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Nominet appoints Baroness to chair

Nominet, the .uk registry manager, has hired Irene Fritchie, aka Baroness Fritchie, to be its new chair.

No, I’d never heard of her either, but apparently Fritchie is a life peer and a dame, with a seat in the House of Lords since 2005.

Her geek credentials appear to comprise her chairmanship, until last year, of the Web Science Research Initiative, a joint initiative between the University of Southampton and MIT.

So she’s on speaking terms with Tim Berners-Lee, it seems.

Fritchie replaces Bob Gilbert, who quit in March after guiding the organization through a tricky period.

A cynic would say that it’s fortuitous that Nominet now has a member of the UK legislature fighting its corner, given that the recently passed Digital Economy Act originated and was primarily written in the Lords.

The Act created powers for the British government to take over .uk if Nominet screws up by letting domainers commandeer its board.

Fritchie is a cross-bencher, meaning she is beholden to no one political party.

Nominet also said that it has appointed Piers White MBE as a non-executive director. White has a background in banking and currently sits on the board of Ordnance Survey.

ICANN’s Sword algorithm fails Bulgarian IDN test

ICANN has released version 4 of its new TLD Draft Applicant Guidebook (more on that later) and it still contains references to the controversial “Sword” algorithm.

As I’ve previously reported, this algorithm is designed to compare two strings for visual similarity to help prevent potentially confusing new TLDs being added to the root.

The DAG v4 contains the new text:

The algorithm supports the common characters in Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Devanagari, Greek, Japanese, Korean, and Latin scripts. It can also compare strings in different scripts to each other.

So I thought I’d check how highly the internationalized domain name .бг, the Cyrillic version of Bulgaria’s .bg ccTLD, scores.

As you may recall, .бг was rejected by ICANN two weeks ago due to its visual similarity to .br, Brazil’s ccTLD. As far as I know, it’s the only TLD to date that has been rejected on these grounds.

Plugging “бг” into Sword returns 24 strings that score over 30 out of 100 for similarity. Some, such as “bf” and “bt”, score over 70.

Brazil’s .br is not one of them.

Using the tool to compare “бг” directly to “br” returns a score of 26. That’s a lower score than strings such as “biz” and “org”.

I should note that the Sword web page is ambiguous about whether it is capable of comparing Cyrillic strings to Latin strings, but the new language in the DAG certainly suggests that it is.

Could litigation delay ICANN’s new TLDs?

Intellectual property lawyers are wondering aloud about the possibility of ICANN being sued in order to delay the launch of new top-level domains.

The idea was raised during a panel at the annual meeting of INTA, the International Trademark Association, in Boston yesterday, according to its daily newsletter (pdf).

Kristina Rosette of the law firm Covington & Burling reportedly “suggested litigation is a possibility to slow down the application launch. One source of litigation could be trademark owners, worried about mass cybersquatting”.

That’s reported speech, by the way, not a quote. The article does not make clear the context.

Rosette is Intellectual Property Constituency representative for North America on ICANN’s GNSO Council.

The IP community is worried that the launch of new TLDs will lead to companies splurging more money unnecessarily on defensive registrations.

The current best, arguably most optimistic guess on the new TLD timeline comes from registry hopeful Minds + Machines. M+M has applications opening next April.

A delay in the launch of new TLDs would hurt most the startup companies that intend to apply for them, and the service providers and consultants hoping to facilitate the launches.

Some of these companies make minimal revenue, are dependent on funding, and would prefer applications open sooner rather than later.

dotSport complains to ICANN about other .sports

One of the companies that intends to apply for the .sport top-level domain has written to ICANN, begging that it does not approve any TLDs for individual sports.

dotSport’s Policy Advisory Committee, which appears to think it already has rights in the .sport string, said ICANN should respect “sport solidarity”.

In other words, please don’t allow .tennis or .golf to be approved.

The company wrote:

The PAC members reiterate our concern that ICANN may be prematurely entertaining a process that will allow proliferation of names in sub-categories or individual sports, which will lead to a number of detrimental effects

The detrimental effects, referenced in this letter last August, basically boil down to the potential for user confusion and the need for defensive registrations by sports teams and personalities.

You could apply the same arguments to pretty much any potential new TLD – what would .music mean for the .hiphop community?

The dotSport PAC is filled with high-level appointees from more than half a dozen sports federations, representing sports from basketball to rugby to archery, so its views are far from irrelevant.

Its position appears to be that the DNS hierarchy should be used for taxonomic purposes, at least when it comes to sports.

It’s an argument that was floated all the way back in the 2000 round of TLD applications, and probably before.

Purely from a marketing point of view, it seems like a self-defeating objective to mandate the use of www.example.hockey.sport when www.example.hockey is an option.

The main example of such a mandatory multi-level taxonomy, the old-style .us ccTLD, was a spectacular commercial failure.

Could it be that dotSport wants to be the registry for all .sports for the price of one? It certainly appears that way.

DotAsia wants lower ICANN fees

As its active base of .asia domain name registrations continues to plummet, the DotAsia Organization wants to reduce its ICANN fees by a third.

CEO Edmon Chung has written to ICANN’s Kurt Pritz, asking if the annual transaction fee it pays per domain can be reduced from $0.75 to $0.50.

“A lower fee would enable DotAsia to invest further into meaningful community projects as well as to extend the awareness and adoption of the .ASIA domain,” Chung wrote. “The suggested amendment would also bring the fees into line with other gTLDs.”

