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ICANN proposes pricing changes for new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, June 1, 2016, Domain Services

ICANN is to give gTLD registries greater power to change their pricing under a proposed new deal.

The organization also says it could accept reduced fees from registries under some circumstances.

These are among about 40 substantial changes appearing in a new version of the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement that has been put out for comment.

The proposed new RA was posted last night after ICANN and registries spent months negotiating the details behind closed doors.

The contract would apply to registries that have signed the base new gTLD contract, not legacy gTLDs such as .com (though, in the passage of time, leaks may occur).

Many of the changes seek to bring clarity to registries’ technical obligations, particularly during their launch phases, and their data reporting requirements.

But there are a few notable changes concerning fees.

First, it seems registrars are going to be stripped of their right to challenge registry fee increases through the ICANN process.

Currently, any substantial changes to their Registry-Registrar Agreements has to go through scrutiny by ICANN and the registrars, and the registrars are allowed to object to the changes.

We saw such objections at the start of the year with .sucks, but RRA changes usually happen a few times a month.

Under the proposed new RA, that process would no longer apply when the only change made to an RRA is to change the registry fee.

Registrars would still have to be provided with 30 to 180 days notice, depending on the extent of the fee change, but there would be no ICANN review or registrar challenge process.

ICANN reasons that this is sensible because, unlike legacy gTLDs, its new gTLD contracts don’t regulate prices anyway.

Second, ICANN has introduced a new “Fee Reduction Waiver” concept to the contract. The draft deal states:

In ICANN’s sole discretion, ICANN may reduce the amount of registry fees payable hereunder by Registry Operator for any period of time (“Fee Reduction Waiver”). Any such Fee Reduction Waiver may, as determined by ICANN in its sole discretion, be (a) limited in duration and (b) conditioned upon Registry Operator’s acceptance of the terms and conditions set forth in such waiver. A Fee Reduction Waiver shall not be effective unless executed in writing by ICANN as contemplated by Section 7.6(i). ICANN will provide notice of any Fee Reduction Waiver to Registry Operator in accordance with Section 7.9.

It’s not entirely clear who asked for this or why.

I can imagine scenarios in which struggling registries might seek a handout from cash-rich ICANN, or in which dot-brands whose registrations are not linked to revenue might ask for a waiver.

Dot-brands — that is, registries that have signed Specification 13 of the RA — also get some love in the new RA, including an effective right of veto over changes that could affect their special status.

If in future an RA change is proposed that would effectively amend Spec 13, it will not happen unless Spec 13 registries vote in favor of the change.

The vote would require a two-thirds majority, with registries voting power weighted according to how much they pay ICANN in registry fees.

The whole contract is now open for a 43-day public comment period, which you can find here.

Nominet to run .blog’s back-end

Kevin Murphy, May 13, 2016, Domain Services

Nominet is to run the back-end registry systems for .blog, the company announced this evening.

We reported earlier today that .blog has a surprise new owner — Knock Knock, Whois There, which belongs to Automattic, owner of WordPress.com — and it seems the change of ownership comes with a change of back-end.

Primer Nivel, the company that applied for .blog and just transferred the ICANN contract to Automattic, had named Malaysian also-ran Qinetics as its original back-end.

“Nominet will provide the registry services, as well as technical support to the registrar channel,” Nominet said tonight. The deal includes EPP and DNS.

Nominet’s press release confirms that registrants will not need a WordPress.com account to buy a .blog domain name.

It’s the second big back-end deal for Nominet in recent weeks. The company recently revealed it will be taking over technical services for all 28 of Minds + Machines new gTLDs.

Automattic/KKWT is predicting 250,000 .blog registrations in 2016, and general availability is not expected until the fourth quarter.

Web.com acquires dozens of registrars from Rightside

Kevin Murphy, May 11, 2016, Domain Services

Web.com has acquired dozens of registrars from rival/partner Rightside, seemingly to boost the success rate of its SnapNames domain drop-catching business.

I’ve established that at least 44 registrars once managed by Rightside/eNom have moved to the Web.com stable in recent weeks, and that might not even be the half of it.

All of the registrars in question are shell companies used exclusively to register pre-ordered names as they are deleted by registries, usually Verisign.

The more registrars you have, the more EPP connections you have to the Verisign registry and the better your chance at catching a domain.

