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New TLD guidebook could be finalized at ICANN retreat

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Draft Applicant Guidebook for new TLDs could become the Final Applicant Guidebook at an ICANN retreat before the next ICANN meeting.

Chairman Peter Dengate Thrush said at a press conference here in Brussels earlier that a private two-day board retreat this year, focused entirely on new TLDs, could “clear up any remaining issues” with the DAG.

I believe he was referring to the ICANN board’s scheduled September 24-25 retreat, although he may have had something else in mind.

Dengate Thrush said that we should not expect the board to pass as many resolutions relating to the DAG at the end of the Brussels meeting as it did at the end of Nairobi three months ago.

But he still expects DAG v4 will be the final draft published before the guidebook is finalized.

“The reality is that there are a number of overarching issues where the community has to reach consensus, and it’s difficult for us to put time limits on the community,” he said.

A few minutes ago, during an open mic session on new TLDs, Jon Nevett of Domain Dimensions questioned whether there should be a special ICANN meeting, before the retreat, to give the community a chance to help with the finalization process.

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ICANN Brussels trending topics: security and control

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2010, Domain Policy

Security and politicking over control of the domain name system’s critical functions emerged as key memes during the opening ceremony of ICANN’s 38th public meeting this morning, here in Brussels.

In a speech that addressed a few controversial topics, ICANN president Rod Beckstrom responded unapologetically to those who had criticised the fairly alarmist tone of his remarks about DNS security at ICANN 37, three months ago.

Directly addressing his Nairobi comments, Beckstrom said:

You may disagree with what I said, and openness to different viewpoints is what makes our community strong. Some have asked why I said what I did. Simple. I said it because I believe it is the truth. And more than twenty years of experience in risk management have taught me that in addressing highly complex systems, it is better to be more concerned about risk than less.

The ccTLD constituency – led by .uk and .au – had been concerned about Beckstrom’s warning in Nairobi, which was made at a meeting of the Governmental Advisory Committee, because they risked giving governments reason to interfere with their country’s ccTLD.

Beckstrom’s keynote addressed the risk of too much government control over the DNS, embodied currently in rumblings about another International Telecommunications Union power grab, with a call to action for all those who support ICANN’s model.

We must face the fact that governments control these institutions. Given the serious proposals for an alternative to our bottom-up, multi-stakeholder model, we must redouble our efforts to support it if we are to protect the global public interest. All our stakeholders must step up to the plate and defend our common interest.

We will of course work closely with the Governmental Advisory Committee. But we need the active involvement of all stakeholders. We need your help, through every means available to you, to counter the misinformation and ensure that governments understand what is at stake when these issues are debated in the UN General Assembly later this year.

Beckstrom’s sentiments on security were echoed by both European Council President Herman Van Rompuy and, in a recorded address, European Commissioner for competition Neelie Kroes.

Kroes, in particular, seemed keen to marry the ideas of security risks and control over the internet’s crucial policy-making functions.

I am hopeful that the expiry of the IANA contract next year will be turned into an opportunity for more international cooperation servicing the global public interests.

But don’t misunderstand me. The internet’s day to day functioning works well, and I’m the first to say that if it isn’t broken don’t fix it. We all have an interest that this wonderful platform for innovation, entrepreneurship and free expression works perfectly well at a technical level. It is a great adventure that must continue to flourish. Yet, does it mean all is well in the cyber world?

Take the issue of security and resilience. We need to fight against spam, identity theft, phishing and other evolving types of crime on the internet. Both the public and private sectors have a joint obligation to act. And that approach has to go hand in hand with ensuring the internet itself is not vulnerable to any large-scale failure, whether as a result of an accident of a deliberate attack.

As I type, Beckstrom is hosting a panel discussion with Whit Diffie, Paul Mockapetris, Steve Crocker and Dan Kaminsky on DNS vulnerabilities in front of a packed audience.

