Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Hitachi to apply for .hitachi

Japanese electronics giant Hitachi has emerged as the second big consumer brand to officially announce it will apply for a “.brand” top-level domain.
GMO Registry, also based in Japan, is the company’s back-end provider of choice, according to this news release (pdf).
GMO is also working with Canon, which was the first company to announce its .brand TLD bid, .canon.
As I noted yesterday, IBM is also a likely candidate for a .brand domain, but it has not officially announced its intentions yet.
Nokia, Deloitte and Unicef are also known to be considering their options.
(via UrbanBrain)

ICANN director has .xxx job offer

Sebastien Bachollet, recently installed on the ICANN board as its first elected “At Large” director, has been offered a job working for the .xxx top-level domain, it has emerged.
According to a board “statement of interests” (pdf) released yesterday, independent technology consultant Bachollet:

has been invited to be a member of the Board of the International Foundation for Online Responsibility (IFFOR), which is set up to be the sponsoring organization for the .XXX sTLD, should ICM be awarded a contract for the .XXX sTLD.

He’s only the second person to be named as a potential member of the IFFOR board, after Canadian entrepreneur Clyde Beattie.
It goes without saying that Bachollet will be recusing himself from the (final?) ICANN board vote on ICM Registry’s .xxx contract, set for the San Francisco ICANN meeting March 18.
If .xxx is approved, IFFOR will create policies governing the .xxx TLD. It will be made up of a mixture of the adult industry, security, child protection and free speech advocates.
The SOI also revealed, in an ambiguously plural statement, that: “IBM may apply for new gTLD”.

Porn set to steal the show in San Francisco

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry’s .xxx top-level domain looks set to grab the headlines at ICANN’s meeting in San Francisco, due to government-forced delays.
While ICANN is hoping to approve its new top-level domains program in March, that decision may wind up receiving less media attention than the final approval of the porn-only domain.
ICANN last month said that it wanted to hold a final consultation to resolve its differences with the Governmental Advisory Committee – which broadly objects to .xxx – in February 2011.
This referred to a proposed meeting between the GAC and the board, which has now been officially scheduled for February 28 in Brussels.
But a resolution carried by ICANN this week has pushed the consultation back to “no later than Thursday 17 March, 2011”, the day before its San Francisco meeting.
That would put the sign-off of ICM’s contract on the same billing as the planned final approval of the new top-level domains Applicant Guidebook and the launch of the new TLDs program.
San Francisco is set to be the focus of unprecedented media attention, due to its location and the likely presence of Bill Clinton. We’re probably looking at tighter stage management than usual.
With that in mind, I expect ICANN bosses won’t be too happy that porn-friendly .xxx is likely to steal away many column inches they would prefer devoted to new TLDs.
Porn in headlines gets clicks. Readers understand it, and you generally don’t need to explain to an editor what a TLD is. I know which story would be easier for me to sell.
Had ICANN put .xxx on the agenda for Brussels – which does not appear to have been ruled out yet – it could have wrapped up the ICM saga with a resolution quite quickly afterward.
That would have given ICM a week or so of undiluted media coverage, and the new TLDs program would not have had to share the spotlight with porn come San Francisco.
The question is: why is .xxx apparently not on the agenda for Brussels? Given ICANN’s previous decision to hold the meeting in February, responsibility seems to lie with the GAC.
Rumor has it that there’s a bit of a power struggle going on behind the scenes, with some elements of the GAC resistant to make Brussels the official final .xxx consultation.
Time will tell whether this position is firm or flexible.

