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.cancerresearch — a role model for dot-brands?

Kevin Murphy, February 4, 2015, Domain Registries

.cancerresearch went live today with an interesting, and possibly unique to date, take on the new gTLD concept.

It’s technically not a dot-brand under ICANN rules, but there are no firm plans to start selling registrations to third parties yet and the people running it are pointing to it as a possible model from which dot-brands could draw inspiration.

The registry, the charitable Australian Cancer Research Foundation, is working heavily with back-end provider ARI Registry Services and has recruited the ad agency M&C Saatchi for the promotion.

It’s reserved about 80 .cancerresearch domain names for its own “promotional purposes” — permissible under ICANN rules — and gone live today with a handful of web sites designed to raise awareness about and funds for cancer research.

I say it looks possibly unique because, despite the multiple domains in play, it basically looks and feels like one web site.

Start at home.cancerresearch, click a link entitled “Donate” and you’ll be taken to donate.cancerrresearch. Click a link about lung cancer, you’ll go to lung.cancerresearch. There’s another link to theone.cancerresearch, soliciting donations.

Unless you’re looking at the address bar in your browser, you’d be forgiven for assuming you’re on the same web site. The sites on the different domains are using the same style, same imagery, and are obviously part of the same campaign.

That’s not particularly innovative, of course. Redirecting users to other domains within the same web site experience happens all the time. But I don’t think I’ve seen it done before with a new gTLD. Navigation-wise, it seems to have a degree of novelty.

Tony Kirsch, head of global consulting at ARI, said that what the ACRF is doing could “help give dot-brand holders struggling with a wait-and-see approach a real example of what can be done”.

.cancerresearch isn’t a dot-brand under ICANN’s strict Specification 13 rules, however. It’s more like an unofficial ‘closed generic’ at this point.

The gTLD is launching today — with mainstream media coverage — without a confirmed Sunrise date. Right now, nobody apart from the registry can own a domain there.

And while Kirsch told DI that .cancerresearch will be available to third parties, he also said that there will be strict eligibility requirements. Those requirements are still “TBD”, however.

There are also no accredited registrars for the gTLD at this point, he confirmed.

Schwartz sells porno.com for $8.9 million

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2015, Domain Sales

The domain name porno.com has changed hands for $8,888,888, making it the fourth highest-value domain to be sold.

The seller is domain investor Rick Schwartz, notorious for owning lots of category-killer domains but hardly ever selling them. The buyer is WGCZ, a Prague-based company.

According to DN Journal, the sale is the fourth biggest ticket domain to be sold in an all-cash deal.

Schwartz bought the domain for $42,000 in 1997 from a college student who had acquired it the previous week for $5,000, according to a press release.

He said he’s made over $10 million from the domain with pay-per-click sales or redirecting traffic to other porn sites.

The related domain porn.com sold for $9.5 million in 2007. The highest-value deal to date is sex.com, selling for $13 million in 2010. The only non-porn domain to sell for more is fund.com, which fetched $9,999,950.

First company abandons .com for new dot-brand gTLD

Kevin Murphy, September 12, 2014, Domain Registries

Wow. Somebody actually did it.

CITIC, China’s biggest conglomerate, has started redirecting its established .com domain to its new dot-brand gTLD, .citic.

Specifically, it’s redirecting citic.com (go on, click it!) to limited.citic.

Almost everyone reading this post will agree that as a memorable, attractive domain it’s a step backwards.

But CITIC does seem to be the first dot-brand to make the leap from .com to dot-brand with both feet, and it seems to have done so with little to no penalty to its Google ranking (at least as far as searches for its company name go).

A Google search for “citic” here returns limited.citic as the third result, behind Wikipedia and one of CITIC’s sister companies.

The original citic.com doesn’t appear in the top results.

The company also has ranking for group.citic, one of the five second-level names active in the .citic zone file right now.

It’s not the first dot-brand to launch a web site at its new gTLD — destination.monash and annualreport.axa spring to mind — but it does seem to be the first to throw away its .com completely.

CITIC does not appear to have activated its matching Chinese-script gTLD, .中信, in the same way, however. Only nic.中信 appears in search results for sites under that TLD.

Thanks to Jothan Frakes of NamesCon for the tip.

US-based Moniker gets Euro data retention waiver

Kevin Murphy, September 11, 2014, Domain Registrars

ICANN has approved Moniker’s request for a partial waiver of the Registrar Accreditation Agreement based on European privacy law, despite the fact that the registrar is based in the US.

