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The .web gTLD could go live in 2016

Kevin Murphy, April 27, 2016, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .web could be coming to the internet sooner than expected after two of the remaining barriers to delegation disappeared.

Following the withdrawal last week of an application for the plural .webs, an auction for .web could happen in the next couple of months, enabling a go-live date possibly in 2016.

.web, often considered the most desirable truly generic gTLD, has had a rough time of it in the 2012 ICANN new gTLD program.

There were seven applications for the string. Google, Web.com, Donuts, Radix, Afilias, Schlund Technologies, Nu Dot Co all applied.

The registrar Web.com (owner of Network Solutions, Register.com, et al) appears to be especially keen to get the domain, given that the string more or less matches its brand.

It perhaps should have been a straightforward auction shoot-out.

But, complicating matters, bespoke printing firm Vistaprint had filed two applications — one vanilla, one “community” based — for the plural version of the string, “.webs”.

Vistaprint runs a website development service called Webs.com. It’s the plural of the Web.com brand.

Web.com wasn’t happy about Vistaprint’s .webs applications, so it filed String Confusion Objections against both, arguing that .web and .webs were too confusingly similar to co-exist on the internet.

While there are now many examples of plurals and singulars living together (see .auto/s, .fan/s and .gift/s), the registrar won both of its SCO complaints, meaning Vistaprint’s two applications and the seven .web applicants were lumped together into the same contention set.

If two strings are in the same contention set, only one can survive to be ultimately delegated to the DNS.

Vistaprint appealed the SCO decisions, first with a Request for Reconsideration to the ICANN board (predictably unsuccessful) and then with an Independent Review Process complaint.

While the IRP was being mulled over, .web was in limbo.

The IRP was unsuccessful. The IRP panel ruled in October that ICANN had not violated its bylaws in accepting the SCO panel’s decision.

But it gave ICANN a nudge, suggesting that perhaps it could give Vistaprint leave to appeal the original SCO determinations via another mechanism.

In early March, the ICANN board proper decided that:

the Vistaprint SCO Expert Determination is not sufficiently “inconsistent” or “unreasonable” such that the underlying objection proceedings resulting in the Expert Determination warrants re-evaluation.

The board said that the .web/.webs contention set should be processed as normal; in other words: go to auction.

That removed the first barrier to the .web/.webs auction going ahead.

The second barrier was the fact that Visaprint had file two applications for .webs — one regular, one “community”.

By self-identifying as a “community”, Vistaprint qualified for the Community Priority Evaluation. A winning CPE means all competing applications — including the .web applications in this case — would be eliminated.

While the CPE process is far from perfect, I think the chances of Vistaprint winning would be pretty slim.

Perhaps Vistaprint agreed with me. Whatever the thought process, the company has withdrawn its “community” application. The withdrawal was reflected on the ICANN web site at the weekend, according to the little birds at DI PRO.

What this means is that the seven .web applications and Vistaprint’s remaining, non-community .webs application will be going to auction together.

It could be a private auction, where the proceeds are divvied up between the losers, or an ICANN “last resort” auction, where ICANN gets all the money.

Either way, the winning bidder is likely to pay a LOT of cash for their chosen string.

GMO Registry paid $41 million for .shop back in January. I’d be flabbergasted if .web wasn’t eight figures too.

If Vistaprint offers to pay more money for .webs than Web.com wants to pay for .web, Web.com will be eliminated from the race and Vistaprint will get .webs.

In that scenario, the remaining six .web applicants fight it out for control of the gTLD.

However, if Vistaprint loses against Web.com then all of the seven .web applicants fight it out at auction.

Depending on the identity of the winner and the timing of auctions and pre-delegation testing, it could slip into the root and possibly even become available before the end of the year.

That’s assuming no more surprises, of course.

UPDATE: This post originally incorrectly described the rules of the .web/.webs auction. It was updated with a correct explanation at 2120 UTC.

.hotel fight gets nasty with “criminal” hacking claims

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2016, Domain Registries

A group of would-be .hotel gTLD registries have called on ICANN to reject the winning applicant’s bid or be complicit in “criminal acts”.