.XXX demands approval in Brussels

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2011, Domain Registrars

ICM Registry has called on ICANN to quickly give final approval to its .xxx top-level domain contract after its meeting with governments next month.
Company president Stuart Lawley, in a letter to ICANN (pdf), said ICM has “invested extraordinary resources” in its TLD proposal and has waited almost seven years to get into the DNS root.
Its hopes of getting the nod from ICANN’s board of directors in Cartagena last month were dashed, when it was decided that a final consultation with the Governmental Advisory Committee was required.
That consultation is set to take place in Brussels at the end of February (although ICANN’s announcement of the meeting last Friday conspicuously made no mention of .xxx).
Lawley writes:

ICM Registry urges the ICANN Board to fulfill its explicit commitments to ICM Registry and to the ICANN community, and to uphold the integrity of the ICANN process by conducting and completing its consultations with the GAC

Neither ICM Registry nor the ICANN community can be expected to stand by while ICANN allows yet another self-imposed deadline on this matter to come and go without a plausible explanation.

The letter notes that it’s almost a year since ICANN’s Independent Review Panel told the organization that, despite its protestations to the contrary, .xxx had already been approved.
Lawley tells me ICM is spending, on average, $100,000 a month to keep the company ticking over. He believes that the proposed registry contract has dealt with all of the GAC’s concerns.
The one concern it will never be able to avoid, of course, is that .xxx is for porn, and there are plenty of governments (be they Middle Eastern theocracies, communist Asian states or conservative Western democracies) opposed to porn in principle.
The GAC said in an official Communique in 2006 that “several members of the GAC are emphatically opposed from a public policy perspective to the introduction of a .xxx sTLD.”
As far as I can tell, that’s pretty much the only major stumbling block remaining before ICM can sign a registry contract.
UK GAC rep Mark Carvell told me yesterday that the GAC believes the 2006 statement constitutes “advice” that ICANN is duty-bound to take into account, even though it was not a consensus GAC position.
In my opinion, ICANN has no choice but to disregard this advice.
If we suddenly start living in a world where the public policies of a handful of backward nations are sufficient to veto a TLD, then we may as well pack up the whole internet and move it to Saudi Arabia or Utah.

New TLDs may face more GAC delay

Kevin Murphy, January 22, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN has finally confirmed the date for its groundbreaking meeting with its Governmental Advisory Committee, and it doesn’t look like great news for new top-level domain applicants.
The GAC and ICANN’s board of directors will meet for a two-day consultation in Brussels, starting February 28, according to an announcement late yesterday.
Attendees will be tasked with identifying the problems the GAC still has with the Applicant Guidebook, and trying to resolve as many as possible.
The devil is in the detail, however. ICANN stated:

This meeting is not intended to address the requirements/steps outlined in the Bylaws mandated Board-GAC consultation process.

This means that, post-Brussels, a second GAC consultation will be required before the ICANN board will be able to approve the Guidebook.
Under ICANN’s bylaws, when it disagrees with the GAC, it has to first state its reasons, and then they must “try, in good faith and in a timely and efficient manner, to find a mutually acceptable solution.”
ICANN appears to have now confirmed that it has not yet invoked this part of the bylaws, and that Brussels will not be the “mutually acceptable solution” meeting.
The best case scenario, if you’re an impatient new TLD applicant, would see the second consultation take place during the San Francisco meeting, which kicks off March 13.
The board would presumably have to convene a special quickie meeting, in order to officially invoke the bylaws, at some point during the two weeks between Brussels and San Francisco.
That scenario is not impossible, but it’s not as desirable as putting the GAC’s concerns to bed in Brussels, which is what some applicants had hoped and expected.
The GAC is currently writing up a number of “scorecards” that enumerate its outstanding concerns with the Guidebook.
Mark Carvell, the UK representative, has been tasked with writing the scorecard for trademark protection. Other scorecards will likely also discuss, for example, the problem of objecting to TLD applications on “morality and public order” grounds.
ICANN’s board, meanwhile, is due to meet this coming Tuesday to agree upon the “rules of engagement” for handling disagreements with the GAC under its bylaws.
When these rules are published, we should have a better idea of how likely a San Francisco approval of the Applicant Guidebook is.
Surprisingly, the ICANN announcement yesterday makes no mention of ICM Registry’s .xxx TLD application, which is the only area where the board has officially invoked the bylaws with regards the GAC’s objections.
The Brussels meeting, ICANN said, will be open to observers, transcribed live, and webcast.

