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dotFree to allow pre-registrations October 1

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2010, Domain Registries

The dotFree Group, which plans to apply for the top-level domain .free, plans to start allowing pre-registrations from October 1, this year.
While .xxx has had an open pre-registration period for years, I believe .free is the first of the next round of new TLD applicants to offer a similar pre-launch phase.
It would be well over a year from now before .free would be able to actually start taking live registrations, assuming its application was even successful.
The Czech company has just relaunched its web site with a new look and new information. It appears to be closely modelled on the .CO Internet site, even copying big chunks of text in some cases.
It also includes a page targeting registrars, containing this text:

How much do I earn for every free registered .FREE domain?
We plan to pay each reseller $0.05 for every .FREE domain name which was referred to us. The definitive reseller commission is still under review.

Now there’s a way to get Go Daddy beating down your door.
It’s not much of an incentive, and it suggests that dotFree isn’t planning on targeting a traditional registrar channel, at least as far as the free .free domains go.
If you can make a recurring $10 mark-up (my estimate) on a .co domain, or a one-off $0.05 on a .free, which TLD would get your store-front real estate?
However, as I’ve previously reported, not all .free domains will be free, so there may yet be opportunities for the ICANN-accredited registrar market.

Five killer TLDs nobody wants (and five rubbish ones)

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2010, Domain Registries

Not including the incumbents, there are roughly 130 known new top-level domain applicants at the moment, covering everything from music to sport to health.
While several would-be TLDs, such as .gay and .eco, are known to have multiple applicants, there are some no-brainer strings that so far no company has staked a claim on.
Here’s five, off the top of my head.

.blog
Apparently there are something like 400 million active blogs on the internet today. And that’s just in the English language. I’ll take 1% of that, thanks.
.sex/.porn
We may already have .xxx by the time the first application round opens, but that’s no reason to prevent the porn industry taking its fate into its own hands and applying for either of these strings.
Both of these potential TLDs are category killers, moreso than .xxx. According to Google’s keyword tool, [sex] and [porn] each get 24.9 million searches per month, compared to 20.4 million for [xxx].
Yes, it will add even more defensive registrations costs, but it could be run on a cheap-as-chips basis, with free grandfathering, and without the expensive policy oversight body that they all seem to hate so much.
.sucks
The only UDRP-proof TLD. No sunrises, no trademark worries, just tens of thousands of disgruntled former employees happily slandering away.
That’s the theory, anyway. To be more mercenary, this is the one TLD guaranteed to make millions in defensive registrations alone.
Esther Dyson said she liked the idea back in 2000, and I agree with her. The internet needs a renewed dose of anarchic freedom of speech.
.poker
Online poker is worth billions. The term [poker] attracts far more interest than [casino], some 20 million searches per month, according to Google.
The value of the landrush auctions alone would be enough of an incentive for a registry to apply for .poker. Registration fees could also be set pretty high.

And, for balance, five rubbish TLDs.
Again, I’m not talking about guaranteed flops that have already been announced (.royal anyone?), but rather the TLDs that appear attractive at first look, but would, in my humble opinion, almost certainly fail hard.

.book
Sure, every year something like 400,000 books are published in the UK and US, but how many of them really get marketed to the extent that they need their own web site? Very few, I suspect.
And if you’re planning on using the TLD to sell books, good luck trying to train the world out of the Amazon mindset.
.kids
A legal nightmare, requiring a bloated policy oversight body to make sure all content is kid-friendly, which is pretty much impossible when nobody can even agree what a kid is.
You need look no further than the spectacularly unsuccessful government-mandated .kids.us effort to see what a waste of time a .kids would be. It has fewer domains than .arpa.
Still, it kept the politicians happy.
.news
A smaller market than you’d think. Google News only sources from about 25,000 publications, and only 4,500 of those are in English. How many will want to make the switch to a new TLD?
I’d say a .news TLD would struggle to hit six figures.
.secure
No, it isn’t. This is the internet.
A .secure TLD would be a PR nightmare from launch day to its inevitable firey death six months later.
.any-fad-technology
Back in 2000, there was an application for .wap. Really. It almost makes .mobi look like a good idea.
Pretty much no technology is immune from this rule. You can’t build a sustainable business on a string that’s likely to be tomorrow’s Betamax. Even the humble DVD has a shelf life.

