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DotAsia wants lower ICANN fees

As its active base of .asia domain name registrations continues to plummet, the DotAsia Organization wants to reduce its ICANN fees by a third.

CEO Edmon Chung has written to ICANN’s Kurt Pritz, asking if the annual transaction fee it pays per domain can be reduced from $0.75 to $0.50.

“A lower fee would enable DotAsia to invest further into meaningful community projects as well as to extend the awareness and adoption of the .ASIA domain,” Chung wrote. “The suggested amendment would also bring the fees into line with other gTLDs.”

I don’t expect the proposed changes to be especially controversial, but they do highlight how tough it is to launch a new TLD.

The .asia TLD has proved to be a bit of a damp squib, especially since the early-mover speculators started jumping ship, so the company could probably use being thrown a bone.

After .asia’s landrush, the company grew its registration base to a peak of 243,000 in April 2009, according to HosterStats.com, but it currently stands at around 183,000.

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.CO Internet scores TechCrunch marketing coup with Disrupt.co

The newly relaunched .co domain has won itself a whole bunch of free publicity by signing up TechCrunch to its Founders Program.

The tech news blog will use the domain Disrupt.co as part of its startup conference of the same name that kicks off today.

The web site will host “Startup Battlefield”, a competition during TechCrunch Disrupt for new companies and services.

.CO Internet is marketing Colombia’s .co ccTLD as a generic. The launch is currently in its trademark sunrise period, with registrations opening to other registrants next month.

Its Founders Program is a marketing scheme designed to get the word out about the availability of .co domains. Few partners could be as useful to this end as TechCrunch.

Founders get a free premium domain if they promise to promote it properly. CO Internet is still looking for more partners, with applications closing June 15.

I expect disrupt.com, currently parked, will also be getting a lot of traffic today.

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UrbanBrain proposes first properly generic new gTLD

Japanese registry wannabe UrbanBrain will apply for .site under ICANN’s first round of new top-level domain applications.

Of all the registries to so far show their hands for the new TLD round, .site is probably the first that could properly be described as both new and “generic”.

UrbanBrain said the namespace will be targeted at “Internet users, hobbyists, and business owners”. A pretty generic constituency.

Also, the dotSiTE launch page currently contains a bullet-pointed list of three reasons why .site will indeed be as generic as they come.

The dotSiTE internet extension is full of possibilities.

* Optimize your SiTE with great keywords

* Some other text

* Another reason

All the other 100-odd new TLD applications to have been publicly disclosed to date address specific geographical, cultural or niche interest markets.

There are also two (for now) applications for .web, which I’m not counting as “new” gTLD applications because they’ve been on the table for over a decade.

UrbanBrain is affiliated with Japanese ISP Interlink, and registry-in-a-box venture RegistryASP.

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Go Daddy tech support is a cash cow

Go Daddy’s call center support staff make the company hundreds of thousands of dollars a day in up-sells, according to documents revealed as part of an employee class-action lawsuit.

I covered the lawsuit (PDF), filed by three former Go Daddy employees, for The Register on Friday.

One of the plaintiffs, Toby Harris, was fired after he leaked “confidential” screenshots of the company’s CRM system to his home email address.

I’m not going to get into the details of the lawsuit, which concerns labor practices, here.

But the screenshots, which offer a bit of insight into how much revenue these front-line call center staff make for Go Daddy, are worth looking at.

According to one, Harris delivered over $10,000 in gross sales for the company over nine working days in January, taking about 5% of that for himself in commission.

Not bad for a rookie $12-an-hour support guy, considering how cheap most Go Daddy products are.

Another CRM screen shows the performance of a couple dozen members of Harris’ team, including how much commission they made over a two-week period and how many customer calls they handled.

These 23 employees made between $1,290 and $255 in commissions over the period, averaging $564 each, dealing with on average 31 calls each per day.

If that’s 5% of the gross, over 10 business days, you could try to extrapolate some company-wide data, but the screenshot probably represents too small a sample to make any precise calculations.

Still, it’s pretty clear that that a substantial chunk of Go Daddy’s revenue is generated by call center staff.

