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auDA reveals cut-off date for 2LD priority

Australian ccTLD manager auDA has revealed how old your .com.au domain has to be to qualify for priority registration of the matching second-level .au domain.

If you registered your current domain before February 4, 2018, you will get “category 1” priority. Names registered after that are considered “category 2”.

The categories will come into play when auDA makes direct 2LDs registrations available at some point in the fourth quarter this year.

Category 1 domain owners will have until April 20 next year to catch their match, then category 2 owners get until August 1.

It’s a much speedier process than the five-year grandfathering period Nominet offered in .uk domains.

After the priority periods are over, all unclaimed .au domains will be released to the available pool.

Brand owners, domain investors, and actually basically anyone who owns a .com.au or .org.au domain has a little over 13 months to make their mind up whether they want to run the risk of confusion with a third-party owner of a very similar domain.

Pricing is the same as third-level domains, so opting in to the 2LD basically doubles the price of participating in .au ownership.

auDA’s draft rules for the process can be read here (pdf).

Nic.br wins dot-brand from Afilias

Brazilian registry Nic.br has won its sixth gTLD client.

It’s taking on the dot-brand back-end business of Natura, a cosmetics company based in its home town of Sao Paulo.

The .natura gTLD was previously managed by Afilias.

I can’t imagine it’s a hugely valuable deal.

Natura has only a few domains in its zone. It’s using global.natura as a portal to its various national ccTLD sites and app.natura as a gateway to app stores where its mobile app can be obtained.

It’s the latest gTLD to change back-ends in the current wave of new gTLD rejiggering to come about as contracts negotiated during the 2012 application round start to expire.

Nic.br also runs the dot-brands .uol and .globo, the small city TLD .rio, the unlaunched generics .bom (means “good” in Portuguese) and .final, and of course its original ccTLD, .br.

.CLUB lowers premium prices to sell through registrars

.CLUB Domains has lowered the price of many of its reserved “premium” domain names in order to make them more easily available via the registrar channel, the company announced today.

Dozens of names previously priced above $20,000, and therefore only available via brokers, have been reduced to between $10,000 and $19,000, according to chief marketing officer Jeff Sass.

The company’s EPP system has tiered pricing and the top tier is $20,000, so registrars are not able to directly sell higher-priced names.

Sass said some of the repriced names include nyc.club, travellers.club, delivery.club, biking.club, fun.club, growth.club and home.club.

auDA chair racks off after just 18 months

Australian ccTLD manager auDA has lost its chair, again.

Chris Leptos quit abruptly, for undisclosed reasons, earlier this week.

He’d been in the job since November 2017, when he replaced Stuart Benjamin, who had resigned shortly before facing a no-confidence vote from members.

Leptos himself survived a similar attempted ousting last July, despite losing the “popular vote” of members.

auDA’s brief statement does not say why he’s resigned, but notably absent from the release is the usual set of boilerplate quotes talking up the successes of the departed’s tenure, which are pretty standard when a resignation is amicable.

Aussie domain blogger David Goldstein is reporting that Leptos had a disagreement about “governance issues” with CEO Cameron Boardman at a board meeting this week, which led to Leptos filing his resignation letter.

auDA has come under almost-daily criticism for the duration of Leptos’ spell in the chair. Many members are not happy with initiatives such as the registry back-end handover, the imminent release of second-level domains, and myriad general governance and transparency issues.

Leptos has been nothing if not confrontational in return.

During his tenure, a story alleging lavish spending by former directors (including one of auDA’s chief critics) was placed in the national media, and Leptos’ board referred an unspecified number to the Victoria Police.

Leptos has been replaced on an interim basis by Suzanne Ewart, an independent director, while his permanent replacement is sought.

After $30 million deal, is a .voice gTLD now inevitable?

Do big second-level domain sales translate into new gTLD success, and does the record-breaking $30 million sale of voice.com this week make a .voice gTLD inevitable?

The answers, I believe, are no and maybe.

Before the 2012 new gTLD application round, one way applicants picked their strings was by combing through the .com zone file to find frequently-occurring words that terminated the second level string.

This is where we get the likes of .site and .online from Radix and much of Donuts’ portfolio.

But applicants also looked at lists of high-priced secondary market sales for inspiration.

This is where we get the likes of .vodka, from MMX.

The latter strategy has seen mixed-to-poor results.

Five of the top domain sales, as compiled by Domain Name Journal, were not eligible for gTLD status are they are too short.

Of the remaining 15 strings, “sex” (which occurs twice), “fund”, “porn”, “toys” and “vodka” were all applied for in 2012 and are currently on sale.

The strings “clothes” and “diamond” do not appear as gTLDs, but Donuts runs both .clothing and .diamonds.

