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Are 25x price increases on the cards as XYZ corners the cars market?

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2020, Domain Registries

Grab-happy registry XYZ.com has expanded its stable of strings to 22 after buying five little-used gTLDs from Dominion Registries.

It recently came into control of .autos, .motorcycles, .homes, .yachts, and .boats, CEO Daniel Negari confirmed earlier this week.

Following XYZ’s buyout of .auto, .car and .cars from former joint venture partner UNR a couple months back, it seems the company now pretty much has a lock on the English-language automotive domain market.

This raises the question, so far unanswered by the registry, about whether .autos registrants could be about to face some of the steepest price increases the new gTLD market has seen to date.

XYZ’s .auto, .car and .cars currently command among the highest base prices in the market — about $2,500 at retail for a basic, non-premium name — while .autos has been chugging along at $100 per domain per year.

It would make perfect sense for the registry to give its new acquisition a 25x price increase to align it with the rest of the automotive portfolio, but so far the company is tight-lipped on the subject.

Fortunately, the current pool of .autos registrants is quite small — a little over 400 names, about the same as .auto but a couple hundred ahead of .cars and .car — so there would not be many customers to piss off.

Indeed, three of the other TLDs XYZ just bought have what you might generously call “growth potential”.

The only one of the five gTLDs to have more than 500 domains under management is .homes, which has more than 13,000.

With XYZ’s broader channel reach and superior marketing prowess, there’s certainly upside on the horizon.

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.gay and Star Trek star troll the right to promote new gTLD

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2020, Domain Registries

.gay registry Top Level Design has latched onto a social media trolling trend to promote the gTLD shortly after its launch.

The registry has created the web site TheProudBoys.gay, with the support of Star Trek actor and gay rights activist George Takei, as part of a broader social media effort to shame an American far-right group called The Proud Boys.

The Proud Boys is a political collective active in North America, widely regarded as far-right, neo-fascist, and sometimes a “hate group” or “white-supremacist”.

Whether it’s overtly homophobic is probably open to question — the group denies the charge — but in the US if you’re on the far right it’s usually implicit you do not support gay rights.

The Proud Boys are are probably most famous due to the first US Presidential debate last month, when Donald Trump declined to condemn the group with sufficient clarity.

After the debate, Takei suggested on Twitter that people who support gay rights post images of gay people doing gay things on social media using the hashtag #proudboys.

Sure enough, the hashtag was shortly dominated by photos of men kissing each other, or dressed in revealing leather outfits. It was really quite funny.

And then Top Level Design put up its web site on a .gay domain, which compiles some of these social media posts alongside a post condemning the Proud Boys.

The registry said it wants to “create a positive online space that celebrates this new community and galvanizes voters”, presumably referring to the imminent US Presidential election.

Takei seemed to endorse the site on Twitter, and Top Level Design suggested he had endorsed it.

While I find this all very funny, I have to wonder whether it’s strictly within .gay’s stated goals.

Top Level Design has said that it won’t allow bullying in its TLD.

I assumed that meant that if somebody used a .gay domain to “out” somebody not gay or not ready to come out, the domain would be suspended.

In this case the domain appears to be being used to imply plainly straight people are gay, which just feels wrong to me.

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Forty weddings and a funeral? .wed is dead but may come up for auction

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2020, Domain Registries

.wed has become the first commercial, open, non-branded new gTLD to have its registry contract unilaterally terminated by ICANN, and it could soon be looking for a new home.

ICANN terminated the contract with US-based Atgron last week, almost three years after imposing emergency measures to protect registrants after the company’s business model failed miserably.

The company wanted to provide a space for engaged couples to promote their weddings for about $50 a year, but its business model was based around basically forcing registrants to abandon their names by charging a $30,000 renewal fee after year two.

Unsurprisingly, it attracted few registrants — about 300 at its 2016 peak — and only one registrar.

By the time the end of 2017 rolled around, it was languishing at 39 domains (for the purposes of a whimsical headline, let’s round it up to 40) and its agreement with its back-end registry operator was on the verge of expiring.

In the hope of keeping its customers’ domains working, Atgron turned off its Whois for a week, attracting the attention of ICANN and triggering a criterion for transitioning to an Emergency Back-End Registry Operator.

It’s been on an EBERO, in this case Nominet, since December 2017, with all domains essentially frozen.

In the meanwhile, it’s been fighting against contract termination with ICANN, first in mediation and then in arbitration.

