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Chehade to face Congressional grilling this week

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade is heading to Washington DC this week to defend plans to decouple the organization from formal US oversight in front of a potentially hostile committee of Congresspeople.

The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will meet this Wednesday at 1000 local time to grill Chehade and others on the plan to remove the US government from the current triumvirate responsible for managing changes to the DNS root zone under the IANA arrangements.

He will be joined by Larry Strickling, who as head of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration is the US government’s point person on the transition, and Ambassador David Gross, a top DC lawyer formerly with the Department of State.

All three men are pro-transition, while the Republican-tilted committee is likely to be much more skeptical.

The blurb for the Wednesday hearing reads:

As the U.S. government considers relinquishing control over certain aspects of Internet governance to the private sector, concerns remain that the loss of U.S. involvement over the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) could empower foreign powers — acting through intergovernmental institutions or other surrogates — to gain increased control over critical Internet functions.

Republicans and right-leaning media commentators have warned that handing over IANA oversight to a multistakeholder body risks giving too much power to governments the US doesn’t like, such as Russia and China.

Several bills introduced in the House and Senate over the last year would have given Congress much more power to delay or deny the transition.

An amendment to an appropriations bill approved in December prevents the NTIA from spending any taxpayer money on relinquishing its DNS root oversight role until after September 30 this year, the same day that the current IANA contract expires.

This effectively prevents a transition during the current IANA contract’s run. Strickling recently said that the NTIA is complying with this legislation, but noted that it does not prevent the agency participating in the development of the transition proposal.

ICANN community working groups are currently working on plans for ICANN oversight post-NTIA and for addressing ICANN accountability.

These documents are hoped to be ready to sent to the NTIA by July, so the NTIA will have enough time to consider them before September 30.

Strickling recently addressed this date in a speech at the State of the Net conference in Washington, saying:

I want to reiterate again that there is no hard and fast deadline for this transition. September 2015 has been a target date because that is when the base period of our contract with ICANN expires. But this should not be seen as a deadline. If the community needs more time, we have the ability to extend the IANA functions contract for up to four years. It is up to the community to determine a timeline that works best for stakeholders as they develop a proposal that meets NTIA’s conditions, but also works.

Opponents of the transition say that because the NTIA is prevented from terminating the IANA contract before October 1, the NTIA will have no choice but to extend it until September 30, 2017.

Given that 2016 is a presidential election year in the US, Barack Obama would be a private citizen again by the time the next opportunity to transition comes around, they say.

Which presidential hopeful — from either party — would not buckle if asked whether he supports a plan to let Iran run the internet? That’s the political logic at work here.

Chehade himself told the AFP news agency earlier this month that the transition would have to happen before the 2016 elections, to avoid political distractions.

I’m not so sure I agree with the premise that, due to the restraints imposed by the appropriation bill, the transition now has to happen under the next president’s administration.

In my layman’s reading of the current IANA contract, the NTIA is able to terminate it for the “convenience of the government” pretty much whenever it wants.

There’s also an option to extend the contract by up to six months. The NTIA exercised this option in March 2012 when it did not approve of ICANN’s first renewal proposals.

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Get NamesCon 2016 tickets at 80% off

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2015, Domain Services

After its well-received 2015 show in Las Vegas last month, NamesCon has confirmed a third annual domain name conference for 2016 and is offering deeply discounted tickets for “super early birds” until the end of the month.

Until February 28, conference passes can be bought for $199. That’s an 80% discount on the regular $999 fee. No other early-bird discounts have yet been announced, but NamesCon says this is the “lowest” price the tickets are going to get.

As the event is targeted largely at domainers, NamesCon notes that tickets are non-transferable. Touts are not welcome, in other words.

The show will run from January 10 to 13 next year, in Las Vegas. The venue will be the reasonably priced Tropicana hotel for the third year in a row.

Conference producer Richard Lau said that the 2016 show will have a new sponsorship opportunity in the form of a “Meetery” on the first day.

With space for about 30 companies on small tables, the six-hour window will be “ideal for companies who do not want to man a booth for the entire conference but still want to be able to meet with all of the attendees,” Lau said.

NamesCon is also expanding the number of small tables available for sponsors that want to exhibit for the whole four days from six to 15 to 20, he said.

Tickets can be obtained through the NamesCon web site.

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.xxx boss says new gTLD registries need to “wake up”

Kevin Murphy, February 23, 2015, Domain Registries

ICM Registry president Stuart Lawley may be just weeks away from launching his second and third gTLD registries, but that doesn’t mean he has a positive outlook on new gTLDs in general.

“I think people need to wake up,” he told DI in a recent interview. “If you do the math on some of these numbers and prospective numbers, it just doesn’t stack up for a profitable business.”

“The new ‘Well Done!’ number seems to be a lot less than it was six months ago or 12 months ago,” he said.

Lawley said he’s among the most “bearish” in the industry when it comes to new gTLD prospects. And that goes for ICM’s own .porn, .sex and .adult, which are due to launch between March and September this year.

While he’s sure they’ll be profitable, and very bullish on the search engine optimization benefits that he says registrants could be able to achieve, he’s cautious about what kind of registration volumes can be expected. He said:

If you add up everybody that has ever bought a .xxx name, including the Sunrise B defensives, we have got a target market of about 250,000 names. People to go back to and say, “Look, you still have a .xxx or you had a .xxx at some stage. Therefore, we think you may be interested in buying .porn, .sex or .adult for exactly the same reasons.”

