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XYZ to rethink China gateway plans

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2015, Domain Registries

XYZ.com has withdrawn its request to start selling .xyz and .college domains into China via a local gateway service provider.

The company has said it will amend and resubmit its plan to ICANN, which had told it the idea “might raise significant Stability or Security issues”.

The registry wants to be one of the first non-Chinese registries to be able to comply with government regulations, which require all domain firms to have an official license.

As we reported last week, it had signed up with local registrar ZDNS, which would proxy for registrations made by Chinese registrants.

However, it has now withdrawn its Registry Services Evaluation Process request after ICANN said it would have to refer it up the chain to a special technical committee for review.

XYZ said in a letter to ICANN:

We are withdrawing this request because our gateway model is changed since the submission of the registry request and so the request is no longer accurate. We will shortly submit a new registry request to cover the updated gateway model.

It’s not clear what the specific “security and stability” concerns were.

Retail sales see CentralNic over double revenue

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2015, Domain Registries

CentralNic saw a huge 171% increase in revenue and a tripling of billings in the first half of the year, based on its newly acquired retail business and the sale of premium names.

For the six months to the end of June, the London-based firm saw revenue of £4.4 million ($6.8 million) compared to £1.6 million ($2.5 million) a year earlier.

It moved into profit during the period, netting £287,000 ($442,000) after tax compared to a loss of £599,000 in the 2014 period.

CentralNic broke down its numbers into segments, showing that its new business areas were responsible for most of the growth, while the core registry business was relatively slow.

Registry was up 13% to £1.6 million ($2.5 million).

The new registrar business, which is lead by its $7.5 million Internet.bs acquisition, leaped from £180,000 to £1.8 million (£2.8 million), while its premium name sales business was £1.1 million compared to a negligible £50,000 a year earlier.

The company noted in a statement that Google was the first “megabrand” to use a .xyz domain name and expressed optimism that this may increase awareness of new gTLDs in future.

CentralNic is the second-largest new gTLD back-end, as measured by registration volume, largely due to its .xyz contract.

It also acts as back-end for .online, which left the blocks very quickly earlier this month, racking up over 57,000 names so far.

XYZ fighting red tape to serve Chinese customers

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2015, Domain Registries

XYZ.com is trying to become one of the first non-Chinese gTLD registries to be able to sell unhindered into the Chinese market, in the face of Draconian government regulations.

The company has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request with ICANN — the first of its kind — that would let it use a gateway service, based in China, to comply with strict local laws on registries, registrars and registrants.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology regulations have been in place for a decade, but it’s only in the last year or so, in light of the new gTLD program, that China has been strictly enforcing them.

Anyone in China can buy a domain, but you need a license if you want to put up a web site, according to Gavin Brown, CTO of .xyz back-end CentralNic. Registrants also need to have their Whois information verified and validated, he said.

The problem for Chinese residents today is if they buy a domain in a TLD that is not licensed by the government, they won’t be able to obtain a license to host a web site on that domain.

The .xyz gTLD is believed to have a few hundred thousand domains registered via Chinese registrars, a substantial portion of its total.

There’s a worry that China could demand the deletion of these names and others, as it has previously in .cn, if the proper licenses have not been obtained.

Naturally, the inability to use these domains has led to a lot of pissed-off registrants. XYZ says has been receiving complaints from its registrars in the country, which in turn have been receiving complaints from their customers.

XYZ proposes to fix the problem by using a gateway service provided by ZDNS, a DNS provider based in mainland China.

Registrars in the country would maintain a separate EPP connection to ZDNS, which would act as a proxy to CentralNic’s UK-based primary EPP system.

ZDNS, which is prominently promoting its gateway service on its web site, would handle the Whois verification and also proxy the .xyz Whois lookup service, but only as it pertains to Chinese registrants and queries originating in China.

Data on non-Chinese registrants would continue to be housed with CentralNic.

ZDNS would also prevent Chinese registrants registering domains containing strings that have been banned by the government.