Not delegated in any fashion are “porno” (unless you count it as a derivative of “porn”), “slots”, “tesla”, “whisky” and “california”. A company called IntercontinentalExchange runs .ice as a dot-brand.

As well as .clothing and .diamonds, .fund and .toys are both also Donuts TLDs. None of them are doing spectacularly well.

At the lower end, .diamonds currently has fewer than 3,000 domain under management, but has a relatively high price compared to the the higher-volume TLDs in Donuts’ stable.

At the high-volume end, .fund has just shy of 16,000 names and .clothing has about 12,000.

Judging by their retail prices, and the fact that Donuts benefits from the economies of scale of a 240-strong TLD portfolio, I’m going to guess these domains are profitable, but not hugely so.

If we turn our attention to .vodka, with its roughly 1,500 domains, it seems clear that MMX is barely covering the cost of its annual ICANN fees. Yet vodka.com sold for $3 million.

So will anyone be tempted to apply for .voice in the next gTLD application round? I’d say it’s very possible.

First, “voice” is a nice enough string. It could apply to telephony services, but also to general publishing platforms that give their customers a “voice”. I’d say it could gather up enough registrations to fit profitably into a large portfolio, but would not break any records in terms of volume.

But perhaps the existence of voice.com buyer Block.one as a possible applicant will raise some other applicants out of the woodwork.

Block.one, which uses a new gTLD and an alt-ccTLD (.io) for its primary web sites, is certainly not out-of-touch when it come to alternative domain names.

Could it apply for .voice, and if it does how much would it be willing to spend to pay off rival applicants? It still apparently has billions of dollars from its internet coin offering in the bank.

How much of that would it be prepared to pay for .voice at private auction?

That prospect alone might be enough to stir the interest of some would-be applicants, but it has to be said that it’s by no means certain that the highly gameable application process ICANN deployed in 2012 is going to look the same next time around.

.gay not coming out this year after all

We won’t be seeing .gay on the internet this year.

Top Level Design has postponed the release of its hard-won gTLD until the second quarter of 2020, having recently said it was planning an October 2019 launch.

The company told registrars yesterday that it wants “to move forward on a timeline that will allow us to create greater impact in a more measured manner”.

The October date was meant to coincide with National Coming Out Day, which I said was “absolutely perfect”.

The 2020 date will instead coincide with one of the Pride events, the registry said.

The story is that Top Level Design wants to spend more time building up support from gay community groups, before it comes to market.

But CEO Ray King denied that it’s facing resistance from groups that supported the rival community-based application from dotgay LLC, which lost the chance to run .gay when it was auctioned.

“It’s really just about having enough time to do a thoughtful launch,” King told DI.

The company recently blogged about one of its .gay marketing brainstorming sessions.

.wang cut off with Chinese red tape

The registry behind .wang and several Chinese-language gTLDs has seen its official registry web site blocked due to Chinese regulations.

Zodiac Registry, which also runs .商城, .八卦 and .网店 (“mail”, “gossip” and “shop”), has seen zodiacregistry.com intercepted by its web host and replaced with a placeholder message explaining that the site lacks the proper government license.

Wang blocked

It seems to have happened relatively recently. Google’s cache shows results from the page resolving normally in late May.

Ironically, its host is Alibaba, which also happens to be its largest registrar partner.

There’s no suggestion that registry operations or registrants have been affected. Domain availability checks at registrars for Zodiac TLDs appear to be working as normal.

The downtime appears to be a configuration problem. Alibaba requires customers to submit their Internet Content Provider license number before it will allow their sites to resolve properly.

ICP licenses are part of China’s censorship regime, issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. They must be obtained by any Chinese web site that wants to operate in China.

Zodiac does in fact have such a license, which according to the MIIT web site is active on at least six other domains.

While zodiacregistry.com is the domain officially listed with IANA for the company, it also operates TLD-specific sites such as bagua.wang for the “gossip” registry. None of these have been affected by the licensing issue.

UPDATE June 12: The site is now back online as normal.

This latest Chinese bubble could deflate ccTLD growth

With many ccTLD operators recently reporting stagnant growth or shrinkage, one registry has performed stunningly well over the last year. Sadly, it bears the hallmarks of another speculative bubble originating in China.

Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief reported that ccTLDs, excluding the never-shrinking anomaly that is .tk, increased by 1.4 million domains in the first quarter of the year.

But it turns out about 1.2 million of those net new domains came from just one TLD: Taiwan’s .tw, operated by TWNIC.

Looking at the annual growth numbers, the DNIB reports that ccTLDs globally grew by 7.8 million names between the ends of March 2018 and March 2019.

But it also turns out that quite a lot of that — over five million names — also came from .tw.

