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Over 50,000 names sold as .shop has successful launch day

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2016, Domain Registries

GMO Registry has recorded one of the most successful new gTLD launch days to date, selling over 45,000 .shop domain names in the first hours.

The company said it sold 45,427 .shop names in the first two hours after general availability started yesterday afternoon at about 1600 UTC.

The total at that point was 51,755, including about 5,000 that were registered during the Early Access Period, during which names carried higher prices.

The latest .shop zone file contains 46,419 domains.

The registry had sold 616 premium-priced names already, GMO said.

The volume is quite impressive given the retail price tags — .shop is not priced for budget Chinese domainers, it’s selling for $20 to $30 at the major Western registrars.

That’s double, triple or even 10 times as much as Minds + Machines’ self-consciously ‘non-freenium’ .vip domains were selling for when it racked up a six-figure volume during its first day of GA earlier this year., the leading Chinese new gTLD registrar, priced .vip at $3 but is selling .shop at $25.

GMO paid a then record-setting $41.5 million for the rights to .shop at an ICANN auction back in January.

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GoDaddy spearheads Domain Connect spec

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2016, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy has published a new specification designed to make it easier for domain owners to quickly set up web sites using third-party site-building tools.

Its new Domain Connect Initiative is tailored for customers who do not know how to configure a DNS record and do not care to learn,according to Charles Beadnall, senior VP of domains.

While signing up for a participating site-building service, Shopify for example, customers currently have to either figure out how to manually reconfigure their DNS or get GoDaddy’s customer support to talk them through it.

GoDaddy currently receives tens of thousands of customer support calls every year related to these scenarios, Beadnall said.

But using Domain Connect, instead they will be able to simply enter their domain name with Shopify and, after authenticating with their registrar (via OAUTH), their domain’s DNS will be automatically configured to point to their new site.

This saves the customer’s time and GoDaddy’s money.

Under the hood, it works using a series of templates, authored by the service providers, which instruct the registrar or DNS provider in how to set up the domain to use the service, Beadnall said.

Due to the high risk of malicious exploitation, it’s not completely frictionless. Service provider templates must be manually pre-approved and white-listed by registrars, Beadnall said.

As the system does not involve domain registration or transfer it’s not really within ICANN’s policy wheelhouse, so the spec has instead been published via the IETF.

It has already been embraced by leading rival registrars eNom, and United Domains, as well as toolmakers including Microsoft, Shopify and Wix.

The announcement of Domain Connect was made a couple of weeks ago while I was off sick.

More information and documentation can be found on the Domain Connect web site.

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“UDRP-proof” .feedback gTLD loses first UDRP

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2016, Domain Registries

The first cybersquatting complaint against a .feedback domain name has resulted in a transfer, despite registry claims that the gTLD was “UDRP-proof”.

De Beers, the diamond merchant, won a UDRP case against the registrant of earlier this month.

The registrant, who used a privacy service, registered the name back in January, when .feedback was in its unusual “Free Speech Partner Program” phase.

That took the place of an Early Access Program, but saw domains deeply discounted instead of premium-priced.

Buyers had to agree to point their domain to a registry-hosted social media platform and there was a $5,000 fee if they later decided to change name servers.

The registrant of lost the UDRP largely because there wasn’t much actual feedback on the site until De Beers sent him a nastygram.

On March 24, the site only contained a single two-word post. Five more were added with apparently false earlier dates at a later time, the panelist found.

He wrote:

If the website were genuinely operating as a feedback forum, one would ordinarily expect the reviews to have appeared at or close to their respective dates. That they were not on the website on March 24 and did not appear until after the letter of demand was sent calls for explanation.

The panelist doesn’t mention it, but the reviews all seem to have been copied directly from Yelp!.

Basically, the registrant lost his domain for filling the site with bogosity rather than genuine free-speech griping.

It’s not a terribly surprising or worrying result, perhaps, but it does run counter to what Jay Westerdal, CEO of registry Top Level Spectrum, told us back in January.

“It is a great opportunity for domainers to register domains that will be UDRP proof,” he said at the time. “As free speech sites they are going to improve the world and let anyone read reviews on any subject.”

