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Watch John Oliver take down voice.com’s buyer

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2019, Domain Sales

The blockchain developer that just spaffed $30 million on the domain name voice.com was the subject of a takedown on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver a year ago.

Oliver spent four minutes of a 25-minute rant about cryptocurrency offering some harsh criticisms of Block.one, which made the record-breaking purchase to brand its forthcoming crypto-based social media platform Voice.

He’s primarily concerned with warning viewers that initial coin offerings may be nothing but huge scams, and that a key Block.one backer (who left the company shortly after the show aired) may be a bit shady.

The whole segment’s worth a watch for context, but here’s the part concerning Block.one.

    Last Week Tonight, in case you somehow don’t know, its a weekly topical comedy show that airs on HBO in North America, Sky Atlantic in the UK and Ireland, and The Comedy Channel in Australia. It’s one of the best things on the telly, and I consider John Oliver the de facto UK ambassador to the US.

Record-breaking $30 million domain sale was financed by cryptocurrency

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2019, Domain Sales

Records were broken yesterday when voice.com became the most-expensive domain name ever sold.

Handed over for a cool $30 million cash, it more than doubled the previous record for a domain-only transaction, 2010’s $13 million sale of sex.com.

The seller was MicroStrategy, an analytics software provider that just happens to have a stash of high-end, one-word .com domains among its assets.

The new owner is Block.one, a blockchain software developer that has raised a staggering amount of money despite not yet having any products.

The voice.com domain will be used for Voice, its first service, a social media platform based on the EOSIO blockchain platform that Block.one develops.

How Voice specifically differs from existing social media offerings is currently a little vague. It’s currently just a press release and a beta-signup form.

But the company says it will be more transparent than competitors such as Facebook or Instagram, with revenue generated feeding its content-creating users rather than the platform owner.

Not even the blogs covering crypto on a daily basis seem to understand the Voice business model yet.

A crucial step in the early stages appears to be enticing so-called “influencers” — social media personalities with large followings — over from the current dominant platforms with the promise of huge financial rewards (presumably paid in cryptocurrency) if they bring their fans with them.

Key differences include the fact that users will need a government-issued ID to sign up (mitigating the problem of anonymous trolling and bots), and that every post will be recorded for eternity in the blockchain.

Is this what social media users are crying out for? More friction and less privacy? I don’t get it, personally. But then I didn’t get Twitter at first either.

The product was announced at a flashy news event in Washington, DV a few weeks ago. An executive discusses the value proposition briefly at around the 20-minute mark in this video recording.

Block.one itself is an equally odd fish.

It has amassed oodles of cash despite having no obvious business model. It may be the only company with a billion-dollar-plus valuation that doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page.

It reportedly raised over $4 billion through an initial coin offering — where speculators buy a basically unused cryptocurrency in the hope that it will be adopted and its value will rise — over the space of a year.

The ICO’s success appears to be partly based on the personal branding of its founders, backers and executives, who have made names for themselves in the burgeoning crypto space.

Since the ICO ended about a year ago, the company has been pumping tens of millions of dollars into third-party projects that use its EOS blockchain, in an attempt to spur adoption.

It also reportedly expects to spend $150 million developing Voice.

So, $30 million is pretty much pocket change to these guys, who’ve rewarded MicroStrategy’s speculation in domain names with the fruits of their own investors’ speculation in another type of essentially worthless digital record.

In many ways, I guess cryptocurrency really is turning out to be to this decade what domain investment was to the last.

Ten years from now, perhaps voice.com will be sold for a trillion dollars, paid for in telepathic tulips or something.

MMX makes $100,000 .luxe premium sale

Kevin Murphy, May 24, 2019, Domain Sales

MMX says it has sold a package of premium .luxe domain names for $100,000.

The registry announced this week that it has sold “a small number of .luxe names for a combined value of $100,000 in a single trade”.

Depending on what that “small number” is, the individual per-domain value may not be all that much.

MMX CEO Toby Hall would only tell DI that the package comprises fewer than 100 domains.