Network Solutions will sell .xxx domains

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2011, Domain Registrars

Network Solutions has become the first big-name registrar to show that it will support the proposed .xxx top-level domain.
This page has recently appeared on the NSI site, accessible from the company’s home page through the link “.xxx Coming Soon”.
NSI appears confident that ICANN will approve the TLD soon:

.XXX will be launching shortly and Network Solutions is working with ICM Registry to provide informational services for our customers that wish to take advantage of the launch and register domain names.

The TLD is currently being tied up by ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee, but many believe it’s likely to be a shoo-in at the San Francisco meeting in March or sooner.

ICANN given 27 New Year’s resolutions

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2011, Domain Policy

There’s a pretty big shake-up coming to ICANN in 2011, following the publication late last week of a report outlining 27 ways it should reform its power structures.
The final recommendations of its Accountability and Transparency Review Team (pdf) notably direct the organization to figure out its “dysfunctional” relationship with governments once and for all.
ICANN will also have to revamp how it decides who sits on its board of directors, when its staff can make unilateral decisions, how the voices of stakeholders are heard, and how its decisions can be appealed.
The ATRT report was developed, independently, as one of ICANN’s obligations under its Affirmation of Commitments with the US government’s Department of Commerce.
As such, ICANN is pretty much bound to adopt its findings. But many are written in such a way to enable some flexibility in their implementation.
The report covers four broad areas of reform, arguably the most important of which is ICANN’s relationship with its Governmental Advisory Committee.
As I’ve previously noted, ICANN and the GAC have a major stumbling block when it comes to effective communication due mainly to the fact that they can’t agree on what GAC “advice” is.
This has led, most recently, to delays with the TLD program, and with ICM Registry’s application for .xxx.
The ATRT report tells ICANN and the GAC to define “advice” before March this year.
It also recommends the opening of more formalized communications channels, so ICANN can tell the GAC when it needs advice, and on what topics, and the GAC can respond accordingly.
The report stops short of telling ICANN to follow GAC advice on a “mandatory” basis, as had been suggested by at least one GAC member (France).
The ICANN will still be able to overrule the GAC, but it will do so in a more formalized way.
ICANN’s public comment forums also look set for a rethink.
The ATRT report recommends, among other things, separating comment periods into at least two flavors and two phases, giving different priorities to different stages of policy development.
It could also could break out comment periods into two segments, to give commentators the chance to, in a second phase, rebut the earlier comments of others.
The three ICANN appeals processes (its Ombudsman, the Reconsideration Request process and the Independent Review Process) are also set for review.
The ATRT group wants ICANN to, before June, hire “a committee of independent experts” to figure out whether these procedures can be make cheaper, quicker and more useful.
The IRP, for example, is pretty much a rich man’s appeals process. The Ombudsman is seen as too cozy with ICANN to be an effective avenue for complaints. And the Reconsideration Request process has too many strict prerequisites to make it a useful tool.
The report includes a recommendation that ICANN should, in the next six months, clarify under what circumstances its is able to make decisions without listening to bottom-up consensus first:

The Board should clarify, as soon as possible but no later than June 2011 the distinction between issues that are properly subject to ICANN’s policy development processes and those matters that are properly within the executive functions performed by the ICANN staff and Board

ICANN has also been told to address how it selects its directors, with emphasis on:

identifying the collective skill-set required by the ICANN Board including such skills as public policy, finance, strategic planning, corporate governance, negotiation, and dispute resolution.

Other the recommendations themselves, the ATRT spends part of its 200-page report moaning about how little time (about nine months) it had to carry out its work, and how little importance some ICANN senior staff seemed to give to the process.
All of the 27 recommendations are expected to be implemented over the next six months. The report is currently open for public comment here.