The data retention waiver for Moniker was one of a few granted to members of the KeyDrive group of registrars that were approved by ICANN yesterday.

KeyDrive is based in Luxembourg, but the waiver request was granted because complying with the 2013 RAA could violate German privacy law and Moniker’s data is stored in Germany.

ICANN said:

Registrar’s technical backend services provider as well as data storage and collection occur on servers hosted and operated in Germany, and is subject to German law. Accordingly, ICANN has determined that it is appropriate to grant Registrar a data retention waiver

Group members Key-Systems AG (a German company) Key-Systems LLC (an American company) also received waivers yesterday.

InternetX, part of Germany-based United Internet, and http.net Internet also had their requests approved.

The waiver process was introduced because the 2013 RAA requires registrars to store customer data long after their domains expire, which registrars’ lawyers say forces them to break local laws.

An EU directive implemented in many European countries says that companies cannot store personal data for longer than it is needed for the purpose for which is was collected.

.hiv’s innovative, dangerous business model

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2014, Domain Registries

.hiv, the first charity gTLD, is set to go to general availability at 2pm UTC tomorrow with one of the strangest and riskiest business models of any new gTLD to date.

While registrants will be able to use .hiv domains more or less as they please, as with any other gTLD, Berlin-based registry dotHIV is banking on an innovative microdonation system to set the space apart.

When you buy a .hiv domain, you’ll be sent an invitation by the registrar or registry to join an optional Click-Counter service, according to dotHIV chief marketing officer Michael Twist.

If you join the service, every time somebody visits your .hiv web site, dotHIV will donate a tenth of a US cent to one of four (initially) HIV/AIDS-related charity projects.

The donation will come from a pool of cash set aside by the registry from its registration fees.

While .hiv names are going to be sold, by 80 to 100 registrars at launch, for close to $200 per year, $120 of each registration or renewal fee will go into this charitable pool.

This business model is unprecedented in the domain name space, and it’s leading to the registry behaving in ways you wouldn’t expect from a new gTLD business.

For starters, dotHIV isn’t overly concerned about promoting its end users in a big way right out of the gates. It needs to refill its diminished cash pool to be able to cover the microdonations.

At first, it’s more concerned about volume and premium domain sales.

This problem is more pressing because of the longer-than-expected process of getting the .hiv application through the ICANN evaluation and delegation process.

“The microdonation system only works if we’ve got money in the pot,” said Twist. “The delay in the ICANN process has eaten up some of the funds.”

With a $120 donation from each sale, any given .hiv domain would only need to generate 1.2 million clicks in any given year to render it ‘unprofitable’ — ie, taking more from the pot than it put in.

dotHIV therefore needs time to ensure the pot of money from registrations is big enough to cover any big traffic spikes — what if a .hiv link goes viral, or a big-brand company starts using one? — before promoting the end-user sites in any meaningful way.

“First we need to push for registrations, and then traffic,” said Twist. “We can’t get too many people clicking before we hit a critical mass to support what we’re trying to do.”

There’s also the other possibility: that dotHIV, which is a registered charity, may wind up sitting on a pile of cash from registrations that is not going to its designated causes due to a lack of clicks on its users’ sites.

There’s risk in both directions, which begs the question: why not just donate the $120 to charity at the point of registration?

“More than just trying to raise funds what we’re doing is trying to raise awareness,” said Twist.

By encouraging (eventually) viral, click-based fund-raising, the registry hopes to put a spotlight back on the virus, which perhaps isn’t as trendy a cause as it once was due to the development of drugs that can delay the onset of AIDS by decades.

dotHIV is launching with some premium sales and some big-name anchor tenants under its belt.

Twist said that a “handful” of $10,000 names, which he declined to identify, have already been sold to pharmaceuticals companies involved in the development of HIV drugs.

There are about 10,000 reserved premiums in the space, he said, with a starting price of $5,000. Premium buyers will have to commit to usage rules including a commitment to use the Click-Tracker.

Keep a Child Alive, the charity founded by musician Alicia Keys, is among those committed to be early adopters and the Federation of Gay Games will use sport.hiv.

From the domain world, corporate registrars Mark Monitor and IP Mirror are to use .hiv domains.

There are no rules preventing domainers registering in .hiv (perhaps even treating it as a donation rather than an investment) but Twist said the registry would be disappointed to see large numbers of parked sites.

