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WordPress reveals IT bought .blog for $19 million

WordPress.com owner Automattic has outed itself as the bankroll behind the winner of the .blog auction and the new owner of the forthcoming new gTLD.

Founder Matt Mullenweg also revealed that the company paid around $19 million for the domain at private auction in February 2015, about $1 million more than the amount DI estimated at the time.

Until now, the winning .blog applicant, which fought off competition from eight competitors including Google, M+M, Radix and Donuts, was only known as Primer Nivel.

Primer Nivel is a Panamanian company previously described to DI as an investment vehicle with links to Colombian registrar My.co.

To the best of my knowledge, Automattic’s involvement with the bid has never even been hinted at, but Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg said in a blog post last night that it has been involved since well before the auction took place.

It’s now public that Automattic is the company behind Knock Knock Whois There LLC, the registry for the new .blog TLD. (And a great pun.) We wanted to stay stealth while in the bidding process and afterward in order not to draw too much attention, but nonetheless the cost of the .blog auction got up there (people are estimating around $20M).

An earlier version of the blog post put the price at “about $19m”, as captured by Google.

ICANN approved the reassignment of the .blog contract from Primer Nivel to Knock Knock WHOIS There on April 29.

In the original Primer Nivel application, only My.co CEO Gerardo Aristizabal and VP of business development Carlos Neira were listed as shareholders of 15% or more of the company in its answer to question 11 of the application form.

ICANN processed a change request to the question 11 answer in March 2014, but did not publish the result of the change. It may merely have been a change of personal contact information.

One has to wonder whether, had WordPress’ involvement in Primer Nivel been public, the .blog auction could have fetched even more.

One might imagine that Google, which competes with WordPress with its Blogger service, would have viewed .blog as more threatening in a rival’s hands.

But Primer Nivel and now Automattic/KKWT appear to have no intention to make .blog a WordPress-exclusive gTLD. The original application stated that it would be open to all, and ICANN has since banned so-called “closed generics”.

The registry has already opened a web site at kkwt.domains, which is currently pitching the product to accredited registrars.

It says it plans to go to general availability and “activate” 250,000 .blog domains before the end of the year.

Automattic obtained an ICANN registrar accreditation back in October 2010 but to date has not sold a single domain via that accreditation.

It offers WordPress.com hosting customers domain registrations, but I believe it does so as a GoDaddy reseller.

.blog is currently in “transition to delegation” and it’s probably only a matter of days before it is delegated to the internet.

Mullenweg blogged that the sunrise period is expected to start in August, with and October landrush.

Pricing is expected to be in line with current industry standards, including premium tiers.

The gTLD has always been one of my favorites, and having WordPress backing it will almost certainly make it more successful than if the registry were an independent third party, possibly raising the profile of new gTLDs as a whole.

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World’s first vanity gTLD goes live

Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li has become the first person to own a top-level domain matching his name.

The new gTLD .richardli went live on the internet today. Richard Li

The registry is Pacific Century Asset Management (HK) Limited, a subsidiary of PCCW, the Hong Kong telecomms and internet giant of which Li is chair.

Forbes estimated Li’s personal wealth in 2015 at $4.7 billion, making him the 360th richest guy in the world.

The gTLD is a pure brand-protection play, according to the 2012 application, which states:

An important goal of the TLD is the safeguard of the intellectual property right of our Chairman’s name Richard Li.

The establishment of the .richardli TLD on the Internet safeguards our brand’s intellectual property right (in this case, our Chairman’s name Richard Li). PCCW has invested substantially in the online areas and will continue to do so.

There are no domains currently resolving in .richardli, though we should expect nic.richardli to start resolving in the coming days.

I believe .richardli was the only applied-for new gTLD that exactly matches a specific individual’s personal name.

A handful of gTLDs representing PCCW’s brands in Latin and Chinese scripts also went live today.

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Afilias takes over .hotel, sidelines Krischenowski over hacking claims

Afilias has sought to distance itself from DotBerlin CEO Dirk Krischenowski, due to ongoing claims that he improperly accessed secret data on rival .hotel applicants.

The company revealed in a recent letter to ICANN that it has bought out Krischenowski’s 48.8% stake in successful .hotel applicant Hotel Top Level Domain Sarl and that Afilias will become the sole shareholder of HTLD.

The move is linked to claims that Krischenowski exploited a glitch in ICANN’s new gTLD applicants’ portal to access confidential financial and technical information belonging to rival .hotel applicants.

These competing applicants have ganged up to demand that HTLD should lose its rights to .hotel, which it obtained by winning a controversial Community Priority Evaluation.

Afilias chairman Philipp Grabensee, now “sole managing director” of HTLD, wrote ICANN last month (pdf) to explain the nature of the HTLD’s relationship with Krischenowski and deny that HTLD had benefited from the alleged data compromise.

He said that, at the time of the incidents, Krischenowski was the 50% owner and managing director of a German company that in turn was a 48.8% owner of HTLD. He was also an HTLD consultant, though Grabensee played down that role.