Last month, the arbitrator ruled that Atgron was in breach for failure to pay its ICANN fees, and ICANN terminated the registry agreement October 5.

.wed is certainly not the first new gTLD to get terminated by ICANN — there’s been about a dozen to date — but it is the first to be a non-dot-brand.

This means ICANN will get to test its Registry Transition Process for the first time.

When a dot-brand dies, ICANN just removes it from the root and lets it stay dead on the grounds that there’s no plausible successor and no registrants will suffer.

In this case, we’re talking about an open, non-branded gTLD with a generic string that could potentially rack up many thousands of registrations.

There’d be no obligation for a future operator to take on the silly business model.

The Registry Transition Process will go one of two ways.

If Atgron has already picked a successor registry, ICANN will conduct a series of evaluations that look like they would be a piece of cake for any existing gTLD portfolio owner to pass.

But if Atgron has no heir apparent, it goes to an RFP which basically amounts to an auction, with the company prepared to pay Atgron the most money becoming the company’s presumed preferred successor.

With Atgron still owing ICANN money — presumably hundreds of thousands of dollars — in past-due fees, I’ve little doubt what ICANN’s preferred outcome would be.

For Atgron, there’s the distinct possibility that it could make more money from crashing .wed into the ground than it ever did by actually selling domains.

.wed is not a bad string — it’s short, meaningful, and has a niche of potential registrants already forced to overpay for almost everything else — and I’m fairly confident it could easily find a new home at an existing registry.

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Holy Scheisse! Did you know ICANN 69 starts TOMORROW?

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2020, Domain Policy

ICANN is starting its ICANN 69 public annual general meeting four days earlier than originally planned, and it appears to have only publicly announced the date change 24 hours in advance.

How’s that for transparency?

Usually, ICANN AGMs kick off formally on the Monday morning and run through the Thursday afternoon, but meetings between community groups start taking place the previous Friday, leading to a seven-day continuous meeting.

For ICANN 69, originally planned for Hamburg but now of course an online-only experience, ICANN has removed the Friday and weekend sessions and split the week in two.

There’ll be three “Community Days” from October 13 (which is tomorrow when I’m posting this but possibly today by the time you read it), three days off, and then four days of “Plenary Sessions”, beginning with the opening ceremony on Monday morning.

The community days include stuff like policy working group meetings, but they also include the top-level interactions between each constituency group, including the Governmental Advisory Committee, and the ICANN board of directors.

These traditional airing of grievances, usually on “constituency day” Tuesday, are where the tensions and hot topics of interest for the whole community are raised, and always worth listening to.

The decision to shake up the schedule appears to have been made some time in September. Last time I checked ICANN’s meetings page, September 2, it still showed the old October 17 start date.

What I find utterly baffling is that ICANN does not seem have made a formal public announcement of the date change, despite having blogged or made announcements about various aspects of the meeting several times.

I genuinely only found out today, reading this blog post that ICANN put out today, just one day before the meeting starts.

It certainly seems that the information has filtered out to the parts of the community that actually need to participate in the various sessions.

But what about the rest of us? Unless you’ve registered and logged in to the ICANN 69 web site since the changes were made, I’m not sure how you were meant to know.

Did you know?

I had plans to get my toenails done tomorrow.

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MMX probing accounting of mystery contract

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2020, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry MMX says it’s looking into whether it incorrectly accounted for about $1 million of revenue last year.

The company told investors Friday that $938,000 of revenue from a single contract was recognized in 2019, but there’s a possibility it should have been classified as “a refundable deposit against future sales or deferred revenue”.

The same goes for $25,000 recognized in the first half of this year.

The contract generated cash of $1.125 million in 2019.

Regular domain sales are usually recognized over the course of the registration and show up on the balance sheet as deferred revenue.

It’s not known which contract MMX is referring to in its notice. I’m tempted to wonder whether it relates to AdultBlock, the defensive registration service available across the company’s four porn-themed gTLDs.

The company had previously reported $1.1 million in revenue (rather than cash) from the sale of 2,000 AdultBlock regs for 2019, which puts it in the right ball-park, but it seems unlikely that so many domains would be blocked under a single contract.

MMX said the worst that could happen is that it would be on the hook for $1 million if it turned out the cash was refundable, adding that it had $7.3 million in the bank at the end of June.

Its share price took a battering anyway, losing almost a fifth of its value on Friday.