It’s Friday, time for Rick Schwartz Apprentice

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2010, It's Friday

In case you haven’t guessed already, my “It’s Friday…” headlines mark an irregular series of tragically cliquey attempts to be humorous.
This week, 12 fictional TV shows related to the domain name business that could be super-duper awesome, if only somebody would make them.
Apologies in advance to those concerned.

Sponsored TLD Survivor
Stranded on a desert island, .mobi, .jobs, .asia and .tel must fight to stay alive against all the odds. Each week, viewers vote for which contestant they think should be acquired by Afilias.
South Park
Controversial animated series following the antics of a domain parking company that rejects Adsense links in favor of slandering celebrities and deliberately inciting religious violence.

Lawley & Order

Porn-themed police procedural.
DNSSEC and the City
Paul Vixie, Phillip Hallam-Baker and Ram Mohan star as a trio of independent, no-nonsense women trying to find love, fulfillment and stable DNS resolution in New York City.

Bertrand De La Chappelle’s Show

Racially charged stand-up comedy from everybody’s favorite French GAC rep.
America’s Next Top-Level Domain
In which the 300-page DAG is thrown out in favor of a single sassiness-based criterion.

Rick Schwartz Apprentice

Surreal adaptation of the original, in which the self-styled Domain King imparts utterly unintelligible advice to teams of confused domainers, firing one per week with the catchphrase “You’re pigeon shit!”.
UDRP Panelist Judy
Judge Judy takes a break from her important judicial work in order to oversee UDRP complaints in which the winner is decided purely on the basis of which party can shout the loudest and has the most outrageous mullet.
Domaining With The Stars
Teams of top domainers and D-list celebrities compete to see who can make the biggest profit on a domain sale. This week, Elliot Silver patiently explains the finer points of drop-catching ccTLDs to a sobbing Danny Bonaduce.
Rod the Bounty Hunter
Beckstrom and his team pin down a bail-jumping crack dealer at a seedy El Paso motel.
The .XXX Factor
Same as the original, but goes on for six years.

The Daily Show with Jim Fleming

The perennial commentator and theorist takes a sideways look at today’s domain name news, whether you want him to or not.

Next week: domain-themed movies.
In the meantime, I want to see your TV show ideas in the comments please. If golf can have its own channel, I’m sure we can fill a schedule too.

What .xxx means for trademark holders

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2010, Domain Registries

Trademark holders have been screwed over by ISP domain name wildcarding more than they realise, I’ve discovered from the .xxx contract documents.
ICM Registry is planning a novel approach to trademark protection if its application to launch the .xxx top-level domain is successful, but it’s been watered down compared to its original plan.
Hypothetically, let’s say you’re Lego. You really, really don’t want some cybersquatter snapping up lego.xxx and filling it with… well, you can imagine what Lego porn might look like.
At the same time, for the sake of your family-friendly brand, you don’t want to actually own a resolvable lego.xxx either.
And you certainly don’t want to be forced to to hand some pornographer over $60 a year for each of your brands. Some companies could see this as supporting pornography.
ICM had originally planned to allow companies in this position to pay a one-time fee to have their brand.xxx turned off permanently.
Personally, I like this idea. It would give the IP lobby a lot less to complain about in discussions surrounding the new TLD program.
But the company may now water down this plan, called IP Protect, due to the way that non-existent domains are increasingly handled by some ISPs.
As you probably know, ISPs worldwide are increasingly capturing NXDOMAIN traffic in order to show search results and advertising links to their customers.
It’s generally frowned upon in DNS circles, and it’s now likely to have the effect of making IP Protect costlier and more of an administrative hassle for brand owners.
You’re Lego again. You pay ICM the one-time shut-down fee, only to find that Comcast is now showing its users links to Lego porn whenever they type in lego.xxx.
ICM president Stuart Lawley tells me that one option currently being looked at is to have IP Protect domains resolve to a standard page at an ICM-controlled server.
The problem here is that ICM has to pay ICANN and its registry back-end provider annual fees for every resolving domain name, and that cost will have to be passed on to the registrant, in our case Lego.
Lawley says that ICM is “engaging” with the ICANN intellectual property community to figure out the best solution. It appears that both options are still open.