Harris told me he was expected to shift $250 to $450 worth of product every day, the equivalent of selling at least one new $8 domain name to every caller.

Domain Name Wire reported last December that the company had 1,600 support staff. At the low end of $250 a day, that would equate to $400,000 a day or $146 million a year from the phones alone.

I guess I found this a little surprising because while I always knew Go Daddy’s web site was a cash machine, I had assumed its call center spent most of its time providing technical support.

As a customer, I often wondered how the company managed to run such a high-quality support service on such a pitifully low-margin loss-leader.

Now I know. Judging by these leaked numbers, those guys more than pay for themselves.

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Verizon hires investigator to track down DirectNIC bosses

Verizon has won a delay in its cybersquatting lawsuit against domain registrar DirectNIC, because it can’t seem to track down and serve its CEO, Sigmund Solares.

In its latest filings with the Florida District Court, Verizon says that it had to hire a private detective to track down DirectNIC director Michael Gardner, and ended up serving his wife instead.

But, two months after filing the suit, the company still hasn’t managed to track down Solares.

“Plaintiff continues to diligently attempt to serve the lone remaining Defendant yet to be served, Sigmund Solares… Plaintiffs continue to diligently try to locate and serve this Defendant.”

DirectNIC, previously known as Intercosmos Media Group, relocated to the Cayman Islands from New Orleans in 2008, which may explain some of Verizon’s difficulty.

Indeed, when Verizon turned up to serve the company in New Orleans, it found its old office (from where employees attracted global attention for live-blogging Hurricane Katrina) closed.

Verizon sued DirectNIC, along with several directors and alleged aliases, in March, claiming they had squatted on at least 288 domains that included Verizon trademarks.

The case is of note because Verizon alleges that DirectNIC broke US cybersquatting laws when it parked expired domains that contained Verizon trademarks.

Parking pre-delete expired names is a common practice among registrars, which makes the lawsuit puzzling.

But Verizon does appear to be digging for something else, its complaint suggesting a connection between DirectNIC and its nominal registrants that may not be entirely kosher.

Without legal discovery, its hunches could go nowhere. And before Solares is served, it cannot proceed to discovery.

The court has granted an extension until late August, or 30 days after Solares is served, for the first case management meeting.

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Africa gets its third ICANN registrar

It’s been over eight years since ICANN held its public meeting in Accra, but only now has Ghana got its first accredited domain name registrar.

Ghana Dot Com becomes Africa’s third ICANN-approved registrar, the first new accreditation on the continent since 2007.

The first African registrar was Burundi’s AfriRegister, the second Kheweul.com of Senegal.

Ghana Dot Com appears to be the dba of Network Computer Systems Ltd, the ISP that already manages Ghana’s .gh ccTLD.

Its chairman, Nii Quaynor, is a former member of the ICANN board of directors, elected in 2000 and serving until 2003.

Ghana has about 23 million citizens and almost one million internet users, according to InternetWorldStats.com.

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Will VeriSign change its name?

VeriSign’s $1.3 billion sale of its SSL business to Symantec yesterday means not only that the company will be almost entirely focussed on domain names, but also that it will no longer “sign” anything.

The word “VeriSign” will cease to describe what the company does, so will it change its name?

The idea could make sense, given that the services Symantec bought are all about trusting the VeriSign brand, and Symantec has acquired certain rights to use that brand.

Under the deal, Symantec is allowed to use the VeriSign name in authentication services such as the VeriSign Trust Seal. The company plans to incorporate “VeriSign” into a new Symantec trust logo.

VeriSign boss Mark McLaughlin said on a conference call yesterday that Symantec is buying certain VeriSign trademarks, such as Thawte and GeoTrust, but that VeriSign will stay VeriSign.

Symantec will be able to use the VeriSign brand in its logos for a “transition period of time over a number of years”, McLaughlin said.

On the one hand, there’s a potential for a certain degree of confusion that might persuade VeriSign to brand itself afresh. On the other, corporate rebranding is not cheap.