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The ICANN Brussels schwag bag – full details

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2010, Gossip

I’ve just landed at ICANN 38, in the really rather lovely setting of the Mont des Arts in Brussels.

Either I’m lost, or it’s a bit quiet at the moment, so I thought I’d get the most important news out of the way first – what’s in the schwag bag?

A heck of a lot more than the last ICANN meeting I attended, in Mar Del Plata, Argentina three five years ago.

Consider this a disclosure statement – I am now forever beholden to all of these companies, in no particular order:

  • T-shirt (Hanes) from ICANN.
  • T-shirt (Fruit of the Loom) from RegistryPro.
  • Empty Belgian chocolate bag from Iron Mountain (visit the booth for the choccie, presumably).
  • Fan with party invite printed on it from GMO (dotShop).
  • Pen from .CO Internet.
  • Keyring (foam) from dns.be.
  • Pen from Nic.ru.
  • Belgian chocolate box (full) from Centr.
  • Keyring (metal) from PIR (slogan: “PracticeSafeDNS.org”)
  • Badge/button (small) from .quebec.
  • Badge/button (huge) from ICM Registry (slogan: “Yes to .XXX”)
  • Bumper sticker from .quebec.
  • Notebook from PIR (.org “Celebrating 25 years”)
  • Playing cards (one-way backs) from Ausregistry.
  • “Multi-purpose retractable lock” from SIDN.
  • USB Flash drive (4GB) from Afnic.
  • Notebook from .eu.
  • A good-sized tree’s worth of flyers, booklets and sales pitches from the meeting’s sponsors – very strong contingent of new TLD players and consultancies.
  • The bag itself is sponsored by Afilias.

I heard a rumor that ICM was giving away .xxx vuvuzelas, but if they were they appear to have already run out.

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Register.com sold at a $65 million loss

Register.com has been acquired by web hosting company Web.com for $135 million, substantially less than the $200 million Vector Capital paid for it five years ago.

Web.com said the acquisition will help it access new small business customers for lead generation, to cross-sell its existing products.

The company’s customer base will increase by over 400% to more than one million customers, Web.com said. The combined firm will have annual revenue of $180 million.

Register.com was one of the first five ICANN-accredited registrars. It failed as a public company, and after years of financial wrangling was finally taken private by Vector in 2005.

Vector specializes in buying up troubled companies and turning them around, but it doesn’t appear to have increased the value of this particular asset over the last five years.

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Will ICANN punt .xxx in Brussels?

Is ICANN set to delay approval of the proposed .xxx top-level domain – again – in Brussels?

That’s my reading of ICANN’s latest document concerning ICM Registry’s long-running and controversial battle for a porn-only TLD.

This week, ICANN submitted its summary of the public comment period that ran to May 10. It’s a fair bit shorter than the one Kieren McCarthy compiled for ICM last month.

As usual, it’s written in a fairly neutral tone. But, if you’re feeling conspiratorial, the mask does slip on occasion, perhaps giving a sense of where the .xxx application could head next.

The ICANN summary occasionally breaks from reporting what a commenter actually said in order to highlight a potential problem they did not address.

Example (my emphasis):

Only two commenters directly addressed the question of further interaction with the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) on the .XXX sTLD Application. Both of those commenters were against seeking any further input from the GAC outside of any public comment period. Neither of these commenters – nor any other – addressed the potential violation of the ICANN Bylaws that could result from the Board’s failure to properly consider the advice of the GAC

This suggests, to me, that the ICANN board will be receiving advice to the effect that further GAC input needs to be forthcoming before it can move forward with .xxx.

If this is the case, the GAC might have to produce some advice before next Friday’s board meeting if ICM has any hope of getting back around the negotiating table prior to Cartagena in December.

That’s not the only reason to believe ICANN may punt .xxx again, however. Elsewhere in the report, we read (my emphasis again):

For those in favor of proceeding with the .XXX sTLD Application, many created an alternative option – that ICM and ICANN should proceed to a contract right away. There was substantial discussion on this point in the ICM submissions. Few commenters addressed the technical realities identified within the Process Report ‐ that prompt execution of the agreement negotiated in 2007 is not feasible.

