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.hiv’s innovative, dangerous business model

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2014, Domain Registries

.hiv, the first charity gTLD, is set to go to general availability at 2pm UTC tomorrow with one of the strangest and riskiest business models of any new gTLD to date.

While registrants will be able to use .hiv domains more or less as they please, as with any other gTLD, Berlin-based registry dotHIV is banking on an innovative microdonation system to set the space apart.

When you buy a .hiv domain, you’ll be sent an invitation by the registrar or registry to join an optional Click-Counter service, according to dotHIV chief marketing officer Michael Twist.

If you join the service, every time somebody visits your .hiv web site, dotHIV will donate a tenth of a US cent to one of four (initially) HIV/AIDS-related charity projects.

The donation will come from a pool of cash set aside by the registry from its registration fees.

While .hiv names are going to be sold, by 80 to 100 registrars at launch, for close to $200 per year, $120 of each registration or renewal fee will go into this charitable pool.

This business model is unprecedented in the domain name space, and it’s leading to the registry behaving in ways you wouldn’t expect from a new gTLD business.

For starters, dotHIV isn’t overly concerned about promoting its end users in a big way right out of the gates. It needs to refill its diminished cash pool to be able to cover the microdonations.

At first, it’s more concerned about volume and premium domain sales.

This problem is more pressing because of the longer-than-expected process of getting the .hiv application through the ICANN evaluation and delegation process.

“The microdonation system only works if we’ve got money in the pot,” said Twist. “The delay in the ICANN process has eaten up some of the funds.”

With a $120 donation from each sale, any given .hiv domain would only need to generate 1.2 million clicks in any given year to render it ‘unprofitable’ — ie, taking more from the pot than it put in.

dotHIV therefore needs time to ensure the pot of money from registrations is big enough to cover any big traffic spikes — what if a .hiv link goes viral, or a big-brand company starts using one? — before promoting the end-user sites in any meaningful way.

“First we need to push for registrations, and then traffic,” said Twist. “We can’t get too many people clicking before we hit a critical mass to support what we’re trying to do.”

There’s also the other possibility: that dotHIV, which is a registered charity, may wind up sitting on a pile of cash from registrations that is not going to its designated causes due to a lack of clicks on its users’ sites.

There’s risk in both directions, which begs the question: why not just donate the $120 to charity at the point of registration?

“More than just trying to raise funds what we’re doing is trying to raise awareness,” said Twist.

By encouraging (eventually) viral, click-based fund-raising, the registry hopes to put a spotlight back on the virus, which perhaps isn’t as trendy a cause as it once was due to the development of drugs that can delay the onset of AIDS by decades.

dotHIV is launching with some premium sales and some big-name anchor tenants under its belt.

Twist said that a “handful” of $10,000 names, which he declined to identify, have already been sold to pharmaceuticals companies involved in the development of HIV drugs.

There are about 10,000 reserved premiums in the space, he said, with a starting price of $5,000. Premium buyers will have to commit to usage rules including a commitment to use the Click-Tracker.

Keep a Child Alive, the charity founded by musician Alicia Keys, is among those committed to be early adopters and the Federation of Gay Games will use sport.hiv.

From the domain world, corporate registrars Mark Monitor and IP Mirror are to use .hiv domains.

There are no rules preventing domainers registering in .hiv (perhaps even treating it as a donation rather than an investment) but Twist said the registry would be disappointed to see large numbers of parked sites.

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Straat-backed bidder beats Donuts and Afilias to .health

Kevin Murphy, August 21, 2014, Domain Registries

DotHealth has won the four-way contention set for the controversial new gTLD .health.

Afilias and Donuts both withdrew their competing applications this week. Famous Four withdrew its application over a month ago.

DotHealth is backed by Straat Investments, the investment vehicle chaired by .CO Internet’s Juan Calle.

The new gTLD will run on a Neustar (which now owns .CO) back-end.

.health is likely to be restricted, or at least policed, to ensure fake pharmacies are scrubbed from the zone.

DotHealth is supported by, among other health groups, the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP) which often targets registries and registrars in its campaigns against bogus online pharmacies in the US.

The company plans to use LegitScript to monitor its namespace.

.health will compete against the unrestricted .healthcare, which has been delegated to Donuts.

All four applicants for .health faced adverse Governmental Advisory Committee advice and unsuccessful public interest objections from the Independent Objector.

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Biggest dot-brand? .realtor to give away half a million domains

Kevin Murphy, August 21, 2014, Domain Registries

Up to 500,000 card-carrying members of North American real estate associations will be given a free one-year .realtor domains, according to the registry.