XYZ’s RSEP request (pdf) is currently undergoing its technical/competition review with ICANN. Assuming it passes, it would be exposed to public comment before being approved.

The RSEP states: “we are confident that the entire Internet user base of China would endorse this service and that Chinese registrars would strongly endorse this service.”

It’s the first such request to ICANN, suggesting that an awful lot of gTLDs are still not compliant with the Chinese regulations.

As of April, only 14 TLDs — all managed by China-based companies — were licensed to operate in China.

Reddit peppers Go Daddy boss with sexism questions

Kevin Murphy, September 4, 2015, Domain Registrars

Go Daddy can’t seem to shake off the legacy of its long-running, sexually suggestive TV advertising.

In an “Ask Me Anything” session on Reddit yesterday, CEO Blake Irving seemed to face more questions about sexism, women in technology and equal opportunities hiring than any other topic.

He made about 70 posts during the session, at least 10 of which related to Go Daddy’s relationship with the equally-fair sex in some way. Some Reddit users wondered aloud whether some such questions had been planted by Go Daddy sock-puppets.

The “best”-rated question on the thread addressed the company’s old TV commercials, which in the early days regularly featured scantily-clad, large-breasted women. Irving said:

The old ads helped GoDaddy build massive brand awareness in the US. They weren’t helpful to our reputation as an egalitarian provider of services though, and they didn’t do enough to tell people what we actually do. One of the first things I did at GoDaddy was pivot the advertising to reflect what we did and who we did it for. When 58% of small businesses in the US are run by women you should reflect the great work they do as small businesses. That’s what we’ve done with our ads over the past two years.

Irving joined Go Daddy in December 2012. Its ads since then have focused less and less on the prurient interest.

Irving also pointed out in one answer than a third of the company’s executive team is female.

He was also asked a number of questions about the new .ski gTLD (he was wearing a branded baseball cap in the AMA’s accompanying photograph).

Go Daddy employees also seemed to be out in force, asking multiple questions about this year’s corporate Christmas party.

When asked about the prospects for new gTLDs versus .com, Irving sat on the fence:

We’re seeing steady increases in awareness and the first instances of big global brands using the names (like abc.xyz and brand TLDs like home.barclays). We expect this to continue to drive new gTLD sales over time. For the foreseeable future, COM will likely remain the most desired name in the US and outside. It’s universally recognizable around the world. Either way, our goal is to provide the best choices available for each customer and the new gTLDs make getting the perfect name for you much more likely.

When asked “Does your burning evil raise your body temperature?”, Iriving replied:

Ummmm …. GoDaddy is an eco-conscious company, so we are firmly against practices that are harmful to the environment, including the use of malevolent forces as a fuel source. But, I do like a good bike ride to get my heart pumping.

The whole AMA can be read here.

Radix targets a million .online names in 2-3 years

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2015, Domain Registries

Having just finished the most-successful new gTLD launch day to date, Radix Registry reckons it can get .online to seven figures in two to three years.

“We’re at 37,170 names as of an hour ago,” Radix CEO Bhavin Turakhia told DI at about 1000 UTC this morning.

That represents less than a full day of general availability. The company said last night that 28,000 names were registered in the first 30 minutes.

UPDATE: At the 24-hour mark, Radix tweeted this:

That beats .club’s 25,000-ish, which was Radix’s publicly stated goal, but it also tops .berlin’s 31,000 first-day names.

The CEOs of both these rival registries had publicly predicted their positions would be toppled and actively encouraged Radix to claim the crown.

Turakhia said that the majority of names registered came from pre-orders, largely at 1&1.

“Fourteen thousand names came from 1&1, 6,000 from Go Daddy, 2,700 from United Domains, 1,900 from Name.com and 1,400 from Tucows,” he said, partially breaking down the 37,170 figure by registrar.

He said the goal is to have a .online zone measured in the millions of names.

“I estimate that we should be able to get to a million names in a period of two to three years,” he said. “That’s on a conservative basis.”