I don’t expect the proposed changes to be especially controversial, but they do highlight how tough it is to launch a new TLD.

The .asia TLD has proved to be a bit of a damp squib, especially since the early-mover speculators started jumping ship, so the company could probably use being thrown a bone.

After .asia’s landrush, the company grew its registration base to a peak of 243,000 in April 2009, according to HosterStats.com, but it currently stands at around 183,000.

.CO Internet scores TechCrunch marketing coup with Disrupt.co

The newly relaunched .co domain has won itself a whole bunch of free publicity by signing up TechCrunch to its Founders Program.

The tech news blog will use the domain Disrupt.co as part of its startup conference of the same name that kicks off today.

The web site will host “Startup Battlefield”, a competition during TechCrunch Disrupt for new companies and services.

.CO Internet is marketing Colombia’s .co ccTLD as a generic. The launch is currently in its trademark sunrise period, with registrations opening to other registrants next month.

Its Founders Program is a marketing scheme designed to get the word out about the availability of .co domains. Few partners could be as useful to this end as TechCrunch.

Founders get a free premium domain if they promise to promote it properly. CO Internet is still looking for more partners, with applications closing June 15.

I expect disrupt.com, currently parked, will also be getting a lot of traffic today.

UrbanBrain proposes first properly generic new gTLD

Japanese registry wannabe UrbanBrain will apply for .site under ICANN’s first round of new top-level domain applications.

Of all the registries to so far show their hands for the new TLD round, .site is probably the first that could properly be described as both new and “generic”.

UrbanBrain said the namespace will be targeted at “Internet users, hobbyists, and business owners”. A pretty generic constituency.

Also, the dotSiTE launch page currently contains a bullet-pointed list of three reasons why .site will indeed be as generic as they come.

The dotSiTE internet extension is full of possibilities.

* Optimize your SiTE with great keywords

* Some other text

* Another reason

All the other 100-odd new TLD applications to have been publicly disclosed to date address specific geographical, cultural or niche interest markets.

There are also two (for now) applications for .web, which I’m not counting as “new” gTLD applications because they’ve been on the table for over a decade.

UrbanBrain is affiliated with Japanese ISP Interlink, and registry-in-a-box venture RegistryASP.

Will VeriSign change its name?

VeriSign’s $1.3 billion sale of its SSL business to Symantec yesterday means not only that the company will be almost entirely focussed on domain names, but also that it will no longer “sign” anything.

The word “VeriSign” will cease to describe what the company does, so will it change its name?

The idea could make sense, given that the services Symantec bought are all about trusting the VeriSign brand, and Symantec has acquired certain rights to use that brand.

Under the deal, Symantec is allowed to use the VeriSign name in authentication services such as the VeriSign Trust Seal. The company plans to incorporate “VeriSign” into a new Symantec trust logo.

VeriSign boss Mark McLaughlin said on a conference call yesterday that Symantec is buying certain VeriSign trademarks, such as Thawte and GeoTrust, but that VeriSign will stay VeriSign.

Symantec will be able to use the VeriSign brand in its logos for a “transition period of time over a number of years”, McLaughlin said.

On the one hand, there’s a potential for a certain degree of confusion that might persuade VeriSign to brand itself afresh. On the other, corporate rebranding is not cheap.

I suppose, if it does choose to rename itself, it had better hope that its first choice of .com is available.

ICANN says no to Bulgarian ccTLD

Bulgaria can not have a localized-script version of its country-code domain .bg, because it looks too much like Brazil’s current ccTLD.

Bulgarian business daily Dnevnik is reporting that ICANN has turned down Bulgaria’s request for .бг, the Cyrillic translation of .bg, because it looks very much like .br.

Part of ICANN’s internationalized domain name fast-track process checks whether applied-for strings could be visually confusing. Clearly, this is one of them.

Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have already passed the test and have active IDN ccTLDs.

The Bulgarians are not giving up, however. Dnevnik reports that the country will most likely apply for .бгр instead.

VeriSign poised to sell SSL business to Symantec

Reliable news sources including the Wall Street Journal and Reuters are reporting that VeriSign is on the verge of offloading its market-leading SSL certificate business to Symantec for over $1 billion.

The sale would be the latest in a series of spin-offs that started in 2007, highlighting the company’s renewed focus on domain names.

VeriSign spent many years acquiring a bunch of companies in tenuously related markets – deals that never really made any sense to me – and the last few years selling them off again.

But SSL is not really in the same category as VeriSign’s bizarre forays into, for example, the Crazy Frog ringtone company. It’s the business the company was founded on when it was spun out of RSA Security 15 years ago.

It’s called VeriSign for a reason.

But offloading the SSL business would make sense. One of the reasons VeriSign bought Network Solutions ten years ago was the obvious retail synergies between domain names and SSL certificates – customers could buy both at the same time.

That synergy was diluted when VeriSign spun the NSI registrar business out as a separate company three years later, creating the vertically separated domain name market we know today.

Symantec, with its fingers in the enterprise and home/small business pies, might be able to make a better crack at the SSL game.

So is this bad news for SSL’s current silver medal holder, Go Daddy?

Possibly. Symantec is a force to be reckoned with – only marketing prowess could explain why so many people use Norton.

Of course, these news stories could be nonsense.

But my guts say they’re probably based on the same kind of leaks that companies often float to the press, to see what the markets do, when they’re in the final stages of negotiations.