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Demand Media mulls eNom spin-off

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2013, Domain Registrars

Are the synergies between domain name registrars and content farms not all they were cracked up to be?

That’s a question emerging from last night’s news that Demand Media is planning to spin off its domains business, which includes number-two registrar eNom, into a separate public company.

The company, reporting its fourth-quarter earnings, said that it’s looking into the possibility of breaking up content and domains into two separately-owned businesses.

The new domain company would comprise eNom (wholesale) and (retail) on the registrar side, any new gTLDs Demand manages to win, the formative registry back-end business, and its stake in NameJet.

“We believe that a separation of the two independent companies will better position each business to pursue their increasingly diverse strategic priorities and opportunities,” CEO Richard Rosenblatt told analysts.

The spin-off would have revenue of over $150 million a year and margins of almost 20%, chief financial officer Mel Tang added.

Rosenblatt said new gTLDs will be “transformative” for the domain industry, saying that Google, Amazon and dot-brands will help grow consumer awareness of the world beyond .com.

Demand has filed 26 new gTLD applications of its own, and has 50-50 rights to 107 more with Donuts.

Previously, Demand has stated in regulatory filings that it used data gathered from domain name lookups to create ideas for the content farm side of its business. It’s not clear if that would continue after a split.

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.transformers gTLD bid transforms into pile of burnt cash

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2013, Domain Registries

Toy-maker Hasbro has withdrawn its application for the .transformers new gTLD.

It was Hasbro’s only application, and it’s the first example of an applicant that paid to participate in ICANN’s new gTLD prioritization draw last December subsequently withdrawing its bid.

One of the longer and more eyebrow-raising applied-for strings, .transformers brings the number of withdrawn applications to 18, most of which were dot-brands. Now, 1,912 bids remain.

The bid had a prioritization number of 131, putting it toward the very top of the queue of non-IDN applications.

If many more applications with high prioritization numbers withdraw, it would raise serious questions about the validity of the argument that participating in the draw indicates a non-defensive bid.

Hasbro’s application suggested that it was filed mainly defensively, it’s “Mission/Purpose” stated as primarily: “To secure and protect the Applicant’s key brand (“TRANSFORMERS”) as a gTLD”.

Maybe it was worried that an electrical parts manufacturer might go for the same string?

It’s the sixth application to be withdrawn in a week, following General Motors’ pulling of its .gmc, .cadillac and .chevrolet bids and Hartford Fire Insurance’s withdrawal of .thehartford.

UPDATE (February 20): ICANN tells me that there are currently only three more new gTLD applications in its withdrawal pipeline.

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Hackers may have stolen .edu domain passwords

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2013, Domain Registries

Owners of .edu domain names have been told to change their passwords after hackers compromised a server belonging to registry manager Educause.

The registry said today that it has deactivated the admin passwords for all .edu domains after discovering a “security breach” that gave attackers access to hashed passwords for .edu registrants.

The attack also compromised passwords for users of the Educause web site, the organization said.

The .edu domain is of course reserved for US-based educational institutions, and is considered one of the most secure and prestigious TLDs available.

Educause said it “immediate steps to contain this breach and is working with Federal law enforcement, investigators, and security experts to make sure this incident is properly addressed.”

The registry did not say whether the attack is related to the attack against the Massachusetts Institute of Technology last month, which reportedly was enabled via an Educase hack.

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PIR starts pre-registration for .ngo domain names

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2013, Domain Registries

Public Interest Registry has become the first major gTLD registry to start taking pre-registrations for a not-yet-approved gTLD.

PIR said today that it’s allowing non-governmental organizations to register an “expression of interest” for .ngo and .ong domains.

Pre-registrations are of course free and non-binding. They’re mainly a way to opening the marketing communications channel with customers well in advance of the launch of a TLD.

PIR does not expect to launch .ngo or .ong until 2014. Its ICANN evaluation priority numbers for the two TLDs are 810 and 958, in the first half of the list.

Pre-registration is not a new concept, of course, but it’s one generally embraced more often by registrars (eNom and United Domains are the two most prominent examples) rather than incumbent registries.

For PIR to start engaging directly with potential registrants is one of the first signs that, in the wake of ICANN’s lifting of the ban on vertical integration between registries and registrars, the new gTLD market won’t be playing by the old rules.

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Pile up! GM cancels two more new gTLD bids

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2013, Domain Policy

Is General Motors bowing out of ICANN’s new gTLD program completely? It’s certainly looking that way, following the withdrawal of two more of its five original applications.

ICANN updated its site yesterday to reflect that GM has yanked its bids for .chevrolet and .cadillac, two of its proposed automotive dot-brands.

It comes just a few days after its .gmc application was pulled, and suggests that its remaining applications — for .buick and .chevy — may also be withdrawn in the near future.

The total number of gTLD applications withdrawn is now up to 17, a dozen of which are dot-brands, from an original list of 1,930.

We may be seeing more in the near future. Applications withdrawn before ICANN publishes Initial Evaluation results — expected to start March 23 — qualify for a refund of 70%, or $130,000. After that, the refund halves.

The final number of withdrawn applications will be telling, and likely to inform future new gTLD application rounds.

If it turns out a large number of companies applied for dot-brands purely defensively (I wouldn’t consider 12 to 17 withdrawals a large number) then ICANN may have to rethink how the program is structured.

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