The Process Report referenced says that it is not possible to go straight into contract talks because ICM first applied for .xxx more than six years ago.

This has been a bone of contention. ICM points to .post, which was applied for at the same time as .xxx and only approved late last year, as proof that the passage of time should be no barrier.

But ICANN president Rod Beckstrom doesn’t buy that comparison. He wrote to ICM (pdf) at the end of March noting that .post was backed by the International Postal Union, whereas .xxx is “sponsored” by IFFOR, an organization created by ICM purely to act as its sponsor.

In that letter, Beckstrom talks about due diligence to make sure ICM and IFFOR still satisfy financial and technical criteria, and a review of whether .xxx “can still satisfy the requisite sponsorship criteria”.

I’ll admit that I’m breaking out the crystal ball a bit here, and I’ve been wrong before, but I don’t think it’s looking great for ICM in Brussels.

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ICANN creates DNSSEC root keys

Kevin Murphy, June 17, 2010, Domain Tech

ICANN took the penultimate step towards adding DNSSEC to the root of the domain name system, during in a lengthy ceremony in Virginia yesterday.

The move means we’re still on track to have the DNSSEC “trust anchor” go live in the root on July 15, which will make end-to-end validation of DNS answers feasible for the first time.

DNSSEC is an extension to the DNS protocol that enables resolvers to validate that the DNS answers they receive come from the true owner of the domain.

Yesterday, ICANN generated the Key Signing Key for the root zone. That’s one of two keys required when adding DNSSEC to a zone.

The KSK is used to sign the DNSKey record, the public half of a key pair used to validate DNS responses. It has a longer expiration date than the Zone Signing Key used to sign other records in the zone, so its security is more important.

The videotaped ceremony, held at a facility in Culpeper, Virginia, was expected to take six hours, due to a lengthy check-list of precautions designed to instil confidence in the security of the KSK.

ICANN said:

During the ceremony, participants were present within a secure facility and witnessed the preparations required to ensure that the so-called key-signing-key (KSK) was not only generated correctly, but that almost every aspect of the equipment, software and procedures associated with its generation were also verified to be correct and trustworthy.

Ten hand-picked independent observers were present to bear witness.

ICANN expects to perform the ceremony four times a year. The second will be held at a backup facility in California next month.

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Kredit.com sells for a fraction of Kredit.de

Kevin Murphy, June 15, 2010, Domain Sales

Kredit.com, which means “credit.com” in German, has been sold via Sedo for a fraction of the price that Kredit.de sold for about 18 months ago.

Sedo reported today that the domain changed hands recently for €220,000, which works out to $271,000 at today’s exchange rates.

For comparison, the German ccTLD equivalent, kredit.de, went for €892,500 in December 2008, also via Sedo. At the time, that amount translated to $1.25 million.

A generic ccTLD selling for roughly 5x the .com is a fairly uncommon occurrence, perhaps demonstrating how strong the .de namespace is locally. I can’t imagine such a wide discrepancy in valuations between a generic .com and .co.uk.

Kredit.com was originally registered in 1996. It’s currently parked, with an Irish address listed in the Whois.

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Microsoft launches Kinect without Kinect.com

Kevin Murphy, June 14, 2010, Domain Sales

Microsoft has revealed that its long-awaited gaming platform previously known as Project Natal will be officially known as “Kinect”.

While the company has a trademark on the word, it does not currently own the domain name kinect.com.

It’s registered and redirecting to CAHG, which appears to be an advertising agency specialising in the pharmaceutical industry.

Kinect is widely recognized as a global leader in interactive marketing and promotion and serves as the Interactive Agency of Record for many market-leading brands in the US, Europe, Asia, South Africa, and the Middle East.

