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ICANN given 27 New Year’s resolutions

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2011, Domain Policy

There’s a pretty big shake-up coming to ICANN in 2011, following the publication late last week of a report outlining 27 ways it should reform its power structures.

The final recommendations of its Accountability and Transparency Review Team (pdf) notably direct the organization to figure out its “dysfunctional” relationship with governments once and for all.

ICANN will also have to revamp how it decides who sits on its board of directors, when its staff can make unilateral decisions, how the voices of stakeholders are heard, and how its decisions can be appealed.

The ATRT report was developed, independently, as one of ICANN’s obligations under its Affirmation of Commitments with the US government’s Department of Commerce.

As such, ICANN is pretty much bound to adopt its findings. But many are written in such a way to enable some flexibility in their implementation.

The report covers four broad areas of reform, arguably the most important of which is ICANN’s relationship with its Governmental Advisory Committee.

As I’ve previously noted, ICANN and the GAC have a major stumbling block when it comes to effective communication due mainly to the fact that they can’t agree on what GAC “advice” is.

This has led, most recently, to delays with the TLD program, and with ICM Registry’s application for .xxx.

The ATRT report tells ICANN and the GAC to define “advice” before March this year.

It also recommends the opening of more formalized communications channels, so ICANN can tell the GAC when it needs advice, and on what topics, and the GAC can respond accordingly.

The report stops short of telling ICANN to follow GAC advice on a “mandatory” basis, as had been suggested by at least one GAC member (France).

The ICANN will still be able to overrule the GAC, but it will do so in a more formalized way.

ICANN’s public comment forums also look set for a rethink.

The ATRT report recommends, among other things, separating comment periods into at least two flavors and two phases, giving different priorities to different stages of policy development.

It could also could break out comment periods into two segments, to give commentators the chance to, in a second phase, rebut the earlier comments of others.

The three ICANN appeals processes (its Ombudsman, the Reconsideration Request process and the Independent Review Process) are also set for review.

The ATRT group wants ICANN to, before June, hire “a committee of independent experts” to figure out whether these procedures can be make cheaper, quicker and more useful.

The IRP, for example, is pretty much a rich man’s appeals process. The Ombudsman is seen as too cozy with ICANN to be an effective avenue for complaints. And the Reconsideration Request process has too many strict prerequisites to make it a useful tool.

The report includes a recommendation that ICANN should, in the next six months, clarify under what circumstances its is able to make decisions without listening to bottom-up consensus first:

The Board should clarify, as soon as possible but no later than June 2011 the distinction between issues that are properly subject to ICANN’s policy development processes and those matters that are properly within the executive functions performed by the ICANN staff and Board

ICANN has also been told to address how it selects its directors, with emphasis on:

identifying the collective skill-set required by the ICANN Board including such skills as public policy, finance, strategic planning, corporate governance, negotiation, and dispute resolution.

Other the recommendations themselves, the ATRT spends part of its 200-page report moaning about how little time (about nine months) it had to carry out its work, and how little importance some ICANN senior staff seemed to give to the process.

All of the 27 recommendations are expected to be implemented over the next six months. The report is currently open for public comment here.

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Another top staffer quits ICANN

Kevin Murphy, January 2, 2011, Domain Policy

Tina Dam, senior director of internationalized domain names at ICANN, has quit.

The news appears to have been broken on Twitter by Adrian Kinderis, CEO of AusRegistry, which does quite a bit of work with IDNs in the middle-east.

It’s my understanding that Dam may have actually resigned almost a month ago, during ICANN’s meeting in Cartagena.

Her move comes at an awkward time for ICANN, which is in the middle of revamping its IDN ccTLD Fast Track program, which Dam headed.

Dam has been with ICANN for many years, and is widely well-regarded by the community.

Overseeing the IDN program is a highly specialized and, one imagines, quite stressful position. Finding a qualified replacement will not be trivial.

Her name is added to the list of senior ICANN staffers to either quit or get fired over the last year, which currently numbers at least half a dozen.

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UK domain chief awarded OBE

Kevin Murphy, December 31, 2010, Domain Registries

Lesley Cowley, chief executive of .uk registry Nominet, has been awarded the OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, the company has just announced.

She joins singer Annie Lennox, astronaut Piers Sellers, actor Burt Kwuok and hundreds of others in receiving the award this year.

For non-Brits, the OBE, short for Officer of the Order of the British Empire, is a fairly prestigious award dedicated to recognizing public service.

Cowley’s is “for services to the Internet and e.Commerce”.

