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Our unpredictions for 2014

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2014, Domain Services

Over the close to four years we’ve been publishing, DI has so far resisted running annual prediction lists.

As a reader, they always strike me as being largely holiday-period filler guff. As a writer, they kind of obligate you to revisit and score yourself a year later. Hugely embarrassing pain in the bum.

But this year we’ve had a change of heart.

It’s really, really quiet out there today.

So here’s our list of events we think will definitely, definitely, definitely happen in 2014.

  • Bob Parsons will give ten bucks to a homeless guy outside a Scottsdale Starbucks, according to a Go Daddy press release.
  • NomCom, hands tied by its gender quotas policy, will be forced to appoint a minor Kardashian to the ICANN board of directors.
  • Pat Kane will quit Verisign in order to head up kp.com, the newly launched sub-domain service for North Koreans who couldn’t get the .kp name they really wanted.
  • A pseudonymous domainer will send TLDH’s share price into a death spiral by predicting that “all new gltds will fail lol” in a comment on an industry blog.
  • Tucows CEO Elliot Noss will accidentally blind four people during a particularly enthusiastic bout of gesticulation.
  • An ICANN director will answer Paul Foody’s question during the Public Forum in Singapore. Foody will leave the room moments later, never to be seen again.
  • Somebody will write a blog post about 27-year-old .xyz applicant Daniel Negari without mentioning his age.
  • ICANN will blame a “glitch” after accidentally delegating .islam to a New York synagogue.
  • Mike Berkens will use apostrophes correctly for a week straight.
  • After the GNSO dies for the fifth time, the entire Council will regenerate as Peter Capaldi, forcing an immediate structural review.
  • 1&1 will start selling pre-registrations in new gTLDs that it expects will probably be applied for at some point between 2018 and 2024.
  • Fox will green-light the production of “Jeff Neuman vs Predator”.
  • DotConnectAfrica will finally withdraw its application for .africa, but only after failed attempts to withdraw applications for .africas, .africka, and .dotdotafrica.
  • Christine Jones will suffer a humiliating wardrobe malfunction during a campaign rally.
  • A smartphone-friendly version of DI will be launched.
  • During an unannounced visit to ICANN’s LA office, Fadi Chehade will stumble across John Jeffrey fucking an apple pie in the staff kitchen.
  • Jennifer Wolfe will speak during a GNSO Council meeting.
  • The Intellectual Property Constituency will complain that ICANN’s latest rights protection mechanisms “go too far to protect trademark owners” and demand an immediate rollback.
  • Rick Schwartz will invest $200 million in Donuts.
  • The sentence “Esther Dyson declined to comment.” will appear in a mainstream media article about new gTLDs.

Happy new year everyone!

Seven registrars sign up to M+M pre-reg platform

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2013, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has signed up 12 registrars to sell its forthcoming gTLDs, seven of which are to also use its recently announced OPEN pre-registration platform.

While TLDH is operating vertically integrated registrar/registrar business, Minds + Machines it’s also built a pre-registration service that it wants other, higher-profile registrars to access.

OPEN, for Online Priority Enhanced Names, allows pre-registrations to be purchased on a more-or-less buy-it-now basis. Names blocked or claimed in Sunrise will be refunded.

The company also said in a market update today that 12 registrars have signed Registry-Registrar Agreements, and that it expects it first new gTLDs to launch in the first quarter 2014.

Donuts explains its premium pricing strategy

Kevin Murphy, December 17, 2013, Domain Registries

Add Donuts to the list of registries planning to use .tv-style variable pricing after their new gTLDs start to go to general availability next year.

COO Richard Tindal told DI last night that each of its upcoming registries could have “two, three, four, five, six — it varies — levels of buy-it-now pricing”.

He was referring to pricing during general availability, not any of Donuts’ special launch phases.

The actual number of registry-reserved names held for auction or future promotional purposes is likely to be quite small — often under 20 names per TLD — Tindal said.

Instead, Donuts wants to get the names it has identified as “premium” to market as quickly as possible, but with a higher annual price than the base registry fee. He said:

Let’s take .clothing, that’s coming out at the moment.

There’ll be a small — very small — number of reserved names for which we may do an auction later

The vast, vast majority of the names are first-come-first-served buy-it-now — but within Donuts TLDs, at more than one price within a TLD.

So in .clothing the standard names will be one price, then there’ll be another group of names that are premium for a higher price, and another group of names that are higher still that are premiums as well, and potentially even another group.

Tindal didn’t want to give specifics, but indicated that most premiums could carry an annual fee of under $1,000.

