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How the world’s biggest brands use new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, April 18, 2012, Domain Registries

DomainIncite PRO is excited to reveal the results of the domain name industry’s first in-depth study into how the world’s biggest brands use new generic top-level domains.

In March and April 2012, we surveyed the domain name ownership and usage patterns of the world’s 100 most-valuable brands — representing over $1.2 trillion in brand value, according to Interbrand — in six gTLDs introduced since 2001.

As well as confirming the long-held belief that brand owners see little value in defensive registrations — many not even choosing to benefit from residual traffic — the survey also revealed which brands are more likely to develop their sites, which are most vulnerable to cybersquatting, and which appear to care the least about enforcing their brands.

We also examined how “cybersquatters” use the domain names they register, with some surprising results.

Privacy/proxy registration is not nearly as prevalent as many believe, our study found, and a significant portion of registrants have made no effort to monetize the domains they own that match famous brand names.

This extensive, fully illustrated report includes:

A comparison of defensive registration trends across 100 brands in six new gTLDs. How many domains are owned by the respective brands and how many are owned by third parties? How many are reserved by the registry and how many are still available for registration?

A breakdown of usage trends by gTLD in .asia, .biz, .info, .jobs, .mobi and .pro. When brand owners register domains in new gTLDs, how likely are they to develop content on those domains, and what can new gTLD registries do to encourage this desirable behavior?

An analysis of cybersquatting behavior in over 100 domain names registered to entities other than the brand owner. How much do brand owners have to worry about their brands being impaired by damaging behavior such as redirection to competing web sites or porn?

Full survey results. Subscribers have full access to the survey results, which include details of which brand-domains belong to third parties, which exhibit potentially damaging behavior, and which are currently available for registration.

DI PRO subscribers can click here for the full report.

Non-subscribers can learn how to subscribe instantly here.

Directi emerges as new gTLD applicant

The India-based domain name registrar Directi plans to apply for a bunch of new generic top-level domains, using ARI Registry Services as its back-end registry provider.

Directi has set up a new entity, Radix, to handle its applications and registry business.

The number and nature of the gTLDs in Radix’s plans have not been revealed, but the company uses words like “entrepreneurial” and “ambitious” to describe the move.

Reading between the lines, I’m going to lump Radix in with the like of Minds+Machines, Donuts, and Demand Media as one of the few companies to reveal big multiple-gTLD investment plans.

These “domainer” applicants (as opposed to focused, single-string applicants) are the guys to watch post-May 1, when the list of applications is published by ICANN.

In addition to Radix, Directi owns ResellerClub, LogicBoxes, BigRock and WebHosting.info.

According to Whois, radix.com belongs to a Brazilian investment company. It does not currently resolve.

Assuming there’s no affiliation with Directi, I think this officially means that Andrew Allemann is no longer allowed to mock companies that launch services before they own the matching .com domain.

Rogue registrar suspended over “stolen” domain

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2012, Domain Registrars

ICANN has told Turkish domain name registrar Alantron that its accreditation will be suspended for a month due to its shoddy record-keeping.

The suspension, which will become effective March 8, follows an investigation into allegations of double-selling.

ICANN issued the suspension last Thursday after trying unsuccessfully for almost three months to get its hands on Alantron’s registration records.

The company now has until March 28 to sort out its compliance problems or face losing its accreditation entirely.

I understand the investigation was prompted by complaints filed by an American named Roger Rainwater over the potentially valuable domain name pricewire.com.

Pricewire.com spent a couple of years under Whois privacy but was grabbed last August by Turkish registrant Altan Tanriverdi, according to historical Whois records.

Rainwater, who says he had been monitoring it for three or four years, subsequently paid Tanriverdi an undisclosed sum for the domain, signing up for an Alantron account so it could be pushed.

Rainwater showed up in the Whois for pricewire.com on September 7 last year. But he says he was unable to change his name servers and 48 hours later the name disappeared from his account.

He says he was told by Alantron that it had put the domain in Tanriverdi’s account “by mistake” and that it was sold to SnapNames as part of a batch of dropping domains.

According to emails sent to Rainwater, seen by DI, Alantron said that pricewire.com was “registered via a partner company called Directi for a company called Snapnames”.

SnapNames had already auctioned the name – apparently there were more than 40 bidders – and the name has since been transferred to one Sammy Katz of Philadelphia.

However, given that Whois reliability is at question here, it’s not entirely clear who owns it. It’s currently parked at InternetTraffic.com.

Tanriverdi, who appears to be equally aggrieved, has published an extensive history of the dispute, along with screenshots, here (in Turkish).

