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Porn set to steal the show in San Francisco

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry’s .xxx top-level domain looks set to grab the headlines at ICANN’s meeting in San Francisco, due to government-forced delays.

While ICANN is hoping to approve its new top-level domains program in March, that decision may wind up receiving less media attention than the final approval of the porn-only domain.

ICANN last month said that it wanted to hold a final consultation to resolve its differences with the Governmental Advisory Committee – which broadly objects to .xxx – in February 2011.

This referred to a proposed meeting between the GAC and the board, which has now been officially scheduled for February 28 in Brussels.

But a resolution carried by ICANN this week has pushed the consultation back to “no later than Thursday 17 March, 2011”, the day before its San Francisco meeting.

That would put the sign-off of ICM’s contract on the same billing as the planned final approval of the new top-level domains Applicant Guidebook and the launch of the new TLDs program.

San Francisco is set to be the focus of unprecedented media attention, due to its location and the likely presence of Bill Clinton. We’re probably looking at tighter stage management than usual.

With that in mind, I expect ICANN bosses won’t be too happy that porn-friendly .xxx is likely to steal away many column inches they would prefer devoted to new TLDs.

Porn in headlines gets clicks. Readers understand it, and you generally don’t need to explain to an editor what a TLD is. I know which story would be easier for me to sell.

Had ICANN put .xxx on the agenda for Brussels – which does not appear to have been ruled out yet – it could have wrapped up the ICM saga with a resolution quite quickly afterward.

That would have given ICM a week or so of undiluted media coverage, and the new TLDs program would not have had to share the spotlight with porn come San Francisco.

The question is: why is .xxx apparently not on the agenda for Brussels? Given ICANN’s previous decision to hold the meeting in February, responsibility seems to lie with the GAC.

Rumor has it that there’s a bit of a power struggle going on behind the scenes, with some elements of the GAC resistant to make Brussels the official final .xxx consultation.

Time will tell whether this position is firm or flexible.

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ICANN sets March deadline for new TLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 28, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN appears determined to put debates about its new top-level domains program to bed at its San Francisco meeting in March.

The resolutions from Tuesday’s ICANN board meeting, published this evening, give every indication that ICANN wants an end to the delays.

This seems to mean it will take a hard line with its Governmental Advisory Committee, with which it is due to meet in Brussels at the end of February.

The board resolved that it “intends to progress toward launching the New gTLD Program, as close as practically possible to the form as set out in the Proposed Final Applicant Guidebook.”

It remains open, however, to take action on the GAC’s concerns, which include trademark protection and the treatment of geographic strings.

It wants the final GAC consultation, which is mandated by its bylaws, to take place March 17, the day before the board meets in San Francisco.

This is encouraging news for anybody who wants to apply for a new TLD, as it means ICANN would be able to launch the program shortly thereafter.

If that happens, it could be able to start accepting applications possibly as early as mid-July (although a late-August/early September window may be more likely).

More on this tomorrow.

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Did Twitter pay $47,000 for Twitter.co.uk?

Kevin Murphy, January 26, 2011, Domain Sales

The domain name twitter.co.uk, which was until recently listed for sale with a £30,000 ($47,000) price tag, is now owned by Twitter.

The domain now redirects visitors to twitter.com, and Whois records last updated a week ago show that it is now registered to the San Francisco-based company.

Until recently, twitter.co.uk led to a page calling itself a “thorn in the side of American imperialism” and containing a lengthy rant about the microblogging service, which The Guardian reported on in 2009.

It also, since April 2010, carried this notice:

This domain is for sale at offers over £30k. This valuation is based on the fact that I devoted 9 months of my life working on my own t.w.i.t.t.e.r. project in 2005. I have offered the domain to Twitter Inc, giving them “first refusal”, and as they turned me down I am now offering it to anyone else who may be interested. Obviously there are limits as to what you would be allowed to do with the domain and you should familiarise yourself with Nominet’s policies and, in particular, its Dispute Resolution Service (DRS)

The previous owner registered the domain in early 2005 for his own legitmate purposes, well before Twitter itself launched, so it was by no means a case of cybersquatting.

The domain would, of course, have been considered untouchable for any sensible domainer.

Nominet, the .uk registry, currently has no record of Twitter ever bringing a complaint to its DRS, so it seems likely that Twitter had to put its hand in its pocket to acquire the domain.

