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ICANN steps in front of astrology lawsuit

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2011, Domain Tech

ICANN has agreed to take over a critical online time zone database, after its original operators were sued for copyright infringement by an astrology software company.

The organization said last night that it will start to manage the Internet Time Zone Database, following the retirement of Arthur David Olson, who has managed it for nearly 30 years at the US National Institutes of Health.

“The Time Zone Database provides an essential service on the Internet and keeping it operational falls within ICANN’s mission of maintaining a stable and dependable Internet,” ICANN COO Akram Atallah said.

While it’s possible that ICANN will face criticism for this apparent case of “mission creep”, the move could actually be pretty good news for new top-level domains applicants.

The tz database is used by countless applications and platforms. It’s baked into Java, PHP, Perl, Python, .NET, PostgreSQL and BSD-derived operating systems including Mac OS X.

If ICANN is able to leverage those relationships, it may be able to increase adoption of its Universal Acceptance of TLDs project, an authoritative database of all live TLDs.

This could help new gTLDs, primarily those longer than three characters, have a smoother ride in terms of compatibility with internet software.

But the real reason for the handover to ICANN at this time appears to be the fact that Olson was sued at the end of September by Astrolabe, a Massachusetts-based provider of astrology software.

Astrolabe claims (pdf) it has copyright on some facts about historical time zone information, and has sued Olson for an injunction and damages

The lawsuit prompted the removal of the FTP site where the database is hosted, and oodles of bad karma for Astrolabe after the suit was reported in The Register.

So has ICANN just risked having its name added to the lawsuit in order to ensure the ongoing stability of the time zone database? Is it taking one for the team? It certainly appears so.

According to Astrolabe’s latest observations:

Conditions are confused and uncertain. Feelings run high. Perceptions are altered, leading to misunderstandings. Imagination, escapism, and gullibility are factors to contend with.

Indeed.

ANA finds SEO more effective than Facebook

Kevin Murphy, October 10, 2011, Domain Tech

Advertisers are “beginning to question the effectiveness” of social media marketing, but they’re still mostly sold on the benefits of search engine optimization.

That’s according to a new study from the Association of National Advertisers, the results of which have just been published.

The ANA’s survey of 92 marketers gave SEO an “effectiveness rating” of 52%, the highest rating given to any of the six categories respondents were asked to comment on.

However, that represented a decline of three percentage points from a similar survey in 2009.

Social networking sites (presumably including Facebook, although names were not named) received an effectiveness rating of 28%, up from 17% two years ago, ANA reported.

SEO and social sites were used in marketing by 88% and 89% of respondents respectively.

ANA president Bob Liodice said in a press release:

While marketers have substantially increased their use of newer media platforms over the past few years, they are beginning to question the effectiveness of some of these vehicles. The ANA survey indicates a strong willingness by marketers to integrate innovative new approaches into their marketing mix; however, this enthusiasm is tempered by concerns regarding the return-on-investment of these emerging options.

While it’s all speculation at this point, SEO improvements are often pointed to as a potential (and I stress: potential) benefit of new dot-brand or category-killer top-level domains.

The ANA is the current opponent-in-chief of ICANN’s new gTLD program.

Pirates set up domain seizure workaround

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2011, Domain Tech

Movie and music pirates are setting up alternative DNS services to help users work around the government seizure of domain names.

A new service, BlockAid.me, launched an open beta at the end of September. It’s currently being promoted prominently on at least one major movie/music/games-sharing site.

The site encourages internet users to reconfigure their computers to use BlockAid’s DNS servers. That way, if a domain name used by a piracy web site is seized by law enforcement, BlockAid will be able to direct surfers to the original owner’s IP address more or less transparently.

This is exactly what the experts predicted would happen.

Ever since the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency started seizing domain names associated with pirated content and US politicians have been discussing legislation to streamline the process, workarounds have been expected.

In May, DNS experts including Paul Vixie, Dan Kaminsky and now-ICANN chair Steve Crocker said that the Protect-IP Act in the US would persuade many users to switch to offshore DNS servers.