He was responding to a March ICANN letter (pdf) which claimed that Krischenowski’s portal credentials were used at least eight times to access confidential data on .hotel bids. It said:

It appears that Mr Krischenowski accessed and downloaded, at minimum, the financial projections for Despegar’s applications for .HOTEL, .HOTEIS and .HOTELES, and the technical overview for Despegar’s applications for .HOTEIS and .HOTEL. Mr Krischenowski appears to have specifically searched for terms and question types related to financial or technical portions of the application.

Krischenowski has denied any wrongdoing and told DI last month that he simply used the portal assuming it was functioning as intended.

Grabensee said in his letter that any data Krischenowski may have obtained was not given to HTLD, and that his alleged actions were not done with HTLD’s knowledge or consent.

He added that obtaining the data would not have helped HTLD’s application anyway, given that the incident took place after HTLD had already submitted its application. HTLD did not substantially alter its application after the incident, he said.

HTLD’s rival .hotel applicants do not seem to have alleged that HTLD won the contention set due to the confidential data.

Rather, they’ve said via their lawyer that HTLD should be disqualified on the grounds that new gTLD program rules disqualify people who have been convicted of computer crime.

Even that’s a bit tenuous, however, given that Krischenowski has not been convicted of, or even charged with, a computer crime.

The other .hotel applicants are Travel Reservations, Famous Four Media, Radix, Minds + Machines, Donuts and Fegistry.

ICANN is now pressing HTLD for more specific information about Krischenowski’s relationship with HTLD at specific times over the last few years, in a letter (pdf) published last night, so it appears that its overdue investigation is not yet complete.

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Web.com acquires dozens of registrars from Rightside

Kevin Murphy, May 11, 2016, Domain Services

Web.com has acquired dozens of registrars from rival/partner Rightside, seemingly to boost the success rate of its SnapNames domain drop-catching business.

I’ve established that at least 44 registrars once managed by Rightside/eNom have moved to the Web.com stable in recent weeks, and that might not even be the half of it.

All of the registrars in question are shell companies used exclusively to register pre-ordered names as they are deleted by registries, usually Verisign.

The more registrars you have, the more EPP connections you have to the Verisign registry and the better your chance at catching a domain.

Web.com runs SnapNames, and is in a 50-50 partnership with Rightside on rival drop-catcher NameJet.

The two compete primarily with NameBright’s DropCatch.com, which obtained hundreds of fresh ICANN accreditations last year, bringing its total pool to over 750.

Web.com has fewer than 400 accreditations right now. Rightside has even fewer.

It’s usually quicker to buy a registrar than to obtain a new accreditation from ICANN.

If Web.com finds itself in need of more accreditations in order to compete, and Rightside is happy to let them go, it could be possible to infer that SnapNames is doing rather better in terms of customer acquisition than NameJet.

But the two services recently announced a partnership under which names grabbed by either network would be placed in an auction in which customers of either site could participate.

This would have the effect of increasing the number of caught names going to auction due to there being multiple bidders, and thus the eventual sales prices.

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Rightside to modernize eNom, predicts $75m new gTLD revs

Rightside used its first quarter earnings call yesterday to address, albeit indirectly, some of the criticisms recently leveled at it by activist investors and competitors.

CEO Taryn Naidu revealed for the first time how the company sees the new gTLD market playing out in the longer term.

He said than in three to five years, Rightside expects annual revenue from its registry business to come it at $50 million to $75 million.

That’s a hell of a lot more than it makes today.

In the first quarter, registry revenue was $2.6 million, compared to $1.6 million a year ago. Annualized, that’s a shade over $10 million.

On the back of an envelope, Rightside seems to need roughly 50% growth per year over five years to hit the low end of its target.

Naidu told analysts that one factor built into this projection is that third-party registrars will start to sell just as many new gTLD domains as Rightside’s registrars do.

Currently, Rightside sees 15% to 20% new gTLD, but with others it’s 3% to 5%, he said.

Naidu said he expects margins to be 20% at the EBITDA level.

The revelation of these targets may go some way to address investor concerns that Rightside is putting too much effort into its new gTLD business at the expense of its cash-generating registrars.

J Carlo Cannell of Cannell Capital expressed these views and others in March, and was supported by fellow investor Frank Schilling, CEO of Uniregistry.

Naidu last night also addressed concerns about eNom, which Cannell had called a “time capsule” due to its aging user experience.

He admitted that eNom is “encumbered by some older technology” but said it was being fixed.

“Later this quarter we will be rolling out the first phase of our development efforts, which include a dramatically revamped user interface, a new suite of software development tools and a new developer hub to help our partners learn, develop and test faster,” he said.

The registrar business brought in $44 million in the quarter, up from $41.9 million. Aftermarket revenue was $9.3 million compared to $7.3 million.

Overall, revenue was up 9% at $55.1 million, with a net loss of $5.1 million. That compared to income of $1.9 million a year ago.

Naidu also seemed to obliquely address the criticism that a lot of Rightside’s new gTLDs are shit — .democrat, .dance, .army, .navy, and .airforce have been singled out by Cannell and others — by talking about how the company doesn’t necessarily put the same amount of effort into marketing its whole stable.

Some gTLDs will be marketed more heavily later, he said, comparing it to a real estate owner holding on to parcels of land for later development.

Naidu also talked up Rightside’s prospects in China, where apparently .pub is doing quite well because registrants think it means “public” rather than “drinking establishment”.

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