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Overstock.com slows down O.co rebranding

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2011, Domain Registries

Overstock.com is throttling its transition to the O.co brand after discovering consumers typed o.com even after watching the company’s commercials, according to a report.

The company’s $350,000 purchase of and subsequent rebranding around the o.co domain was possibly the single biggest single marketing coup for .CO Internet, the .co registry, to date.

But now it intends to keep the Overstock.com brand in the US for the time being, while using O.co overseas and on a new iPad app, according to a report in AdAge.

The O.co Coliseum, the stadium in Oakland for which Overstock bought the naming rights, will continue to bear the O.co name.

AdAge quoted Overstock president Jonathon Johnson saying that “a good portion” of people viewing its commercials tried to visit o.com, which is a non-resolving registry-reserved name, instead.

“We were going too fast and people were confused, which told us we didn’t do a good job,” he told AdAge. “We’re still focused on getting to O.co, just at a slower pace… We’re not flipping back, we’re just refocusing.”

This is obviously bad news for commercial new top-level domain applicants, many of which will be looking for all-important anchor tenants to validate their brands at launch.

Marketing people like to refer to the measurable results of others before pulling the trigger on new initiatives. The O.co case is unlikely to create enthusiasm for new TLDs.

On the other hand, it’s commonly believed that when it comes to breaking the .com mindset in the US, it will take more than a trickle of new TLDs such as .co. It will take a flood.

.CO Internet has always taken the position that .co adoption will take time, and that the ICANN new gTLD program will help its cause by raising awareness of non-.com domains.

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US puts ICANN contract up for rebid

Kevin Murphy, November 11, 2011, Domain Policy

The US government has put the IANA contract, which currently gives ICANN its powers to create new top-level domains, up for competitive bidding.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration issued a request for proposals late yesterday, almost a week later than expected.

The Statement Of Work, which defines the IANA contractor’s responsibilities, is over twice at long as the current IANA contract, containing many deliverables and deadlines.

While the contract is open to bidders other than ICANN, ICANN is obviously the likely winner, so it’s fair to read the SOW in that context.

Notably, the section dealing with approving new gTLDs has been changed since the draft language released in June.

NTIA said previously that in order to delegate a new gTLD, ICANN/IANA “shall include documentation to demonstrate how the proposed string has received consensus support from relevant stakeholders and is supported by the global public interest.”

The new SOW has dropped the “consensus support” requirement and instead states:

The Contractor must provide documentation verifying that ICANN followed its policy framework including specific documentation demonstrating how the process provided the opportunity for input from relevant stakeholders and was supportive of the global public interest.

This could be read as a softening of the language. No longer will ICANN have to prove consensus – which is not a requirement of the Applicant Guidebook – in order to approve a new gTLD.

However, the fact that it will have to document how a new gTLD is “supportive of the global public interest” may give extra weight to Governmental Advisory Committee objections.

If the GAC were to issue advice stating that a new gTLD application was not in “the global public interest”, it may prove tricky for ICANN to provide documentation showing that it is.

The SOW also addresses conflicts of interest, which has become a big issue for ICANN following the departure of chairman and new gTLD proponent Peter Dengate Thrush, and his subsequent employment by new gTLD applicant Minds + Machines, this June.

The SOW says that IANA needs to have a written conflicts of interest policy, adding:

At a minimum, this policy must address what conflicts based on personal relationships or bias, financial conflicts of interest, possible direct or indirect financial gain from the Contractor’s policy decisions and employment and post-employment activities. The conflict of interest policy must include appropriate sanctions in case on non-compliance, including suspension, dismissal and other penalties.

Overall, the SOW is a substantial document, with a lot of detail.

There’s much more NTIA micromanagement than in the current IANA contract. Any hopes ICANN had that the relationship would become much more arms-length have been dashed.

The SOW includes a list of 17 deadlines for ICANN/IANA, mainly various types of compliance reports that must be filed annually. The NTIA clearly intends to keep IANA on a fairly tight leash.

You can download the RFP documents here.

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Lawley quits as .xxx sponsor chairman

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry president Stuart Lawley has stepped down as chairman of IFFOR, the sponsoring organization for .xxx, after ongoing criticism over potential conflicts of interest.

He will be replaced by Clyde Beattie, a former chair of .ca manager CIRA, who was already on IFFOR’s governing board of directors.

IFFOR, the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, was set up by ICM to act as the “sponsoring organization” required by ICANN’s 2004 new gTLD process.

The organization is supposed to be independent, consisting of a policy-creation committee overseen by a three-person board of directors.

However, it has come in for frequent criticism from the porn industry, notably the Free Speech Coalition, over the perception that it is basically an ICM puppet.

While the Policy Council has five out of nine members drawn from the porn industry, the FSC has often accused Lawley of having a “veto” on IFFOR’s decisions, which he has denied.

“Even though the bylaws ensured separation, the optics weren’t ideal,” said Lawley.

However, while Beattie takes over his role, Lawley’s empty seat on the IFFOR board will be filled by ICM general counsel Sheri Falco.

ICM still has a vote, in other words, but not the chair.

The third board member is Sebastien Bachollet, CEO of BBS Consulting. Bachollet also sits on ICANN’s board of directors as a representative of At-Large community.

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Massive group forms to kill off new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, November 10, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN’s new nemesis is called CRIDO.

Eighty-seven companies and trade groups have formed the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight, a lobby group set up to kill ICANN’s “deeply flawed” top-level domains program.

It’s led by the Association of National Advertisers, which emerged this August as a vocal opponent of new gTLDs and has spent the last few months recruiting allies.

Its new domain, crido.org, is registered to the ANA’s PR firm and currently redirects to the ANA’s gTLD microsite.

