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New Russian TLD is a smash hit

Kevin Murphy, November 11, 2010, Domain Registries

Russia’s new Cyrillic top-level domain, .РФ, has gone down a storm, beating even the recent launch of .co in terms of the speed of first-day registrations.

The Russian registry is reporting that it broke through the 200,000 domains mark within the first six hours, after it opened its doors at noon local time today.

By my calculations, that’s less than half the time it took .co to hit the same benchmark, despite the fact that .co did not have the same residency requirements as .РФ.

Andrei Kolesnikov, director of the CCTLD Coordination Center, which runs the domain, told the GNSO Council mailing list:

This clearly demonstrates a great demand for domains in national languages and proves Russia’s position as a leader in terms of the dynamic of TLD launch.

There were already 18,000 .РФ domains before the floodgates opened this afternoon, following a sunrise period for trademark owners.

The TLD transliterates as .rf, for Russian Federation. The country has 142 million citizens and is believed to have almost 60 million internet users. The .ru namespace has about three million domains.

.jobs opponents get to the point

Kevin Murphy, November 11, 2010, Domain Registries

The .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition has sent off another ream of text to ICANN, spelling out more clearly its objections to Employ Media’s plan to open up the .jobs namespace.

The Coalition wants ICANN to reject the registry’s plan to allocate thousands of premium .jobs domain names to partners including the DirectEmployers Association.

While previous filings danced around the issue, the latest Coalition missive makes it a little clearer what its beef is: it thinks DirectEmployers’ universe.jobs plan is bogus and should be blocked.

The documents were filed as part of an ongoing Reconsideration Request. The Coalition wants ICANN to reverse its decision to approve the .jobs “Phased Allocation Program”.

The program allows Employ Media to allocate “non-companyname” .jobs domains via an RFP process and, later, auctions and regular sales.

But the Coalition thinks it is a smokescreen designed to enable universe.jobs, a planned free jobs board that would be fed traffic from possibly thousands of premium generic domains.

Its objection boils down to the fact that Employ Media seems to be planning to register these premium domains to itself and allow DirectEmployers, which probably would not be a qualified HR registrant under the .Jobs Charter, to “use” them.

As the Coalition puts it:

Employ Media states that it intends to solicit plans under the Program “which may create a self managed class of domains registered in Employ Media’s name.” Presumably, in this “self-managed” scenario, Employ Media would register the domain names itself, and permit third parties to “use” the domains even if those third parties could not register them consistent with the Charter.

What we seem to have here is a case of a registry planning to monetize its premium domains by running them itself, in order to compete with companies that are barred from becoming registrants themselves.

This bothers the Coalition’s members, which all run jobs sites but would not qualify to register premium domains under the .Jobs Charter.

For Reconsideration Requests to be successful, the requester has to show that ICANN’s board did not have all the facts at its disposal, or failed to consider them, when it made its decision.

Having read through the recently published minutes and board briefing materials from the meeting at which the program was approved, the Coalition thinks it now has a stronger case.

Its latest filing accuses ICANN of failing to adequately investigate Employ Media’s claims about its program and of brushing off critics as “a bunch of sore losers that were afraid of a little competition”.

Referring to the universe.jobs plan and the “self-managed” domains, the Coalition wrote:

There is no indication that the ICANN Staff provided the Board with any analysis of this critical issue, or that the Board considered this material issue

It also wonders aloud whether the Board was even aware of the universe.jobs plan when the allocation program was approved back in August.

I may be reading it incorrectly, but it appears that ICANN’s board governance committee, which handles Reconsideration Requests, may be coming around to the Coalition’s way of thinking.

The BGC recently sent Employ Media’s sponsor, the Society For Human Resource Management, a list of questions about the program, including this one:

Did the SHRM PD Council intend to enable the Registry (Employ Media) to register domain names in the .JOBS sTLD for the purpose of allowing third-party job postings on those sites? If so, please explain how this consistent with the .JOBS Charter.

I’ll be interested in reading its response.