The group, which includes Travel Reservations, Famous Four Media, Radix, Minds + Machines, Donuts and Fegistry is threatening to file a second Independent Review Process complaint unless ICANN complies with its demands.

Six applicants, represented by Flip Petillion of Crowell & Moring, claim that Hotel Top Level Domain Sarl should forfeit its application because one of its representatives gained unauthorized access to their trade secrets.

That’s a reference to a story we covered extensively last year, where an ICANN audit found that DotBerlin CEO Dirk Krischenowski, or at least somebody using his credentials, had accessed hundreds of supposedly confidential gTLD application documents on ICANN’s web site.

Krischenowski, who has denied any wrongdoing, is also involved with HTLD, though in what capacity appears to be a matter of dispute between ICANN and the rival .hotel applicants.

In a month-old letter (pdf) to ICANN, only published at the weekend, Petillion doesn’t pull many punches.

The letter alleges:

Allowing HTLD’s application to proceed would go agaist everthing that ICANN stands for. It would amount to an acquiescence in criminal acts that were committed with the obvious intent to obtain an unfair advantage over direct competitors.

ICANN caught a representative of HTLD stealing trade secrets of competing applicants via the use of computers and the internet. The situation is even more critical as the crime was committed with the obvious intent of obtaining sensitive business information concerning a competing applicant.

It points out that ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook disqualifies people from applying for a new gTLD if they’ve been convicted of a computer crime.

To the best of my knowledge Krischenowski has not been convicted of, or even charged with, any computer crime.

What ICANN says he did was use its new gTLD applicants’ customer service portal to search for documents which, due to a dumb misconfiguration by ICANN, were visible to users other than their owners.

Krischenowski told DI in an emailed statement today:

According to ICANN, the failure in ICANN’s CSC and GDD portals was the result of a misconfiguration by ICANN of the software used (as mentioned at https://www.icann.org/news/announcement-2-2015-11-19-en). As a user, I relied on the proper functioning of ICANN’s technical infrastructure while working with ICANN’s CSC portal.

HTLD’s application for .hotel is currently “On Hold”, though it is technically the winner of the seven-application contention set.

It prevailed after winning a controversial Community Priority Evaluation in 2014, which was then challenged in an Independent Review Process case by the applicants Petillion represents.

They lost the IRP, but the IRP panelists said that ICANN’s failure to be transparent about its investigation into Krischenowski could amount to a breach of its bylaws.

In its February ruling, the IRP panel wrote:

It is not clear if ICANN has properly investigated the allegation of association between HTLD and D. Krischenowski and, if it has, what conclusions it has reached. Openness and transparency, in the light of such serious allegations, require that it should, and that it should make public the fact of the investigation and the result thereof.

The ruling seems to envisage the possibility of a follow-up IRP.

ICANN had told the panel that its investigation was not complete, so its failure to act to date could not be considered inaction.

The ICANN board resolved in March, two days after Petillion’s letter was sent, to “complete the investigation” and “provide a report to the Board for consideration”.

While the complaining applicants want information about this investigation, their clear preference appears to be that the HTLD application be thrown out.

.shop gTLD sells for record $41.5 million

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2016, Domain Registries

The nine-way fight for the .shop gTLD has raised $41.5 million at auction.

It’s the most-expensive reported new gTLD sale to date.

The victor was GMO Registry of Japan, which runs a few Asian geographic gTLDs and acts as service provider for over a dozen dot-brands.

GMO wanted .shop so badly it actually applied twice for the gTLD in the 2012 application round.

Only two bidders, GMO and an unidentified rival, were prepared to pay over $15 million, according to ICANN.

The previous record-holder for an ICANN gTLD auction was .app, which Google bought for a smidgen over $25 million last February.

Dozens of contention sets have “self resolved” via private auction, but the winning bids of those are typically not disclosed.

According to GMO’s .shop application, .shop will be an open, unrestricted namespace. The company seems to be planning to sell value-added e-commerce services in addition to domain names.

