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Vox Pop denies links to free .sucks company

Kevin Murphy, October 10, 2015, Domain Registries

Vox Populi, the .sucks gTLD registry, has told DI that it is not involved with This.sucks, the company offering free .sucks domains, after evidence to the contrary was discovered.

Meanwhile, the president of ICANN’s intellectual property constituency says he’s concerned that the registry may be using This.sucks to try to misrepresent its prices.

This.sucks, as reported yesterday, is currently in pre-launch. It has said it plans to give away up to 10,000 .sucks domains to customers who want to run blog/forum sites commenting on companies, products and other general issues.

Its standard pricing would be $1 per month, a massive discount on the regular $200+ annual registry fee, which would require it to make substantial additional revenue to cover its costs.

That’s assuming it is really an independent company, of course.

Some people think it’s just a front for Vox Pop, and there are compelling reasons to believe they’re correct.

Rob Hall paid for the web site

The most compelling piece of evidence, for me, is that somebody called Robert Hall paid for design of the This.sucks web site.

The one-page launch site was created by a designer responding to an ad on the crowdsourcing web site DesignCrowd.

The title of the solicitation page is “Modern, Bold Web design job. Web brief for Robert Hall, a company in Turks and Caicos Islands”.

Rob Hall is the CEO of Momentous, the company that founded Vox Pop and as far as I know still owns most of it.

He’s the technical contact for .sucks in the IANA database, albeit with a Barbados, rather than Turks and Caicos, address.

The DesignCrowd contest seems to have been submitted around August 26 this year, two days before This.sucks existed as a legal entity in New York state.

Hall seems to have paid $370 for the winning design and $10 to five runners-up.

The site is/was hosted on Vox Pop’s server

Another compelling link between Vox Pop and This.sucks is the server on which their respective domains are hosted — it’s the same box.

According to DomainTools, this.sucks is hosted on a server with just 16 other domains. Four of those — everything.sucks and that.sucks, as well as sister sites this.rocks and that.rocks — belong to This.sucks Inc.

The remaining 12 domains — including buy.sucks, register.sucks, search.sucks — are all .sucks promotional sites owned and operated by Vox Populi.

This.sucks reverse Whois

Berard told DI in an email that Vox Pop has never hosted This.sucks sites:

I suspect that in doing the deal for the premium domain names they wanted, some remained pointed at one of our forwarding servers to which they were first assigned. But, as with the other names they have registered, that will sort itself out over time. We have never hosted their website.

It’s true that DomainTools warns that domains may still be listed for up to two weeks after they have been removed from an IP address.

But I don’t think Vox Pop’s explanation explains how this.rocks and that.rocks wound up listed as hosted on the same IP address as the .sucks domains.

The .rocks gTLD is run by Rightside, not Vox Pop, so I can’t see an obvious reason why they started out pointing to a Vox Pop box.

I asked Berard for clarification on this point but have yet to receive a reply. A This.sucks spokesperson has not responded to an inquiry about the apparently shared hosting.

Caymans link

It also turns out that somebody formed a Cayman Islands company called This.sucks Ltd on August 25 this year, three days before the New York-based This.sucks Inc was registered.

The Cayman company’s registered address is the Georgetown PO Box number for Cayman Law Group Ltd, a boutique law firm with a half-finished web site.

That’s the same address Vox Populi gave ICANN (pdf) when it transferred its Registry Agreement from its original Canadian corporate entity to a Cayman-based one this March.

As far as ICANN is concerned, Vox Pop’s legal address is the same address as the new This.sucks Ltd entity.

The New York entity’s official address is a PO Box at a strip-mall UPS store in small-town New York state.

It might be interesting, but probably not relevant, to note that Cayman Law’s domain name is owned, according to Whois, by a domainer who lost one of the first “-sucks.com” UDRP cases, back in 2003.

I asked Berard if Vox Pop had any links to the Cayman company but have not yet received a reply.

Everything.sucks

This.sucks has the same business model as was proposed by Vox Populi under its “Consumer Advocate Subsidy” program, which it proposed at the start of the year.

