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Tributes as “great mentor” Marilyn Cade dies

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2020, Domain Policy

Social media was flooded with tributes today after it was sadly announced that one of ICANN’s elder statespeople, Marilyn Cade, has died.

CadeCade, who participated in ICANN and the wider internet governance community for decades, was widely admired not only for her dedication to fighting her corner, but also her habit of taking the time to bring newcomers, particularly women, the young, and those from under-served regions, into the community.

Reading through tributes on social media and elsewhere today, the word “mentor” appears over and over again.

“She was incredibly dedicated and always trying to bring new people into the multi-stakeholder Internet Governance world. Every time I saw her at an ICANN meeting she would be introducing me to someone new,” wrote one community member.

“What meeting have I been to where Marilyn have not been? She was a mentor, a fighter, lots of energy, but also with attitude,” wrote another.

I myself recall being schooled, and charmed, by Cade over drinks in Mar Del Plata, when I was still a little green, over 15 years ago.

In the ICANN context, Cade was long a member of the Business Constituency of the GNSO, which she chaired for three years from 2010.

She was such a fixture at ICANN, reliably showing up to the open mic during Public Forum sessions at almost every meeting, that the simple introductory sentence “My name is Marilyn Cade” became something of a catchphrase and a source of friendly ribbing.

The phrase regularly showed up on Public Forum Bingo cards, and I once caught an ICANN technician using it to test the audio on a public webcast before the meeting went live.

But she is also fondly remembered in the wider internet governance governance community for many of the same reasons. At the Internet Governance Forum USA, she held the role of “Chief Catalyst”, a job title that perhaps speaks volumes.

The Internet Governance Forum, which kicks off its 2020 meeting online today, announced that it will hold a special session in Cade’s remembrance tomorrow, via Zoom.

“She was a staunch supporter and advocate of the IGF and Internet governance in general,” IGF wrote. “Her energy, enthusiasm and dedication, in particular to the meaningful inclusion of communities from developing countries resulted in dozens of countries establishing their National, Regional and Youth initiatives (NRIs).”

“We were blessed by her passion, her will and her immense love for IGF and the NRI community. I know many of you will be as shocked as us tonight; your pain and anguish is shared,” IGF-USA wrote.

The IGF has opened a comment forum for tributes. Details of the remembrance session can be found at the same link.

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GoDaddy sees 12% growth in domains revenue

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2020, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy delivered another quarter of impressive growth in the third quarter, showing again the resilience of the domain name market to the coronavirus pandemic.

The company reported total revenue up 11% on the same period last year at $844.4 million, with net income sliding from $76.8 million to $65.1 million.

GoDaddy spent more on marketing during the quarter, saying that as demand for its services increases it needs to make sure it captures as many customers as possible.

Revenue from domains slightly outperformed overall growth, coming in at $387.4 million, up 12.2% year over year.

The domains segment was also a bit more profitable because GoDaddy no longer has to pay Neustar for domains in TLDs managed by what is now GoDaddy Registry.

The business applications segment, which includes email and third-party apps such as shopping carts, was the standout growth segment, coming in at $154.6 million, up 18.7%.

GoDaddy expects to see a similar pattern in Q4, with domains growth coming in at low double figures and business apps growth coming in at high double figures.

Both Q3 growth and Q4 outlook were better than analysts expected, and GoDaddy stock was rewarded accordingly.

The company also announced the departure of COO Andrew Low Ah Kee after 10 years with the company. His position will not be immediately refilled, and he is said to be taking a presidential role at a company outside of the domain industry.

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One-letter .lu domains could be bought for peanuts

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2020, Domain Sales

Luxembourg’s ccTLD registry is auctioning off 2,825 one and two-character .lu domain names, and so far bids are looking very affordable.

The names have been reserved for two decades, but Restena began releasing them to trademark owners in August, and yesterday the landrush phase began.

The company has set up a special website for the auction.

After the first day of bidding, only one domain, j.lu, has attracted a bid in four figures (€2,000).

All 36 letters and numbers have at least one bid. Another 15 internationalized domains — single letters with diacritics or accents — have not yet attracted bids.

The domain with the most action so far is hu.lu — I wonder why — with a €500 top bid.

It’s still early days, and obviously most auction activity happens towards the end.

The plan is for the auctions to run for a minimum of 12 more days, but they could be extended into December.

On December 15, anything not already registered will be released for registration on a first-come, first-served basis.

