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ICANN’s secret “penthouse-level” domain program

Kevin Murphy, April 1, 2012, Gossip

Filthy with cash from incoming new gTLD applications, ICANN is secretly working on a new “penthouse-level domains” project, DomainIncite has learned.

The program, detailed in leaked emails (pdf) between senior ICANN executives, will open up the space to the right of the final, overlooked dot in a fully-qualified domain name.

The new “pLD” project will allow brand owners, for example, to apply to run a domain name to the right of their newly acquired dot-brand gTLD, creating new marketing opportunities.

Penthouse-level domains are believed to be the brainchild of outgoing CEO Rod Beckstrom.

“I figured I may as well torpedo the whole fucking joint on my way out,” he said, stuffing ICANN’s air-conditioning system with three-day-old sushi.

Officially, ICANN expects the program to be warmly welcomed by the trademark community

“The most common complaint we hear from dot-brand gTLD applicants is that they have no idea what to put at the second level,” said ICANN spin doctor Brad White.

“Do you use www.canon or www.canon.canon?” he said. “It’s confusing. But with a penthouse-level domain such as, I dunno, .com, Canon would be able to have www.canon.canon.com”.

“Companies that missed the dot-brand gTLD deadline would be able to apply for dot-brand pLDs instead, enabling addresses such as www.canon.com.canon,” he said. “And that’s much simpler.”

Sixteen new rights protection mechanisms have been created, all of which are expected to be so carefully balanced as to be essentially useless.

The new pLD application fee is likely to be set at $185,000 per character, according to sources, $175,000 of which has been earmarked for Jones Day’s cocaine bill.

Registry service providers have welcomed the penthouse-level domains move and today dismissed criticisms that the program places too high a financial burden on rights holders.

“The important thing you have to remember is that applying for a new penthouse-level domain isn’t the same as simply registering a gTLD,” said an Afilias spokesperson.

“The further to the right a word is on your screen, the more expensive it is to manage,” he said. “It stands to reason, right? Right? Yeah, well it does, trust me. We’re the experts.”

“And so are we,” said AusRegistry CEO Adrian Kinderis.

A burgeoning ecosystem of consultants is already emerging to support the pLD concept.

Mike Berkens and Monte Cahn today announced the launch of Right Of The Right Of The Dot Inc and, just in case, they have also defensively registered rightoftherightoftherightofthedot.com.

Minds + Machines also revealed it has ambitious plans to apply for dozens of new penthouse-level domains.

“We’re going to wait and see what pLDs others plan to apply for, then apply for those too,” said CEO Antony Van Couvering.

But other parts of the ICANN community have received the news with less enthusiasm.

“My name is Marilyn Cade,” said Business Constituency chair Marilyn Cade, before saying some other things that I forgot to write down.

“We’re completely opposed to new pLDs,” said CADNA’s Josh Bourne. “That’s why I’m proud to announce the launch of our reasonably priced new pLD consulting service.”

“And we’re doubly proud to announce that we’ve hired Steve Crocker to run it,” he added.

In related news, Paul Foody and George Kirikos were both found dead at the bottom of a cliff this morning in what police are describing as an apparent suicide pact.

“Goodbye cruel world,” said ICANN’s Filiz Yilmaz, reading from a laptop on Kirikos’ behalf.

***

Based on an idea by Barry Shein.

Hot girls land CZ.nic in hot water

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2012, Gossip

Czech domain name registry CZ.nic has been told off by the ICANN Ombudsman for a sexist display at its booth here at the ICANN 43 meeting in Costa Rica.

The company, which will host ICANN 44 in Prague, is currently running a light-hearted promotion whereby attendees can claim a free public transport pass if they choose from a selection of postcards illustrating what they’re “most looking forward to” at the June meeting.

Options include historical sites, beer, and nightlife. And until this morning, you could also choose “girls”. There was no equivalent “boys” option.

I’m not the most tactful person in the world, but even I found the CZ.nic booth a bit icky.

So, apparently, did somebody else.

ICANN Ombudsman Chris LaHatte confirmed that he received a complaint today and stepped in to ask CZ.nic’s reps to remove the offending postcards, which they did.

LaHatte confirmed that the booth display did not meet ICANN’s longstanding Expected Standards of Behavior, which states in part that participants must:

Treat all members of the ICANN community equally, irrespective of nationality, gender, racial or ethnic origin, religion or beliefs, disability, age, or sexual orientation.