But domainers will not be welcome in the gTLD. GMO’s application reads:

Registration of a .SHOP domain name solely for the purpose of selling, exchanging, trading, leasing the domain name shall be deemed as inappropriate use or intent.

The company plans to do random spot checks to make sure no registrants are breaking this rule.

GMO is using CentralNic as its back-end registry services software provider, following a 2013 deal.

Radix, Famous Four, Donuts, Google, Amazon, 2000-round applicant Commercial Connect and a company called Beijing Jingdong 360 had all applied for .shop.

But according to ICANN only seven of the original applicants qualified for the auction.

One of the drop-outs was GMO itself. The company has actually applied for .shop twice — once as a regular applicant and once as a “community”.

The non-community application was the one that participated in the auction.

Unsuccessful community applicant Commercial Connect, which has been fighting for .shop since first applying for it in 2000, also did not participate.

On Tuesday, it filed a futile Request for Reconsideration (pdf) with ICANN, complaining about the fact that it lost its Community Priority Evaluation.

.shop was originally linked to .shopping, due to a badly decided String Similarity Objection, but that contention set was resolved separately by Donuts and Uniregistry last week.

Web.com just gave itself another reason to bid high for .web gTLD

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2015, Domain Registrars

Registrar group Web.com is changing its stock market ticker symbol to WEB tomorrow, in another sign that it really, really wants to be identified with the string.

The switch from WWWW may indicate that the NASDAQ-listed company’s six rivals for the new gTLD .web have a fight — and a possible big payday — on their hands when .web finally goes to auction.

Web.com is competing with Nu Dot Co, Radix, Google, Donuts, Afilias and Schlund for the gTLD.

The company has already fiercely defended its “right” to .web, filing successful String Confusion Objections against .webs applicant Vistaprint.

Vistaprint subsequently filed an ICANN Independent Review Process complaint to appeal its SCO loss.

Last month, the IRP was won by ICANN, but the panel left the door open for ICANN to reconsider its decision.

The .web auction is not likely to go ahead until the Vistaprint issue is resolved.

If ICANN decides the two strings can be delegated separately, what I think is the last barrier to the .web auction going ahead disappears.

If not, then Vistaprint finds itself as the seventh contender in the auction, which may give it the impetus to carry on challenging the ruling.

ICANN’s board plans to discuss the issue at its next meeting, December 10.

Which way it leans will give an indication of how long it will be before .web goes to auction.

Now Uniregistry shifts to Early Access launch model

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2015, Domain Registries

Uniregistry has become the latest registry to adopt the Early Access Period model for some new gTLD launches.

.cars, .car and .auto will all use the EAP, in place of the more typical landrush period, when they launch in January.

Technically, while Uniregistry is running the back-end, the three gTLDS are all being offered by Cars Registry, a partnership between Uniregistry and .xyz registry XYZ.com.

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling said it was felt that EAP was needed due to the “stupendous cost” of acquiring the strings.

EAP is a period lasting usually about a week in which the price of registering any domain descends daily from a very high fee on day one — usually above $10,000 at the storefront — to maybe a hundred bucks when the period closes.

The model was pioneered by portfolio registries Donuts and Rightside, but has since been adopted by the likes of Minds + Machines, Radix and XYZ.com.

It’s rapidly becoming the de facto industry standard for new gTLD launches, replacing the auction-based approach to landrush most registries have used in the past.

The driving factor for the industry switch is surely revenue.

Donuts told us late last month that it had sold 48,381 EAP domains across all of its launches to date, where registry prices are believed to start at around the $10,000 mark.

M+M said yesterday that it sold $1.18 million after it chose to use EAP with its recently launched .law gTLD, where registration restrictions suggest many of the sales will have been to legit end users.

Registrars also get a bigger slice of the pie. In an auction model they might wind up with just the regular registration fee, but with EAP they can mark up day one domains by thousands of dollars.

Cars Registry says its EAP is targeted at “OEMs, dealerships, vendors”, but it will almost certainly get a healthy chunk of domainer interest too.