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Google threatens domain names with Direct Connect

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2011, Domain Services

Google’s latest social networking play is a potential threat to the relevance of domain names.

The company has announced the launch of Direct Connect, a feature that enables direct navigation to Google+ pages via the search engine.

Essentially, typing a + sign before the name of a brand in the search box will take you directly to that brand’s Google+ page, assuming it has one, bypassing search results.

This video explains it pretty well:

Google said yesterday that at launch a handful of brands, including Pepsi, Toyota and Angry Birds, are signed up, but from where I’m sitting only +google seems to work as advertised.

The feature also only seems to work when used with the search box on Google’s home page.

However, it does not require a massive leap of the imagination to see it quite easily showing up soon in the Google Toolbar and the integrated search/URL bar in Chrome.

Direct Connect was launched alongside Google+ Pages, the company’s answer to Facebook Pages – a way for companies to have their own branded fan page for interacting with customers.

Many companies are already advertising their Facebook addresses, or simply encouraging people to search Facebook for their brand, in print, on TV and elsewhere.

It might not be long before we see +brand advertising along similar lines.

Could Google train people to type +pepsi instead of pepsi.com? It’s an interesting notion.

The + operator was of course until recently a way of telling Google that you really, really wanted to see search results containing your query.

As Google has increasingly crapified its search engine with infuriating “user-friendly” guff over the last few years, I’ve trained myself to automatically put a + in front of every search in order to get the results I want rather than what Google, in its infinite wisdom, thinks I might want.

I’m sure I’m not alone.

While the + function has now been deprecated in favor of enclosing queries in quotation marks, it is nevertheless already trained user behavior in many cases.

I’m not suggesting that Google is going to kill domain names, but at first glance Direct Connect certainly seems to be a step toward attempting to make them less relevant for branding and advertising.

I can’t help but note that Google+ Pages was launched unilaterally by Google with no multi-stakeholder consultation, no battles with intellectual property interests, and no government oversight.

The Association of National Advertisers has yet to demand that Google shuts it down.

NetNames puts gTLD.com domain to good use

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2011, Domain Services

European registrar Group NBT has a pretty great domain for its new generic top-level domains consulting business: gTLD.com.

Under its NetNames corporate registrar brand, the company is targeting the “.brand” market, like so many others, judging by its recently relaunched web site.

Its services include pre-application consulting, help with applications, and ongoing management services, provided through its relationships with registry infrastructure partners.

It will also keep track of other ICANN gTLD applications and alert clients about potential cases of trademark infringement.

One thing’s for sure, new gTLD applicants in general are spoiled for choice now when it comes to selecting a consultant.

DomainTools opens massive email record database

Kevin Murphy, August 29, 2011, Domain Services

DomainTools has opened up a huge database that matches domain names to the mail servers they use.

A search on ReverseMX.com for a domain name returns the mail servers that domain uses. In reverse, you can search for a mail server or IP address and find out which domains use it.

For example, a query for one of Google’s mail servers will spit back a short list of some of the domains that use Google for their email, along with an aggregate domain count.

DomainTools said in a press release:

ReverseMX can be used by a wide audience – basically anyone interested in researching the footprint of small or large email providers. For example, users can analyze which mail servers’ domains are using certain email providers, or how Microsoft’s hosted email is doing against Gmail or Yahoo.

The data currently covers the 130 million domains registered under .com, .edu, .net, .org, .info, .biz, and .us – the largest TLDs for which zone files are freely available.

DomainTools has already uncovered a few interesting factoids, such as that 30 million domain names use Go Daddy for their email, making it easily the largest provider.

The service also interrogates domains’ SPF records to work out which IP addresses are authorized to send email for any given domain.

I can imagine ReverseMX being useful for researchers in the security industry (and their spammer adversaries?).

But unlike DomainTools’ other services, it does not immediately appear to be something that many people in the domain name industry will find themselves using on a daily basis.

Now you can outsource your whole gTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2011, Domain Services

It’s already common practice for domain name registries to outsource their technical operations to a back-end provider such as VeriSign or Afilias, but a new company hopes that new gTLD registries will want to go one step further.

Sedari, which appears to have soft-launched at the .nxt conference today, wants successful new gTLD applicants to outsource their back-office functions too.

The company, headed by former ICANN policy advisor Liz Williams, “helps string owners outsource the risk and responsibility of running a registry in compliance with ICANN’s contracts”, according to its site.

I understand this means functions such as billing, support, compliance, and liaising with the back-end registry and the front-end registrars.

I guess it’s going to be possible for a successful gTLD applicant to sign a registry contract with ICANN and then do very little to actually manage its day-to-day operation.

A registry that outsources its technical infrastructure to the likes of Neustar and its back office to Sedari will presumably be free to focus on nothing but marketing.

Sedari is staffed by a number of familiar faces.

Its CFO is Kevin Wilson, who had the same role at ICANN until January, and former ICANN director Dennis Jennings is on the board.

Its CTO is Wayne MacLaurin, who was previously CTO of Momentous. Jothan Frakes, formerly with Minds + Machines, is senior VP of channel management.

New gTLD conference planned for Bulgaria

Kevin Murphy, August 15, 2011, Domain Services

Bulgaria is to get its own conference on the new generic top-level domains opportunity.

Set for the Grand Hotel Sofia in the nation’s capital, November 7 (and possibly November 8, according to the schedule), Domain Forum is being organized by Uninet.bg and Register.bg.

Uninet is the organization that’s been pushing ICANN, so far unsuccessfully, for a Cyrillic version of Bulgaria’s ccTLD, .bg.

The program looks like a mix of local-interest talk and general gTLD discussion, and I’m told it will be conducted in a mix of English and Bulgarian. Two-way translation will be provided.

The organizers expect about 100 attendees. ICANN staff will be there, but names have not been confirmed. I’m also planning to attend.

Oh, and registration is free.

The new gTLD conference diary is certainly filling up.

We have Kieren McCarthy’s .nxt coming up next week in San Francisco. I attended the first one in February and thought they did a great job. I wrote about it here.

And next month there’s United-Domains’ two-day newdomains.org meeting in Munich, Germany, which I believe will be Europe’s first new gTLD show. I’m on a couple of panels at this event.