“Your ball-park standard name is a $10, $20, $30 name, ish, retail,” he said. “And your premium name is in the hundreds of dollars a year, typically. It varies.”

“Generally, ball-park-speaking, the vast majority of our names will be well, well under $1,000 a year,” he said.

He added that the tiers should be obvious when pre-registering names at one of Donuts’ accredited registrars.

I experimented a bit on 101domain, where the base retail price for a .clothing domain is currently $34.99 a year.

I found that used.clothing and winter.clothing, for example, both carry a $400 price tag, hot.clothing and large.clothing are $49.50 each, while vintage.clothing and designer.clothing appear to be reserved.

Those are the retail prices, of course, which include the registrar’s mark-up. While they’re for pre-registered names, I’m not expecting the GA prices to be much different.

“These are very attractively priced names, in our view, even the premium ones we think are attractive to people,” Tindal said. “We want registrars to make some margin, we want registrants to have room for the value of the name to increase as well.”

He didn’t say how many names will be in the higher pricing tiers — it will vary by gTLD.

“We believe premiums will be a small percentage of names under management,” he said.

The tiers will be the same across all of Donuts TLDs, he said, but each given TLD may only use a subset. So if there are six possible tiers, .example may only use three of them.

Donuts does not currently plan to operate a “founders program” for its gTLDs, Tindal said.

“We just want to get these names out and in the hands of users,” he said. Donuts’ market is primarily small and medium sized enterprises.

Donuts is not the first to reveal tiered pricing for new gTLD names.

Top Level Domain Holdings recently laid out a similar pricing strategy. Its Minds + Machines registrar is already taking pre-registrations on names with renewal fees ranging into many thousands of dollars per yer for premium names.

What Box and Plan Bee have also started selling pre-registrations via their registrars that indicate tiered pricing.

Prior to new gTLDs, the only notable TLD with variable pricing was Verisign’s repurposed ccTLD, .tv.

TLDH ditches .roma bid after GAC trouble

Kevin Murphy, December 6, 2013, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has withdrawn its bid for the .roma gTLD, after apparently running afoul of the Italian government.

The gTLD was to represent the city of Rome, but Italy issued the company with an Early Warning (pdf) a year ago saying the company had “No involvement or support from the local authorities” and should withdraw.

TLDH disputed this, saying in November 2012:

In fact the Company had engaged extensively with the relevant local authority and will provide supporting documentation to the Italian GAC member. Once this evidence has been submitted, the Directors believe that the objection will be withdrawn.

The warning did not escalate to full-blown Governmental Advisory Committee advice, but .roma nevertheless failed Initial Evaluation (pdf) due to the lack of documented government support with its application.

The bid was eligible for Extended Evaluation, but it seems that TLDH was unable to get the required level of support or non-objection from Italy to allow the bid to pass.

It’s the second of TLDH’s applications to get killed off by a GAC member. It withdrew its non-geo application for .spa as soon as Belgium started making noises about its own city of Spa.

The company also ditched plans to apply for .mumbai in 2011 due to confusion about whether the city’s government actually supported it or not.

Could new gTLD auctions last until April 2016?

Kevin Murphy, November 26, 2013, Domain Registries

April 2016. That’s the likely date of the final new gTLD contention set auction under the rules currently anticipated by ICANN.

As you might imagine, many applicants are not happy about this.

In a series of presentations over the last couple of weeks, ICANN has laid out how it sees its “last resort” auctions playing out.

Preliminary timetables have been sketched out, from which three data points are noteworthy:

  • Auctions will start in “early March” 2014.
  • There will be one “auction event” every four weeks.
  • Applicants can bid on a maximum of five gTLDs per auction.

Currently, the applicant in the most contention sets is Donuts, as you might have guessed given the size of its portfolio. By my reckoning it’s currently contesting 141 gTLD strings.

With a March 1 date for the first auction, and taking into account the aforementioned timing restrictions, it would be April 23, 2016 before the final Donuts contention set is resolved.

That’s four years after the application window closed.

Google would be in auctions until January 2015. TLDH, Uniregistry and Amazon’s contested strings would be tied up until at least October next year.

This is obviously terrible news for applicants competing with portfolio applicants where the contention set has quite a high position in ICANN’s prioritization queue.

A year or two is a long time to wait — burning through your funding and not taking in any revenue — if you’re a single-string applicant on a tight budget. Every dollar spent waiting is a dollar less to spend at auction.

According to ICANN, applicants will be able to waive the five-gTLDs-per-month maximum.

But that only seems to help the larger portfolio applicants, which will be seeing revenue from launched, uncontested gTLDs and could take the opportunity to starve out their smaller rivals.