France slams ICANN after GAC rejects special treatment for .wine

Kevin Murphy, June 26, 2014, Domain Policy

France says that “ICANN is no longer the appropriate forum to discuss Internet governance” after it failed to win support from other governments for special protections in .wine and .vin gTLDs.

The government came to ICANN 50 in London this week apparently determined to secure a Governmental Advisory Committee consensus that .wine should have protection for geographic indicators.

GIs are protected geographic terms such as “Champagne”, “Parma” and “Cheddar” that link a product to the region in which it is traditionally produced. France has a lot of wine-related GIs.

But the GAC — as I think everyone, including France, expected — failed to come to an agreement.

The GAC’s London communique (pdf) reads:

There was further discussion on the issue of .wine/.vin, but no agreement was reached because of the sensitive nature of the matter.

The matter of .wine and .vin was raised at the High Level Governmental Meeting, where some members expressed concerns in terms of ICANN’s accountability and public policy. These concerns are not shared by all members.

In the absence of a consensus GAC objection, the most likely outcome is ICANN pushing the competing .vin/.wine applicants along the contention resolution process to auction.

France has won a lot of media coverage this week, throwing out allegations such as the idea that ICANN is “opaque”, and questioning ICANN’s ability to do its job properly.

Quizzed about France’s statements at a press conference on Monday, ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade pointed out that studies have show ICANN is extremely transparent and wondered aloud whether France’s position is the one where you “scream that everything’s broken when you don’t get what you want”.

Today’s French statement is a little, but not much, more relaxed. Translated, it partially reads:

Current procedures at ICANN highlight its inability to take into account the legitimate concerns of States and to ensure common resource management in the direction of respect for cultural diversity and balance of interests in economic sectors that its decisions affect.

Accordingly, it will propose to its European partners and all other stakeholders to reflect on the future of Internet governance based on transparency, accountability, and equal stakeholders. Commission also believes that ICANN is no longer the appropriate forum to discuss Internet governance.

The government did, however, reiterate its support for the notion of multi-stakeholder internet governance.

French wine producers were less diplomatic. We received a statement from ANEV, the Association Nationale des Elus de la Vigne et du vin, this afternoon that called upon the French government and European Union to block all domain names that use GIs in violation of local law.

Personally, I don’t think that’s going to happen.

During an ICANN session on Monday, the French GAC rep used the .wine controversy to call for the creation of a “General Assembly” at ICANN.

I’m working from the transcript, which has been translated by ICANN into English, and some media reports, but it seems that France is thinking along the lines of an ITU-style, voting-based rather than consensus-based, approach to generating GAC advice. I may be wrong.

During Monday’s press conference, Chehade did not oppose France’s suggestions, though he was careful to point out that it would have to be approved by the whole ICANN community first (implicitly a tall order).

A vote-based GAC could well favor European Union countries, given the make-up of the GAC right now.

On the .wine issue, it’s mainly a few Anglophone nations such as the US, Canada and Australia that oppose extra GI protections.

These nations point out that the GI issue is not settled international law and is best dealt with in venues such as the World Trade Organization and the World Intellectual Property Organization.

France actually says the same thing.

But while France says that ICANN’s refusal to act on .wine jeopardizes GI talks in other fora, its opponents claim that if ICANN were to act it would jeopardize the same talks.

Chehade said during the Monday press conference that France had not yet run out of ways to challenge ICANN’s position on this, so the story probably isn’t over yet.

.hotel avoids auction with CPE win

A new gTLD applicant backed by the hotel industry has won a Community Priority Evaluation, meaning it gets to automatically win the .hotel contention set without going to auction.

If the decision stands, no fewer than six rival applicants for the string — including the likes of Donuts, Radix, Famous Four and Minds + Machines — are going to have to withdraw their applications.

It’s a bit of a shocker.

The CPE winner is HOTEL Top-Level-Domain, which scored 15 out of 16 available points in the CPE. The minimum required to vanquish all foes is 14 points.

The company will have spent a fair bit of cash fighting the CPE, but nothing compared to the millions of dollars an auction for .hotel would be likely to fetch.

Crucially, where HOTEL prevailed was on the “Nexus” criterion — demonstrating a link between the string and the community supporting the application — where four points are available.

In the first four CPE results to come through, back in March, each applicant scored a 0 on Nexus and none scored more than 11 points overall.