Web.com runs SnapNames, and is in a 50-50 partnership with Rightside on rival drop-catcher NameJet.

The two compete primarily with NameBright’s DropCatch.com, which obtained hundreds of fresh ICANN accreditations last year, bringing its total pool to over 750.

Web.com has fewer than 400 accreditations right now. Rightside has even fewer.

It’s usually quicker to buy a registrar than to obtain a new accreditation from ICANN.

If Web.com finds itself in need of more accreditations in order to compete, and Rightside is happy to let them go, it could be possible to infer that SnapNames is doing rather better in terms of customer acquisition than NameJet.

But the two services recently announced a partnership under which names grabbed by either network would be placed in an auction in which customers of either site could participate.

This would have the effect of increasing the number of caught names going to auction due to there being multiple bidders, and thus the eventual sales prices.

Domainers up in arms as DomainTools pricing rockets

Kevin Murphy, April 27, 2016, Domain Services

Domain investors are loudly complaining about DomainTools’ plan to double its prices and slash query limits.

Some are even calling for a boycott.

Effective June 25, all the existing non-enterprise membership tiers are being folded into a new “Personal” account, which costs $99 a month or $995 a year, DomainTools said.

Previously, customers on a “Professional” account paid $49.95 a month. Some were paying as little as $12 under older, discontinued Gold, Silver and Bronze plans.

If the price hike weren’t significant enough, the company is also reducing the number of queries customers can make.

Whois History reports have been slashed from 100 domains to 25, for example, as have Hosting History reports. The Brand Monitor tool has been reduced from 10 monitored strings to 3.

DomainTools offers a broad range of services in its standard bundle, and the cuts are pretty much across the board.

DomainTools said in an email to bloggers this week that a 30% discount will be offered on the first payment under the new plan for existing customers, adding:

The Personal Membership package adds four products that have never been offered before to individual members. Bulk Parsed Whois and Reverse Whois Research Mode have previously only been available to Enterprise members. In addition, we are including our newest product, Reverse IP Whois, which works like our Reverse Whois for domain Whois, but across IP Whois records. And finally, Personal Membership also includes 5 Domain Reports per month.

The company says that it is focusing more now on its enterprise security customers, where one imagines margins are higher than its mass-market domainer-oriented services.

Domainers, as you might expect, are not happy. Message boards and domainer blogs are filled with negative commentary.

There are currently 50 comments slamming the move on DNW, many saying they will quit the service, and a call for a boycott on NamePros

Some are predicting customers will flock to rivals DomainIQ and Whoisology.

Disclosure: myself and several other domain industry bloggers are on complimentary plans and will not be affected by these changes. In some months, the new Personal plan would have been adequate for my needs; in others, not so much.

IWF finds child abuse imagery on new gTLD domains

Kevin Murphy, April 21, 2016, Domain Services

The Internet Watch Foundation said it found child abuse imagery on new gTLD domain names for the first time in 2015.

The UK-based organization, tasked with identifying and blocking child abuse imagery online, today released its 2015 annual report.

The report says that it found 68,092 unique URLs with this illegal content in the year, spread over 1,991 domains. It says:

Five top level domains (.com .net .ru .org .se) accounted for 91 per cent of all webpages identified as containing child sexual abuse images and videos.

However, it also says that child abuse was found on new gTLDs for the first time.

While the report doesn’t make much of this trend, it should be worrying.

The IWF said it took action on 436 new gTLD domains in 2015, many of which “appeared to have been registered specifically for that purpose”.

While new gTLD names appear to be responsible for a very small percentage of flagged URLs, they seem to be 21% of the total number of domains on which child abuse imagery was found.

This discrepancy may be explained by the fact that 78% of the total abuse URLs were found on free-to-use image hosting sites, probably concentrated in .com.

The IWF added that 138 of the new gTLD domains hosted “disguised” abuse sites. These are sites where illegal content is only shown when visitors arrive from a specific referrer link.

The IWF offers a “Domain Alerts” service to its members, which allows registries and registrars to quickly take down domains confirmed as containing illegal material.

Judging by its member list, not many domain name companies are members.

Members include Go Daddy, ICM Registry, .London Domains, Rightside, Afilias and Nominet.

Facebook bought a registrar

Kevin Murphy, April 14, 2016, Domain Services

Facebook has acquired a domain name registrar, according to its point person in ICANN.