The new group said in a press release today:

On behalf of its many constituencies and industries, CRIDO is committed to aggressively fighting ICANN’s proposed program, citing its deeply flawed justification, excessive cost and harm to brand owners, likelihood of predatory cyber harm to consumers and failure to act in the public interest, a core requirement of its commitment to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

If the ICANN program proceeds, CRIDO firmly believes, the loss of trust in Internet transactions will be substantial. In addition, the for profit and non-profit brand community will suffer from billions of dollars in unnecessary expenditures – money that could be better invested in product improvements, capital expenditures and job creation.

CRIDO’s members comprise 47 trade associations, most but not all American, and 40 companies, many of them major household names such as Coca-Cola, Burger King and Kellogg.

Together, they have signed a petition to the Department of Commerce, ICANN’s overseer in the US government, asking it put a halt to the new gTLDs program

The questions now are whether Commerce will do anything concrete to address the demands and, if not, whether CRIDO will decide to put its lawyers where its mouth is instead.

Here’s a handy table of all CRIDO’s members.

AssociationsCompanies
AAF-AmarilloAcxiom
AAF-DallasAdobe Systems Incorporated
AAF-Fort WorthAllstate Insurance Company
AAF Hampton RoadsAmerican Express
AdClub CincinnatiBrinker International
American Advertising Federation (AAF)Burger King Corporation
American Advertising Federation of Des MoinesThe Coca-Cola Company
American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA)Combe Incorporated
American Association of Advertising Agencies (4As)ConAgra Foods
American Beverage Association (ABA)Costco Wholesale Corporation
American Council of Life Insurers (ACLI)Darden Restaurants, Inc.
American Health Care Association (AHCA)Dell Inc.
American Insurance Association (AIA)Dunkin Brands, Inc.
American Intellectual Property Law Association (AIPLA)Educational Testing Service (ETS)
American Society of Association Executives (ASAE)Fidelity Investments
Association of Canadian Advertisers (ACA) Ford Motor Company
Association of National Advertisers (ANA)General Electric Company
Austin Advertising FederationHack Creative
Boise Advertising FederationHewlett-Packard Company
Cable Advertising Bureau (CAB)Hunter Douglas NA
Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)J.C. Penney Company, Inc.
Direct Marketing Association (DMA)Johnson & Johnson
European Association of Communications Agencies (EACA)Kellogg Company
European Publishers Council (EPC)La Quinta
Food Marketing Institute (FMI)Liberty Mutual
Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA)MillerCoors
Idaho Advertising FederationMoney Mailer of Amarillo
Idaho Falls Advertising FederationNationwide Mutual Insurance Company
Intellectual Property Owners Association (IPO)Neon Sun Tanning Salon
Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB)Nestle USA
IAB EuropeORCI
Lewis-Clark Valley Advertising FederationOSI Restaurant Partners, LLC
Magic Valley Advertising FederationPapa John’s
Mobile Marketing Association (MMA)Procter & Gamble
MPA - the Association of Magazine MediaPublicis Groupe
National Association of Broadcasters (NAB)Pulte Group
National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)Samsung
National Confectioners Association (NCA)US Bank
National Council of Chain Restaurants (NCCR)Vanguard
National Restaurant Association (NRA)Verge
Pocatello Advertising Federation
Promotion Marketing Association (PMA)
Radio Advertising Bureau (RAB)
Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA)
Television Bureau of Advertising (TVB)
U.S. Chamber of Commerce
World Federation of Advertisers (WFA)

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New gTLD batching: should .brands go first?

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2011, Domain Policy

Should “.brand” and “.city” top-level domain applicants get priority treatment when ICANN picks which new gTLDs get to go live first?

That’s the worry in the domain name industry this week, in the wake of rumors about ICANN’s latest thinking on “batching” applications into a processing queue.

ICANN has said it will not process more than 500 applications at a time, but this may well be a low-ball estimate of how many it will actually receive in the first round.

Depending on how many companies decide to pull the trigger on .brand or .keyword applications, we could be looking at three times that number.

Random selection is probably a non-starter due to the risk of falling foul of US gambling laws, and ICANN has already ruled out an auction.

It’s likely that there will be a way to “opt out” of the first batch for applicants not particularly concerned about time-to-market, senior staff said at ICANN’s meeting in Dakar last month.

But the rumor doing the rounds this week is that the organization is thinking about prioritizing uncontested applications – gTLDs with a single applicant – into earlier batches.

This would mean that .brand and .city gTLDs would probably find themselves in the first batches, while contested generics such as .web and .music would be processed later.

It’s just a rumor at this point, but it’s one I’ve heard from a few sources. It also got an airing during Neustar’s #gtldchat Twitter conflab this evening.

Any gTLD purporting to represent a geographic location will need an endorsement from the relevant local government, which will lead to most geo-gTLD being uncontested.

Most, but perhaps not all, .brands are also likely to be uncontested, due to the relative uniqueness of the brand names with the resources to apply.

On the other hand, potentially lucrative strings such as .web, .blog, and .music will almost certainly have multiple applicants and will require lengthier processing cycles.

With a de facto prioritization of .brands and .cities, ICANN could put a bunch of gTLDs into the root, proving the new gTLD concept and giving it time to bulk up on experienced staff, before the whole thing sinks into a quagmire of objections, trademark gaming and spurious litigation.

I can see how that might be attractive option.

I’m not sure if it would solve the problem, however. If we’re looking at 1,500 applications, that’s three batches, so it would not be as simple as dividing them into contested and uncontested piles.

Of course, nobody knows how many applications will be submitted, and what the mix will be. It’s a very difficult problem to tackle in the dark.

What do you think? Should the contested status of a gTLD be used as a criterion for batching purposes?

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