The National Association of Realtors said its members and members of the Canadian Real Estate Association will be able to claim their names at claim.realtor.

The offer will become active October 23.

As “realtor” is a registered trademark belonging in the US to the NAR, there’s a pretty good chance .realtor could very soon become the largest dot-brand by volume.

The organization says it has a million members. The CREA, which owns the Canadian trademark on the term, has 100,000 members and will have 10,000 free registrations to hand out.

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After slamming the ccNSO, India joins it

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2014, Domain Registries

India has become the newest member of ICANN’s country-code Supporting Organization, the ccNSO, just one month after the local registry slammed the group for not representing its interests.

The National Internet Exchange (NIXI), which runs .in, became the 152nd ccNSO member yesterday, according to a note on its website.

I haven’t reported on the first 151 ccTLDs to join, but this one’s interesting because NIXI’s mononymed CEO, Dr Govind, led a charge of criticism against the ccNSO for excluding non-members from the IANA transition review.

In July, Govind complained that a “significant section of the ccTLD Registry operator community do not share the objectives of the ccNSO membership are now excluded from the process.”

By joining the ccNSO, registries agree to follow the policies it creates for ccTLDs (though I understand they may opt out), which has led 103 ccTLDs to stay out of it completely.

Some ccTLDs are primarily concerned that the ccNSO does nothing to dilute or overturn RFC 1591, the 20-year-old standards document that states ccTLDs can only be redelegated with the consent of the incumbent.

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Panel slaps ICANN in .africa case

Kevin Murphy, August 18, 2014, Domain Policy

A panel of arbitrators had some stern words for ICANN as it handed controversial .africa gTLD applicant DotConnectAfrica another win in its Independent Review Process case.

In a 33-page procedural ruling (pdf) published by ICANN late Friday, the IRP panel disagreed with ICANN’s lawyers on almost every argument they made, siding with DCA instead.

The panel strongly indicated that it believes ICANN has attempted to render the IRP toothless, after losing the first such case against ICM Registry a few years ago.

The ruling means that ICANN’s top executives and board may have to face hostile cross-examination by DCA lawyers, rather than simply filing written statements with the panel.

It also means that whatever the IRP panel ultimately decides will in all likelihood be binding on ICANN.

DCA filed the IRP with the International Center for Dispute resolution after ICANN, accepting Governmental Advisory Committee advice, rejected the company’s application for .africa.

The ICDR panel has not yet ruled on the merits of the case — personally, I don’t think DCA has a leg to stand on — but last week’s ruling is certainly embarrassing for ICANN.

On a number of counts, ICANN tried to wriggle out of its accountability responsibilities, the ruling suggests.

Primarily, ICANN lawyers had argued that the eventual outcome of the IRP case should be advisory, rather than binding, but the panel disagreed.

The panel noted that new gTLD applicants sign away their rights to sue when they apply for a gTLD, meaning IRP is their last form of appeal against rejection.

It also called into question ICANN’s ability to police itself without a binding decision from an independent third party, pointing to previously reported accountability problems (my emphasis):

The need for a compulsory remedy is concretely shown by ICANN’s longstanding failure to implement the provision of the Bylaws and Supplementary Procedures requiring the creation of a standing panel. ICANN has offered no explanation for this failure, which evidences that a self-policing regime at ICANN is insufficient. The failure to create a standing panel has consequences, as this case shows, delaying the processing of DCA Trust’s claim, and also prejudicing the interest of a competing .AFRICA applicant.

Moreover, assuming for the sake of argument that it is acceptable for ICANN to adopt a remedial scheme with no teeth, the Panel is of the opinion that, at a minimum, the IRP should forthrightly explain and acknowledge that the process is merely advisory. This would at least let parties know before embarking on a potentially expensive process that a victory before the IRP panel may be ignored by ICANN.

The decision is the opposite of what the IRP panel found in the ICM Registry case, which was ruled to be “non-binding” in nature.

While deciding that its own eventual ruling will be precedential, the panel said it did not have to follow the precedent from the ICM case, due to changes made to the IRP procedure in the meantime.

ICANN had also argued against the idea of witnesses being cross-examined, but the panel again disagreed, saying that both parties will have the opportunity “to challenge and test the veracity of statements made by witnesses”.

The hearing will be conducted by video ink, which could reduce costs somewhat, but it’s not quite as streamlined as ICANN was looking for.

Not only will ICANN’s top people face a grilling by DCA’s lawyers, but ICANN’s lawyers will, it seems, get a chance to put DCA boss Sophia Bekele on the stand.

I’d pay good money for a ticket to that hearing.

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