The Top Ten Hottest Posts of 2010

Kevin Murphy, December 29, 2010, Gossip

Tumbleweeds are blowing through the domain name industry this week, which makes it an excellent time to take a look back at 2010, in the form of a list of this blog’s most widely read posts.
In descending order, here are the top ten DomainIncite stories of 2010:
ICANN had no role in seizing torrent domains
When ICANN stood accused by the blogosphere of helping the US government shut down dozens of .com domains in November, it took the organization a full week to officially deny it. In the meantime, it kicked off a Twitter campaign encouraging people to visit this post, making it the year’s most-read by some margin.
dotFree’s “free” domain names explained
Everyone wants something for nothing, so when I provided the first interview with the chief executive of the recently launched dotFree Group in August, it gathered a lot of attention. It turned out .free domains may not be as “free” as some had hoped.
WordPress.com becomes a domain name registrar
When I spotted that WordPress.com owner Automattic had received an ICANN registrar accreditation, company CEO Matt Mullenweg was good enough to link back to this post when he subsequently announced the move to his readers in October.
First reactions to ICANN’s VI bombshell
It was the biggest shake-up in the domain name industry in a decade – ICANN announced in November that it would start letting registrars and registries own each other. The full repercussions have yet to be felt, but this post summarized some of the early reactions.

ICANN will not attend White House drugs meeting

When and how governments and law enforcement should be able to block domain names is an ongoing hot topic for the industry. This September post broke the news that ICANN would not participate in US talks about blocking “fake pharmaceuticals” web sites.
Porn group starts anti-XXX campaign
The ongoing .xxx drama continues to be one of the key domain name industry stories that plays just as well with a mainstream readership. In addition, including the keywords “xxx”, “group” and “porn” in the same headline has proven disturbingly useful for acquiring search engine traffic.
Gaming scandal hits Russian domain launch
Internationalized domain names finally arrived on the internet in 2010, and the launch of Russia’s .РФ (.rf) IDN ccTLD was easily the biggest success story. It has racked up almost 700,000 registrations in the last two months, but was hit by allegations of registrar gaming, which I reported on here.
ICANN told to ban .bank or get sued
The road to the approval of ICANN’s new gTLD program was widely anticipated to have wrapped up by the end of the year. It didn’t, but that didn’t stop some eleventh-hour special pleading by organizations such as the Financial Services Roundtable.
Whistleblower alleged shenanigans at DirectNIC
DirectNIC has had its fair share of legal troubles in 2010. First it was sued for cybersquatting by Verizon (which it denied) and then, as I reported in this December post, a former employee alleged a complex scheme to make money through fraudulent domain arbitrage (which it denied, then settled).
Survey reveals demand for .brand TLDs
A World Trademark Review survey revealed mixed reactions from trademark lawyers and corporate marketing departments to new TLDs, but it did reveal that most companies would use their “.brand” TLD, if they had one, as their primary online address.
Let’s hope 2011 brings such a diverse range of interesting topics to write about. I’m certain it will.

ICANN sets date for GAC showdown

Kevin Murphy, December 23, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN and its Governmental Advisory Committee will meet for two days of talks on the new top-level domains program in Geneva from February 28, according to GNSO chair Stephane Van Gelder.
As well as the Applicant Guidebook (AGB) for new TLDs, the meeting is also expected to address the GAC’s outstanding concerns with the .xxx TLD application.
While I’d heard Geneva touted as a possible location, this is the first time I’ve heard a firm date put to it. As well as Van Gelder, other sources have heard the same date.
Talks ending March 1 would give ICANN less than two weeks before its public meeting in San Francisco kicks off to get the AGB into GAC-compatible shape before the board votes to approve it.
Is that a realistic timeframe? I guess that will depend on how the GAC meeting goes, the depths of the concessions ICANN decides to make, how receptive the GAC is to compromise, and whether it is felt that more public comment is needed.
Also, as I speculated last week, ICANN may have to officially invoke the part of its bylaws that deals with GAC conflicts, which it does not yet appear to have done, if it wants to approve the Guidebook at the end of the San Francisco meeting in March.
If the program is approved in March, that would likely lead to applications opening in August.
There’s likely to be one ICANN board meeting between now and Geneva – its first meeting of the year is usually held in late January or early February – so there’s still time for ICANN to make changes to AGB based on public comment, and to get its process ducks in a row.
There’s also plenty of time for the GAC to provide its official wish-list or “scorecard” of AGB concerns, which I believe it has not yet done.
Van Gelder also wonders on his blog whether the Geneva meeting will take place in the open or behind closed doors.
ICANN’s director of media affairs, Brad White, put this question to ICANN chair Peter Dengate Thrush during a post-Cartagena interview. This was his answer:

