resolution

Looks like we’ll have to wait until November 9 to find out what has been agreed on each of these issues.

ICANN could fast-track final new TLD guidebook

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN is considering a fast-track process for the final version of its new top-level domain Applicant Guidebook that could see it approved this December, documents have revealed.

Minutes and board briefing materials from ICANN’s August 5 board meeting, published yesterday, seem to demonstrate an eagerness to get the policy finalized by its Cartagena meeting.

Staff and board members favor a limited public comment period prior to the guidebook’s finalization, which could see it approved sooner rather than later.

Briefing documents (pdf, page 111 and on) say:

It is recommended that the Board consider the Final version of the Guidebook for approval at the Cartagena meeting. The final version will be posted for limited comment prior to the meeting.

The minutes of the meeting reveal a preference among staff and some directors, including chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, for this limited comment window.

The comments would be “limited” to new issues, for various reasons, including this:

A full process will bring forth every last attempt for parties to repeat positions to modify the process to be in line with their pecuniary or other interest. The optics might falsely indicate that there is no consensus around the model

ICANN’s obligation to consult its Governmental Advisory Committee would be carried out face-to-face at the Cartagena meeting, further speeding this up.

Tantalizingly, a flow-chart setting out the board’s options contains the possible launch dates for the first-round application window, but they’ve been redacted.

These documents date from August and the ICANN board has met twice since then, so things may have changed.

We’re likely to find out more about the timeline when the board resolutions from its meeting yesterday are published. I’m expecting this later today, so stay tuned.

Budapest joins the city TLD bandwagon

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2010, Domain Registries

A Hungarian consortium is set to apply for .bud, a top-level domain to represent Budapest.

The Dotbud campaign joins a long and growing list of city TLDs intended to represent European capitals, which currently includes the likes of .london, .berlin, .paris and .riga.

Judging from a machine translation of the organization’s web site, the registry plans to offer a 50% discount to registrants who follow it on Facebook which strikes me as a novel marketing technique.