So, our expectations to sell to a whole new market outside of those quarter of a million names is probably quite limited.

Lawley said that he believes that the relatively poor volume performance of most new gTLDs over the last year will cause many registrars to question whether it’s worth their time and money to offer them.

I can see why registrars can’t be bothered. How many of these am I going to sell? Am I going to sell two hundred of them? Am I going to make five dollars per name? That’s one thousand dollars. It’s not worth it to me to put in ten thousand dollars worth of labor and effort to make one thousand dollars in revenue. So, I think that’s a challenge that many of the small lone player TLDs may face.

Lawley said he’s skeptical about the ability of major portfolio players, such as Donuts, to effectively market their hundreds of gTLDs, many of which are targeted at niche vertical markets.

He said in an ideal world a gTLD would need to spend $20 million to $30 million a year for a few years in order to do a proper PR job on a single TLD — ICM spent about $8 million to $9 million, $5.5 million of which was on US TV spots — and that’s just not economically viable given how many names are being sold.

But he added that he thinks it’s a good thing that some new gTLDs are seeing a steady and fairly linear number of daily additions, saying it might point to better long-term stability.

A lot of the TLDs that seem to be doing okay — .club for argument’s sake and several others in that ilk — seem to be doing their three hundred domains per day ADD, or 32 or 12 or whatever the number is, in a relatively linear fashion six or seven months after launch, which I think is potentially positive if one extrapolates that out.

The full interview, which also addresses SEO, dot-brands, registrar pay-for-placement and smart search, can be read by DI PRO subscribers here.

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Sex.co for sale at $200,000

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2015, Domain Sales

Remember when sex.com sold for $13 million?

The owner of sex.co, which according to Whois is Amsterdam-based Quattro Media Co, has put the domain on the market with a buy-it-now price of $200,000.

That’s according to Heritage Auctions, which says it is managing the sale.

There are no buyer’s fees associated with the offer, HA said in an email blast.

Given there’s only one letter difference between sex.com and sex.co, you’d imagine that the .co benefits from a fair bit of typo traffic. The domain is currently parked.

For sale at less than 2% of the price that sex.com went for back in 2010, would $200,000 be a bit of a bargain?

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Renewals at 55% as first new gTLD junk drop begins

Kevin Murphy, February 18, 2015, Domain Registries

The first new gTLD to go live is seeing its first-year renewals at 55% one year after hitting general availability.

dotShabaka Registry’s شبكة. (or “.shabaka”, the Arabic for “.web”) has also seen its zone file shrink by about 27% over the last two weeks.

The zone peaked at 2,069 domains on February 1, 2015, but today stands at 1,521. Exactly one year ago, it was at 1,561 names.

The zone is smaller today than it was just two weeks after GA began, in other words.

“We can confirm we’re seeing renewal rates for names due in February at around 55%,” Adrian Kinderis, CEO of ARI Registry Services, which runs .shabaka’s back-end, told DI in a statement.

The registry added 1,608 domains in February 2014, 1,400 of those in the first half of the month.

The 55% is the number of domains that were renewed before their February expiry date. The full number for February will not be known until the grace period ends in mid-April.

“We have a handful of cancel renews and all other expired domains are in the auto-renew period,” he said. “It’s too early to examine the numbers for renews post-expiry date, but we expect this will increase the overall tally.”

“Given the market conditions we face in the region, the results align with our forecasts and we expect the numbers to improve for renewals due in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

In gTLDs, domains can enter a Auto Renew Grace Period for up to 45 days after expiration, during which they can still be renewed by their registrant and may or may not appear in the zone file.

It wouldn’t be fair on other new gTLD registries to read to much into these numbers, assuming they do not improve, as شبكة. is a bit of an unusual case.

It’s seen low registration volume, despite the apparently attractive string, largely because it’s restricted to Arabic script at the second level and the Arabic-speaking market is in its infancy.

When شبكة. launched there were no registrars offering an end-to-end Arabic shopping cart, Kinderis said. He added:

The most significant problem still remains demand and consumer awareness…

In regards to demand, the lack of awareness is a direct result of little to no marketing in the region. Apart from our own efforts, there has been little marketing or education programs deployed to increase awareness of new Top-Level Domains and Arabic script domain names.

We have even limited our marketing efforts because we identified early that market readiness is inadequate. Any large investment in marketing from dotShabaka Registry at the moment would be premature and wasteful until supply, demand and universal acceptance issues have been addressed.

He called on ICANN and its recently created Middle East Working Group to focus on ways to increase awareness and demand for domain names in the region. To date, it’s focused too much registrars and technical issues, he said.

شبكة. has its own set of issues and is probably not the best test case for new gTLDs in general.

That’s going to come soon. Donuts’ first batch of gTLDs — .guru, .bike, .holdings, .plumbing, .singles, .ventures and .clothing — had their base-price GA anniversary on February 4, and it appears that domains have already started to drop.

There’s little indication of anything amiss in the .guru zone file so far but the other six are down slightly — by maybe 100 or so names apiece, or less than 1% each — over the last two weeks.

Donuts executives have said they expect first-year renewals to be strong, but we’ve got a few weeks left before anyone will be in a position to know for sure.

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