In short: Alantron stands accused of double-selling pricewire.com.

ICANN’s compliance team has been unable to get its hands on the underlying transaction data despite repeated attempts because Alantron apparently doesn’t have it.

Its suspension notice alleges that Alantron was running two registration systems in parallel and that they weren’t talking to each other, resulting in the same name being sold to two parties.

Read ICANN’s suspension notice in PDF format here.

Om Malik switches from .me to .co

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2011, Domain Registries

High-profile Silicon Valley tech blogger Om Malik has switched from a .me domain name to a .co.

His personal blog, found at omis.me, is now redirecting to om.co. It’s a personal “rebranding”, according to a blog post this evening from .CO Internet CEO Juan Calle.

Calle was responding to reports today about Overstock.com’s decision to slow down its transition to the O.co brand, which is arguably .CO Internet’s biggest customer win to date.

Malik is best known as the founder of GigaOm, a professional tech news/analysis blog. If it’s any gauge of his influence, he has almost 1.3 million Twitter followers.

GigaOm is sticking with its .com.

Beckstrom: next ICANN CEO should be an outsider

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom has called on the organization to replace him with somebody from outside of the domain name industry.

His remarks, at the opening ceremony of its meeting in Dakar yesterday, came as the organization’s decisions are coming under increasing scrutiny from outside the domain name industry.

“I hope that the person who replaces me will be of the highest integrity and has no recent or current commercial or career interests in the domain industry, because ICANN’s fairness, objectivity and independence are of paramount importance to the future of the internet,” Beckstrom said.

“We are not here in the domain name business,” he said. “We are here to serve the global public interest.”

Beckstrom generally uses his ICANN meeting opening remarks to fire-fight the latest pieces of criticism directed at the organization and yesterday was no exception.

His comments should be read in the light of ongoing claims that the new gTLDs program was approved prematurely due in part to the business interests of former chair Peter Dengate Thrush.

Dengate Thrush left ICANN in June, shortly after helping to approve the program, and promptly took up a position with gTLD applicant Minds + Machines.

Organizations opposed to the program, such as the Association of National Advertisers, have seized on the controversy as a stick to bash ICANN with.

Since June, there have been calls for ICANN to revisit its conflicts of interest and ethics policies, which it seems to be taking very seriously.

Every member of the ICANN board of directors has already been ruled out of the CEO search, for example.

Beckstrom elaborated on his comments at a press conference yesterday.

“My view very strongly is that the organization can and should be led a party who does not have a vested personal business interest or history specifically in the domain name industry,” he said, “lest the efforts of the organization be potentially skewed in such a direction from a policy or operational standpoint, in terms of being more sensitive to the needs of the industry as opposed to the global public interest.”

Chairman of the board Steve Crocker said Beckstrom’s opinions were valuable, but his own, representing only one input into the process of creating CEO search criteria.

“We obviously want to balance two factors,” he said. “We’re very concerned about conflicts of interest and at same time we want the widest and most capable pool of candidates possible.”

There have previously been calls for ICANN to hire somebody already familiar with its operation, in order to reduce the learning curve for Beckstrom’s replacement at a time when the organization is in the midst of the new gTLD evaluation process.

Will ICANN approve cheap gTLDs for poor applicants?

Kevin Murphy, October 21, 2011, Domain Policy

One of the big questions at ICANN’s 42nd public meeting in Dakar next week is whether the board of directors plans to approve subsidized new gTLD application fees for worthy applicants.

A volunteer working group known as JAS came up with a set of recommendations last month that would lower the $185,000 fee for applicants from developing nations with public benefit missions.

It was a wide-ranging set of proposals that would stretch beyond the scope of the $1 million to $2 million ICANN approved for applicant support initiatives at its last meeting in June.

Chiefly, JAS wants the application fee reduced to $45,000 for qualified developing-world applicants, meaning ICANN would have to find the funds to cover the $140,000 shortfall elsewhere.

In addition, JAS wants ICANN to set up a fund to loan money to these same applicants. It also wants these applicants to be able to pay fees on a staggered schedule.

Whether it was deliberate or not (I suspect it was semi-deliberate), the JAS wish-list seems to me to go above and beyond the support the ICANN board said it was prepared to offer in June.

I don’t think the board will grant those wishes when it meets next Friday, and here’s a few reasons why.

First, CEO Rod Beckstrom has already basically ruled out blanket fee reductions, even for poorer applicants, and he did so after the board had already discussed them.

At an ICANN panel on new gTLDs in London last month, Beckstrom was asked by an audience member if the application fee could be reduced before January.