I expect lucky CAHG could shortly find itself on the receiving end of an offer it cannot refuse.

There is some precedent: four years ago, when Nintendo launched the Wii, the domain wii.com belonged to Weyerhaeuser, a forestry products company.

It took a few months for the name to change hands, for an undisclosed sum.

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Employ Media asks ICANN for a .jobs landrush

The company behind the .jobs sponsored top-level domain wants to loosen the shackles of sponsorship by vastly liberalizing its namespace.

Employ Media has applied (pdf) to ICANN to get rid of the current restrictions on .jobs domain ownership and open hundreds of thousands of strings to the highest bidder.

The registry wants to amend its contract with ICANN to cut the text that limits .jobs domains to the exact match or abbreviation of a company name, and add:

Domain registrations are permitted for other types of names (e.g., occupational and certain geographic identifiers) in addition to the “company name” designation.

Employ Media is basically asking for the right to open the floodgates to a complete relaunch of the .jobs TLD with very few restrictions on who can register and what strings they can register.

Phase One of the relaunch would be an RFP “to invite interested parties to propose specific plans for registration, use and promotion of domains that are not their company name”.

It sounds a little like the current .co Founders Program, or the marketing initiatives Afilias and Neustar asked for to supplement the auction of their single-character domains.

In practice, I expect that this first phase is when the DirectEmployers Association would expect to grab hundreds of thousands of .jobs domains under its universe.jobs business plan, in which it intends to offer job listings tailored to “city, state, geographic region, country, occupation [and] skill”.

Phase Two would see your basic landrush auction of any premium domains left over.

Phase three would be “A first-come, first-served real-time release of any domains not registered through the RFP or auction processes.”

While I have no strong views on the merits of this particular proposal, I do think that the application and ICANN’s response to it could wind up setting the template for how to operate a bait-and-switch in ICANN’s forthcoming round of new TLD applications.

If you say you want to do one thing with your TLD, and later decide you could make more money doing another, how much will ground will ICANN give when it comes to renegotiating your contract? It will be interesting to find out.

Reactions so far from the HR community have not been positive.

Steven Rothberg of CollegeRecruiter.com wrote that the process by which Employ Media’s sponsor, the Society for Human Resource Management, approved the new proposal “stunk”.

“The only winner here is Employ Media,” he wrote.

Comments posted at ERE.net, which has been on top of this story from the beginning, express what could be easily described as outrage over Employ Media’s plans.

The comment posted by Ted Daywalt of VetJobs.com is especially worth a read.

The Employ Media proposal has been submitted under ICANN’s Registry Services Evaluation Process, which allows comments to be submitted.

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WSJ reporting bogus Indian domain name market info?

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that India “passed an Internet milestone of sorts” in the first quarter, when the number of .com domains registered in the country broke through 1 million.

Did it?

This is what the WSJ says:

[India] now has more than one million registered web sites using the suffixes .com or .net, according to data released today by VeriSign Inc., the U.S. company that tracks this sort of thing.

In its Domain Name Industry Brief, it reported that India now has a registered total of 1.037 million .com and .net domain names, up from about 800,000 in the same period the year before.

The number 1.037 million is terribly specific, considering that VeriSign’s Domain Name Industry Brief doesn’t say anything of the sort.

There’s nothing in the DNIB to suggest that anybody in India has ever registered a single .com domain.

The DNIB has never broken down .com registrations by location, and the Q1 report, released on Monday, doesn’t use the word “India” once.

If the WSJ numbers are accurate – the paper does appear to have interviewed a VeriSign India executive – I’m wondering how they were calculated.

It can’t be a case of tallying the number of .com domains managed by Indian registrars. Mumbai-based Directi alone has had more than a million .com names under its belt for a long time.

Could VeriSign be mining Whois records for location data?

It runs a thin registry, so it would have to reference Whois data acquired from its registrars in order to compute the numbers.

Or did the WSJ hit on unreliable sources? It seems possible.

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