“I think they are UDRP proof,” he added back then, offering the services of his lawyers to registrants who found themselves served with UDRP complaints.

Today, Westerdal qualified his earlier remarks, telling DI: “I don’t think having a privacy service and also having a .feedback domain will hold up in the current UDRP system.”

Privacy services are discouraged by the registry, though explicitly permitted in its terms of service.

Westerdal said that because De Beers obtained the domain via UDRP, the company will not have to pay the $5,000 unlocking fee if it wants to point’s name servers elsewhere.

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CIRA becomes first new gTLD back-end since 2012

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2016, Domain Registries

CIRA, the Canadian ccTLD manager, has become the first new registry back-end provider to enter the gTLD market since the 2012 application round closed.

The company today announced that it has signed Dot Kiwi, operator of .kiwi, as its first client.

.kiwi will become the first TLD that CIRA runs the back-end for, according to VP of product development Dave Chiswell.

CIRA has already completed pre-delegation testing and technical evaluation with ICANN, he told DI today.

It is believed to be the first back-end provider not attached to any 2012-round application to go through the PDT process.

That would make CIRA essentially the first company to officially enter the gTLD back-end market since 2012, in other words.

The .kiwi contract was up for grabs due to the fact that Minds + Machines, its original supplier, decided to get out of the back-end business earlier this year.

All of M+M’s own stable of gTLDs are being moved to Nominet right now, but customers such as Dot Kiwi were not obliged to follow.

Chiswell said that CIRA’s system, which is called Fury, has some patent-pending “tagging” technology that cannot be found at rival providers.

He said that registry operator clients get a GUI through which they can manage pricing tiers and promotions based on criteria such as substrings and registration dates without having to fill out a ticket and get CIRA staff involved, which he said is a unique selling point.

CIRA’s goals now are to try to sign up more TLDs (cc’s or g’s) to Fury, and to attempt to get Canadian brands and cities to apply for gTLDs in the next round, whenever that may be.

The company also intends to migrate .ca over to Fury from its legacy infrastructure at some point, he said.

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People are forgetting .com exists — ICANN survey

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2016, Domain Policy

Have you ever heard of .com, .net and .org?

That question was posed to 3,349 domain name registrants in 24 countries by market research firm Nielsen this June and guess what — awareness of all three cornerstone gTLDs was down on a comparable 2015 survey.

Unbelievably, only 85% of respondents professed to be aware of .com’s existence, compared to 86% in 2015.

Equally unbelievably, awareness of .net and .org fell from 76% to 69% and from 70% to 65% respectively between 2015 and 2016, the survey found.

Those are just three among many hundreds of findings of the Nielsen survey, which was carried out in order to inform ICANN’s Competition, Consumer Trust & Consumer Choice Review.

The CCT is one of the reviews deemed mandatory before ICANN is able to launch the next round of new gTLD applications.

A great many of the numbers revealed by the survey are seriously open to question — some could even be empirically proven wrong.

But David Dickinson, project lead for Nielsen on the survey, told DI yesterday that the numbers themselves are less important than the trends, or lack thereof, that they might represent.

Nielsen carried out two surveys in 2015 — one of consumers and one of registrants — then repeated both surveys again a year later.

Respondents were selected from a pool of people who have at some point indicated to third-party market research companies that they are available to take surveys online, Dickinson said. They are usually compensated via some kind of redeemable loyalty points scheme.

The registrant surveys were limited to those who said they have registered a domain name. The consumer survey was limited to those who said they spend more than five hours a week online.

While the number of respondents were measured in the low thousands, the idea is that they provide a representative sample of all internet users and domain name registrants.

But there’s a lot of weirdness in the numbers.

Dickinson said that the 85% awareness number for .com could be due partly to random “mechanical errors” — people clicking the wrong buttons on their survey form — but said that lack of awareness was more common among younger respondents who were more likely to be aware of newer, less generic TLDs.

The surveys also highlighted a bizarre split in TLD awareness between consumers and registrants.

Given that registrants are a subset of consumers, and given that they are by definition more familiar with domain names, you’d expect respondents to the registrant surveys to show higher TLD awareness than those responding to the consumer surveys.

But the opposite was true.