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NamesCon will be back to in-person events next July

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2020, Domain Services

The NamesCon conference plans to be back to in-person meetings by July 2021, according to the organizers.

NamesCon said today that there will be three conferences next year. The first will be virtual, the second physical, and the third hybrid.

The first meeting will be from January 27 to January 29 next year. That’s the typical “Global” event. But this time it will be another NamesCon Online, because, well, you know.

NamesCon seems to be optimistic that this coronavirus nonsense will be largely settled by next July, because it’s planning an in-person conference in Budapest, Hungary, for July 14 to July 17 next year.

The third 2021 meeting will somewhere in North America about a year from now. It will be a “hybrid” live/online deal.

Let’s hope this is all possible. Let’s face it, none of us knows.

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.eu registry contract up for grabs

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2020, Domain Registries

The European Commission has opened up the .eu registry contract for rebid.

It’s a five-year contract that will come into effect in October 2022. Registries have to apply before the end of the year, and the Commission expects to make its pick in October 2021.

The incumbent is of course EURid, which has been running the ccTLD for the last 15 years and surely has a strong chance of renewing.

There are a few restrictions of which companies can apply.

First, they must be based in the EU or the UK. The registry infrastructure must also be located in the EU.

Second, they must be a not-for-profit entity. For-profit companies would have to set up a separate non-profit registry vehicle in order to be able to apply. All surplus revenue goes into the EU budget.

Third, they need at least seven years of experience running a registry — .eu currently has over 3.6 million names under management, making it the 13th or 14th largest TLD that I have numbers for.

There are a variety of technical and financial criteria applicants will be measured against, and a scoring system for picking a winner.

All the application forms can be found over here.

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EURid suspends and delays thousands of coronavirus domains

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2020, Domain Registries

Thousands of .eu domains containing words related to the coronavirus pandemic have either been suspended or frozen due to suspicions the registrants may have been up to no good, EURid reported this week.

The company started scanning new and recent registrations for these keywords at the start of April.

It found 3,489 such domains registered in the first quarter, and it suspended 1,709 of them because the registrant failed to verify their identity and confirm that the registration was made in good faith.

From April to the end of September, 4,656 domains triggered the system and were delayed from going live until EURid carried out its checks. Only a quarter of these names have so far passed the checks, EURid said.

While there are many legit sites providing pandemic-related information, the high-profile disease has also attracted many fraudsters.

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.jobs plans to raise millions from premium names after dumping its sponsor

Kevin Murphy, October 6, 2020, Domain Registries

Third time lucky for .jobs?

Having had its first two business models fail, Employ Media has appealed to ICANN to scrap the cumbersome restrictions that have dogged .jobs for 15 years and allow it to raise potentially millions by auctioning off premium domains.

.jobs is one of a handful of “sponsored” gTLDs applied for in the 2003 round, but now it wants to dump its sponsor and substantially liberalize its eligibility policies.

.jobs has been sponsored by the Society for Human Resource Management since its approval by ICANN back in 2005, but Employ Media wants a divorce.

It’s also asking ICANN to promise not to fire barrages of lawyers at it if (or, more likely, when) it attempts to auction off tens of thousands of premium .jobs domains, some of which are currently carrying six-figure asking prices.

The gTLD was one of a handful approved in the 2003 “Sponsored TLD” round, an experimental early effort to introduce top-level competition, which also produced TLDs including .xxx, .asia, .cat and .mobi.

.jobs was originally restricted in two primary ways: only card-carrying HR professionals could register names, and they could only register the name of the company they worked for.

As you might imagine, the domains didn’t exactly fly off the shelves. By January 2010 fewer than 8,000 names had been registered, while the likes of .mobi — also “sponsored”, but far less restricted — were approaching one million.

So Employ Media took a gamble, creating what it called Universe.jobs. It registered about 40,000 domains representing professions like nursing.jobs and geographic terms like newyork.jobs, and populated the sites with job listings provided in partnership with the non-profit DirectEmployers Association.

As I reported extensively in DI’s early days, ICANN saw this as a breach of its Registry Agreement and threatened to terminate the contract. But Employ Media fought back, and ICANN eventually retreated, allowing Universe.jobs to go ahead.

I’ve thought so little about .jobs in the last eight years that I didn’t notice that Universe.jobs had also crumbled until today.

It seems DirectEmployees terminated the deal in 2018 after the registry refused to give it a bigger slice of revenue, then launched a competing for-profit service called Recruit Rooster, stranding Employ Media without a key revenue stream.