The company had planned to find an independent partner that would subsidize .sucks registrations in cases where the registrant was a genuine third-party critic (rather than the company itself).

The price was to be around $10 a year, the domains would be tied to a hosted forum service, and the name of the service would be Everything.sucks.

That domain, as I reported yesterday, now belongs to This.sucks Inc.

But Berard said This.sucks is not the Consumer Advocate Subsidy, for which a partner has not yet been found. He said:

This is not the consumer subsidy program we have hoped to foster with a non-profit, but it certainly is in keeping with the spirit of our effort. An effort, I must note, that continues. Somethings are harder to do than we’d like!

Why does this matter?

Whether This.sucks is a cloaked registry effort is important to intellectual property interests, which have claimed that subsidized .sucks prices are part of a “shakedown scheme” targeting trademark owners.

The IPC has long suspected that Everything.sucks was just going to be a case of Vox Pop hiding a registry service in a supposedly, but not actually, independent third-party company.

Brand owners that want to register their brand.sucks domain often have to pay over $2,000 a year, but the proposed subsidy would bring that price down to $10 as long as the registrant was not the trademark owner.

IPC president Greg Shatan told DI yesterday:

Any inkling that Vox Pop and This.sucks were linked and pretending not to be, and actively denying it, would be of great concern, not just to the IPC but to the ICANN community at large. It’s all highly suspicious. It’s very hard to believe that it is what they are claiming it is.

The concern centers on an apparent attempt to misrepresent their pricing and hide how much Vox Pop is actually being paid by brand owners vs. other registrants for domain registrations.

Any plans to monetize this.sucks sites would also be of considerable interest. The non-commercial nature of “sucks” sites (generically speaking) is often cited in response to cybersquatting concerns. I’m not sure how this would change that equation.

Back in March, as .sucks was getting ready to launch, the IPC wrote to ICANN to say Vox Pop was trying to “conspire with an (alleged) third party to ‘subsidize’ a complaint site should brand owners fail to cooperate in Vox Populi’s shakedown scheme”.

The IPC wrote (pdf):

Through this “subsidy,” Vox Populi effectively shows brand owners that, if they fail to register at an exorbitant price, a third party will be able to register for a pittance. This is an essential element of Vox Populi’s coercive scheme.

The IPC also claimed that the proposed subsidy would count as a “registry service” under the terms of Vox Pop’s contract and would therefore need approval by ICANN.

Berard told DI on Thursday, quite unambiguously, that This.sucks is “not a registry service”.

If This.sucks isn’t being financially supported by Vox Pop, it’s going to have to find a lot of revenue.

With a $199 basic registry fee, a 10,000-domain giveaway would cost almost $2 million.

Given that This.sucks is actively courting registrants of brand names — many of which are likely to appear on Vox Pop’s premium list — the cost could be literally 10 times as much.

Vox Pop has made it clear that it’s a subsidy, not a registry discount.

In a July blog post addressing perceived inaccuracies in the media coverage of .sucks, Berard wrote:

Whether a registration is subsidized, the price to the registrar and registry is unaffected. That is the nature of a subsidy. Neither is the program to be offered by the registry. We are talking to a number of free speech advocates and domain name companies to find the right partner.

When we do, likely sometime in the Fall, we will make sure that the information is clear and available so that, well, you can look it up.

(Thanks to George Kirikos for the tip about the existence of the Cayman company)

Company to offer .sucks domains at .com prices

Kevin Murphy, October 9, 2015, Domain Registries

A new company says it is going to sell .sucks domain names, which usually retail for around $250, for as little as $12 a year.

This.sucks Inc, which says it is not affiliated with the registry, is even planning to give away 10,000 names for free.

That’s a hell of a cost to cover — the .sucks registry fee is $199 for most names or $1,999 for names, including brands, that have been marked as premium.

A 10,000-name giveaway would cost close to $2 million per year, in other words.

But This.sucks isn’t a registrar. Instead, it wants to tie its customers in to its forum and blogging platform, which will be monetized in some way.