Depending on how you count domains, .xyz may have already been the first to hit one million. Its zone never got as high as a million names, but it may have briefly crossed a million in terms of domains under management earlier this year.

At auction, .online sold for what is believed to be an eight-figure sum, originally to a joint venture of Radix, Tucows and Namecheap.

Radix bought out its partners earlier this year.

That was an increase in risk exposure Radix business head Sandeep Ramchandani said made him nervous. He said launch day’s numbers show .online’s potential.

Turahkhia said that there are 680,000 names in the .com zone that end in “online” today, and a million that have “online” somewhere in the second level, showing that the string is desirable to registrants.

Radix said last night that its Early Access Period — during which names are sold for a higher price — ended with 1,130 sales.

Turahkhia said that of these, about 1,000 were registered in the last three days, during which time the price was $100. Regular .online pricing is around the same as .com ($14.99 at 1&1 and Go Daddy), but some registrars are selling for as much at $50.

Did XYZ.com pay NetSol $3m to bloat .xyz?

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registries

Evidence of a possibly dodgy deal between XYZ.com and Network Solutions has emerged.

Court documents filed last week by Verisign suggest that the .xyz registry may have purchased $3 million in advertising in exchange for $3 million of .xyz domain names.

Verisign, which is suing .xyz and CEO Daniel Negari over its allegedly “false” advertising, submitted to the court a list of hundreds of exhibits (pdf) that it proposes to use at trial.

Among them are these two:

  • Email from Negari to Andrew Gorrin re EPP Feed and billing directly for $3,000,000 in domains
  • Credit Memo to Andrew from Negari “We have elected to pay for our $3MM Q2 advertising insertion order, which was dated May 20th with a credit…….” (5/31/14)

Gorrin is Web.com’s senior VP of marketing and Negari is Daniel Negari, XYZ.com’s CEO.

The documents these headings refer to are not public information, and are not likely to be any time soon, but they appear to refer to on the one hand XYZ billing NetSol for $3 million in domain names and on the other NetSol billing XYZ for $3 million in advertising.

Only one of the two document headings is dated, so we don’t know how closely they coincided.

Other headings, among the 446 documents Verisign wants to use at trial, suggest that they happened at pretty much the same time:

  • Email from Andrew Gorrin to Ashley Henning (web.com) re Bulk Purchase of .xyz domains (5/29/14)
  • Email from Andrew Gorrin to Negari re XYZ.Com Advertising IO and Marketing Agreement attaching signed agreements (5/20/14)
  • Email string Ashley Henning to Christine Nagey, Andrew Gorrin, Edward Angstadt re Bulk Purchase of .XYZ Domains (5/30/14)

The emails Verisign cites were dated May 2014, shortly before .xyz went into general availability June 2.

What we seem to be looking at here — and I’m getting into speculative territory here — are references to two more or less simultaneous transactions, both valued at exactly $3 million, between the two parties.

Both companies have consistently refused to address the nature of their deal, citing NDAs.

As you recall, the vast majority of .xyz’s early registrations were provided by NetSol, which pushed hundreds of thousands of free .xyz domains into its customers’ accounts without their explicit consent.

The number of freebies is believed to be about 350,000, based on comments Negari recently made to The Telegraph, in which he stated that .xyz, which had about 850,000 domains in its zone at the time, would have 500,000 registrations if the freebies were excluded.

With a registry fee roughly equivalent to .com’s (.xyz’s is believed to be a little lower), 350,000 names would work out to roughly $3 million.

Negari has stated previously that every .xyz registration was revenue-generating, even the freebies.

Is it possible that NetSol paid XYZ’s registry fees using money XYZ paid it for advertising? Is it possible no money changed hands at all?

I’m not saying either company has done anything illegal, and it’s completely possible I’m completely misunderstanding the situation, but it does rather put me in mind of the old “round-trip” deals that tech firms used to dishonestly prop up their tumbling revenue at the turn of the century.