Some sort of nod was inevitable, given Nominet’s key role in keeping the UK internet running, but I’m slightly surprised it has come so early in her career.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to call her “ma’am” if you see her at the next ICANN meeting, but she will be able to order new business cards with “OBE” after her name.

The full list of New Years Honours recipients can be downloaded from Direct.gov.uk.

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Is Microsoft buying Kinect.com?

Kevin Murphy, December 30, 2010, Domain Sales

Did Microsoft just file a UDRP complaint on a typo of a domain name it doesn’t even own?

When Microsoft announced its new Kinect games console earlier this year, it did so without owning the domain kinect.com, as I blogged at the time.

But this week somebody – I’m guessing Microsoft – has filed UDRP on the typo wwwkinect.com, which was registered about the same time as the console launched and is currently parked.

The complainant’s name doesn’t seem to be available yet, but the case was filed the same day as several other Kinect-related UDRP cases that almost certainly are Microsoft’s work, such as microsoftkinect.com.

Kinect.com currently belongs to an advertising agency called CAHG. The domain isn’t resolving (for me) at the moment, which makes me wonder if it’s in the process of changing hands.

It would certainly be unusual for the company to own a typo of somebody else’s domain, although I don’t think there’s anything in the UDRP rules that would prevent it winning the case.

UDRP, after all, only compares contested domains against owned trademarks, not domain portfolios.

While Microsoft would not have a leg to stand on if it filed UDRP against the non-typo domain, I expect a good case could be made that the large majority of people typing “kinect.com” into their browsers are looking for Microsoft’s console.

Alexa is showing that kinect.com has experienced a 350% increase in traffic over the last three months, and has increased its Alexa rank by almost two million places.

UPDATE 2011/01/01: Microsoft now owns the domain.

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The Top Ten Hottest Posts of 2010

Kevin Murphy, December 29, 2010, Gossip

Tumbleweeds are blowing through the domain name industry this week, which makes it an excellent time to take a look back at 2010, in the form of a list of this blog’s most widely read posts.

In descending order, here are the top ten DomainIncite stories of 2010:

ICANN had no role in seizing torrent domains
When ICANN stood accused by the blogosphere of helping the US government shut down dozens of .com domains in November, it took the organization a full week to officially deny it. In the meantime, it kicked off a Twitter campaign encouraging people to visit this post, making it the year’s most-read by some margin.

dotFree’s “free” domain names explained
Everyone wants something for nothing, so when I provided the first interview with the chief executive of the recently launched dotFree Group in August, it gathered a lot of attention. It turned out .free domains may not be as “free” as some had hoped.

WordPress.com becomes a domain name registrar
When I spotted that WordPress.com owner Automattic had received an ICANN registrar accreditation, company CEO Matt Mullenweg was good enough to link back to this post when he subsequently announced the move to his readers in October.

First reactions to ICANN’s VI bombshell
It was the biggest shake-up in the domain name industry in a decade – ICANN announced in November that it would start letting registrars and registries own each other. The full repercussions have yet to be felt, but this post summarized some of the early reactions.

ICANN will not attend White House drugs meeting

When and how governments and law enforcement should be able to block domain names is an ongoing hot topic for the industry. This September post broke the news that ICANN would not participate in US talks about blocking “fake pharmaceuticals” web sites.

Porn group starts anti-XXX campaign
The ongoing .xxx drama continues to be one of the key domain name industry stories that plays just as well with a mainstream readership. In addition, including the keywords “xxx”, “group” and “porn” in the same headline has proven disturbingly useful for acquiring search engine traffic.

Gaming scandal hits Russian domain launch
Internationalized domain names finally arrived on the internet in 2010, and the launch of Russia’s .РФ (.rf) IDN ccTLD was easily the biggest success story. It has racked up almost 700,000 registrations in the last two months, but was hit by allegations of registrar gaming, which I reported on here.

ICANN told to ban .bank or get sued
The road to the approval of ICANN’s new gTLD program was widely anticipated to have wrapped up by the end of the year. It didn’t, but that didn’t stop some eleventh-hour special pleading by organizations such as the Financial Services Roundtable.

Whistleblower alleged shenanigans at DirectNIC
DirectNIC has had its fair share of legal troubles in 2010. First it was sued for cybersquatting by Verizon (which it denied) and then, as I reported in this December post, a former employee alleged a complex scheme to make money through fraudulent domain arbitrage (which it denied, then settled).

Survey reveals demand for .brand TLDs
A World Trademark Review survey revealed mixed reactions from trademark lawyers and corporate marketing departments to new TLDs, but it did reveal that most companies would use their “.brand” TLD, if they had one, as their primary online address.

Let’s hope 2011 brings such a diverse range of interesting topics to write about. I’m certain it will.

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