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.web could already be a record-breaker as auction enters day two

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2016, Domain Sales

It seems likely that .web has already smashed through the $41.5 million record sale price for a new gTLD at ICANN auction.

The auction, which kicked off properly at 1300 UTC yesterday, seems to have ended its first day of bidding at around 2300 UTC last night without a winner.

That suggests, based on the rules and how previous auctions have played out, that we’re probably already looking at high bids over $50 million.

The previous top price for a gTLD at ICANN auction was .shop, which sold to GMO for $41.5 million earlier this year.

The signs are that .web will go for more.

Be warned, this is mostly informed guesswork. I don’t know what the current bids are.

ICANN auctions work in rounds. In each round the minimum bid is either $1 (for round one) or the previous round’s maximum bid (for all subsequent rounds).

The maximum bid in each round is set by the auctioneer, who has broad discretion, based on the action at the time.

The range between minimum and maximum bids seems to get bigger in each passing round, based on previous auction results.

According to ICANN auction rules (pdf) each bidding round lasts 20 minutes and is immediately followed by a 20-minute recess.

This schedule is somewhat flexible. It could be slowed down or sped up with the consent of all bidders.

The .web auction was due to kick off at 1300 UTC yesterday, according to court papers, though it seems probable that round-one bids were accepted the previous night.

The first day’s bidding was due to end at 2330 UTC yesterday.

So that’s over 10 hours of bidding yesterday, which works out to about 15 rounds if they stuck to the 40-minute round schedule.

When .shop sold for $41.5 million, it did so in just 14 rounds, carried out in a single day.

The final round of that auction saw an acceptable bidding range of $36.8 million to $46 million — an almost $10 million spread.

So, if we can assume that there were at least 15 rounds in the .web auction yesterday and we can assume that the auctioneer is following a similar playbook to the .shop auction, the maximum bid when the auction paused overnight was likely well over $50 million.

By the time you read this, this guesswork could be moot anyway. I expect we’ll find out later today whether those assumptions were accurate. It seems unlikely that a third day’s bidding will be required.

The applicants for .web are NDC, Radix, Donuts, Schlund, Afilias, Google and Web.com. Vistaprint’s bid for .webs is also in the auction.

Instagram paid Chinese cyberquatter $100,000 for instagram.com, Facebook lawsuit reveals

Kevin Murphy, January 20, 2016, Domain Sales

Facebook has sued a Chinese cybersquatter for trying to renege on a five-year-old deal that saw it buy the domain instagram.com for $100,000.

The lawsuit, filed in California last week, claims that a family of known cybersquatters, based in Guangdong, is trying to have the purchase invalidated by a Chinese court.

The company, which acquired Instagram for $1 billion in 2012, wants the court to rule that the domain deal was legal, preventing the cybersquatters retaking control of the domain.

Photo-sharing app Instagram launched in October 2010 using the domain instagr.am.

At that time, instagram.com was owned by a US-based domain investor, but it was bought by Zhou Weiming about a month later.

Zhou, Facebook says, was the now-dead father of three of the people it is suing, and the husband of the fourth.

When Zhou purchased the domain, Instagram had become wildly popular, well on the way to hitting the million-user mark in December 2010.

Instagram had applied for the US trademark on its name in September 2010, less than a month before its launch.

The company made the decision to pay $100,000 for the domain in January 2011.

The Whois information for instagram.com changed from Zhou Weiming to Zhou Murong, apparently his daughter, around about the same time, though the registrant email address did not change.

The purchase was processed by Sedo, according to a copy of the deal filed as evidence (pdf).

Now, Murong’s mother and sisters are suing her and Instagram in China, claiming she did not have the authority to sell the domain, according to Facebook’s complaint.

Facebook claims the Chinese suit is a “sham” and that the whole Zhou family is acting in concert.

The company wants the California court to declare that the sale was valid, and that registrar MarkMonitor should not be forced to transfer the domain back to the Zhous.

Facebook in 2014 won a 22-domain UDRP case against Murong Zhou, related to typos of its Instagram trademark.

Read the full California complaint as a PDF here.