Since August 2018, .tw has netted 5.8 million new registrations, ending May with 6.5 million names.

It’s come from basically nowhere to become the fifth-largest ccTLD by volume, or fourth if you exclude .tk, per the DNIB.

History tells us that when TLDs experience such huge, unprecedented growth spurts, it’s usually due to lowering prices or liberalizing registration policies.

In this case, it’s a bit of both. But mostly pricing.

TWNIC has made it much easier to get approved to sell .tw names if you’re already an ICANN-accredited registrar.

But it’s primarily a steep price cut that TWNIC briefly introduced last August that is behind huge uptick in sales.

Registry CEO Kenny Huang confirmed to DI that the pricing promo is behind the growth.

For about a month, registrants could obtain a one-year Latin or Chinese IDN .tw name for NTD 50 (about $1.50), a whopping 95% discount on its usual annual fee (about $30).

As a result, TWNIC added four million names in August and September, according to registry stats. The vast majority were Latin-script names.

According to China domain market experts Allegravita, and confirmed by Archive.org, one Taiwanese registrar was offering free .tw domains for a day whenever a Chinese Taipei athlete won a gold medal during the Asian Games, which ran over August and September. They wound up winning 17 golds.

Huang said that the majority of the regs came from mainland Chinese registrants.

History shows that big growth spurts like this inevitably lead to big declines a year or two later, in the “junk drop”. It’s not unusual for a registry to lose 90%+ of its free or cheap domains after the promotional first year is over.

Huang confirmed that he’s expecting .tw registrations to drop in the fourth quarter.

It seems likely that later this year we’re very likely going to see the impact of the .tw junk drop on ccTLD volumes overall, which are already perilously close to flat.

Speculative bubbles from China have in recent years contributed to wobbly performance from the new gTLD sector and even to .com itself.

Dodgy registrars could be banned from .org promotions

The worse a registrar is at tackling abuse, the more likely it is to be excluded from promotions in the .org space, according to a new policy from Public Interest Registry.

The .org registry said today that it is introducing a new “Quality Performance Index” to rate its registrars according to the quality of their registrations.

They’ll be ranked according to three criteria: abuse takedown, renewal rates, and domain usage.

Those that score above a certain threshold will be pre-qualified for promotions. The others will be encouraged to talk to their PIR rep about things they could do to get their scores up.

This kind of mechanism should in theory make it relatively easy to separate registrars into conscientious corporate citizens on the one hand and fly-by-night spam-friendly jerks on the other.

Keeping the bad guys away from the discounts could go a long way to keeping .org a relatively healthy zone.

But I expect there may be concern from the middle-ground of the registrar space, where we have well-meaning but under-resourced registrars that may find their scores wanting.

An additional concern may be that PIR said it intends to change the score threshold depending on the promotion, which appears to give it the ability to exclude registrars more or less at will.

The QPI initiative also extends to PIR’s newer, lesser-used gTLDs.

ZADNA CEO suspended for “hybrid misconduct”

The CEO of South Africa’s ccTLD registry has reportedly been suspended amid claims of “acts of misconduct”.

According to reports in the local tech press, Vika Mpisane was suspended in early December and has been subject to a delayed disciplinary process since January.

“Mr Vika Mpisane was suspended for serious hybrid acts of misconduct including mismanagement of ZADNA funds and others,” ZADNA chair Motlatjo Ralefatane told MyBroadband.

While details are rather thin on the ground, there are local rumors that some of the allegations relate to Mpisane’s salary and bonuses.

Ralefatane reportedly said that forensic accounting investigations are ongoing.

ZADNA, the ZA Domain Name Authority, is a non-profit organization and official ccTLD manager for .za. It answers to the South African government, but is not funded by it. It should not be confused with ZACR, the commercial entity that actually runs the .za registry on ZADNA’s behalf.

Mpisane has come under increased scrutiny this week as it turns out he is running unopposed for the Southern Africa seat on the board of AFRINIC, the Regional Internet Registry responsible for handing out IP addresses on the continent, apparently without ZADNA’s knowledge.

According to MyBroadband, Ralefatane believes Mpisane should not be representing that he has ZADNA’s support for his run.

His CV (pdf), posted to the AFRINIC web site in April, states that he is the current CEO of ZADNA, with no reference to his suspension.

Ralefatane reportedly added that she is not sure if AFRINIC or ICANN are aware of the allegations against him. They are now.

Mpisane is still listed on ZADNA’s web site as its CEO, also with no reference to the suspension.

His bio on the site reads, in its entirety (errors from the original): “The voice of reason and wisdom An outstanding leader with passion about the internet and what is has to offer. He walks the talk and talks the talk”.