Spokesperson Phil Armstrong told us “our plan is to create new revenue streams from different sources, including possibly advertising.” He said:

Our goal is to build a business around giving consumers affordable and easy access to these expressive web addresses, and we’ll work with different registrars to get the best price. We think we can create a large, sustainable community that over time will generate income well above the initial costs of the registrations.

There are good reasons to believe that the company is in fact the “Consumer Advocate Subsidy” provider that .sucks registry Vox Populi promised would be launching in September.

Vox Pop said in March that the subsidizing entity — which would be an unaffiliated company — would offer .sucks domains with attached forum sites for around $10 a year.

The proposed name of the service was “Everything.sucks” — a domain now owned by This.sucks Inc that redirects to this.sucks.

But Vox Pop CEO John Berard said that This.sucks was “just another registrant” and that it was “not a registry service”.

Armstrong said: “We are not related to anything Vox Populi is doing. Not sure what they are up to, but hopefully they’ll be excited about what we are doing.”

The company’s mailing address appears to be a UPS store at a small strip mall in New York state.

The this.sucks service is currently in invitation-only beta testing “for individuals with a passion”.

There’s a sister site with a virtually identical design and mission statement at this.rocks.

In a fact sheet, This.sucks says:

At both This.Rocks and This.Sucks consumers will be able to pick the name of companies, products, people and causes they want to be the focus of the commentary and conversation. With the web address of their choosing, they will be able to moderate a blog or forum to talk about the issues, initiatives and interests that stir their passions.

The goal is to encourage individual consumers to give voice to their points-­of-­view and make it easy for like­‐minded people to join the conversation, much like Reddit for general topics, Slash/Dot for technology, CafePharma in the ethical drug industry, and Glassdoor for job seekers and employers.

Sunrise accounts for under 1% of new gTLD regs

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2015, Domain Registries

New gTLD registries can expect just 125 sunrise registrations on average, according to statistics just released by ICANN.

The new data, current as of May 2015, also shows that there have been just 44,077 sunrise registrations in total, over 417 new gTLDs.

That’s less than 1% of the total number of new gTLD domain registrations to that date.

The numbers were published in a revised version of ICANN’s Revised Report on Rights Protections Mechanisms, a discussion paper on mechanisms such as sunrise, Trademark Claims and URS.

It also contains the first authoritative breakdown of sunrise regs by TLD, though it’s limited to the 20 largest.

Sunrise

Many of these numbers match closely what DI has previously reported, but .porn and .adult are substantially lower because ICM Registry only revealed consolidated numbers that took account of its unique non-TMCH sunrise periods.

None of the ICANN figures include .sucks, which hit sunrise after the numbers were compiled in May.

Third ICM windfall due as .sex hits sunrise

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2015, Domain Registries

If we’ve learned one thing about new gTLD sunrise periods, it’s that adult-oriented TLDs sell quite well.

ICM Registry started its third such period yesterday, as .sex went into its “TMCH Sunrise” phase.

Until October 1, any company with a trademark in the Trademark Clearinghouse will be able to buy a matching .sex domain on a first-come, first-served basis.

From October 5 to October 30, anyone with a .xxx domain name or current .xxx “Sunrise B” block will be able to buy the matching .sex during the Domain Matching phase.

Anyone who buys a .xxx before October 1 will be able to participate in this second sunrise.

ICM reported in May that .porn received 3,995 sunrise registrations while .adult sold 3,902 — both via a combination of TMCH Sunrise sales and blocks.

At ICM’s prices, that’s enough to comfortably cover its ICANN application fees.

Every other new gTLD with the exception of .sucks has sold fewer than 1,000 sunrise names.

General availability for .sex starts November 4.

Ashley Madison .sucks domain mysteriously vanishes

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registries

The domain ashleymadison.sucks, which hosted a tool to search a database of millions of stolen Ashley Madison users’ data, has been deleted.

According to Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling, the domain was deleted by its registrant within the five-day grace period permitted under ICANN rules.

The site looked like this shortly after it launched at the weekend.

Ashley Madison Sucks

Ashley Madison, which uses .com, is the “dating” site specifically designed for people who want to have extra-marital affairs.