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Another domain firm going private as Endurance announces $3 billion deal

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2020, Domain Registrars

Endurance International, owner of registrar brands including Domain.com, BigRock and BuyDomains, plans to go private in a $3 billion private equity deal.

The buyer is Clearlake Capital group, in what appears to be its first foray into the domain name market.

It has offered to pay $9.50 for each Endurance share, saying it’s a 79% premium on the closing price the day before the media first got a whiff of a deal being in the works back in September and a 64% premium on Friday’s close.

The deal is still subject to shareholder approval, but Endurance says institutional investors accounting for 36% of its shares have already promised to vote in favor.

Endurance yesterday also announced its third-quarter financial results. It reported net income down from $7.8 million to $6.7 million, on revenue that was up 3% at $278.4 million.

The company does not break out what portion of its revenue or profit comes from domains. Hosting and web marketing services are also a big part of its business.

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Verisign increases focus on .com after flogging public DNS to Neustar

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2020, Domain Registries

Neustar has taken another nibble at former archrival Verisign, buying the company’s public DNS resolution service.

The companies announced yesterday that Neustar has acquired Verisign Public DNS, and will incorporate it into its existing UltraDNS Public service.

The deal means that several IP addresses used to provide the services will transition to Neustar, so end users don’t need to make any changes.

Recursive DNS services are often used by people or organizations that, for whatever reason, don’t trust their ISP to treat their browsing records confidentially.

Big players in the market include Google, Cloudflare, and Cisco’s OpenDNS.

Signing up for such services is usually free — users simply reconfigure their devices to point their DNS resolution to a provider’s IPs.

Providers get greater insight into network activity that they can use to boost their paid-for enterprise security services, and they sometimes monetize NXDOMAIN (non-existing domain) landing pages.

No monetary value was put on the deal.

“Verisign is committed to focusing on its core mission of providing critical internet infrastructure, including Root Zone management, operation of 2 of the 13 global internet root servers, operation of .gov and .edu, and authoritative resolution for the .com and .net top-level domains, which support the majority of global e-commerce,” Verisign senior VP Eb Keshavarz, said in a press release.

That quote buries the lede, of course — operating .com and .net is the only activity listed that makes Verisign any money, and now it’s pretty much the only thing Verisign does.

Neustar acquired Verisign’s security services business, including its fee-paying recursive DNS customers, two years ago.

Neustar is of course no longer competing with Verisign in the registry services market, having sold that business to GoDaddy earlier this year. It’s now GoDaddy Registry.

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Blood on the boardroom floor after MMX admits revenue screwup

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2020, Domain Registries

MMX’s top two execs are out, after the new gTLD registry admitted that the company misstated its revenue in 2019 and the first half of 2020.

CEO Toby Hall and CFO Michael Salazar both quit from the board and their executive roles with immediate effect, after a board probe concluded that its 2019 revenue was overstated to the tune of $1.7 million. Its 2019 net income was also overstated by $1.9 million.

In the first half of 2020, it understated revenue by about $80,000 and net income by about $200,000.

The screwups relate to not only the mystery $1.1 million contract MMX warned about earlier this month, but also two more contracts last year worth a total of $790,000.

The company received the cash from these unnamed partners and reported it as revenue immediately, when it should have recognized it only when the partners made sales to end users, MMX said.

Its revenue for 2019 should have been correctly reported as $17.2 million, and its net income should have been $2.8 million.

For the first half of 2020, revenue should have been $8.4 million and net income should have been $1.4 million.

The company said that Tony Farrow, an ICM Registry import who until recently worked as MMX’s COO, will return to the company as interim CEO.

Bryan Disher, an independent MMX director, will be interim CFO. Guy Elliott, currently non-executive chair, will become executive chair.

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Angry investor sues for 30% of new .spa gTLD

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2020, Domain Registries

Barely had the new gTLD .spa made it into the DNS root than it got sued by a company that claims it was stiffed out of a 30% stake in the domain.

Malaysia-based Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council, the newly minted registry, is being sued in Hong Kong by DotPH, the company that runs the Philippines ccTLD, .ph, over an eight-year-old investment deal DotPH says is being ignored.

It’s also named as defendants .asia registry DotAsia, DotAsia subsidiary Namesphere, and several DotAsia directors.

DotPH claims in its lawsuit that its CEO, Joel Disini, got together with DotAsia CEO Edmon Chung in early 2012 to come up with a deal whereby ownership of .spa, should its application be successful, would be split three ways.

