A California judge just handed ICANN another upset in the interminable legal battle waged against it by unsuccessful .africa applicant DotConnectAfrica.
Gary Klausner yesterday admitted he made a mistake when he earlier slapped ICANN with a preliminary injunction preventing .africa being delegated to DCA rival ZA Central Registry, but said his error did not have a huge bearing on that decision.
More remarkably, he’s now suggesting that ICANN may have been wrong to make DCA undergo the same Geographic Names Review as every other new gTLD applicant.
Both DCA and ZACR applied for .africa and had to go through the same evaluation processes, one of which was the Geographic Names Review.
Both had to show that they had support from 60% of the governments in Africa, and no more than one governmental objection.
ZACR had that support — though there’s legitimate dispute over whether its paperwork was all in order — while DCA did not. DCA also had over a dozen objections from African governments.
ZACR passed its geographic review, but DCA’s application was tossed out based on Governmental Advisory Committee advice before the review could be completed.
DCA took ICANN to an Independent Review Process panel, which ruled that ICANN had failed to live up to its bylaws and that DCA’s application should be returned to the evaluation process.
ICANN returned DCA’s application to the process at the point it had left it — before the geographic review was complete.
DCA then failed the review, because it has no support.
But when he granted the injunction against ICANN back in April, Klausner thought that DCA had actually passed the geographic review on the first pass. Not even DCA had claimed that; it was just a brain fart on his behalf.
He’s now admitted the mistake, but says the April ruling was not dependent on that misunderstanding.
The Court finds that the error in its factual finding was not determinative to its ultimate conclusion that there are serious questions going toward Plaintiff’s likelihood of success on the merits.
Now, he says that there may be some merit in DCA’s claim that it should have been allowed to skip the GNR due to the IRP’s recommendation that ICANN “permit DCA Trust’s application to proceed through the remainder of the new gTLD application process.”
Klausner wrote yesterday:
At this stage of litigation, it is reasonable to infer that the IRP Panel found that ICANN’s rejection of Plaintiff’s application at the geographic names evaluation phase was improper, and that the application should proceed to the delegation phase.
The problem with this thinking is that it was not the geographic panel that flunked DCA on the first pass, it was the GAC.
DCA got this document (pdf) from the geographic panel. It just says “Incomplete”.
If DCA succeeds in persuading a jury that it should have skipped the geographic panel, Africa could wind up with a .africa gTLD operator that none of its governments support and in circumvention of ICANN’s rules.
Yesterday’s ruling isn’t a killer blow against ICANN, but it does make me wonder whether Klausner — who is also hearing the much higher-profile Stairway to Heaven case right now — is really paying attention.
Anyway, he’s thrown out the ZACR/ICANN motion to reconsider the injunction, so the case is carrying on as before. Read the ruling here (pdf).
Google’s registrar, Google Domains, has started offering a widget to make it easier to become a reseller.
The Google Domains widget has already been deployed by five web site builders — Big Cartel, Duda, Selz, Square and Webflow — the company said.
Google said it handles payment and DNS configuration — pointing the newly registered domains to the appropriate service — on behalf of its partners.
Neustar is to split into two companies and its domain name business is set for a rebranding.
The company said yesterday that it is breaking into an Order Management & Numbering Services company which will be called Neustar, and an Information Services company, which contains the domain business and will get a new name.
“The proposed spin-off will enable Neustar shareholders to own and value each business separately, allowing each company to attract the investor base most appropriate for its distinct investment profile,” said Neustar chair James Cullen.
That’s another way of saying the company is dumping all of its serious risk into the company that will remain Neustar.
Neustar currently holds the Local Number Portability Administration contract with the US government, under which it manages the central database of phone numbers.
It’s worth $496 million a year, but the US Federal Communications Commission has decided to switch to Ericsson unit Telcordia Technologies, which offered a better deal.
While Neustar is fighting the decision in court, its prospects don’t look great.
Separating the domain business from the numbering contract should insulate it from that risk.
The yet-to-be-named spin-off containing the domain business is worth $470 million a year, but most of that is unrelated to domain names. It will also offer Neustar’s marketing and security services.
It will be headed by current Neustar CEO Lisa Hook. CFO Paul Lalljie will bravely take the helm of the (probably) sinking Neustar ship.
The split is expected to take a year to implement.
Roughly one out of every seven new gTLD domain names active today is numbers-only before the dot, according to DI research.
It might be surprising to some that the DNS, designed to turn immemorable numbers into memorable names, is actually being used to register millions of numeric domains.
Using the almost 1,000 new gTLD zone files we had access to on July 19*, DI counted 20,933,637 unique domain names of which 3,259,684 were purely numeric.
In other words, 15.57% of new gTLD domain names only contain numbers before the dot.
Fourteen gTLDs have a third or more of their zones fully numeric. One is two-thirds numeric.
The reason for this, of course, is China.
Numeric domains are said to be popular in China due to the fact that digits are the only 10 characters permissible in DNS that Chinese speakers natively understand.
