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.whoswho survives!

Kevin Murphy, October 3, 2019, Domain Registries

The registry running the failing new gTLD .whoswho has managed to avoid having its contract terminated by ICANN.

According to an update on the ICANN web site, Who’s Who Registry came back into compliance with its obligations earlier this week, meaning it can continue operating.

It had been under a cloud of uncertainty since January, when ICANN Compliance sent off a breach notice saying the company was overdue with its $25,000-a-year fees.

Who’s Who originally had until a date in February to pay up, but this deadline has been extended repeatedly over the course of the year.

Registry CEO John McCabe had told ICANN last November that the fee is “onerous” and “the single largest item in .whoswho’s budget”.

ICANN later rejected his request for a fee reduction.

.whoswho, which seeks to replicate the once-popular biography compilation books of the same name, has fewer than 100 real registrations to its name, most of which appear to be defensive, despite being live for five years.

At about $70 a pop, that’s still not nearly enough to cover ICANN fees, never mind other operating costs.

It sold barely a dozen names in the first half of this year.

I thought it was a goner for sure.

But it looks like it’s been saved from the axe for now, so maybe there’s time to turn things around.

Nominet raises .uk prices

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2019, Domain Registries

Nominet is to raise the price of a .uk domain name in January, adding a couple million quid to its top line.

The company’s annual registry fee will increase by 4%, from £3.75 to £3.90 ($4.77), on January 13 next year.

Nominet said the increase is to reflect “some of the increased costs of running the registry business since prices last changed in 2016.”

While it’s a modest £0.15 extra per name per year, at the current registration volume that works out to just shy of £2 million ($2.45 million) more revenue per annum.

Perhaps predicting a backlash from large-volume registrants, Nominet told registrars:

We appreciate that price rises are never popular, but even after this modest rise, .UK domains remain extremely competitively priced in the market and accessible to all.

If US dollars are your frame of reference, .uk names will still actually be cheaper following the price increase than they were following the 2016 price increase, due to exchange rate fluctuations.

The last price increase went into effect in March 2016. Before that, prices had been unchanged since 1999.

Mediocre .vote gTLD drops restrictions

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2019, Domain Registries

The .vote and .voto gTLDs have had their registration restrictions removed in a bid to increase numbers.

Both domains were previously technically restricted to those who could show they had a legitimate connection to democratic proceedings, and were sometimes used by political campaigns.

But it appears those post-registration restrictions were lightly enforced, and now they’ve been dropped entirely.

Neither gTLD has been particularly successful — .vote has been wobbling around the 3,000-domain mark for a while, while .voto (the Spanish version) has about a tenth of that figure.

Both renew at retail for about $60 a year, but first-year regs can currently be obtained for about half that amount.

They’re both managed by Afilias.

The highest-profile .vote domain I’m aware of to date was used in the spectacularly successful Hollywood-backed campaign to keep Donald Trump out of the White House in 2016.

Claims auDA boss quit after he was busted for “falsified” law degree

Kevin Murphy, October 1, 2019, Domain Registries

Former auDA CEO Cameron Boardman abruptly left the .au registry overseer after his chair claimed he had falsely claimed to have a law degree from a prestigious university, it has been reported.

Citing a letter from then-chair Chris Leptos to Boardman from earlier this year, The Australian reported last week that Leptos “alleged the then-CEO falsified his academic record by including a master of laws degree (LLM) from La Trobe University”.

The CEO had denied the claims, the paper indicated.

Boardman and Leptos both quit shortly after the allegations arose.

Boardman resigned in July after a tumultuous three years in the job which saw him navigate governance and policy controversies and narrowly survive a member vote of confidence.

Leptos had quit just a couple of weeks earlier, reportedly after a disagreement with Boardman about unspecified governance issues.

No specific reasons were given by auDA for either resignation.

Questions about Boardman’s qualifications had been raised as early as April 2018 in a freedom of information request that was ultimately unsuccessful because the government was not in possession of the documents requested.

auDA is currently being chaired on an interim basis by director Suzanne Ewart, while other members of the executive team are looking after the CEO’s functions.