Back in 2000, the dot-com bubble was on the verge of popping, taking the US economy with it, and companies facing the decline of their businesses came up with “creative” ways to show investors that they were still growing.

AOL Time Warner, for example, “effectively funded its own online advertising revenue by giving the counterparties the means to pay for advertising that they would not otherwise have purchased”.

Regulators exercised their legal options in these cases only where there appeared to be dishonest accounting, and I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that XYZ or Web.com unit NetSol have failed to adhere to anything but the highest accounting standards.

Again, I’m not saying we’re looking at a “round-trip” deal here, and there’s not a great deal of evidence to go on, but it sure smells familiar.

Certainly, questions have been raised that Verisign did not raise in its initial complaint.

Anyway.

On a personal note, I’d like to disclose that among the documents Verisign demanded from XYZ are dozens of pages of previously confidential emails exchanged between myself and Negari.

I’ve read them, and they’re mostly heated arguments about a) his refusal to give details about the NetSol deal and b) my purported lack of journalistic integrity whenever I published a post about .xyz with an even slightly negative angle.

XYZ had no choice but to supply these emails. I can’t blame it for complying with its legal requirements.

I wasn’t the only affected blogger. Mike Berkens, Konstantinos Zournas, Rick Schwartz and Morgan Linton also had their private correspondence compromised by Verisign.

I don’t know how they feel about this violation, but in my view this shows Verisign’s contempt for the media and its disregard for the sanctity of off-the-record conversations between reporters and their sources.

And that’s what I have to say about that.

No, CentralNic isn’t the biggest new gTLD back-end

Kevin Murphy, August 17, 2015, Domain Registries

CentralNic’s registry back-end business may have got a big boost by last week’s news that Google has adopted a .xyz domain for its new parent, but it is not yet the biggest back-end provider.

That honor still belongs to Rightside, which currently leads CentralNic by a few hundred thousand names, according to zone files.

When Google started using abc.xyz as the primary domain for its new company last Monday, it caused a sharp spike in .xyz’s daily zone file growth.

The volume-leading new gTLD’s zone had been netting about 3,000 domains per day over the previous week, but that number has risen to almost 8,000 on average since the Google announcement.

While undoubtedly good news for XYZ.com and CentralNic, the growth has not been enough to propel CentralNic into the top-spot just yet.

CentralNic said in a press release today that it currently has 1,444,210 domains, making it the “number one registry backend”.

But according to DI’s numbers, Rightside has at least 1,701,316 domains in new gTLDs running on its back-end.

The CentralNic press release, as well as an earlier piece on The Domains, both cite ntldstats.com as their source.

That site had been listing Donuts as the top new gTLD back-end provider for over a year, with CentralNic in second place.

The problem is that Donuts is not a back-end provider. Never has been.

The portfolio registry disclosed right from the start that it was using Rightside (then Demand Media).

A Donuts spokesperson confirmed to DI today that it still uses Rightside.

The company runs its 190 delegated new gTLDs on Rightside’s back-end. Rightside manages another 39 of its own on the same infrastructure.

Combined, these gTLDs make up 1,701,316 second-level domains, making it the largest back-end registry provider.

After abc.xyz, will Google now switch to .google?

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2015, Domain Registries

Google provided the new gTLD industry with one of its most prominent endorsements to date when it revealed this week that its new parent company, Alphabet, will use a .xyz domain name.

But it could just be the first move away from traditional TLDs such as .com — its new gTLD .google entered its “general availability” phase today.

Alphabet will be the holding company for Google the search engine provider, as well as many other subsidiaries focused on non-core areas of its business, and will replace Google as the publicly traded entity.

The new company will use abc.xyz as its primary domain.

XYZ.com CEO Daniel Negari told Wired that the move is “the ultimate validation”, and it’s hard to disagree.

Despite this, almost all the coverage in the tech and mainstream media over the last 24 hours has been about the fact that it does not own alphabet.com.

A Google News search for “alphabet.com” today returns over 67,000 results. Refine the search to include “abc.xyz” and you’re left with fewer than 2,700.