Dot Registry, which failed four CPEs (.inc, .llc, .corp and .llp) this week, also repeatedly flunked on this count.

HOTEL, however, scored a 3.

Rival applicants such as Donuts and M+M had argued that HOTEL’s stated community failed to take into account smaller hoteliers, such as bed and breakfast owners.

But the CPE panelist decided that the application did not “substantially overreach”:

The string nexus closely describes the community, without overreaching substantially beyond the community. The string identifies the name of the core community members (i.e. hotels and associations representing hotels). However, the community also includes some entities that are related to hotels, such as hotel marketing associations that represent hotels and hotel chains and which may not be automatically associated with the gTLD. However, these entities are considered to comprise only a small part of the community. Therefore, the string identifies the community, but does not over-reach substantially beyond the community, as the general public will generally associate the string with the community as defined by the applicant.

There’s no formal appeals mechanism for CPE, but rival applicants could try their luck with more general ICANN procedures such as Requests for Reconsideration.

HOTEL Top-Level-Domain is a Luxembourg-based entity, founded in 2008 to apply for the gTLD, backed by about a dozen international hotelier associations, including the International Hotel and Restaurant Association.

The IHRA counts 50 major hotel chain brands among its members and claims to be officially recognized by the UN for its lobbying work on behalf of the hospitality industry.

HOTEL intends to keep the .hotel gTLD restricted “initially” to only hotels as defined in the international standard ISO 18513.

Registrants will be verified against hotel industry databases. This will happen post-registration, but before the domain name can be activated in the DNS.

In other words, unless you’re a member of the hotel industry, you won’t be getting to use a .hotel domain name. Domainers are apparently not wanted.

All .hotel names will also be checked a year from registration to ensure that they have a web site displaying relevant content. Redirection to other TLDs may be allowed.

I was so convinced that the CPE was designed in such a way that it would be failed by all the applicants which had applied for it, I bet $50 (to go to an applicant-nominated charity) that none would.

If HOTEL wants to let me know which charity they want the $50 to go to, I’ll get it donated forthwith. I’m just glad I didn’t offer to eat my underwear.

.uk launches with Stephen Fry as anchor tenant

Nominet has launched its controversial .uk service, enabling Brits and others to register directly at the second level for the first time.

It did so with an endorsement from quintessential uber-Brit, gadget nut, Apple slave and national treasure Stephen Fry and a marketing splash including a .uk domain apparently visible from 35,000 feet up.

This sign has been placed in one of the main flight paths into Heathrow. Readers flying in to London for ICANN 50 later this month might want to ask for a window seat.

Nominet

Actor/author/comedian Fry was the first to be given a .uk today. He’s switched from stephenfry.com to stephenfry.uk as a result — the .com is already redirecting to the .uk.

He said in a blog post:

It’s only three harmless key-presses, you may think. A year or so back I wrote that it seemed to me annoying and lax of the British internet authority (if such a body ever existed, which it didn’t and doesn’t) when domain names were being handed that they were so inattentive and their eyes so off the ball. How come Germany could have .de, France .fr, South Africa .za, Italy .it etc etc etc? And we poor British had to have the extra exhaustion of typing .co.uk. Three whole keystrokes. It doesn’t stack up to much when compared to other howling injustices in the world. The length of time poor students and tourists have to queue to get an Abercrombie and Fitch polo shirt for example, but nonetheless it has been a nuisance these twenty years or so.

His involvement has helped the news hit many of the major daily newspapers in the UK today.

This is how to launch a TLD.

Fry’s friend Prince Charles was given princeofwales.uk last December, among 69 domains previously under .gov.uk that the government requested receive special treatment.

While new .uk addresses are available to register now, you won’t be able to immediately register one that matches a .co.uk unless you’re the owner of that .co.uk.

All .co.uk registrants have been given five years to decide whether they want the .uk equivalent, which carries a £2.50-a-year fee ($4.20), assuming a multi-year registration.

That’s the same as a .co.uk. Assuming .uk gets good uptake and that most registrants will keep their .co.uk names for the foreseeable future, Nominet’s accounts could be in for a significant boost.

Owners of .org.uk or .me.uk names only get the free reservation if the matching .co.uk is not already registered. Otherwise, they have to wait five years like everyone else.

Bug takes out HostGator, BlueHost for a day

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2014, Domain Registrars

Endurance International, the domain name registrar that owns some of the world’s biggest web hosting brands, has been hit by a “network firmware” bug that took out one of its data centers.