First reactions to ICANN’s VI bombshell

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2010, Domain Registries

Shortly before 8am UTC today, ICANN announced that it plans to blur the lines between domain name registries and registrars by eliminating cross-ownership restrictions and enabling vertical integration of the two functions.

The shock move is likely to have profound repercussions on the domain industry for years to come.

I’ve spent the last ten hours collating a bunch of early reaction from Twitter and the blogosphere.

Like blind men groping an elephant, everyone had their own take on the news, which perhaps indicates how broad-reaching its effects will be.

Linkfest coming up.

Apparently the first to notice the news, which came just before midnight in California, was AusRegistry, the Australian registry services company, with this pithy tweet:

Any Registrars wanting Registry software can enquire within…

The company later followed up with a blog post:

The positives of this resolution is that it is highly likely that we will see the adoption and growth of smaller more boutique TLDs being championed to market by their Registrar owners and for many industry participants, anything that promotes the success of the new gTLD program and the reduced risk of Registry failure can only be seen as a good thing.

As Europe woke up to the news, Michele Neylon of Irish registrar Blacknight decided to eschew diplomacy, and pondered the possible fallout from ICANN’s decision:

Now the next question is – what next?

How will people react?

Are we going to see a flood of nastygrams from Afilias and PIR being sent to the ICANN board demanding them to backtrack?

Across the pond, Minds + Machines CEO Antony Van Couvering quickly rattled off a typically eloquent blog post that focussed on what he seems to see as ICANN’s sudden spine growth:

This is the only principled decision the ICANN Board could have come to, and they deserve a lot of credit for doing it. By “principled,” I mean taking ICANN’s stated institutional principles and following them to their logical conclusion.

The new landscape will require everyone in the domain name business to re-examine their business, their partners, their strategy. It will have consequences between those I enumerated above. It will re-invigorate the industry, and it will help establish the respect that ICANN has lacked for so long.

Another new TLD applicant, Constanine Roussos of .music tweeted:

ICANN allows Vertical Integration for new top-level domains. .MUSIC is thrilled. #ICANN makes history. The lobbying effort was well worth it

Over in Japan, Jacob Williams of new TLD consultants UrbanBrain reflected some of the industry’s shock that ICANN went against many observers’ expectations.

This announcement is a full 180 degree turn from the verbiage in DAG 4 and the resolutions passed at the public meeting in Nairobi earlier this year. This decision comes huge surprise, but surely a relief to many New gTLD applicants.

On the policy side of things, veteran ICANN commentator Danny Younger expressed surprise of a different kind on his new ICANNology blog:

I’ve been wondering how an ICANN Board session that is “not designated as an Official Board Meeting” can result in official Board Resolutions.

If the meeting is specifically not designated as “special”, but rather as a board “retreat”, should official board resolutions be promulgated at the conclusion of such sessions?

Fellow policy wonk George Kirikos tweeted:

“It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.” applies to #ICANN’s latest moves.

Former ICANN staffer Kieren McCarthy tweeted, less ambiguously:

Good call #ICANN Board. Recognizing the realities of new top-level domains and standing up for principles over pressure

Finally, EnCirca, a US-based registrar, tried to pick winners and losers and concluded that it is the “.brand” TLDs that will gain the most, and that it is the registrars that are in for a shake-up.

the real winners will be the major brands on the internet: Apple, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Microsoft. Any one of these could launch their own TLD to rival dot-com.

Who are the biggest losers? The Registrar channel. Registrars will no longer be assured of being able to offer new TLD’s to their customers. Registries will start to bypass their registrar partners and deal directly with end-users.

Registries and registrars will need to start innovating to remain relevant. It is time to start competing.

As you might expect, there has been not much reaction yet from those, such as Go Daddy, which opposed full vertical integration.

But Warren Adelman, Go Daddy’s president, tweeted within the last hour:

Let the games begin

Quite.

Vertical integration – bad news for domainers?

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN’s decision to allow domain name registrars to operate registries is a game changer on many fronts, but what impact could it have on domain investors?

For the first time, registrars will be able apply for and run new top-level domains, giving them unprecedented insight into registry-level data.