At roughly 32 minutes into the embedded video, this is what he said:

There’s no plans to reduce the fee and I could not contemplate that happening before the program opens. The fees have been determined and there’s no process to review them, and there would be no basis at the present time because the costing estimates in the program appear to be reasonably accurate.

He went on to say that economies of scale may lead to a reduction in fees in future rounds, but did not mention the JAS recommendations at all.

As I was also on the panel, I called him on the omission later in the discussion, roughly 45 minutes into the video above. He said:

The board of directors did make a directional indication in Singapore to set aside up to a million to two million dollars for financial support for applicants…

However, it’s not a repricing of the fees, it would be some type of support for those applicants. A reduction in the application fee or effectively subsidizing the application fee is one possible concept, but what I can tell you as the CEO and as a board member is that board’s indication is one to two million dollars, not an unlimited number, so can do math and figure out what might be possible and what might not.

We’re not going to change the program fees, it just means there might be some benefit to or some support for some applicants, but it may not come in the form of that subsidy for the fee.

What we have here is JAS asking for a fundamental restructuring of the application fee in certain circumstances, and ICANN’s CEO saying that’s not likely to happen.

At that time, the JAS report had not been formally submitted to the board, but it had nevertheless been seen and discussed by the board at its two-day retreat in mid-September.

The GNSO, which had been frustrated with the cross-constituency structure of the JAS for some time, didn’t even formally approve the report before forwarding it to the board, due to time constraints.

Another indication of the board’s thinking on the JAS recommendations comes from the minutes of its Finance Committee meeting, September 15. Here’s an extract:

Staff has initiated efforts to be ready for implementation if and when approved. Establishment of a fund – a short-term mechanism for earmarking funds for applicant support, and a long-term formal mechanism for several purposes. Meeting community expectations: Board had approved US $2mm, while the JAS/GAC-ALAC recommendations would be more costly. Four tasks: developing criteria based on the JAS report plus practical concerns, developing procedures, entity for considering applications, and mechanism for holding the funds. Discussed the need to stay within the mission and purpose of ICANN and the ability to set-up special funds.

There’s no mention of application fees, but there is an acknowledgment that the JAS recommendations would be more expensive to implement than just the $2 million ICANN has already set aside.

There’s also talk of “practical concerns” and the “need to stay within the mission and purpose of ICANN”, all of which says to me that there’s a worry JAS asked for too much.

We’ll have to wait until next Friday to find out for sure, but my guess is that the board will likely side with ICANN’s bean-counters and that the JAS will not get much of what it asked for.

Get your first look at ICANN’s new gTLDs microsite

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN is stepping up its so-far lackluster new top-level domains outreach campaign with the launch tomorrow of a microsite dedicated to the topic.

The site is expected to host the long-anticipated “final” or production version of the new gTLD Applicant Guidebook, which could be published as early as Monday evening.

It’s designed to educate potential gTLD applicants from outside the usual crowd of insiders.

The site is scheduled to go live at roughly 1930 UTC tomorrow, but DI has had a sneaky peek and can bring you some exclusive preview screen captures today.

Unlike icann.org, which strikes many as confused and a little bewildering, the microsite adopts a more conventional, basic, business-focused design.

Abstract clip art? Check. Businessperson pointing to bar graph? Check. Globe? Check. Smiling Asian lady? Check.

Here’s a a grab of the front page.

ICANN new gTLDs

And the Program Status tab gives an indication of what ICANN is planning for the web site a few months down the line.

ICANN new gTLDs

Director of marketing and outreach Scott Pinzon also has a new blog on the microsite, possibly the first of a few.

Here’s a grab of the Applicant Guidebook page. The links are not yet working, but note the date.

ICANN new gTLDs

The site has a video page. ICANN’s very well-received plain-English overview of new gTLDs has been uploaded, in addition to plain-French, plain-Russian, plain-Chinese and plain-Spanish versions.

There are several talking-head featurettes, which edit together soundbites from gTLD registry executives, giving a very high-level flavor of what it’s like running a registry. Here’s a sample.

Overall, it looks like an encouraging step in the right direction.

The design is clean and accessible and there’s very little ICANNese and very few acronyms. As a gateway for the new gTLD program, it appears to be easily up to the task.

Beckstrom strikes back at ANA threat

Kevin Murphy, August 10, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN president Rod Beckstrom has come out swinging against the latest attack on its new top-levels domains program, promising to “vigorously defend” it.

In his response to a harshly critical missive from the Association of National Advertisers, Beckstrom calls ANA’s claims “either incorrect or problematic in several respects”.