It’s not currently clear how many many of the 10 million+ domains that EIG hosts were affected, but the outage seems to have lasted at least 17 hours and is only just being resolved right now.

Customers of EIG brands BlueHost and HostGator are among those known to be affected. HostGator alone hosts over 9 million domains, according to Wikipedia.

The outage, affecting a Provo, Utah data center, seems to have begun at 11am local time (7pm UTC) yesterday.

On the BlueHost Facebook page, the company wrote at about 8am UTC today:

Our NetOps team addressed the source of the problems affecting some customers: a bug in the firmware utilized in our vendor’s hardware. We worked very closely with this vendor and we have implemented a bug fix that is beginning to propagate across the network now. You may find some performance inconsistencies during this rollout, but they should resolve fairly quickly.

In more recent updates on Twitter and Facebook and forums, the companies said that some customers may still be affected by the bug, but that they’re quickly coming back online.

Endurance owns dozens of domains and hosting brands. In the registrar space, its best known and largest are probably FastDomain, Domain.com, Dotster and, following the recent acquisition, Directi.

Today’s downtime is the third significant outage in the last 12 months.

The same data center was hit by a prolonged outage in August 2013, which was followed by a shorter outage on December 31.

Are Whois email checks doing more harm than good?

“Tens of thousands” of web sites are going dark due to ICANN’s new email verification requirements and registrars are demanding to know how this sacrifice is helping solve crimes.

These claims and demands were made in meetings between registrars and ICANN’s board and management at the ICANN 49 meeting in Singapore last week.

Go Daddy director of policy planning James Bladel and Tucows CEO Elliot Noss questioned the benefit of the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement during a Tuesday session.

The 2013 RAA requires registrars to verify that registrants’ email addresses are accurate. If registrants do not respond to verification emails within 15 days, their domains are turned off.

There have been many news stories and blog posts recounting how legitimate webmasters found their sites gone dark due to an overlooked verification email.

Just looking at my Twitter stream for an “icann” search, I see several complaints about the process every week, made by registrants whose web sites and email accounts have disappeared.

Noss told the ICANN board that the requirement has created a “demonstrable burden” for registrants.

“If you cared to hear operationally you would hear about tens and hundreds of thousands of terrible stories that are happening to legitimate businesses and individuals,” he said.

Noss told DI today that Tucows is currently compiling some statistics to illustrate the scale of the problem, but it’s not yet clear what the company plans to do with the data.

At the Singapore meeting, he asked ICANN to go to the law enforcement agencies that demanded Whois verification in the first place to ask for data showing that the new rules are also doing some good.

“What crime has been forestalled?” he said. “What issues around fraud? We heard about pedophilia regularly from law enforcement. What has any of this done to create benefits in that direction?”

Registrars have a renewed concern about this now because there are moves afoot in other fora, such as the group working on new rules for privacy and proxy services, for even greater Whois verification.

Bladel pointed to an exchange at the ICANN meeting in Durban last July, during which ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade suggested that ICANN would not entertain requests for more Whois verification until law enforcement had demonstrated that the 2013 RAA requirements had had benefits.

The exact Chehade line, from the Durban public forum transcript, was:

law enforcement, before they ask for more, we put them on notice that they need to tell us what was the impact of what we did for them already, which had costs on the implementers.

Quoted back to himself, in Singapore Chehade told Bladel: “It will be done by London.”

Speaking at greater length, director Mike Silber said:

What I cannot do is force law enforcement to give us anything. But I think what we can do is press the point home with law enforcement that if they want more, and if they want greater compliance and if they want greater collaborations, it would be very useful to show the people going through the exercise what benefits law enforcement are receiving from it.

So will law enforcement agencies be able to come up with any hard data by London, just a few months from now?

It seems unlikely to me. The 2013 RAA requirements only came into force in January, so the impact on the overall cleanliness of the various Whois databases is likely to be slim so far.

I also wonder whether law enforcement agencies track the accuracy of Whois in any meaningfully quantitative way. Anecdotes and color may not cut the mustard.

But it does seem likely that the registrars are going to have data to back up their side of the argument — customer service logs, verification email response rates and so forth — by London.

They want the 2013 RAA Whois verification rules rethought and removed from the contract and the ICANN board so far seems fairly responsive to their concerns.

Law enforcement may be about to find itself on the back foot in this long-running debate.