Top 2015 new gTLD sale looks like cybersquatting

Kevin Murphy, January 8, 2016, Domain Sales

One of the top secondary market domain sales of 2015, as reported by Sedo, appears to be a case of somebody selling a domain matching a trademark to the trademark’s owner.

According to a press release yesterday, the domain basic-fit.fitness was the third-priciest reportable new gTLD domain sale handled by Sedo last year.

It went for €7,949 ($8,634).

Given that it’s not intrinsically an attractive-looking domain, I tried to figure out why it sold.

Judging by Whois records, the buyer is the corporate owner of Basic-Fit, a chain of over 300 gyms in four European countries.

It has at least one trademark on “Basic-Fit”.

The original registrant, according to records cached by DomainTools, was a Belgian web designer.

The domain seems to have changed hands around May last year. In April, it spent a couple of weeks under Whois privacy.

The domain was registered August 27, 2014, the day .fitness exited its Early Access Period and domains were available at regular prices.

It seems the same Belgian web designer owns several more new gTLD domain names matching brands that are parked with Sedo and available to buy instantly.

Many are .immo (“.realestate”) domains matching the brands of Belgian real estate firms. There are also a few .beer domains under his name matching the brands of breweries and beers in the UK, US and Czech Republic.

It’s not unheard of for web developers to register domains on behalf of clients. It’s rather less common for them to then list them for sale, with buy-now prices, on domain marketplaces.

Looks dodgy to me.

Rightside to auction “xyz” domains at NamesCon

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2016, Domain Sales

.xyz made a bit of a splash with domain investors in 2015, but is the meaningless string “xyz” inherently attractive? Even at the second level?

Rightside seems to think so.

The registry, which does not operate .xyz, is planning to auction at least four “xyz” domains during next Monday’s live auction at the NamesCon conference in Las Vegas.

Rightside today disclosed that xyz.sale, xyz.market, xyz.news and xyz.live will be among about a dozen registry-reserved short domain names– such as q.sale and z.pub — it will attempt to sell.

The only meaningful domain on its list is the absolutely fantastic, category-killing viral.video.

It’s difficult to see the “xyz” names as anything other than attempt to cash in on the popularity of .xyz domains among the investors, many of them Chinese, currently pumping money into the domain market.

XYZ.com’s .xyz gTLD has over 1.7 million domains in its zone file today, making it the largest-volume new gTLD by a considerable margin.

I’m not sure there’s any causal connection here, but it should probably be noted that Daniel Negari and Michael Ambrose, XYZ.com’s CEO and COO respectively, recently acquired a substantial chunk of Rightside.

The two men disclosed November 30 that they had paid over $8.5 million to buy almost 10 million shares — or roughly 5.2% of the company — on the open market.

The NamesCon auction kicks off at 1400 Pacific (2200 UTC) on Monday at the Tropicana in Vegas. It’s being managed by RightOfTheDot and Namejet.

Berkens flogs the lot to Go Daddy

Kevin Murphy, December 7, 2015, Domain Sales

Domain investor Mike Berkens has sold almost his entire portfolio of domain names to Go Daddy, both parties said today.

Berkens’ company, WorldWide Media sold about 70,000 names to the company, which plans to list most of them on its Afternic Fast Transfer Network.

That’s the service that tries to streamline the purchasing of premium-priced domains as much as possible by making them available intermingled with unregistered names on registrars’ storefronts.

Berkens said on his blog, The Domains, that the decision to sell off most of his portfolio came about largely due to his personal circumstances.

“Simply put, life is short and this it was the perfect time for myself and my family to make a move that doesn’t require working 7 days a week, 365 days a year on the computer,” he wrote.

He intends to continue his work with RightOfTheDot, the auction and premium sales company he founded with Monte Cahn, which is running a big auction at the NamesCon conference next month.

He has also retained a portfolio of adult-themed domains, which he plans to sell via a web site at adult.domains.

A small portfolio of mostly new gTLD domains will be sold via the.domains.

Financial details of the Go Daddy deal were not disclosed, but Berkens said he could have made more money selling the names individually. He expects Go Daddy will find the domains profitable too, he said.