If they also act as registries, registrars will, for example, be able to see what non-existent domains in their TLD get the most type-in traffic.

They will also be able to see how much traffic expiring domains get, even if the registrant does not use the registrar’s own name servers.

As claimed by some participants in ICANN’s vertical integration working group, this data could be used to “harm” registrants; harms that could be especially noticeable to domainers.

There was a concern from some in the WG that combined registry-registrar entities (we’re going to need a name for these) could use registry data to, for example, identify and withhold high-value names, increasing prices to potential registrants.

The possibility of an increase in “domain tasting” and “front-running” – practices generally frowned upon nowadays – was also raised.

However, some registrars are already owned by companies that register large numbers of traffic domains for themselves, even without access to registry data.

Demand Media subsidiary eNom, the second-largest gTLD registrar, is a good example.

As DomainNameWire reported in August, the company already uses domain name lookups to decide what names to register for itself (though it told DNW it does not “front-run”), saying in SEC filings:

These queries and look-ups provide insight into what consumers may be seeking online and represent a proprietary and valuable source of relevant information for our platform’s title generation algorithms and the algorithms we use to acquire undeveloped websites for our portfolio.

Demand also said that it acquires eNom customers’ expiring domains if they are attractive enough:

Domain names not renewed by their prior registrants that meet certain of our criteria are acquired by us to augment our portfolio of undeveloped owned and operated websites.

Access to registry data could prove invaluable in refining this model, and eNom has, unsurprisingly. long indicated its desire to apply for and operate new TLDs.

But will registries be allowed to exploit this data to line their own pockets?

ICANN indicated today that it plans to introduce a code of conduct for registries, to prevent “misuse of data”, and will likely step up its compliance activities as a result.

What this code of conduct will look like remains to be seen, but I expect we’re looking at “Chinese wall” provisions similar to those self-imposed by VeriSign when it still owned Network Solutions.

It should be pointed out, of course, that standalone registries already have the ability to register domains to themselves, based on their own registry data, and I’m not aware of a great many incidents where this has been abused to the harm of registrants.

Is the new TLD program already delayed?

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has missed the first target date on its recently approved new top-level domains launch timetable.

The organization was due to publish its proposed final Applicant Guidebook for public comment yesterday, but has failed to do so.

Rumor has it that it could be tomorrow or Friday before the AGB is published.

Could there be a knock-on effect? Does this mean that the process as a whole, scheduled to see the first round of new TLD applications open May 30, 2011, is already delayed?

Be warned, I’m just thinking aloud here. This is pure, idle speculation.

Two thoughts occur to me.

First, does this delay mean that ICANN will not be able to vote on the AGB at its December 10 meeting, as planned?

Second, does this delay create a scenario in which the program’s opponents will be able to lobby for further delays?

The original, quite tight timetable called for a November 9 AGB publication date and the immediate launch of a 30-day public comment period.

Doors would have closed to feedback on December 9, the day before the next ICANN board meeting.

With the AGB publication deadline now missed, and if ICANN otherwise sticks to its plan, a 30-day comment window would still be open when the board convenes in Cartagena.

Since ICANN is not in the habit of voting on issues that are still subject to open comment periods, my guess is that its best bet now will be to tighten the schedule.

While the board has seemingly okayed 30 days for community input, I’m not sure how binding that is, and my reading of ICANN’s bylaws suggests that it could be quite easily be reduced to anything as short as 21 days.

A comment period that lasted beyond December 10 would enable an organization opposed to the new TLD program to submit comments after the vote has been cast, allowing no time for the board to consider them.

This seemingly counter-intuitive move would however create grounds for a subsequent Reconsideration Request if the AGB is approved in Colombia, potentially delaying the process.

Would this be a clever strategy? I doubt it. Reconsideration Requests rarely work, and are hardly the most effective way to have your views heard within ICANN.

Still, these are strange times, and anything seems possible.

One thing is certain, given the enthusiastic reception the recent publication of the timetable received, it will be dispiriting to many today to see that ICANN has already missed its first deliverable date.