The registry sued (pdf) last year, accusing DirectEmployers of stealing its clients in violation of their agreement. While DirectEmployers denied the claims (pdf), the lawsuit was nevertheless settled last November, according to court documents.

That didn’t solve the problem of Employ Media not having a strong business model any more, of course.

So the company wrote to ICANN back in April to ask for changes to its Registry Agreement, enabling it to split from SHRM after 15 years of nominal oversight and create its own “independent” HR Council to oversee .jobs policy.

The Council would be made up of HR professionals not employed by Employ Media and would make seemingly non-binding “recommendations” about registry policy.

The proposed changes also reduce registrant eligibility to what looks like a box-checking exercise, as well as permitting Employ Media to sell off “noncompanyname” domains at auction or for premium fees.

Under the current contract, you can only register a .jobs domain if you’re a salaried HR professional and are certified by the Human Resource Certification Institute.

If the proposed changes are approved by ICANN, which seems very likely given ICANN’s history of pushing through contract amendments, the new rule will be:

Persons engaged in human resource management practices that are supportive of a code of ethics that fosters an environment of trust, ethical behavior, integrity, and excellence (as exemplified in the current Society for Human Resource Management (“SHRM”) Code of Ethical and Professional Standards in Human Resource Management or other similar codes) each, a “Qualified Applicant” may request registration of second-level domains within the TLD.

Sounds rather like something that could easily be buried in the Ts&Cs or dealt with with a simple check-box at the checkout.

The proposed new contract further guts the restricted nature of the TLD and removes the ability of the new sponsor (essentially the registry itself) to increase eligibility requirements in future.

Another amendment not flagged up prominently by ICANN on its public comment page specifically permits the registry to launch a “Phased Allocation Program” for generic second-level names, what it calls “noncompanyname” domains:

Registry Operator may elect to allocate the domain names via the following processes: 1) Request for Proposals (RFP) to invite interested parties to propose specific plans for registration, use and promotion of domains that are not their company name; 2) By auction that offers domains not allocated through the RFP process; and 3) A first-come, first-served real-time release of any domains not registered through the RFP or auction processes. Registry Operator reserves the right to not allocate any of such names. The domain names included within the scope of the Phased Allocation Program shall be limited to noncompanyname.TLD domain names, not including all reserved names as identified in Specification 5 of this Agreement.

Basically, Employ Media plans to sell off the tens of thousands of Universe.jobs domains it still has registered to itself, potentially raising millions in the process. One and two-character domains will also be released, subject to ICANN rules.

Many of these domains, even universe.jobs itself, seem to have make-an-offer landing pages already, with suggested prices such as $500,000 for hotel.jobs and $750,000 for us.jobs.

Bizarrely, these landers have a logo branding .jobs as “a legacy TLD”, a slogan I imagine is meaningless to almost anyone outside the domain industry and not particularly evocative or sexy.

The sum of all this is that .jobs is arguably on the verge of becoming a sponsored TLD in name only, with the potential for a big windfall for the registry.

Oh, and it’s all up for public comment before ICANN gives final approval to the contract changes. Comments close November 16.

Will anyone begrudge the company a chance at success, after 15 years of being handcuffed by its own policies?

I can imagine Donuts may have a view, operating as it does the competing .careers, which currently has fewer than 8,000 regs and is almost certainly the weaker string.

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Peaceful transfer of power? GNSO’s next chair is a shoo-in

Kevin Murphy, October 5, 2020, Domain Policy

Unlike other upcoming democratic processes we could mention, it looks like the transition to a new chair of ICANN’s GNSO Council will be peaceful, non-controversial, and probably won’t result in widespread looting and arson.

Philippe Fouquart is the sole candidate, and he’ll be voted in with an open ballot at the ICANN AGM later this month.

As a senior techie for telecoms company Orange, he’s sat on the Council as a representative of the Internet Service Providers Constituency for the last three years. He hails from France.

Fouquart was nominated by the Non-Contracted Parties House. The Contracted Parties House, representing registries and registrars, did not field a candidate.

Unlike normal procedure, which calls for a secret paper ballot, the Council will vote via a simple, public roll-call at the AGM.

He’ll replace Verisign VP Keith Drazek, who’s chaired the Council for the last two years.

In terms of vice-chairs, the CPH has reappointed Pam Little of Chinese registrar Alibaba for another year and the NCPH has selected cybersecurity policy expert Tatiana Tropina to replace Rafik Dammak.

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