Facebook domain manager Susan Kawaguchi said on tonight’s GNSO Council teleconference, as a matter of disclosure, that Facebook recently acquired a registrar.

Multiple sources say the registrar is RegistrarSEC LLC.

DI records show that RegistrarSEC took over the ICANN registrar accreditation of Focus IP Inc, doing business as AppDetex, on March 26.

RegistrarSEC is led by one of the long-gone founders of brand protection registrar MarkMonitor, Faisal Shah, and Chris Bura, founder of Alldomains.com.

Facebook is one of MarkMonitor’s most prominent clients.

RegistrarSEC is not a conventional registrar. It had just 11 registrations under its IANA ID at the end of 2015.

But its parent was founded in 2013 as primarily a provider of brand protection services focused on the mobile app space.

My guess is that Facebook is interested in RegistrarSEC’s parent’s intellectual property, rather than its registrar.

Domains “worth $3 million” put up for first industry hackathon

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2016, Domain Services

The domain name industry is about to get a new type of conference.

Domain broker Ryan Colby of Outcome Brokerage is to host what is believed to be the first domain “hackathon”, and says he already has domains he estimates as being worth $3 million submitted for the event.

Codemology, as the conference will be called, will be held over two days in Charlotte, North Carolina, in October.

The idea is to bring the owners of premium domain names together with angel investors and young, skilled developers, with the hope that some workable business ideas might emerge.

“We are trying to utilize the ‘excess capacity’ of premium domains in the marketplace, which are just sitting there doing nothing, oozing with potential, waiting for the next killer idea,” Colby told DI today.

Over the weekend of the event, the goal will be to create a bunch of “minimal viable products” for each selected domain that could be developed further.

It’s a free event, but attendees need to go through an application process before being given tickets. Colby said he’s marketing the event at university students and those who regularly attend hackathons.

The list of domains that will be used has not been finalized yet, but Colby’s clients have already submitted at least four pretty terrific one-word dictionary .coms.

Domains in new gTLDs will also make an appearance.

“If you’re a domain owner, why not submit it to the kid from MIT who might have a winning idea? There’s no risk, and huge upside if something comes about,” Colby said.

The developers keep the IP rights to whatever they code during the event, he said.

“It’s up to the domain owner to choose to collaborate, buy their IP or walk away,” he said.

Colby said he’s working on an app that will allow people to vote on domains that have been submitted, with the most popular ones being used at Codemology.

He said he’s hopeful of running similar events in other cities after the Charlotte conference.

Architelos files bankruptcy after Afilias lawsuit

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2016, Domain Services

Afilias has managed to bury domain security software provider Architelos, which filed for bankrupcty today.

Architelos filed Chapter 7, which basically means the company will close and its assets will be liquidated to pay off creditors.

Its only major creditor is Afilias, which won a patent lawsuit against it last August.

The jury in the case set damages at $10 million, finding that Architelos had misappropriated Afilias trade secrets, but the trial judge recently indicated her intention of reducing the award to $2 million.

Even that was a bit too rich for the company, which floated the idea of operating NameSentry on a revenue share with Afilias until its debt was paid.

Clearly, that’s no longer going to happen.

Architelos was founded by Alexa Raad in 2011, to exploit the new gTLD opportunity as a consulting and software tools provider.

It made seven figures in its first year, mainly through gTLD application consulting fees, but saw modest adoption of its subsequent security offering, NameSentry.

The flagship service only made $300,000 in revenue, according to court documents. After the August verdict, Architelos’ sales pipeline dried up.

The software and the US patents covering them are the company’s key assets, though Afilias is expected to be awarded at least partial ownership rights of the patents.

The company had about 10 employees at its peak, but has been operating on a skeleton crew of two or three for the last few months.

Architelos said in a blog post that NameSentry customers will be able to continue to use the service in the short term, but what happens to it in future depends on how the bankruptcy court appointed trustee does with it.

Afilias also has an outstanding lawsuit against Architelos and Raad in Canada.

Famous Four confirms link to AlpNames, mass new gTLD development project

Kevin Murphy, March 21, 2016, Domain Services

New gTLD registry Famous Four Media has confirmed its connections to registrar AlpNames and two other Gibraltar-based companies involved in the mass development of new gTLD domains.