The surveys found, for example, that 95% of consumers knew about .com, but only 85% of registrants did. For .net and .org the numbers were 88%/69% and 83%/65% respectively. None of it makes any sense.

Dickinson said that the 2015 consumer/registrant awareness numbers were “almost identical”.

“My only real conclusion here is that [in 2016] there was some systematic difference in the diligence that the registrants selected these names on these awareness questions, and that a large portion of that is just due to random variation,” he said.

“However, when we do look at those people who are registering new gTLDs, they tended to have much lower awareness of those legacy gTLDs than those people who were unaware or had not registered those new gTLDs,” he said.

“The people who said they did not recognize any of those new gTLDs at all the are very very centric on the legacy gTLDs and in particular .com,” he said.

“I think the data is overstated because of the random variation but there is a learning here when we break it down… that those legacy domains are becoming less relevant or less noticed by the younger people and the people who are registering these new gTLDs,” he said.

“I think there is a shift going on, but it’s not as big as what is stated here [in the numbers],” he said.

The surveys also looked at awareness and registration levels for new, 2012-round gTLDs, but again the numbers probably don’t accurately reflect reality.

For example, 39% of registrants claimed to have heard of .email domain names and 15% claimed to have actually registered one.

Again, these numbers don’t seem plausible. There are fewer than 60,000 .email domains in existence today. Even if there were only one million domain registrants in the world, 15% registration rate would mean at least 150,000 names should have been sold.

Dickinson said that this number could have been higher due to selection bias. The survey took about half an hour on average to fill out, so people more personally interested or invested in internet or domain name related stuff might have been more likely to stick around and complete it.

Interestingly, new gTLD awareness rates in North America were substantially lower than awareness elsewhere in the world. For example, only 25% of North Americans professed to have heard of .news, but that grew to 42% in Asia where most languages use a different script.

My sense here is that respondents — which all took the surveys in their native languages — may have just been clicking to confirm English words they recognized, rather than TLDs they had seen in the wild.

Nielsen clearly suspected that there would be an element of “false recall” among respondents because it actually included some fake TLDs among the real ones.

This led to findings such as: 26% of Africans have heard of .cairo, 17% of North Americans have heard of .toronto and 21% of South Americans have heard of .bogota.

None of those city TLDs exist.

Dickinson explained this as “assumed familiarity”.

“What very much seems to happen is that if something has an implied ‘face validity’ — it seems to make sense or seems to be readily interpretable — then those ones will get higher stated awareness than the ones that are just random letters, such as .xyz,” he said.

Indeed, while there are over six million .xyz domains out there today, with high-profile registrants including Google, only 13% of respondents claimed to be aware of it.

“The more implied familiarity or sense of familiarity there is, the more likely people are to feel like they’ve been there or seen it, so it’s definitely a false recall, but the learning from that is that the more interpretable… those things are then they have more easy acceptance by consumers than things that are not interpretable,” Dickinson said.

The surveys did not only cover awareness and registration patterns. There are literally hundreds of data points in there covering different perceptions of TLDs new and old. I’ve just focused here on the ones that made me question whether the survey was worth the time, expense and paper it was written on.

But Dickinson said that the raw numbers are not necessarily what the ICANN review teams should be looking at.

“Maybe the absolute number is not exactly dead-on, but what are the relationships between the numbers?” he said.

“I tend to look at the relationships, so for example one of the objectives of doing this survey was to see if the new gTLD program impacted the perception of the industry in any way, or trustworthiness in the industry,” he said.

“For example, we can say we’re not sure it improved — the numbers didn’t change significantly in that direction to allow us to definitively say it improved — but it certainly did not decline,” he said. “We can rule out that it declined.”

“Overall, we can say that the new gTLD program is emerging with fairly strong awareness, relative,” he said.

“We can also say with certainty that none of those new gTLDs are anywhere approaching the awareness of the legacy gTLDs, and even if there is some erosion in the legacy gTLDs it’s going to take a long time for those to reach parity, if they ever do,” he said.

The Nielsen surveys are one input to the work of the volunteer CCT Review Team, which intends to publish its preliminary report before the end of the year.

CCT-RT chair Jonathan Zuck recently published a blog post on the ICANN web site giving a progress report on recent work.

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