Many popular web sites in China use short, numeric .com or .cn domain names. Some short numeric domains have sold for six or seven figures to end-user companies.
So there’s a thirst for numerics among Chinese domainers, as well as domainers elsewhere who want to exploit the Chinese market.
I talked to a successful domainer recently who acquired thousands of numeric domain names purely to flip to Chinese investors.
Personally, I think the market is overblown. Data suggests there’s a limited appetite for numerics among actual end users.
Fewer than 2,700 of top one million most-visited domains, as ranked by Amazon’s Alexa service, are numeric. A quarter of a percent. Even if Alexa is wrong by a factor of 10, that’s still only 2.7% of the internet’s biggest sites using numeric domain names.
So which gTLDs are most exposed to the numeric market?
Surprisingly, given the registry’s reluctance to deeply discount its domains, two Donuts gTLDs — .gold and .run, both relatively small TLDs — top the table with 66.32% and 54.65% respectively.
I think these are anomalies. The majority of Donuts’ portfolio have far smaller percentages of numerics.
Fellow portfolio players Afilias (.bet, .kim) and Uniregistry (.lol, .mom) also feature prominently on the list.
Here’s the top 30 new gTLDs, ranked by the percentage of their zones that are numeric. It includes every gTLD over 20%.
In absolute terms, the larger-volume registries naturally have the larger number of numeric domains in their zones.
XYZ.com’s .xyz alone has over 867,000 numeric domains in its zone. That’s a lot of names, but in percentage terms it’s below the industry mean.
.top, .wang, .win and club, all heavily marketed in China, fill out the top five in volume terms.
Here’s the top 30 gTLDs with the largest absolute number of numerics. They account for 3,099,981 numeric domains of the 3,259,684 industry total.
While short domains are more attractive to investors and end users, the vast majority of numeric domains in new gTLDs are of course longer than five digits.
.xyz, for example, has over 757,000 numeric domains of six or more characters. .top, .wang and .win are also measured in the hundreds of thousands in this regard.
Four gTLDs — .club, .wang, .top and .xyz — are over 99% full when it comes to five-digit numeric domains (that is, they have over 99,000 numeric domains in their zones).
.win is over 95% full on that basis, after which the numbers drop sharply to 65% and below.
In terms of four-number domains, there are 10 gTLDs that are over 99% full and 16 over 90% full.
There are 36 new gTLDs over 90% full in terms of three-digit numeric domains. More than a dozen appear to be completely full (giving myself some wriggle-room for reserved names and those that otherwise don’t appear in the zone files).
So what to make of all this?
I’m not a domainer, but I’ve sometimes heard domainers compare domains to baseball cards.
Going with that analogy, I’d say that if the typical numeric domain name collection contains the odd vintage Babe Ruth**, he’s far outnumbered by cards depicting some guy’s kid playing catch in the park.
That may be true of all domain portfolios, numeric or otherwise, but I feel numerics exist primarily right now to be traded between domainers.
As long as this continues, new gTLD registries — at least the ones actually charging for their names — will continue to benefit.
* A note on methodology. Due to the way access to zone files via ICANN works (ie, sporadically) we were missing some zone files on July 19. Including the missing gTLD may alter the league tables presented above, but I don’t believe the missing data was significant to the overall totals. Only one of the top 100 gTLDs, a zone of about 28,000 names, was missing.
** I know nothing about baseball.
Vox Populi, the .sucks registry, terminated Com Laude’s accreditation last week due to its belief that the brand protection registrar had leaked a “confidential” document to Domain Incite.
Vox Pop CEO John Berard tonight denied that the company he works for was carrying out a “grudge” against Com Laude, which in January led a charge against a Vox “gag order” on registrars.
As we reported on Friday, Vox terminated Com Laude‘s ability to sell .sucks domains directly, due to a then-unspecified alleged breach of the Registry-Registrar Agreement that binds all .sucks domain registrars.
It now turns out the “breach” was of the part of the .sucks RRA that states that Vox registrars “shall make no disclosures whatsoever” of “confidential informational”, where such confidential information is marked as such.
Berard told DI of the termination: “It was a specific act, violating a specific clause of the contract that had to do with breaching confidentiality, and that’s why the action was taken.”
The specific act was Com Laude allegedly sending DI — me, for avoidance of doubt — a confidential document.
“They have not said they didn’t do it,” Berard said.
He said that, given the amount of scrutiny Vox is under (due to the controversy it has created with its pricing and policies), “it would be crazy of us to ignore a contract breach”.
He declined to identify the document in question.
He said that Vox Pop deployed “forensic research” to discover the identity of the alleged leak.
“It was clear that something that was confidential was distributed, we wanted to know who distributed it,” he said. “We wanted to know who breached confidentiality.”
DI has only published one third-party document related to .sucks this year.
DI has received other documents related to Vox Pop and .sucks from various parties that I have not published, but I’ve been unable to find any that contained the word “confidential” or that were marked as “confidential”.
According to the .sucks RRA (pdf), “confidential information” is documentation marked or identified “confidential”.
Everything I’ve ever written about .sucks can be found with this search.