Hackers recently released a 9GB file containing, reportedly, as many as 32 million users’ email addresses. The breach has led to much online shaming of public figures and has reportedly led to suicides.

The ashleymadison.sucks site hosted a forum and a search engine that allowed partial email address searches. Even in the short time it was up, it attracted a fair amount of forum posts, as well as the attention of Vox Populi itself, which tweeted:

Interestingly, I’m not sure if the site would have fallen foul of any Vox Pop policies.

There’s a provision against hacking, but the site was merely showing the proceeds of hacking rather than doing any hacking. In addition, the registry’s prohibition on cyberbullying only extends to children.

The domain, at time of writing, is back in the available pool. Uniregistry wants $2,078.96 for it, which may explain why it was deleted while a refund was still available.

Radix targets 25,000 names for .online’s first day

Kevin Murphy, August 18, 2015, Domain Registries

Radix Registry reckons .online will move at least 15,000 domains in its first day of general availability, but it’s aiming higher.

“We are confident .online will be amongst the biggest new gTLDs that have launched,” Radix business head Sandeep Ramchandani said in a press release today.

“The same sentiment across several Registrar Partners has reinforced our beliefs. We expect to start off with at least 15,000 registrations at launch and would love to break .club’s launch record,” he said.

When .CLUB Domains launched .club in 2014, its zone file showed over 25,000 domains after the first 10 hours.

Radix is basing its projections not only on its registrar conversations, but also on .online’s sunrise period, which ended yesterday with 775 sales.

That number is of course low by pre-2012 standards, but it’s in the top tier of sunrise periods for non-controversial new gTLDs.

The only strings to top 1,000 names to date have been ICM Registry’s .porn and .adult and Vox Populi’s .sucks.

.CLUB’s sunrise weighed in at 454 domains.

Radix had better hope .online is successful — the gTLD sold for seven or eight figures at private auction.

The gTLD will go to its Early Access Period tomorrow before settling down to regular pricing August 26.

.sucks won’t discount its fee for $10 domains

Vox Populi Registry is looking for a free speech advocate partner willing to absorb hundreds of thousands, maybe even millions, of dollars in costs.

The .sucks registry has for many months promised that later this year it will introduce a Consumer Advocate Subsidies program that will enable people to get a .sucks for the deeply discounted price of $10 a year.

Currently, the standard recommended retail price of a .sucks is $249, with a registry fee of $199.

Users of the subsidy program would get their names for $10 or under but they’d have to agree to host a free forum on the site, open to anyone that wanted to criticize (or, I guess, praise) the subject of the domain.

It has been broadly assumed that the subsidy would be matched by a discount in the registry fee.

But it’s emerged that Vox Pop has no plans to lower its own fees in order to offer the subsidy.

Essentially, it’s looking for a partner willing to swallow a cost of essentially $189 a year for every subsidized domain name.

CEO John Berard said in a blog post this week, and has subsequently confirmed to DI, that the subsidy is a subsidy and not a discount.

Vox Pop will still demand its full wholesale registry fee for every .sucks domain that is sold. Berard blogged:

Whether a registration is subsidized, the price to the registrar and registry is unaffected. That is the nature of a subsidy. Neither is the program to be offered by the registry. We are talking to a number of free speech advocates and domain name companies to find the right partner.

“The partner has to be one committed to free speech and confident in its ability to rally contributions to underwrite the activity,” Berard told DI.

To me, this proposition suddenly looks hugely unattractive.

There are over 6,000 domains in the .sucks zone today, just a month after general availability began, and that’s with registrants paying $250 to $2,500 a year.

With a $10 free-for-all, the number of registrations would, in my view, spike.

Unless there was some kind of gating process in place, the subsidy partner would likely face hundreds of thousands of dollars in recurring annual fees almost immediately. It could escalate to millions a year over the long run.

I’m trying to imagine how an organization such as Which? (which I’m guessing is the kind of organization Vox Pop is talking to) would benefit from this arrangement.