I think “firmly worded” would be an appropriate way to characterize his letter (pdf).

In it, he notes that the new gTLD program has been on the cards since 1998, and has been developed over several years using input from the entire ICANN community, including ANA itself.

He further states that some of the complaints outlined by ANA president Bob Liodice show a lack of research.

As I noted in my interview with Liodice yesterday, ANA seems to think cybersquatting at the top-level will be enabled unless companies defensively apply for their “.brand” gTLDs.

Beckstrom said that these statements “demonstrate a lack of understanding of Program details”.

The letter suggests that companies have no choice but to apply for their own gTLDs. Operating a gTLD means assuming a number of significant responsibilities; this is clearly not for everyone. Indeed, it is hoped that those without an interest in making a contribution to expanded choice or innovation in the DNS will not apply. One clear directive of the consensus policy advice on which the program is built is that TLDs should not infringe the existing legal rights of others. The objection process and other safeguards eliminate the need for “defensive” gTLD applications, because where an infringement of legal rights can be established using these processes, an application will not be approved.

The response goes on to outline some of the mandatory second-level trademark protection mechanisms that have been included in the program’s Applicant Guidebook.

ICANN is arguably on shakier ground here – making use of these mechanisms is still going to cost brand owners time and money, which is the basis of ANA’s objections.

The question now is whether Beckstrom’s responses will be enough to get ANA to call off the dogs.

He has offered to talk to ANA to “to discuss how the ANA might participate more actively in the policy development activities and other ICANN processes going forward”.

That’s specifically not an offer to get into negotiations with ANA about the contents of the Guidebook or to delay the launch of the program.

That was never going to happen, particularly not in response to a thirteenth-hour complaint from an organization that hasn’t commented on the program for the last two years.

Liodice said yesterday that unless ICANN agrees to suspend the program, ANA plans to lobby the US Congress, its Department of Commerce, and may sue.

Reaction from the domain name industry to Beckstrom’s letter has so far been predictably positive.

Victoria’s Secret seizes swimsuit domain, again

Kevin Murphy, July 6, 2011, Domain Policy

The lingerie retailer Victoria’s Secret has won a cybersquatting complaint over the domain name victoriasecretswimsuit.com for the second time in as many years.

Judging by the Whois history, it appears that the company lost the domain following the demise of rogue registrar Lead Networks, which lost its accreditation last year.

Victoria’s Secret first secured the domain with an easily won UDRP complaint in May 2009.

An attorney from its outside law firm was subsequently listed as the admin contact, but the registrar of record remained the same – the Indian outfit Lead Networks.

At some time between August and October last year, the Whois contact changed to the current registrant, who’s hiding behind a privacy service.

Probably not coincidentally, that was about the same time as ICANN, having terminated Lead Networks’ accreditation, bulk-transferred all of its domains to Answerable.com.

Lead Networks was placed into receivership in March 2010 following a cybersquatting lawsuit filed by Verizon.

Answerable.com, a Directi business also based in India, was the registrar’s designated successor under ICANN’s policies. It has subsequently changed its name to BigRock.com.

The latest UDRP decision does not explain how Victoria’s Secret managed to lose its registration, but I’d speculate the inter-registrar transfer may have had something to do with it.

When a registrar loses its accreditation the names are transferred to a new registrar but the term of the registration is not extended. If a registrant ignores or does not receive the notifications sent by the gaining registar, they may find they lose their domains.

ICANN plans retreat to regroup under new chair

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s board of directors will hold a surprise, unprecedented workshop or retreat next Saturday, to address the “multiple challenges” it faces.

This announcement just appeared on the ICANN web site:

Board Workshop to Prepare for the Future

Given the change in Board leadership and related changes in Board committee assignments and the multiple challenges facing ICANN, the Board will take advantage of the presence of most of the new Board and hold an informal workshop following the close of the ICANN meeting. The primary focus of the workshop will be the challenges facing ICANN and the coordination of Board and management directions.

The workshop is slated for June 25, the day after both the current meeting in Singapore and the chairmanship of Peter Dengate Thrush ends.

Though his replacement has not been named, it’s quite likely that the board already knows who it has selected to fill PDT’s shoes.

The “multiple challenges” ICANN faces could refer to anything from the launch of the new top-level domains program, its increasingly close relationship with its newly empowered Governmental Advisory Committee, or the threat of more US interference with its functions.

Probably all of the above and more.

In addition, the reference to the “coordination of Board and management directions” may well fuel the scurrilous gossip that all is not well between ICANN’s board and its senior staff.

(via @DNSConundrum)