That would still put at least a four-figure price on each domain, which I’m sure many domainers would regard as near-miraculous for a string such as .luxe.

.luxe was originally intended to have a connection to luxury goods, but MMX has repurposed it as its inroad to the blockchain space.

Domains are being primarily sold to address cryptocurrency wallets, primarily in Asia, in the Ethereum blockchain.

There are currently over 5,700 domains in the .luxe zone file.

ICANN to host first-ever high-stakes dot-brand auction

Kevin Murphy, May 7, 2019, Domain Sales

Two companies that own trademark rights to the same brand are to fight it out at an ICANN auction for the first time.

Germany-based Merck Group will fight it out for .merck with American rival Merck & Co at an auction scheduled to take place July 17.

Because it’s an ICANN “last-resort” auction, the value of the winning bid will be disclosed and all the money will flow to ICANN.

It will be the first ICANN gTLD auction for three years, when a Verisign proxy agreed to pay $135 million for .web.

The two Mercks could still avoid the ICANN auction by resolving their contention set privately.

The German Merck is a chemicals company founded in 1668 (not a typo) and the US Merck was founded as its subsidiary in the late 19th century.

That division was seized by the US government during World War I and subsequently became independent.

The German company uses merckgroup.com as its primary domain today. The US firm, which with 2018 revenue of over $42 billion is by far the larger company, uses merck.com.

Both companies applied for .merck as “community” applicants and went through the Community Priority Evaluation process.

Neither company scored enough points to avoid an auction, but the German company had the edge in terms of points scored.

Both applications then found themselves frozen while ICANN reviewed whether its CPE process was fair. That’s the same process that tied up the likes of .gay and .music for so many years.

While the July auction will be the first all-brand ICANN auction, at least one trademark owner has had to go to auction before.

Vistaprint, which owns a trademark on the term “webs” was forced to participate in the .web auction after a String Confusion Objection loss, but due to the technicalities of the process only had to pay $1 for .webs.

New domain price guessing game warns against “asshole domain squatters”

Kevin Murphy, January 23, 2019, Domain Sales

You’re a domain expert, right? Think you could accurately guess which of two randomly selected names is on sale for the larger amount of money on the secondary market?

A simple new game, which appears to have been published in the last week or so, will now allow you test your l33t domain evaluation skillz.

Guessing Game

Click the name you think is the more expensive. The game will reveal both prices and keep track of your score.

You can apparently carry on guessing as long as you want. I went 20 rounds and scored an unimpressive 10 points. I’m not sure whether I should draw any conclusions from this 50:50 hit rate.

It appears that author Martin O’Leary sourced his pricing data from the landing pages of the domains themselves. If you dig around in the code you’ll find a JSON data set with just over 100,000 names and prices.

It doesn’t sound like he’s a domainer, either. A constant footer on the app reads: “please don’t buy any of these domains, they’re all terrible and you’d be supporting asshole domain squatters”.

UPDATE: The original version of this story incorrectly stated that these names had sold for the prices listed.

Three-letter .net leads as NamesCon charity auction raises €4,150 for Kenyan school

Kevin Murphy, June 8, 2018, Domain Sales

A domain auction at NamesCon Europe raised €4,150 for charity today.

A total of 22 domains were sold, each of which had been donated by a conference attendee.

The top sale was bbe.net, which went for €650, followed by xvs.net, which fetched €500.

The three-letter jjh.org went for €150, which some said was a bargain.

Also selling were smartphone.global and caring.global for €450 and €400 respectively.

The auction was organized by Shaun Wilkinson, COO of domain broker Nidoma, who wants to raise a total of €6,500 during NamesCon for the Hope Children’s Centre, which is trying to finish building a secondary school in Kenya.

Anyone wishing to help the charity reach its target can donate online here.

CentralNic spends $3.3 million on .com portfolios

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2018, Domain Sales

CentralNic has splashed out £2.5 million ($3.3 million) to bolster its portfolio of domain names for the secondary market.