There is “quite an interest” in signing up to become the subsidy partner, Berard said. He said that in some cases potential partners are looking for marketing opportunities or ways to “enhance their reputation”.

Details of subsidy program are expected to be announced early in the fourth quarter.

Does this fun video prove that the .sucks message isn’t total BS?

At least one big brand seems to have the same idea about “sucking” as the .sucks gTLD registry, even if it does not appear to own any .sucks domain names.

Three, which is currently the smallest of the UK’s four major mobile phone networks, is advertising its services using very similar messaging.

The fun 90-second commercial embedded below, featuring a Muppet, an old East 17 track, and quite a lot of dancing, ends with the slogan “When Stuff Sucks #makeitright” and the call-to-action “The mobile industry sucks. See how we’re making it right.”

Clicking through to the Three website, visitors see messages including “People think our network sucks. Guess what? We’re voted most reliable” and “Charging extra for 4G sucks. We don’t.”

The campaign was reportedly conceived by ad agency Wieden & Kennedy London. It’s been getting a fair bit of TV airtime over the last month.

This seems to substantiate something Vox Populi has been saying for the last 18 months: that “sucks” is not necessarily a hugely derogatory term any more, and in fact can be embraced by companies to engage with customers, challenge criticism and promote their brands.

That said, Three isn’t using any .sucks domains — three.sucks, makeitright.sucks and whenstuff.sucks do not appear to be registered.

Three, part of Hutchison Whampoa, is currently undergoing a merger with Telefonica-owned rival O2 which would create the largest UK mobile operator.

First example of .sucks cybersquatting?

The .sucks domain has been generally available for a little over a week now, and I’ve found what may be the first example of somebody attempting to sell one to a brand owner.

amherstcollege.sucks is one of only a handful on non-registry-owned .sucks domains to have a web site already indexed by Google.

The site solicits commentary about Amherst College — a liberal arts university in Massachusetts that owns a US trademark on “Amherst” — but does not yet publish any such criticism.

However, the phrases “AMHERSTCOLLEGE.SUCKS DOMAIN NAME + WEBSITE IS FOR SALE” and “IF YOU ARE INTERESTED IN PURCHASING THIS DOMAIN AND WEBSITE CONTACT US” appear prominently on the bare-bones WordPress blog currently running at the site.

The Whois record shows “THIS DOMAIN IS FOR SALE” as the registrant organization.

Under the UDRP, offering a domain for sale is usually considered enough to meet the “bad faith” part of the three-prong cybersquatting test.

I doubt it’s the only example of a .sucks domain matching a brand currently listed for sale by a third-party registrant, but it is the first one showing up in Google.

It’s still early days; the other .sucks domains with sites and a Google presence are a mix of redirects, mirroring and placeholders.

Microsoft-owned microsoft.sucks is one of them. It redirects to a Bing search results page.

The $250-a-year .sucks gTLD, managed by Vox Populi registry, currently has fewer than 5,700 domains in its zone file. Growth has ground almost to a halt over the last few days.

Want to slam .sucks? You can at dotsucks.sucks

Vox Populi Registry is eating its own dog food and has launched a .sucks gripe site targeting itself.

DotSucks.sucks has gone live, allowing critics to take a pop at the company and its gTLD.

The registry-owned site says: “if we intend to build it, then we need to live here.”

The domain hosts a simple forum. Anyone can sign up using their social media accounts and start posting in moments.

The site says:

WHO SUCKS? US?
Here (right here) is a chance to tell us to our face.

If you are right, we’ll own up to the shortcoming, but if you’re wrong, we get to tell you so!

Criticism can be constructive. Good for the bottom line. It can also be therapeutic. Good for the soul. It ultimately clears the air. Good for making progress.

We are the Vox Populi Registry, a small company with a big mission to create a new and vibrant Internet community. And if we intend to build it, then we need to live here. So tell us what you think. We think you should consider getting a place of your own.

So far, only one idiot has posted a topic. For testing purposes, you understand.

The site does not appear to be moderated.

Earlier this year, Vox Pop CEO John Berard said in an interview he was unsure whether the company would launch a .sucks site for itself.