.bond domains could cost a grand each

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2019, Domain Registries

Newish registry ShortDot has announced the release details for its recently acquired .bond gTLD, and they ain’t gonna be cheap.

The TLD is set to go to sunrise in a little under a month, October 17, for 33 days.

General availability begins November 19 with a seven day early access period during which the domains will be more expensive than usual but get cheaper each day.

The regular pricing is likely to see registrars sell .bond names for between $800 and $1,000 a pop, according to ShortDot COO Kevin Kopas.

There won’t be any more-expensive premium tiers, he said.

The gTLD was originally owned by Bond University in Australia, but it was acquired unused by ShortDot earlier this year.

The company hopes it will appeal to bail bondsmen, offerers of financial bonds and James Bond fans.

The business model with .bond is diametrically opposed to .icu, where names sell for under $2 a year (and renew for under $8, if indeed any of them renew).

That zone has inexplicably gone from 0 to 1.8 million names in the last 16 months, and ShortDot says it’s just crossed the two-million mark of registered names.

That second million appears to have been added in just the last three months.

PIR’s “new” .org domain is just temporary. Help it pick another new one!

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2019, Domain Registries

Public Interest Registry unveiled a fancy new set of logos and a swanky new web site yesterday, but CEO Jon Nevett tells us that its new domain name is temporary.

The new site and logos are undeniably superior to those they replace, but what raised eyebrows was the fact that the non-profit company has replaced its old pir.org domain with thenew.org, and deprecated the PIR brand almost entirely on its site.

The old PIR domain now redirects to the new thenew one, but the older domain still ranks higher in search engines.

But Nevett tells us it’s not a permanent move.

“Think of it more as a marketing campaign,” Nevett said. “This is a limited campaign, then we’ll move to another name.”

The campaign is basically about PIR going back to its roots and repositioning itself as the .org guys.

It’s only been six years since PIR last rebranded. In September 2013, the company started calling itself “Your Public Interest Registry” in its logo, deliberately playing down the “.org”.

Then-CEO Brian Cute told us at the time that playing up .org “made a lot of sense when we were a single-product company” but that with the imminent launch of sister TLDs .ngo and .ong, the decision was made to lead with the PIR branding instead.

.ngo and .ong — for “non-governmental organization” in English and other languages — haven’t exactly flown off the shelves. Neither one has ever topped 5,000 domains under management, while .org, while declining for a few years, still sits comfortably at over 10 million domains.

“I wouldn’t say so,” Nevett said, when I asked him whether PIR is now essentially back to being a single-product company. “But .org is the flagship, and we’re going back to leading with .org as the key brand. It’s what we’re known for and to say otherwise would be silly.”

People outside the industry have no idea what PIR is, he said, but they all know what .org is.

Some suspect that the rebranding is a portent of PIR gearing up to raise prices, given its newly granted ability to up its registry fees beyond the 10% annual price increase cap that it has it has been to date contractually bound to.

But Nevett said the rebranding is “not at all related to a price increase”. He told me several times that PIR still has “no plans to raise prices”.

He said the rebranding was first put in motion over a year ago, after Cute’s departure but before Nevett’s hiring, during Jay Daley’s interim interregnum.

Anyway, here are the new logos:

PIR logos

To the untrained eye, like both of mine, the new, primary .org logo may just look like two blue circles and the word “org”, but PIR’s press release tells us it’s communicating so much more:

The open “ORG” lettering on either side of the sphere signals that .ORG is an open domain for anyone; it serves as a powerful and inclusive global connector. The logo uses a deep royal blue, evoking feelings of trust, security, and reliability that reflect .ORG’s long-standing reputation.

Because I don’t want to alienate any of PIR’s utterly lovely public relations agency people (the same PR agency that came up with the new branding), I’m not going to pass any comment whatsoever on this piffle.

I think the new logos and web site are improvements. They’re also long-term investments, while the new domain name is not.

“For three to six months we’ll be leading with the marketing campaign of thenew.org, after that we’ll be using a new name as the lead,” Nevett said.

But it won’t be back to pir.org or thenew.org, he said.