ASWPC would hold half the shares, Namesphere 20%, and DotPH the remaining 30%, according to the complaint. DotPH claims it paid $60,000 for its stake in April 2012.

Now it claims that these shares were never formally issued, and it wants the Hong Kong court to force Namesphere to hand them over and force the original three-way ownership structure originally agreed.

But it turns out that DotAsia seems to have abandoned .spa anyway. Its board of directors a year ago voted to give ASWPC “sole rights” to the gTLD, enabling it to concentrate on .asia.

Disini, who was a member of the board at the time, claims he was only emailed about the vote a day before the meeting and did not see the email until it was too late.

He told DI: “the board of dotAsia moved to give away DotPH’s 30% equity in SPA”. He’s not happy about it. He reckons .spa could easily be a $2 million-a-year business.

The suit was filed October 19. You can read it here (pdf).

I’ve yet to receive a response to my request for comment from Chung, and will of course provide an update should he get back to me.

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Amazon sold rights to .box gTLD for $3 million

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2020, Domain Registries

Amazon relinquished its rights to the .box gTLD five years ago for $3 million, according to court documents seen by DI.

Amazon was one of two applicants for .box, the other being a company called NS1 (that’s the numeral 1; this has nothing to do with Network Solutions).

According to a complaint filed a couple of years ago that I came across today, Amazon agreed to withdraw its application, giving its rival an unobstructed shot at the gTLD, for $3 million.

It was a private settlement of the contention set and the payout was not publicly revealed at the time.

A $3 million deal puts .box in the same ballpark as public auctions such as MMX’s .vip and Johnson & Johnson’s (now XYZ.com’s) .baby.

While the deal is years old, I thought the data point was worth publishing.

NS1’s application suggests that its business plan was to offer registrants cloud storage services, along the lines of DropBox.

But the ICANN contract was sold to Intercap, which also runs .inc and .dealer, earlier this year. The plan now appears to be to operate it as an open niche gTLD, but no launch dates have been announced.

It’s not known how much the gTLD sold for second time around.

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Big pharma firm dumps its gTLD

Kevin Murphy, October 26, 2020, Domain Registries

Indian pharmaceuticals company Lupin has become the latest new gTLD registry to drop its dot-brand.

The firm told ICANN recently that it no longer wishes to continue running .lupin, which it has never actually used.

It’s the 82nd dot-brand to self-terminate, the 13th this year.

Lupin is one of the world’s largest manufacturer of generic medicines, with revenue in excess of $2 billion per year.

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Facebook to enter the retail registrar business?

Kevin Murphy, October 26, 2020, Domain Registrars

Worryingly perhaps for the retail registrar market, Facebook has revealed it’s due to launch a set of business web-hosting services.

The company said in a blog post last week that it plans to reveal Facebook Hosting Services “over the coming months”.

While very little is known about these services, Facebook appears to be interested in leveraging its popular WhatsApp messaging platform. The company blogged:

Facebook Hosting Services – Businesses have varying technology needs and want choice in the companies they work with to host and manage customer communications, particularly with remote work increasing. Which is why over the coming months, we plan to expand our partnerships with business solution providers we’ve worked with over the last two years. We will also provide a new option for businesses to manage their WhatsApp messages via hosting services that Facebook plans to offer. Providing this option will make it easier for small and medium size businesses to get started, sell products, keep their inventory up to date, and quickly respond to messages they receive – wherever their employees are.

There’s no mention of domains there, but domains almost always go hand in hand with hosting.

The fact that a company with Facebook’s reach is venturing into hosting will surely worry registrars that already make a huge chunk of their revenue from such services.

Facebook URLs are already considered a valid alternative to domain names for many small and micro-businesses, so there’s a question mark next to Facebook’s intention with regards domains.

Facebook already owns at least two ICANN-accredited registrars, RegistrarSEC and RegistrarSafe, but they do not sell domains to third parties.

The two registrars are currently basically an insurance policy against Facebook’s hugely valuable domains being suspended or transferred by third-party registrars in response to court orders.

RegistrarSEC appears to be the preferred registrar for Facebook’s defensive domains. Its domains under management number has been growing by hundreds per month for the last few years. It has over 8,500 names currently.

RegistrarSafe is the sponsoring registrar for about 175 of Facebook’s key domains, such as facebook.com and instagram.com.

Facebook’s UDRP wins seem to usually wind up at law firm Hogan Lovells’ registrar.

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