I suppose, if it does choose to rename itself, it had better hope that its first choice of .com is available.

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ICANN says no to Bulgarian ccTLD

Bulgaria can not have a localized-script version of its country-code domain .bg, because it looks too much like Brazil’s current ccTLD.

Bulgarian business daily Dnevnik is reporting that ICANN has turned down Bulgaria’s request for .бг, the Cyrillic translation of .bg, because it looks very much like .br.

Part of ICANN’s internationalized domain name fast-track process checks whether applied-for strings could be visually confusing. Clearly, this is one of them.

Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have already passed the test and have active IDN ccTLDs.

The Bulgarians are not giving up, however. Dnevnik reports that the country will most likely apply for .бгр instead.

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VeriSign poised to sell SSL business to Symantec

Reliable news sources including the Wall Street Journal and Reuters are reporting that VeriSign is on the verge of offloading its market-leading SSL certificate business to Symantec for over $1 billion.

The sale would be the latest in a series of spin-offs that started in 2007, highlighting the company’s renewed focus on domain names.

VeriSign spent many years acquiring a bunch of companies in tenuously related markets – deals that never really made any sense to me – and the last few years selling them off again.

But SSL is not really in the same category as VeriSign’s bizarre forays into, for example, the Crazy Frog ringtone company. It’s the business the company was founded on when it was spun out of RSA Security 15 years ago.

It’s called VeriSign for a reason.

But offloading the SSL business would make sense. One of the reasons VeriSign bought Network Solutions ten years ago was the obvious retail synergies between domain names and SSL certificates – customers could buy both at the same time.

That synergy was diluted when VeriSign spun the NSI registrar business out as a separate company three years later, creating the vertically separated domain name market we know today.

Symantec, with its fingers in the enterprise and home/small business pies, might be able to make a better crack at the SSL game.

So is this bad news for SSL’s current silver medal holder, Go Daddy?

Possibly. Symantec is a force to be reckoned with – only marketing prowess could explain why so many people use Norton.

Of course, these news stories could be nonsense.

But my guts say they’re probably based on the same kind of leaks that companies often float to the press, to see what the markets do, when they’re in the final stages of negotiations.

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Porn domain firm urges ICANN to ignore the haters

ICM Registry has asked ICANN to set aside the views of thousands of naysayers and approve the porn-only .xxx top-level domain as soon as possible.

The company has sent three documents to ICANN today, two of which set out ICM’s position in the same firm tone that has characterized its previous missives.

Basically: no more delays, your only option here is to get back into contract talks now.

I would say ICM is drawing a line in the sand, but ICM has drawn so many lines in the sand recently it’s beginning to look like a game of beach tic-tac-toe (which, visualizing it, is kinda appropriate).

The third document is a post-game summary of ICANN’s recently closed comment period on the .xxx application, which attracted record comments. That’s written by former ICANN public participation wonk Kieren McCarthy and is more measured in tone.

ICM president Stuart Lawley believes that the thousands of copy-paste comments from US-based anti-porn Christian groups can be safely ignored. I get the impression ICANN will probably agree.

The volume of comments on an entirely irrelevant issue – that is, the content of websites on the Internet – was one of the original reasons this process went off the rails. ICANN should not repeat its earlier mistakes and pander to those interests.

Given that a substantial number of comments came from the porn industry itself, notably the Free Speech Coalition, Lawley wrote that “debate about community support is no longer appropriate”.

ICM’s on shakier ground here than with the Christians. A TLD for a sponsored community that is unequivocally hated (NSFW) by a vocal part of that community can’t look good.

But the FSC, along with the Adult Entertainment Broadcast Network, one of its members, “represent only a small fraction of the adult industry”, Lawley claimed.

Over 100,000 .xxx domains have been pre-registered over the last five years and several hundred of these people sent ICM’s copy-paste letter to ICANN. ICM says this indicates adult industry support, though I think that’s a less than watertight argument.

ICANN’s board will undoubtedly have a good old chinwag about their current predicament at their retreat this weekend, but they’re not due to make any decisions until the Brussels meeting a little over a month from now.

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