This is perhaps to be expected; BMW owns alphabet.com and has told the New York Times it does not intend to sell it. Journalists naturally gravitate towards conflict, or potential conflict.

Some reporters even suggested, with mind-boggling naivety, that Google hadn’t even done the most cursory research into its new brand before embarking on the biggest restructuring in its history as a public company.

But perhaps the reality is a little simpler: owning a .com that exactly matches your brand just isn’t that important any more.

If any company has insight into the truth of that hypothesis, it’s Google.

It should hardly be surprising that Google digs the possibilities offered by new gTLDs — remember, it applied for 101 strings and has 42 of them already delegated.

Its senior engineers have also blogged repeatedly that all gTLDs, including .com, are treated equally by its search algorithms.

Now that it has made the decision to brand its holding company on a new gTLD domain, could we expect it be similarly nonchalant about a switch to .google?

The dot-brand today came out of its pre-launch phase and entered “general availability”, meaning that the gTLD is now free for it to use.

The .google zone file only has a few domains in it at present, so we’re probably not going to see anything deployed there overnight, but I’d be surprised if we have to wait a long time before .google is put to use in one way or another.

The company set up a fleeting April Fool’s Day website at com.google earlier this year.

Google’s application for .google states:

The mission of the proposed gTLD, .google is to make the worldʹs information universally accessible and useful through the streamlined provision of Google services. The purpose of the proposed gTLD is to provide a dedicated Internet space in which Google can continue to innovate on its Internet offerings. The proposed gTLD will augment Googleʹs online presence in other registries, provide Google with greater ability to categorize its present online locations around the world, and in turn, deliver a more recognizable, branded, trusted web space to both the general Internet population and Google employees. It will also generate efficiencies and increase security by reducing Google’s current dependence on third-party infrastructure.

The company has also stated on its Google Registry web site that it intends to use .google, .youtube and .plus “for Google products”.

XYZ buys .security and .protection from Symantec

XYZ.com has added .security and .protection to its portfolio of new gTLDs under a private deal with security software maker Symantec.

Symantec originally applied for both as closed generics, but changed its plans when ICANN changed its tune about exclusive access gTLDs.

The company won .security in an auction against Donuts and Defender Security late last year; .protection was uncontested. It lost auctions for .cloud and .antivirus.

Symantec’s .symantec and .norton, both dot-brands, are currently in pre-delegation testing.

XYZ already owns .college, .rent and of course .xyz.

In other news, Afilias has acquired .promo, which was in PDT with applicant Play.Promo Oy, in a private auction.

UPDATE: A couple of hours after this post was published, XYZ announced it has also acquired .theatre, which will compete with Donuts’ .theater, from KBE gTLD Holding Inc.

.xyz starts to plummet — NetSol freebies to blame?

XYZ.com has been seeing its .xyz zone file shrink rapidly over the last five days, likely as a result of free domains pushed out to Network Solutions customers starting to expire.

DI PRO stats show that .xyz has shrunk by 49,658 domains this week — today at 888,413 names compared to a June 4 peak of 942,927.

It was June 4 last year when the industry become aware that NetSol was automatically pushing .xyz names into the accounts of its existing customers without their explicit consent.

Renewal rates usually do not become clear for 45 days after expiration, due to grace periods, but domains can delete earlier.

On June 9, 2014, one year ago today, .xyz had 87,073 domains in its zone file. It’s difficult to see where a loss of almost 50,000 names this week could come from if not the NetSol freebies deleting.

It is believed that the NetSol giveaway contributed about 350,000 names to .xyz’s zone over the period of its offer.

NetSol has been bundling .xyz renewals — which along with the free year of email and privacy comes to a whopping $57 — when it asks its customers to renewal their matching .com/.net/.org domains.

.xyz likely hasn’t seen the worst of its total shrinkage yet.

When eNom pushed free .info domains into its customers’ accounts about 10 years ago the renewal rate on those names was virtually zero.