It’s no secret that ICANN meetings, like most tech conferences, can be a bit of a sausage-fest at times, but there are hundreds (probably) of women in attendance too.

At recent meetings, the DNS Women’s Breakfast has become a regular networking event.

(Which, come to think of it, is a closed session and therefore probably a bit sexist too).

UPDATE: For all the pervs demanding photographic evidence in the comments, prepare to be disappointed.

Girls

DomainIncite turns two

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2012, Gossip

I almost forgot. Actually, I did forget.

Yesterday was DomainIncite’s second birthday.

It was an eventful year for the site, reflecting an eventful year for the industry. We broke a metric ton of domain name news and our page view and unique reader counts more than doubled.

And of course we launched DomainIncite PRO, our subscription-supported analysis service. For PRO, we’ve brought on board two new contributing analysts already, with a third hopefully coming soon.

As this is the one day of the year I let the Chinese wall in my head crumble, I’d like to give my annual shout-out to all of DI’s advertisers, past and present. Your support is very much appreciated.

As readers with young children in their families will know, two is the age at which kids start becoming aggressive, pain-in-the-ass monsters that will stop at nothing when it comes to seeing what they can get away with.

Just sayin’.

Anyway, it’s all good. Happy birthday me.

Five amusing Twitter accounts to follow

Kevin Murphy, January 29, 2012, Gossip

One of the good things about Twitter is that there’s no Whois (yet), which makes it fertile ground for pseudonymous humor.

Here are the five bogus domain humor tweeters I find amusing.

No, before you ask, none of these are me. I’ve only written one thing under a fake identity since I launched DI.

@BobRecstrum

Bob tweets in-character as a “heightened” version of ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom.

He’s basically a globe-trotting narcissist hippy with delusions of grandeur and an obsessive penchant for taking panoramic iPhone photos of himself shaking hands with world leaders.

His avatar, inexplicably, is Sam Rockwell as Zaphod Beeblebrox.

Bob Recstrum

@thereforeICANN

This account, which usually offers a satirical view of ICANN proceedings, typically peaks during its thrice-yearly public meetings.

Whoever is responsible for this account has clearly been around ICANN for a while – s/he goes to the meetings, reads the web site, and knows what’s coming before it happens.

@dns_borat

This one’s for the geeks. Imagine everyone’s favorite Kazakhstani roving reporter, but he’s a DNS administrator.

That’s pretty much it really.

@DotSucks

This account was only created in the last few days. I’d hazard a guess that it has links to the adult entertainment industry, due to the obvious anti-.xxx sentiment on display.

The premise, of course, is that new gTLDs are basically a massive shakedown. Shows promise.

(I’ll note that the first time I heard of .sucks back in 2000 when it was floated by then-chair of ICANN Esther Dyson, ironically now one of the new gTLD program’s highest-profile critics.)

@domainhumor

This one is slightly different for two reasons: 1) I know who it is. 2) He/she has not tweeted much funny stuff lately.

I follow it in the hope that this might change one day.

Outrage as bookshop drops apostrophe

Kevin Murphy, January 12, 2012, Gossip

The lunatic fringe of the British press is having a field day today with the news that high-street bookseller Waterstone’s has changed its name to Waterstones.

The apostrophe has been dropped to make the brand more domain name friendly, according to managing director James Daunt.

“Waterstones without an apostrophe is, in a digital world of URLs and email addresses, a more versatile and practical spelling,” he reportedly said.

The Daily Mail, never a rag to avoid pandering to traditionalists, said the rebranding “sparked outrage among customers and punctuation experts”

It quoted the chairman of the Apostrophe Protection Society (which apparently actually exists) as saying “it’s just plain wrong”, missing a sitting duck opportunity for a funny typo.

DomainIncite’s top posts of 2011

Kevin Murphy, December 29, 2011, Gossip

It’s been an eventful year in the domain name industry, and also for DomainIncite.

Pages views and unique visitors to DI more than tripled in 2011. We welcomed on board several new advertisers and will post our 1,000th article at some point over the next few days.

The year’s biggest rolling stories have been the slow creep towards the launch of ICANN’s new gTLD program, the depletion of the free IPv4 pool, the launch of the controversial .xxx gTLD, and the ongoing tensions between civil liberties advocates and intellectual property interests.

These trends are reflected in the top ten DI posts, by traffic, for 2011.