Auctions themselves are shaping up to be a controversial subject in general, with several community members taking the mic at the ICANN 48 Public Forum last week to call for ICANN to change the process.

A few people pointed the ICANN board to the recent withdrawal of DotGreen — a popular but evidently poorly funded community effort — from the new gTLD program as a harbinger of things to come.

“By not allowing applicants to be in more than five auctions simultaneously it means those applicants, particularly portfolio applicants, are not going to be able to move through their contention sets,” Google policy manager Sarah Falvey said at the Forum.

“It drags in all the single applicants, because they’re stuck on that exact same time schedule and can’t move their applications through as well,” she said, adding that ICANN should create a new process that sets the time limit for auctions at about six months.

“People could be waiting two years to delegate through no fault of their own,” she said.

Later responding to Afilias director Jonathan Robinson, who backed up Falvey’s call for an accelerated schedule, ICANN president of generic domains Akram Atallah said that the rules are not yet set in stone.

The five-a-day rule was created to give applicants the ability to plan payments better, he said, and ICANN is still soliciting input on how the system could be improved.

Is this the worst new gTLD video yet?

Kevin Murphy, November 26, 2013, Domain Registries

If you’re trying to market a new gTLD aimed solely at CEOs, and your messaging is security, credibility and authority, what’s the best medium to get that message across?

Why, it’s white rap of course! In Donald Trump masks!

That’s apparently the thought process of PeopleBrowsr, the applicant for .ceo, anyway.

The video below got its first airing during a joint PeopleBrowsr/TLDH party at ICANN 48 in Buenos Aires last week.

I was on a bio break at the time and missed the premiere, but I was assured by other party-goers that it was the most painfully awkward video ever screened at an ICANN meeting.

After PeopleBrowsr published it on YouTube today, I was not disappointed. Enjoy a true classic:

TLDH and others sign first gTLD registry contracts

Kevin Murphy, November 23, 2013, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings and a few other new gTLD registries signed their first Registry Agreements with ICANN this week.

Its six new RAs were among 15 registry contracts ICANN signed this week. TLDH and its subsidiaries signed for: .horse, .cooking, .nrw (as Minds + Machine GmbH), .casa, .fishing and .budapest.

I’d heard some concerns at ICANN 48 this week about TLDH’s lack of signed contracts to date, but the concerns seem to have been misplaced.

Monolith Registry, partly owned by Afilias, has also signed RAs for .voto and .vote, the latter of which was won at auction.

Small Chinese portfolio applicant Zodiac Holdings got its second and third gTLD contracts: .商城 (“.mall”) and .八卦 (“.gossip”).

German registry I-Registry got .rich and Russian registry The Foundation for Network Initiatives got .дети (“.kids/children”).

Previously contracted parties Donuts and Uniregistry added .tools and .expert (Donuts) and .christmas (Uniregistry) to their portfolios on Friday.

The total number of new gTLDs with RAs is now about 130.

TLDH reveals new gTLD launch strategy

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2013, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings will announce its go-to-market strategy — including .tv-style premium names pricing and its launch as a registrar — at an event at ICANN 48 in Buenos Aires this evening.

The company, which is involved in 60 new gTLD applications as applicant and 75 as a back-end provider, is also revealing a novel pre-registration clearinghouse that will be open to almost all applicants.

First off, it’s launching Minds + Machines Registrar, an affiliated registrar through which it will sell domain names in its own and third-party TLDs.

Instead of a regular name suggestion tool, it’s got a browsable directory of available names, something that I don’t recall seeing at a registrar before.

Searching “murphy.casa”, I was offered lots of other available domains in the “English Surnames” category, for example.

Until TLDH actually has some live gTLDs, the site will be used to take paid-for pre-registrations, or “Priority Reservations” using a new service that TLDH is calling the Online Priority Enhanced Names database, which painfully forces the acronym “OPEN”.

Pre-registrations in .casa, .horse and .cooking will cost €29.95 ($40), the same as the expected regular annual reg fee. It’s first-come first-served — no auctions — and the fee covers the first year of registration.

If the name they pay for is claimed by a trademark holder during the mandatory Sunrise period, or is on the gTLD’s collisions block-list, registrants get a full refund, TLDH CEO Antony Van Couvering said.

He added that any applicant for a new gTLD that is uncontested and has an open registration policy will be able to plug their gTLDs into the OPEN system.

PeopleBrowsr is already on the system with its uncontested .ceo and .best gTLDs, priced at $99.95.

No other registrars are signed up yet but Van Couvering reckons it might be attractive to registrars that have already taken large amounts of no-fee expressions of interest.