FFM chief legal officer Oliver Smith said that the company shares owners with AlpNames, A Domains Ltd and a company I’d never heard of before called Socium Networks.

“It is fair to say that some of the shareholders in FFM do hold shares in and part fund these companies,” he said in an email.

“FFM is leading Gibraltar’s evolution as a technology hub by engaging with new businesses, offering up our experience, and in some circumstances such as A Domains and Socium Networks, incubating their operations,” he said.

“We engage at this level predominantly because it’s in our interest, and the domain name industries’, to support businesses who share a common purpose in growing the new gTLD market space,” he said.

“FFM has a great working relationship with all three companies, much in the same manner as we have with our other client partners, except that our geographic proximity allows for greater face time and collaboration,” he said.

The link between AlpNames and FFM will not surprise many members of the industry.

AlpNames is FFM’s biggest registrar partner by a long shot, accounting for 75%+ of the registrations in many of of the gTLDs in FFM’s stable.

It consistently prominently advertises FFM’s domains on its storefront with sub-$1 pricing.

What’s perhaps less well known are A Domains and Socium, both of which seem to be involved in bulk-developing hundreds of thousands of domains from FFM’s gTLD portfolio.

As I noted Friday, A Domains owns huge chunks of the .party, .trade and .review zones (to name three), largely long-tail geographic domains.

A UDRP complaint A Domains won last year revealed that the strategy is to algorithmically register domains matching towns and cities of over 30,000 inhabitants then populate the sites with scraped content. For example.

Socium appears to be run by the same person, Chris Cousins, and has the same strategy.

Socium’s web site states: “We have over 100,000 sites currently under management and plans to launch over 1,000,000 more by the third quarter of 2016.”

This triple-play (registry, registrar, registrant) combo seems to be at least partly responsible for the large numbers of domains in FFM’s zone files.

At least a third of .review seems to be owned by A Domains, for example.

All the A Domains names I came across were registered via AlpNames during the early days of general availability when AlpNames was selling names at cost.

It’s not a completely new way for a registry to try to (indirectly) monetize its portfolio.

When .pro was owned by Hostway, a registry subsidiary owned and developed around 43,000 .pro domains matching US zip codes, under a service known as Zip.pro.

That seems to have been a failure, however. When Afilias took over .pro in early 2012 it did not acquire Zip.pro and the domains all expired in August that year.

Employ Media has tried something similar with a partner, the DirectEmployers Association.

The Universe.jobs project, controversial when it launched, saw DirectEmployers register and mass-develop thousands of geographic and industry-focused jobs portals. Universe.jobs appears to still live.

Pritz joins Allegravita and other industry movements

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2016, Domain Services

It’s been a busy week in the domain industry for executive changes.

Today, we hear that senior ICANN alum Kurt Pritz has joined Chinese domain marketing specialist Allegravita as a “new partner”.

Allegravita is the PR consultancy that’s made a bit of a splash in the industry over the last couple of years shepherding Western clients through the confusing but potentially lucrative Chinese market.

One of its clients is the Domain Name Association, where Pritz worked as executive director for a couple of years until last October. Prior to the DNA, he was head of ICANN’s new gTLD program.

Also today, Uniregistry announced a couple of new bods in its registrar team.

Sam Tseng and Alan Crowe join from Oversee.net and DomainNameSales (another Frank Schilling company) respectively.

They’ll be responsible for working with high-volume customers of Uniregistry’s registrar business.

Meanwhile, .tickets registry Accent Media said it has appointed Kristi Flax as its commercial operations director.

Flax was founder and COO of PPI Claimline, one of those UK companies that manages refund claims against banks that mis-sold payment protection insurance for people too simple to do it for themselves.

Thanks to relentless phone spamming by unscrupulous lead-gen affiliates, it’s one of the few industries with a worse reputation than domain name industry.

Earlier this week, Sedo announced several changes at the top of its ranks.

First, the Germany-based company has appointed telco industry alum Barbara Stolz as its new CFO. She replaces Torsten Hauschildt, who returns to parent United Internet as senior VP of finance and M&A

Its director of marketing, Christian Voss, has been promoted to chief marketing officer, and Dimo Beitzke has been moved up to chief sales officer. Solomon Amoako has left his job as North American CSO for personal reasons.