We haven’t actually resolved the rules of engagement with the GAC on this particular meeting but the standard position for all organizations within ICANN is that they are open… On the other hand if at any point think we the negotiation could be assisted by a period of discussing things in private I guess we could consider that.

That looks like a “maybe” to me.

ICANN to tackle Trojan TLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2010, Domain Registries

When failing community-based top-level domain registries attempt to change their business models, ICANN may in future have a new way of dealing with them.
That seems to be a possible result of Employ Media’s controversial .jobs liberalization plans and the subsequent Reconsideration Request, which I blogged about last week.
The .jobs reconsideration revealed that not only are Reconsideration Requests a rubbish way to appeal ICANN’s decisions, but also that the Registry Services Evaluation Process is often a rubbish way to handle major contract changes.
The RSEP was introduced back in 2005 in belated response to a couple of controversial “services” that VeriSign, testing boundaries, had planned to unilaterally introduce in the .com registry, notably Site Finder and the Waiting List Service.
But since then the process has been used as a general-purpose tool for requesting changes to registry contracts, even when it’s debatable whether the changes fit the definition of “registry services”.
For example, when .jobs launched five years ago, it was put into Employ Media’s contract that the TLD was designed for companies to register their brands and list their jobs, and that’s all.
But that model didn’t work. It’s one of the least successful TLDs out there.
So the registry decided it could make more money with general purpose jobs boards, using generic .jobs domains. But it did not necessarily want to let existing independent jobs sites take part.
For want of a better term, I’ll call this an example of a “Trojan” TLD – a registry that gets its attractive TLD string approved by ICANN after making a certain set of promises, then later decides to move the goal posts to broaden its market, potentially disenfranchising others.
I’ve no reason to believe it was a premeditated strategy in Employ Media’s case, but precedent has now been set for future TLD applicants to use “community” as a foot in the door for broader aspirations.
To take a stupid, extreme, unrealistic example, imagine that ICM Registry’s .xxx flops badly. Should the company be allowed to start selling all the good .xxx domains to churches and other anti-porn campaigners? That would be a pretty big departure from its promises.
There were similar concerns, although not nearly as loudly expressed, with regards to Telnic’s recent contract changes, which will allow it to start registering phone number domain names in .tel, despite years of promises that it would not.
Go Daddy’s policy chief Tim Ruiz objected to the proposal on the grounds that it would be “unfair to other [.tel] applicants and potential applicants to allow an sTLD to change its purpose after the fact.”
The ICANN Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration Requests, acknowledged these problems in its decision on .jobs in Cartagena (pdf), concluding that it:

thinks that the Board should address the need for a process to evaluate amendments that may have the effect of changing, or seeking to change, an sTLD Charter or Stated Purpose of a sponsored, restricted or community-based TLD.

The BGC seems to be saying that the RSEP is not up to the task of dealing with community-based TLDs that later decide their business plans are not the money-spinners they had hoped and want to loosen up their agreed community restrictions.
The committee went on to say that:

Because such a process may impact gTLDs greatly and is a policy issue, the GNSO is the natural starting point for evaluating such a process. We therefore further recommend that the Board direct the CEO to create a briefing paper for the GNSO to consider on this matter, and for the GNSO to determine whether a policy development process should be commenced.

So the GNSO will soon have to decide whether new policies are needed to deal with broad contract changes at failing community TLDs.
Any new policies would, I believe, be binding on community TLDs approved under the new gTLD program as well as older sTLDs, so it will be an interesting policy track to follow.