Why .xxx will be domainer-friendly (and why it won’t)

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2010, Domain Registries

The proposed .xxx top-level domain may be “sponsored”, but the restrictions on who will be able to register names are so loose that pretty much anybody, including domainers, will be able to register one.
I’ve now had time to dig through the mountain of documents that ICANN published earlier this week. I’m submitting something to The Register later today, but I thought I’d first look here at the domaining angle.
First, the bad news: .xxx domains won’t be cheap.
ICM Registry, which wants to run the TLD, plans to charge $60 per year, and that’s just the registry fee.
That’s a lot of money to recoup if you’re planning to park a domain, so it’s likely that much of the value of .xxx for domainers will be in development and resale.
The proposed contract does suggest, and ICM president Stuart Lawley is on record as saying, that the price of registrations could eventually come down. Whether that would include renewals remains to be seen.
Now for the good news: you won’t actually have to be a pornographer to register a .xxx domain.
It’s true that .xxx is ostensibly restricted to members of the adult entertainment community, but the definition also includes companies that supply products and services to the industry.
According to Lawley, flipping domain names falls into that category.
So, if you register a nice .xxx in order to sell it later to an actual pornographer, you’re technically part of the .xxx Sponsored Community. Congratulations, you’re in the adult business.
Parking .xxx domains will also be possible, and it doesn’t look like parking companies will need to make any changes in order to support the TLD.
It’s true that all .xxx sites will have to be “labelled” as porn, but that doesn’t mean, as I initially thought, that all .xxx web sites, including the parked ones, will have to slap a logo on their pages.
Lawley says that ICM will handle all the labelling transparently at the registry end, using a W3C standard called POWDER. Apparently this is doable without touching anybody’s HTML.
Of course, getting hold of a prime piece of .xxx real estate at launch will not be easy.
Anybody with designs on a geo .xxx domain is out of luck. ICANN will reserve all place names, and two-letter domains are banned, due to potential confusion with country codes.
But single-letter domains will be possible. The provision that banned it has been deleted from the new contract.
ICM plans to auction some premium names. It may even reserve some names, such as movie.xxx, in order to offer registrations at the third level.
An additional barrier is that roughly 9,400 people have already “pre-reserved” about 176,000 names (an average of 18 each). That’s about as many words as there are in the English language by some counts.
Quite how these reservations will be handled isn’t spelled out in detail in the contract, as far as I can tell.
The .xxx TLD is still in the application phase, of course, and there are ways it could still fail. If the contract is ultimately signed, general availability is expected seven months later.

ICANN posts .xxx contract for comment

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has just published the proposed contract for ICM Registry’s porn-only .xxx top-level domain, and over a dozen supporting documents.
Now the fun begins!
Another 30-day public comment period is now underway, which will likely see more concerted efforts by the Free Speech Coalition and its accidental allies on the religious right to have .xxx killed off.
It will also be interesting to see whether the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee decides to chip in with its $0.02.
The GAC has always been wary of the .xxx application and remains the tallest hurdle to jump before the TLD has a chance of being approved.
There’s a lot of information in these documents, including much more detail on IFFOR, the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, which will set the TLD’s policies.
I’m going to bury my nose in these docs, and will provide an update later if I find anything interesting, which seems likely.

ICANN releases (censored) board briefing docs

Kevin Murphy, August 17, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN has given an unprecedented glimpse into the workings of its board of directors, with the release of hundreds of pages of staff briefing papers.
But the documents are quite heavily redacted, particularly when it comes to some of the more controversial topics.
The documents show what ICANN staffers told the board in the run-up to the Nairobi and Brussels meetings, dealing with important decisions such as .xxx and internationalized domain names.
The Brussels decision to put .xxx back on the track to approval sees more than its fair share of blacked-out text, but the documents do show that ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey’s recommendations were pretty much in line with how the board eventually voted.
Other topics seeing redaction include the implementation of DNSSEC at the root, the activities of the Internet Governance Forum, and specific discussion of IDN ccTLD delegations.
Some topics are deemed so sensitive that even the titles of the pages have been blacked out. But in at least one case somebody apparently forgot to redact the title from the PDF’s internal bookmarks.
So we know, for example, that a section entitled “Chronological-History-ICM” is deemed entirely unpublishable, even though ICANN has previously published a document with pretty much the same title (pdf).