The change seems to have been first noticed by a Twitter user at the weekend. AcornDomains has a discussion.

(Hat tip: @MathewCoUk)

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Go Daddy’s new billion-dollar business?

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2011, Domain Tech

Go Daddy has officially unveiled its Premium DNS service, which will enable its customers to buy and use managed DNSSEC services for the first time.

The price is $2.99 per month, which works out to $35.88 a year.

For the money, buyers also get a bunch of other tools, such as reports and audits, off-site DNS functionality and backup name servers.

There’s also a “Vanity Nameserver” option, which appears to let customers set their domain’s name servers to display as something like brand.domaincontrol.com, rather than ns1.domaincontrol.com.

It also appears that users of Go Daddy’s standard service will now be limited to 100 forwarded sub-domains, with Premium DNS users getting an unlimited number.

But the big deal as I see it is the addition of managed DNSSEC.

DNSSEC is a new security protocol that substantially mitigates the risk of falling prey to a DNS hijacking using, say, a cache poisoning attack.

Remember the Kaminsky Bug? DNSSEC prevents that kind of thing from happening again.

The problem with DNSSEC is that it’s massively complex and quite hard work to manage, requiring frequent key generation and rollover.

Go Daddy users can already manage their own DNSSEC records if they choose, but that’s only really an option if you’re a hard-core DNS geek.

Paying a few bucks a month to have somebody else manage it for you is an absolute bargain, if you care enough about your domain’s security.

I suggest that this could be a lucrative business for Go Daddy primarily because proponents of DNSSEC hope that one day it will be ubiquitous. Every domain will use it.

Go Daddy has over 45 million domains under management today. If customers representing only 1% of its domains choose to upgrade, that’s an extra $16 million into company coffers annually.

If they all do (which is not going to happen) we’re talking about a $1.6 billion business.

I don’t think the new service is going to lead to a massive uptick in the number of signed domains, but it will certainly get the ball rolling. For enterprises, it’s good value.

But individuals and large domain portfolio holders will not flock to return to 1999 .com prices just in order to implement a protocol they’ve been doing just fine without.

The future of broad DNSSEC adoption is more likely to be in open-source and freeware tools and services that can be easily understood by geeks and non-geeks alike.

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.XXX demands approval in Brussels

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2011, Domain Registrars

ICM Registry has called on ICANN to quickly give final approval to its .xxx top-level domain contract after its meeting with governments next month.

Company president Stuart Lawley, in a letter to ICANN (pdf), said ICM has “invested extraordinary resources” in its TLD proposal and has waited almost seven years to get into the DNS root.

Its hopes of getting the nod from ICANN’s board of directors in Cartagena last month were dashed, when it was decided that a final consultation with the Governmental Advisory Committee was required.

That consultation is set to take place in Brussels at the end of February (although ICANN’s announcement of the meeting last Friday conspicuously made no mention of .xxx).

Lawley writes:

ICM Registry urges the ICANN Board to fulfill its explicit commitments to ICM Registry and to the ICANN community, and to uphold the integrity of the ICANN process by conducting and completing its consultations with the GAC

Neither ICM Registry nor the ICANN community can be expected to stand by while ICANN allows yet another self-imposed deadline on this matter to come and go without a plausible explanation.

The letter notes that it’s almost a year since ICANN’s Independent Review Panel told the organization that, despite its protestations to the contrary, .xxx had already been approved.

Lawley tells me ICM is spending, on average, $100,000 a month to keep the company ticking over. He believes that the proposed registry contract has dealt with all of the GAC’s concerns.

The one concern it will never be able to avoid, of course, is that .xxx is for porn, and there are plenty of governments (be they Middle Eastern theocracies, communist Asian states or conservative Western democracies) opposed to porn in principle.

The GAC said in an official Communique in 2006 that “several members of the GAC are emphatically opposed from a public policy perspective to the introduction of a .xxx sTLD.”

As far as I can tell, that’s pretty much the only major stumbling block remaining before ICM can sign a registry contract.

UK GAC rep Mark Carvell told me yesterday that the GAC believes the 2006 statement constitutes “advice” that ICANN is duty-bound to take into account, even though it was not a consensus GAC position.

In my opinion, ICANN has no choice but to disregard this advice.

If we suddenly start living in a world where the public policies of a handful of backward nations are sufficient to veto a TLD, then we may as well pack up the whole internet and move it to Saudi Arabia or Utah.

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