The company said in a brief statement today that it acquired an unspecified number of domains across “a number of portfolios”. The sellers were not disclosed.

The names were all in .com.

CEO Ben Crawford said the names were acquired “at an attractive discount to current market rates”.

The deals mean London-listed CentralNic might be able to continue to prop up its recurring revenue (registry/registrar) numbers through the sale of premium names, something it still needs to do if it wants to show investors a pleasing growth curve.

That’s assuming it can sell the names at a profit, of course.

Some call this the premium domain “hamster wheel”.

Kickstarter launches Patreon rival on .RIP domain hack

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2017, Domain Sales

They’re deadly serious.

Crowdfunding service Kickstarter has relaunched its Drip subscriptions service on a .rip domain.

It’s a domain hack using a single-character domain: d.rip.

It’s actually a case of a migration away from a .com domain, which is not something you see every day from a major online brand.

Drip was acquired by Kickstarter from record company Ghostly International in 2012 and has had a relatively low-key presence at drip.kickstarter.com.

Rather than enabling creators to fund a project entirely in advance, with an “all-or-nothing” approach, it allows them to collect subscription fees from fans.

It’s aimed at musicians, podcasters, comedians, YouTubers and the like — people who need a way to support their work now that advertisers are increasingly wary of edgy online content.

The .rip gTLD was originally a Rightside domain. It’s now in the Donuts stable.

It was intended to stand for Rest In Peace, giving registrants a memorable name with which to memorialize the dead.

In reality, with under 3,000 names in its zone, it’s used for a wide variety of other purposes too. Some sites use it to represent “rip” as a verb, others use it to evoke a sense of horror.

As a single-character registry premium name, d.rip would not have been cheap. However, it would have been certainly a lot cheaper than Drip.com, which is in use by an email marketing company.

Uniregistry: sales prices down for “first time ever”

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2017, Domain Sales

Uniregistry today said that it sold $29 million of domain names through its Uniregistry Market platform so far this year.

But the company said that average sales prices dipped for the “first time ever” over the period.

The 3,617 names it sold in the first eight months of the year went for on average $8,017 per domain, compared to $9,110 in the same 2016 period.

Average prices had been steadily rising since 2011, Uniregistry said in a press release. It blamed the reversal on “expansion into exploratory, nontraditional markets” — the mix leaning more towards new gTLDs and ccTLDs, in other words.

On the bright side, the total dollar value of sales were up to $29 million from the $25 million in the comparable period. Transactions were up 24%, the company said.

Eight months is an unusual period to report results for, making me wonder whether today’s statement is in response to some recent bad press, but as a private company I guess Uniregistry can report figures for whatever period it wishes.

The numbers, to reiterate, refer to its Uniregistry Market secondary sales platform, not its own cache of registry-reserved new gTLD domains.

Gay.com, “worth $7 million”, donated to gay blog

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2017, Domain Sales

The domain name gay.com has reportedly been donated for free to a gay rights group despite claims it is worth $6.9 million.

The Los Angeles LGBT Center said late last week that it is to take ownership of the domain, which will direct visitors to a recently launched blog.

The Center says it is the world’s largest provider of services to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The donation comes from VS Media, which acquired the domain last year and seems to run it as a community hub slash dating site. It runs an adult webcam site called Flirt4Free.

Gay.com apparently gets 200,000 visits per month.

According to the Center, gay.com will shortly begin pointing to a blog currently published at VanguardNow.org.

Chief marketing officer Jim Key said in a press release:

We’ve only just begun to think about future possibilities for the domain. But for now, the traffic from Gay.com to our new blog will help even more people learn how we’re building a world where LGBT people thrive as healthy, equal, and complete members of society.

The company decided to give the domain away to a worthy cause and invited five major gay charities to make proposals, the Center said.

The $6.9 million valuation comes from a VS Media appraisal, but does not seem to me like a hugely implausible number.

Whois records do not show a change of ownership recently, but the domain has been using a privacy service for some time so changes may not be obvious.