Who voted against three Arabic ccTLDs and why?

Kevin Murphy, August 17, 2010, Domain Registries

Two ICANN board members voted against the recent resolution to grant Arabic top-level domains to Palestine, Jordan and Tunisia, it has emerged.
ICANN has published the preliminary report for its August 5 board meeting, which breaks down the votes for each of the 27 resolutions and provides a minuscule amount of color about the discussions.
While the resolutions approving internationalized domain names for Singapore and Thailand were carried unanimously and without discussion, the three Arabic-script IDNs were discussed and received two negative votes and three abstentions.
So which two board members voted against these ccTLDs and why?
Beats me. The IDN ccTLD fast track process is one area where ICANN is quite secretive, and the report does not break down the substance of the discussion or the identities of the directors.
Strangely, two resolutions I would consider much more controversial faced less opposition.
The report shows that the resolution passing ICM Registry’s .xxx domain to the next stage of approval was carried unanimously, and that only one director voted against the .jobs amendment.
ERE.net has more on the .jobs story.

Casino.com plotting top-level domain bid?

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2010, Domain Registries

Is this the first gambling-related new top-level domain applicant?
Casino.com, in this frankly odd press release, seems to be dropping hints that it would be interested in applying for a new TLD when ICANN opens up the bids next year.
Discussing the controversy over the porn-only .xxx domain, the release goes on to say:

In spite of this, online casino sites are considering the idea of a unique domain as well, hoping that it will give them the same impact as governments and schools by using .gov and .edu.

It would of course be a huge shock if there were no gambling TLDs proposed in the first round.
I expect a .poker or .casino TLD could be quickly flipped for millions, given the potential value of their sunrise auctions. Casino.com itself was sold for $5.5 million, back in 2003.
Of course, actually applying to ICANN for .poker could be an expensive gambit. With multiple applicants, it’s one TLD that could easily head to auction.

Porno union will try to shaft .xxx

Kevin Murphy, August 11, 2010, Domain Registries

The fight between ICM Registry and the Free Speech Coalition over the proposed .xxx top-level domain is not over yet.
The porn trade group has a plan to block ICM’s passage through the ICANN process, and has already stepped up efforts to rally the adult entertainment industry to its cause.
Last weekend at the AVN Show in Florida, FSC chair Diane Duke reportedly said:

ICM is saying this is a done deal… but it is not a done deal. We [the FSC] have a strategy to block the application. I have spoken with people from ICANN, and they agreed that this is not a done deal.

Asked whether lawsuits would be required, Duke reportedly answered: “There are other avenues to block this.”
These comments and others suggest that the FSC intends to use ICANN processes to, at the very least, delay .xxx’s delegation.
A public comment period will be launched soon on the proposed ICM-ICANN registry contract. This will likely be oversubscribed by FSC supporters.
If the contract ends up being bounced to ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee for consideration, there’s another opportunity for FSC lobbying.
Then, crucially, if ICANN votes to approve .xxx, the FSC could attempt to temporarily block the actual delegation to the DNS root by filing a Reconsideration Request.
Under my reading of the Reconsideration procedure, the actual delegation of the TLD could be delayed by anything between 30 and 120 days. Possibly longer.
The FSC would need to show at the very least that it would be harmed by .xxx’s introduction. If successful, the best case scenario for the FSC would see the resolution approving .xxx bounced back to the ICANN board for a second vote.
Beyond that, there’s always an Independent Review Panel. For that, the FSC would need to show that the .xxx approval breached ICANN’s bylaws or articles of incorporation, which seems to me to be a more challenging proposition. Also very expensive.
Another interesting quote from the AVN article – reportedly Allan Gelbard, lawyer to John “Buttman” Stagliano, said that the adult industry may be unduly worrying because:

anti-trust and trademark legal challenges would be brought immediately following the final approval by the ICANN board

Make of that what you will.
There’s also a new anti-.xxx blog, written by Theresa “Dark Lady” Reed, containing a new “satirical” video spoofing ICM.
To be honest, the funniest thing about it for me was the decision to cast a handsome, shiny-toothed American anchorman type as British ICM president Stuart Lawley.