They warned that this would lead to a rise in cybercrime against consumers, as disreputable or insecure DNS providers send surfers to spoofs of banks and other sensitive sites.

While there’s no reason to believe the BlockAid project has this kind of nefarious activity in mind, if the idea catches on it’s probably inevitable that a similar service operated by crooks will emerge eventually.

Amusingly, BlockAid’s web site says that it may financially support itself in future by showing ad-laden web pages instead of returning NXDOMAIN errors, a much-criticized money-making tactic many ISPs already use.

Note also that the .me registry is managed by Afilias, a heavily US-based company, which likely makes BlockAid.me just as vulnerable to seizure as any .com address.

Google ranks new .xxx site higher than its .com

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2011, Domain Tech

Is Google experimenting with swapping out .com domains when an equivalent .xxx exists?

Last week, ICM Registry announced it had granted ifriends.xxx to iFriends, a popular network of adults-only webcams, as part of its pre-launch Founders Program.

Today, a Google search for iFriends sometimes returns ifriends.xxx right at the top, with ifriends.com nowhere to be seen on the first page.

Other times, ifriends.com or ifriends.net gets top billing.

The iFriends network has been around since 1998, according to an ICM press release, so its .com and .net domains will presumably already have significant juice.

Obviously, Google has been useless for returning easily predictable results ever since it started “personalizing” SERPs a couple years back.

Running a few non-scientific experiments, it seems that the choice of browser, toolbar, Google site and location may play a factor in which results you see.

The significant thing seems to me to be the fact that when your results do include the .xxx domain first, it appears to completely replace the .com.

What do you see when you search? What do you think is going on?

.xxx reveals new gTLD support problems

Kevin Murphy, August 5, 2011, Domain Tech

It’s late 2012. You’ve spent your $185,000, fought your way through objections, won your contention set, and proved to ICANN that you’re technically and financially capable of running a new generic top-level domain.

The registry contracts have been signed. But will your gTLD actually work?

The experiences of .xxx manager ICM Registry lately suggest that a certain amount of outreach will be needed before new gTLDs receive universal support in applications.

I’ve encountered three examples over the last few days of .xxx domain names not functioning as expected in certain apps. I expect there will be many more.

Skype. Type http://casting.com into a chat window and Skype will automatically make the link clickable. Do the same for the .xxx equivalent, and it does not.

Android, the Google mobile platform. I haven’t tested this, but according to Francesco Cetaro on Twitter, unless you manually type the http:// the domain doesn’t resolve.

TweetDeck, now owned by Twitter. It doesn’t auto-link or auto-shorten .xxx domains either, not even if you include the http:// prefix.

This problem is well known from previous new gTLD rounds. ICANN even warns applicants about it in the Applicant Guidebook, stating:

All applicants should be aware that approval of an application and entry into a registry agreement with ICANN do not guarantee that a new gTLD will immediately function throughout the Internet. Past experience indicates that network operators may not immediately fully support new top-level domains, even when these domains have been delegated in the DNS root zone, since third-party software modification may be required and may not happen immediately.

Similarly, software applications sometimes attempt to validate domain names and may not recognize new or unknown top-level domains.

As a 10-year .info registrant, I can confirm that some web sites will still sometimes reject email addresses at .info domains.

Sometimes this is due to outdated validation scripts assuming no TLD is longer than three characters. Sometimes, it’s because the webmaster sees so much spam from .info he bans the whole TLD.

This is far less of an issue that it was five or six years ago, due in part to Afilias’s outreach, but just this week I found myself unable to sign up at a certain phpBB forum using my .info address.

I understand ICM has also been reaching out to affected app developers recently to make them aware that .xxx now exists in the root and has resolvable domains.

ICANN also has released code in C#, Java, Perl, and Python (though not, annoyingly, PHP) that it says can be easily dropped into source in order to validate TLDs against the live root.

The last beta was released in 2007. I’m not sure whether it’s still under development.

(UPDATE: CentralNic CTO Gavin Brown has knocked up a PHP implementation here.)