Which begs the question: what domain will PIR switch to?

During the course of our conversation, Nevett made the mistake of asking me what I thought the next domain should be, and I made the mistake of saying that I should open the question up to my readers.

So… what should PIR’s next domain be?

Be nice.

MMX switches porn TLDs from Afilias to Uniregistry

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2019, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines is moving its four porn-themed gTLDs to a new back-end provider.

MMX CEO Toby Hall confirmed to DI today that the company is ditching Afilias, which had been providing registry services for .xxx since 2011.

“We’re in the process of switching the back-ends from Afilias to Uni for the ICM portfolio,” he said.

This portfolio, which MMX acquired last year, also includes .porn, .adult and .sex. There are roughly 170,000 domains under management in total, but about half of these are sunrise-period blocks in .xxx, which could add a wrinkle to the transition.

It appears that Afilias is still providing DNS for the TLDs, but Uniregistry has been named the official tech contact.

It’s not currently clear when the handover will be complete. Hall was not immediately available for further comment.

It’s also not currently clear why Uniregistry was selected. All of MMX’s 27 other gTLDs — the likes of .vip, .work and .law — have been running on Nominet’s platform since MMX dropped its own self-hosted infrastructure a few years back.

During the same restructuring, Uniregistry took on MMX’s registrar business.

Uniregistry has also been working closely with MMX on its recently launched AdultBlock trademark blocking services, which could wind up accounting for a big chunk of MMX’s porn-related revenue.

These latest four gTLDs to switch providers are merely the latest in a game of musical chairs that has been playing out for the last several months, five years after the first new gTLDs started going live and registries shop around for better back-end deals.

Nominet picked up most of Amazon’s portfolio, replacing Neustar, earlier this year.

But Nominet has lost high-profile .blog to CentralNic, and Afilias lost a Brazilian dot-brand to Nic.br

Argentina will use a lottery to decide 2LD landrush

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2019, Domain Registries

Argentina has become the latest country to allow its ccTLD registrants to register domains at the second level.

NIC Argentina announced last week that in addition to third-level domains such as example.com.ar and example.net.ar, you’ll be able to buy example.ar too.

While it’s following in the footsteps of the likes of .uk and .nz (and soon .au), Argentina is taking a slightly different approach to grandfathering and conflicts.

First, the priority registration period is pretty short, at least compared to the five years .uk registrants got.

If you already own a .ar 3LD, you only have until November 9 to get your application in for the matching 2LD.

In the event that more than one application is received from eligible registrants, the winner won’t be decided by auction, but by lottery.

The City of Buenos Aires Lottery will conduct the raffle, randomly assigning priority numbers to applicants to determine who gets first dibs on their domain of choice.

It’s the first time I’ve seen a domain contest settled by lottery since the process ICANN used to assign priorities to new gTLD applicants back in 2012.

From November 25 until January 23, the .ar process will enter a landrush phase, during which anyone can apply for any available 2LD they want by paying a non-refundable application fee.

The fee is ARS 200, the Argentine peso equivalent of $3.50, so the registry can hardly be accused of greed.

Again, competing bids will be settled by the same lottery process, with the winner having to pay the standard ARS 340 registration fee (the equivalent of $6) to claim their domain.

After February 23, it’s open season, with every domain in general availability.

.ar currently has just shy of half a million domains under management, and hasn’t seen any significant growth in a couple of years.

It will be interesting to see how popular the 2LD offer is, and what impact it has on domain growth in the industry overall.

Argentina allows .ar registrations from non-residents, but it does not appear to be a simple process.

Sixty gTLD registries not monitoring security threats

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2019, Domain Registries

Roughly 5% of gTLD registry operators have been doing no abuse monitoring, despite contractual requirements to do so, a recent ICANN audit has found.

ICANN checked with 1,207 registries — basically all gTLDs — between November 2018 and June, and found about 60 of them “were not performing any security threat monitoring, despite having domains registered in their gTLDs”.

A further 180 (15%) were not doing security checks, but had no registered domains, usually because they were unused dot-brands. ICANN told these companies that they had to do the checks anyway, to remain in compliance.

