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New TLD firms to ICANN: “Get on with it”

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2010, Domain Registries

A number of prospective domain name registries have called on ICANN to shorten the window for its first round of new top-level domain applications.

While we now know that ICANN is working towards a May 30, 2011 opening date for applications, its recently published timeline does not specify how long the application period will last.

However, last month’s draft document “Delegation Rate Scenarios For New gTLDs” (pdf) states that the window of opportunity for TLD applicants will last 90 days.

Now, many of the companies and organizations that have been waiting the longest to apply have asked ICANN to narrow that period to 30 days.

Jon Nevett, president of Domain Dimensions, in a comment on the delegation rate report, wrote:

In prior presentations and discussions with ICANN staff, a 30-day application window had been discussed. I’m not sure how the 30 days turned into a 90-day window in this report. Tacking a 90-day window on after a four-month communications period does not make sense and is extremely unfair to applicants.

After the publication of the final Applicant Guidebook (AGB), ICANN plans to conduct a four-month outreach and marketing effort before accepting applications. The current draft AGB predicts an eight-month processing period for the very simplest applications.

Nevett, and others that subsequently echoed his views, believe that the longer window punishes companies that have invested resources in new TLD applications over the last few years.

There have already been a number of delays to the program’s launch, which was originally scheduled to kick off in 2009, and then mid-2010.

Nevett wrote:

Let’s stop punishing applicants by sucking them dry of all of their working capital by creating a seven-month communications/application period followed by a minimum eight-month review period piled on the years that they already have been waiting. We could do better.

His views were supported in separate comments by commercial operators including of Minds + Machines and .MUSIC, along with geo-TLD efforts including dotBERLIN and dotAfrica.

While the comment period has seen no opposing views, one criticism previously offered by opponents of the new TLD program is that it will unfairly benefit “insiders” – those people who participate regularly in ICANN for their own business purposes.

Will the new TLD guidebook provide answers?

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN is due to publish an Applicant Guidebook for new top-level domain registries tomorrow, and there are still big question marks over its contents.

Judging from a preliminary report from the ICANN board’s most-recent official meeting, some key decisions may not have yet been taken.

Perhaps the biggest unresolved issue is whether to permit the “vertical integration” of registry and registrar functions.

Which way ICANN swings on this problem will determine which companies are eligible to apply for new TLDs, how their business models will be structured, and how realistic “.brand” TLDs will be.

The ICANN community failed to reach consensus on this issue, largely due to differing business interests and a few consumer protection concerns.

But it looks like the ICANN board did not even discuss the matter at its October 28 meeting. The preliminary report has this to say:

2. Vertical Integration

In the interests of time, the Chair adjourned this item of discussion to a later date.

That “later date” may have been last Thursday and Friday, when the board held its rescheduled “retreat”, which is not designated as an official meeting.

On “Rec6”, previously known as the “morality and public order” objections process, the board passed no resolution October 28, but seems to have endorsed further discussions with the community.

The preliminary report states:

The Board discussed staff presentation and, in conformance with staff recommendation, directed staff to provide a briefing paper to the working group and to coordinate a call with the working group to further discuss the issues.

If the Rec6 working group mailing list and the GNSO calendar are any guides, that meeting has not yet been called (at least not publically).

The report also addresses geographic domains and issues that need to be taken into account given what ICANN’s Affirmation of Commitments with the US government says about new TLDs.

The Board agreed that staff provide a paper on geographic names to the GAC, the Chair of the GAC would check on the scope of issues still requiring discussion, and then the Chairs of the GAC and the Board would discuss the process for resolution to move this issue forward prior to Cartagena.

The Board discussed a paper regarding the adherence to the conditions set out in the Affirmation of Commitments in launching New gTLDs, and the need for identifying objective metrics to measure ICANN’s performance. The Board asked staff to consider what known performance indicators for the New gTLD program may be, what the adequacy scale is for measuring, and try to set that out for future conversation.

With all this in mind, it seems to me that while we may have a timeline for the launch of the new TLD program, there’s still much more to do than merely cross t’s and dot i’s.

Can we expect more placeholder text in tomorrow’s Applicant Guidebook?

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