TLDH plans to charge registries and registrars a €1 processing fee (each, so TLDH gets €2) for each pre-registration that is sold through the system.

For “premium” names, the company has decided to adopt the old .tv model of charging high annual fees instead of a high initial fee followed by the standard renewal rate.

Van Couvering said a domain that might have been priced at $100,000 to buy outright might instead be sold for $10,000 a year.

“Because we want to encourage usage, we don’t want to charge a huge upfront fee,” he said. “We’d really like to make premium names available to people who will actually use them.”

Looking at the aforementioned English Surnames category on the new M+M site, I see that jackson.casa will cost somebody €5,179.95 a year, whereas nicholson.casa will cost the basic €29.95.

Two other new gTLDs, .menu and .build, have already revealed variable pricing strategies, albeit slightly different.

Applicants call for new gTLD objections appeals process

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2013, Domain Policy

Twelve new gTLD applicants, representing many dozens of applications, have called on ICANN to create an appeals process for when Community Objections have debatable outcomes.

Writing to ICANN and the International Chamber of Commerce this week, the applicants focus on the recent decision in the .sport case, which they said proves that ICC panelists don’t fully understand the Community Objection policy as laid out in ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook.

The letter points to five “glaring errors” in the “fatally flawed” .sport decision, in which Olympics-backed applicant SportAccord prevailed over Famous Four Media’s competing application.

The signatories — which include Radix, United TLD, Donuts, Famous Four, TLDH and others — say that the ICC panelist simply assumed SportAccord represented the “sport” community and failed to pinpoint any “likelihood of material detriment” that would be caused by Famous Four’s .sport going ahead.

It seems to me that the latter arguments are much more well-founded.

While the letter tries to pick holes in the panelist’s finding that SportAccord represents enough of the “sport” community to be able to win the objection, the arguments are pretty tenuous.

The applicants use an definition of “community” found elsewhere in the Guidebook, for example, to attempt to show that the panelist failed to follow the guidelines for establishing a community in a Community Objection.

The panelist’s actual ruling uses the definition of “community” from the relevant part of the Guidebook and seems to follow it fairly closely. The applicants make a poor job of questioning his logic.

However, on “detriment”, the letter seems to be on much firmer ground.

It argues that the panelist deliberately lowered the bar from “likelihood of material detriment” to “possibility of material detriment” in order to hand SportAccord a victory.

The letter states:

If the Expert’s current logic is followed, every application, including the Objector’s own application, creates “possible” damage. In this case, an allegation of material detriment against any application would be upheld because there is future “possible” damage.

It also makes reference to the fact that the panelist appears to in many cases have been weighing the Famous Four application against SportAccord’s, which was not his job.

It reads in part: “The Expert did not identify a single objectionable or lacking aspect in the application that creates a likelihood of material detriment.”

The applicants call on ICANN to immediately create an appeals mechanism for Community Objections, and to ensure that ICC panelists are given training before making any more decisions.

Here’s the full list of signatories: Radix, United TLD, DotClub Domains, Top Level Design, Donuts, Top Level Domain Holdings, Priver Nivel, Fegistry, Employ Media, Famous Four Media, Merchant Law Group, DotStrategy.

TLDH raises $5 million from gTLD auctions

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2013, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings made almost $5 million by losing auctions for the .lawyer and .website gTLDs this week, according to the company.

The London-listed company told the markets today that it has added £2.97 million ($4.81 million) to its coffers as a result of the auctions, in which Radix won .website and Donuts won .lawyer.

The number is net of the 4% cut taken by Innovative, which conducted the auctions, and the two $65,000 refunds TLDH will receive from ICANN when it withdraws the applications.

Some portion of the $4.8 million TLDH will have received from Donuts, where .lawyer was a two-horse race.

Radix’s winning bid for .website will have been split evenly between TLDH and Donuts.

At least one of these TLDs seems to have sold for significantly more than the average private auction selling price, which was $1.33 million after the first 14 Innovative auctions.

Innovative has managed auctions for 18 strings, but we don’t know the total price of the latest four.

The .website and .lawyer deals means TLDH now has £10.1 million ($16.3 million) in cash reserves, according to a company press release.

It still has 43 contested applications, however. On a $16 million budget — quite a lot less than some of its portfolio rivals — the company is going to have to make some smart tactical moves to maximize its gTLD portfolio.

“Our strategy remains to best monetise those applications where we see least value so that we can maximise our ability to acquire those names in which we see greatest value,” chairman Fred Krueger said in the press release.

It still has stakes in 25 uncontested gTLDs.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story contained inaccurate statements — failing to take into account that .website was a three-way contest — about the average selling price of new gTLDs at auction.