1. Bit-squatting – the latest risk to domain name owners

This curious security twist on the well-known typosquatting problem came to light during the Black Hat security conference in July. While the risk posed by bit-squatting is tiny, it was still the most-read story of the year.

2. The first .xxx porn site has gone live

This year saw the final approval and delegation of the long-anticipated .xxx top-level domain. Casting.xxx was the first .xxx domain not owned by ICM Registry to start resolving, and we scooped the story in August.

3. Facebok.com given to Facebook despite “theft” claim

The fact that this story about a dispute over the domain facebok.com receives so much search traffic is a testament to the fact that many people continue to a) type domain names into search boxes and b) misspell them.

4. Gratuitous Go Daddy girl butt photo

The headline is self-explanatory. I’d like to think its position in the year’s most-popular posts says a lot more about you than it does about me, but frankly I think we both should hang our heads in shame.

5. Microsoft spends $7.5 million on IP addresses

ICANN finally ran out of IPv4 this year, leading to the emergence of a secondary market in IP addresses. Microsoft’s purchase of a big batch from Nortel in March kicked off this continuing story.

6. Google ranks new .xxx site higher than its .com

For a brief period in August, Google was ranking ifriends.xxx, newly purchased by the adults-only dating site iFriends, higher than its usual .net and .com addresses, under certain circumstances.

While that may no longer be the case, it was an interesting indication of how search engines may experiment with ranking new gTLDs in future.

7. YouPorn challenges new gTLDs with review demand

In October, YouPorn operator Manwin became only the second company ever to file an Independent Review request with ICANN. While its focus was .xxx, its arguments were broad enough to encompass the entire new gTLD concept. One to watch in 2012.

8. Pirates set up domain seizure workaround

The SOPA and PIPA bills in the US were hot topics in the second half of 2011. In October, we broke the story of how pirate-operated DNS services were already springing up to help internet users circumnavigate domain seizures and DNS interception.

9. Facebok.com had 250 million hits a year

Again, it’s a sad fact that when you write about typo domains, you sometimes inherit traffic for those typos. That’s at least partially responsible for another Facebok.com story in our top ten.

10. .xxx domains go live

Back in April, icmregistry.xxx became the first .xxx domain name to start resolving on the internet. DI broke the story, and it got a bunch of traffic.

ICANN bleeps brand names from new gTLDs podcast

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2011, Gossip

Nike is a dirty word at ICANN.

At least, that’s my conclusion after listening to ICANN’s latest Start podcast on the new gTLDs program, which bleeps out the names of brands given as examples.

During a discussion between communications staffers Scott Pinzon and Michele Jourdan about the possibility of .brand top-level domains, Jourdan remarks:

If you’re looking for [BLEEP!] shoes and you go to shoes.[BLEEP!] you can be pretty sure that those are going to be actual [BLEEP!]-branded shoes.

Later, Pinzon poses a hypothetical:

I have an idea on how I think I can make a lot of money. I’m going to apply for the TLD dot-[BLEEP!] and then just hold out until a certain firm bought it from me. What are my chances?

It just sounds filthy (at least it does with my mind filling in the blanks).

Since I assume Pinzon and Jourdan would not have used words they intended to subsequently censor, I’m thinking an excessively paranoid legal department is probably to blame here.

You can download the 20-minute podcast, which is aimed at new gTLD newbies, here.

ICANN says sorry for crappy hotel complaint

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2011, Gossip

ICANN has apologized to the government of Senegal for its uppity letter of complaint about a hotel used for its recent Dakar meeting.

As I blogged (with sarcasm) earlier this week, ICANN marketing chief Barbara Clay had written to Senegal’s telecommunications minister Moustapha Guirassy to complain that the Hotel des Almadies was not up to the expected standards.

The poor service “damaged ICANN’s reputation as well as the reputation of the Hotel and Senegal”, the letter, which has since been removed from ICANN’s web site (read it here), stated.

Clay has now written to Guirassy to apologize. The letter (pdf) reads:

The letter was sent without appropriate clearance by ICANN’s leadership and so it was not an official statement of ICANN’s position.

ICANN’s leadership, and indeed the entire ICANN community, deeply appreciate the generosity shown by Senegal in hosting our 42nd public meeting. ICANN’s leadership – and I personally – truly regret any embarrassment or distress my letter may have caused you or the Government of Senegal.

I hope you will accept this sincere expression of regret.