In all cases, ICANN said, the registries remediated their oversights during the audit to bring their gTLDs back into compliance.

ICANN does not name the non-compliant registries in the summary of the audit’s results, published yesterday (pdf).

Registries under the 2012 new gTLD base registry agreement all have to agree to this:

Registry Operator will periodically conduct a technical analysis to assess whether domains in the TLD are being used to perpetrate security threats, such as pharming, phishing, malware, and botnets. Registry Operator will maintain statistical reports on the number of security threats identified and the actions taken as a result of the periodic security checks. Registry Operator will maintain these reports for the term of the Agreement unless a shorter period is required by law or approved by ICANN, and will provide them to ICANN upon request.

It’s possible to keep tabs on abuse by monitoring domain blocklists such as SpamHaus, SURBL and PhishTank. Some such lists are freely available, others carry hefty licensing fees.

ICANN itself monitors these lists through its Domain Abuse Activity Reporting project, so it’s able to work out the differences between the levels of abuse registries report and what the empirical data suggests.

Registries typically either use these lists via in-house tools or license products provided by vendors such as Neustar, RegistryOffice, Knipp, CSC, DOTZON, Afnic, AusCERT, Shadowserver, Telefonica, Secure Domain Foundation and Netcraft, ICANN said.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a bit of disagreement between ICANN and some registries about how the somewhat vague obligations quote above are be interpreted.

ICANN thinks registries should have to provide information about specific domains that were identified as abusive and what remediation actions were taken, but some registries think they only have to provide aggregate statistical data (which would be my read of the language).

The contracts also don’t specify how frequently registries much carry out security reviews.

Of the 80% (965) of registries already in compliance, 80% (772) were doing daily abuse monitoring. Others were doing it weekly, monthly, or even quarterly, ICANN found, all of which appear to be in line with contractual requirements.

Bumper batch of dot-brands off themselves for Friday 13th

Kevin Murphy, September 12, 2019, Domain Registries

It’s Friday 13th tomorrow, and to celebrate the occasion no fewer than 13 dot-brands have opted to take the easy way out and self-terminate.

ICANN has published a bumper list of contracted brand registries that have informed the organization that they no longer wish to run their gTLDs.

Adding themselves to the dot-brand deadpool are: .ladbrokes, .warman, .cartier, .piaget, .chrysler, .dodge, .mopar, .srt, .uconnect, .movistar, .telefonica, .liason and .lancome.

That brings the total of self-terminated new gTLDs to date to 66.

The imminent demise of .cartier and .piaget is perhaps notable, as it means luxury goods maker Richemont has now abandoned ALL of the nine dot-brands it originally applied for.

Richemont, an enthusiastic early adopter of the new gTLD concept, applied for 14 strings in total back in 2012.

The only ones it has left are generics — .watches along with the the Chinese translation .手表 and the Chinese for “jewelry”, .珠宝, none of which have been launched and in all likelihood are being held defensively.

It’s the same story with L’oreal, the cosmetics company. It also applied for 14 gTLDs, mostly brands, but abandoned all but .lancome prior to contracting.

With .lancome on its way out, L’oreal only owns the generics .skin, .hair, .makeup and .beauty, at least one of which is actually being used.

Also of note is the fact the car company Chrysler is dumping five of its six gTLDs — .chrysler, .dodge, .mopar, .srt and .uconnect — leaving only .jeep (unused) still under contract.

Clearly, Chrysler is not as keen on dot-brands as some of its European competitors, which have been among the most prolific users.

Telefonica’s abandonment of .movistar and .telefonica also means it’s out of the gTLD game completely now, although its Brazilian subsidiary still owns (and uses) .vivo.

Betting company Ladbrokes only ever owned .ladbrokes, though it did unsuccessfully apply for .bet also.

Rounding off the list is .warman, a brand of — and I’m really not making this up — industrial slurry pumps. The pumps are made by a company called Weir, which uses global.weir as its primary web site. So that’s nice.

As far as I can tell, none of the gTLDs that are being killed off had ever been used, though each registry will have paid ICANN six-figure fees since they originally contracted.