The $124-a-night Almadies came in for a torrent of complaints from ICANN’s At Large Advisory Committee and others due to the substandard rooms, poor wifi, rats, smells and lack of security.

Outrage! ICANN complains about crappy hotel

Kevin Murphy, November 29, 2011, Gossip

Sometimes ICANN’s love of procedure defies parody.

It’s no secret that the $124-a-night Hotel des Almadies used at its recent meeting in Dakar, Senegal, was not really up to the Club Med* standards that ICANN wonks are accustomed to.

The At-Large Advisory Committee even conducted a survey of its members after the meeting and found that a whopping 68% of them had complained to hotel management for one reason or another.

ICANN’s response?

It’s sent a letter to Senegal’s telecommunications minister, complete with a 20-page illustrated ALAC report going into excruciating detail not only about the shoddy facilities but also the policy background of the complaint.

Along with reports of rats, patchy Wi-Fi, “musty smells” and inadequate security, there are references to Resolution 2010.08.05.12, the ALAC/At-Large Improvements Implementation Project Plan, and Section 3.2.2.5 of the Travel Policy of the ALAC Review Final Report.

According to the letter, from marketing chief Barbara Clay, ICANN had received assurances that the hotel rooms would be renovated before the Dakar meeting kicked off.

Clay wrote that the hotel’s failure to follow up on its promises “damaged ICANN’s reputation as well as the reputation of the Hotel and Senegal” and she asks for compensation.

I’m guessing Rod Beckstrom’s not going to be on President Wade’s Christmas card list after all.

(*As anyone who has attended more than one ICANN meeting knows, they’re nothing but a week-long orgy of beach limbo parties, $20 cocktails and sordid sexual encounters with exotic prostitutes, all paid for by the humble internet-using public.)

Rumor mill: three stories we expect to write soon

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2011, Gossip

File these rumors under: unconfirmed, but plausible.

Sometimes the gossip is impossible to confirm to the extent that I’m comfortable reporting it as fact, but interesting enough that I think it could use a wider airing.

Here are three examples of Stuff We’ve Heard Recently. Take it all with a great big pinch of salt.

Go Daddy to become a registry

The world’s largest registrar is poised to make an entrance into the registry market, it is whispered.

The rumors don’t go as far as to whether the company plans to apply for some new gTLDs itself, or whether it plans to become a back-end registry services provider, or something else.

But if ICANN’s new relaxed stance on vertical separation means its competitors plan to join the registry space, it seems likely that Go Daddy will want a piece of the action too.

It is already a joint-venture partner in .me registry Domen, though I believe Afilias is responsible for the technical heavy lifting at the back end.

It’s too early to speculate too much, but I’ve written before that Go Daddy is possibly the only registrar likely to catch the attention of competition watchdogs if it decides to vertically integrate.

The official word from Go Daddy when I asked for confirmation a few weeks ago was: “We have no comment and we have no formal announcement pending.”

.pro to be liberalized

Multiple sources say that the restricted .pro gTLD, which has been around but seriously under-used since 2004, is set to begin to undergo a significant liberalization soon.

I’m expecting to see operator RegistryPro, which is now owned by HostWay, file a Registry Services Evaluation Process request with ICANN in the next few weeks.

Details are sketchy, but I would not be surprised if the company says it wants to do away with its restrictive registration policy entirely.

Currently, registrants have to provide evidence of professional credentials if they want to register a .pro name, although there’s a huge loophole that allows registrations via credentialed proxies.

RegistryPro hired itself a new CEO, Karim Jiwani, in May, and it’s been broadly predicted that he plans to shake up .pro to make it more of a commercial success.

Its parent may have already put in some of the groundwork for a .jobs-style directory service – HostWay, via a shell company, registered over 40,000 US zip codes in .pro in August 2010.

MarkMonitor gets acquired

This is more speculation than rumor.

There’s a wave of M&A activity in the domain name industry, as companies prepare for introduction of new gTLDs, and one of the potential growth areas is brand management.

With hundreds of new gTLDs likely to launch over a relatively short space of time, companies such as MarkMonitor could find their services in more demand than ever.

Whenever I ask anyone which registrars they think are likely to be hit by the consolidation bug, MarkMonitor is always on the shortlist.

The private company is backed by venture capitalists which will no doubt be looking to execute an exit strategy sooner or later, but the list of potential buyers is quite small.

Consider it a hunch, for now.