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Australia considers dumping the .com.

Kevin Murphy, April 20, 2015, Domain Policy

Australian domain overseer auDA is thinking about allowing people to register .au domains directly at the second level for the first time.

The organization has opened up a consultation that would allow registrations such as example.au, rather than just the current system of example.com.au, example.org.au and so on.

The move follows the successful recent releases of 2LDs in the UK (.uk) and New Zealand (.nz) ccTLDs and can be seen as a bid to remain competitive in the face of the new gTLD program’s huge expansion of TLD choice.

A consultation paper (pdf) published today reads:

It is suggested that unprecedented competition from new gTLDs requires .au to be more responsive to global market forces. For .au to remain a strong and highly-regarded TLD we need not only to rely on its distinctive Australian identity and good reputation, but continue to innovate in order to counter the likely impact of hundreds of new gTLDs flooding the market. Whilst .au is currently very popular with Australian users, there is potential for new gTLDs to erode the brand equity in .au.

Currently, .au has over a dozen different second-level options, but about 85% of registrations are in .com.au. The TLD has just shy of three million names today.

Complicating matters slightly, the different 2LDs have different registration policies, so auDA would need to figure out a way to harmonize them for direct registrations.

auDA speculates that direct registrations may increase the adoption of .au domain names by individuals not currently able to obtain .com.au names but unaware of the individual-focused .id.au (it exists, apparently), thereby growing the .au name space.

It also worries that many second-level direct registrations may turn out to be defensives, registered by the registrants of the matching .com.au names.

The consultation is open for comments until June 1.

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Google eliminating domains from search results

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2015, Domain Tech

Google has made another move to make domain names less relevant to internet users.

The company will no longer display URLs in search results pages for any web site that adopts a certain technical standard.

Instead, the name of the web site will be given. So instead of a DI post showing up with “domainincite.com” in results, it would be “Domain Incite”.

Google explained the change in a blog post incorrectly titled “Better presentation of URLs in search results”.

Webmasters wishing to present a company name or brand instead of a domain name need to publish metadata on their home pages. It’s just a few lines of code.

Google will make a determination whether to make the change based on whether the name meets these criteria:

Be reasonbly [sic] similar to your domain name

Be a natural name used to refer to the site, such as “Google,” rather than “Google, Inc.”

Be unique to your site—not used by some other site

Not be a misleading description of your site

Code samples and the rules are published here.

It strikes me that Google, by demanding naming uniqueness, is opening itself up for a world of hurt.

Could there be a landrush among non-unique brands? How will disputes be handled?

Right now the change has been made only to mobile search results and only in the US, but Google hinted that it could roll out elsewhere too.

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NetSol’s free .xyz bundle renews at $57

Kevin Murphy, April 13, 2015, Domain Registrars

Network Solutions is charging a total of $57.17 for renewing the .xyz domain names and associated services it gave away for free as part of .xyz’s controversial launch last year.

A little over a year ago, NetSol found controversy when it pushed hundreds of thousands of .xyz domain names into its customers’ accounts without their explicit consent.

The offer, which required customers to opt out if they didn’t want it, included a year of private registration and a year of email.

The move allowed XYZ.com, the .xyz registry, to report itself as the largest new gTLD registry.

It’s been the subject of some speculation how renewals would be treated by NetSol, but now we know.

Customers, at least in cases reported by DI readers, are being sent renewal notices for their .xyz bundles in the same mailshots as for their .com domains.

Clicking the “Renew” button in these emails takes registrants to a NetSol page on which they can select which of their products they would like to renew.

All, including the .xyz products, are pre-selected for renewal but may be deselected.

Pricing is set at $15.99 for the .xyz domain, $15.99 for the private registration and $25.19 for the email service. That’s a total of $57.17.

Here’s a screenshot of the shopping cart with the pricing (I’ve redacted the domain). Click to enlarge.

The original email sent by NetSol to customers last June, said:

We want to show you how much we appreciate your loyalty by rewarding you with complimentary access to a 1-year registration of a .XYZ domain, one of the hottest new domain extensions. .XYZ domains are proving to have broad appeal and also be extremely memorable. In addition to your complimentary domain, you’ll also receive Professional Email and Private Registration for your .XYZ domain – free of charge.

If you choose not to keep this domain no action is needed and you will not be charged any fees in the future. Should you decide to keep the domain after your complementary first year, simply renew it like any other domain in your account.

The fine print read:

Offer applies to first year of new registrations only. The offer is not transferable and is only available to the recipient. After the complimentary first year the .XYZ domain name and its related services shall expire unless you actively renew the .XYZ domain name and its related services at the then-current rates.

Please note that your use of this .XYZ domain name and/or your refusal to decline the domain shall indicate acceptance of the domain into your account, your continued acceptance of our Service Agreement located online at http://www.networksolutions.com/legal/static-service-agreement.jsp, and its application to the domain.

There’s concern from some registrants that customers may renew their .xyz services without really understanding how they ended up in their account in the first place.

.xyz currently has over 857,000 domains in its zone file.

XYZ.com CEO Daniel Negari was recently quoted as saying that roughly 500,000 of those were not freebies.

The company is being sued by .com registry Verisign for using its reg numbers in “false advertising” that seeks to compare .xyz to .com.

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Rightside slashes new gTLD prices to $0.99

Kevin Murphy, April 13, 2015, Domain Registries

Rightside registrar eNom is to offer domains in several Rightside gTLDs for $0.99 over the coming days.

Today, .rocks domains can be obtained for the special price. They’re usually $12.99 a year.

The price does not apply to renewals. Customers have to use the promo code “pocketchange”.

Rightside stablemates .forsale, .reviews, .ninja and .social will get the $0.99 treatment for one day each over the coming week.

As we’ve learned over the last several months, super-cheap domains boost TLDs’ numbers as some of the internet’s less than ethical characters bulk-register thousands of throwaway domains at once.

So far, gTLDs such as .xyz, .country and .kim have been affected by these spikes, which I currently believe are related to typosquatting campaigns in legacy gTLDs.

I would not be at all surprised if Rightside becomes the latest registry to see its volume swell for similar reasons.

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ICANN in “fact-finding” mode over potential .sucks breach

Kevin Murphy, April 13, 2015, Domain Registries

ICANN is playing its cards close to its chest when pressed on what it thinks Vox Populi may have done wrong with its .sucks launch pricing and policies.

The organization told DI in a statement that it is currently “fact-finding”, and will not speculate on what parts of the Registry Agreement may have been breached.

ICANN on Thursday reported Vox Pop to the US and Canadian trade regulators, asking them to judge whether the registry’s $2,000 sunrise fee broke any laws.

Its Intellectual Property Constituency reckons the launch, which also places thousands of trademarks on permanent, high-priced “Sunrise Premium” list amounts to nothing more than a “shakedown” of brand owners.

Vox Pop CEO John Berard told DI last week that the referral to the US Federal Trade Commission, despite that fact that the company and its owners are Canadian, amounted to “appeasement” of the IPC.

In response, ICANN told DI in a statement:

The registry is offering domain name registrations to registrants located in jurisdictions around the world. It¹s possible that a registry’s activities could violate the law in the registry’s own jurisdiction; it is also possible that a registry’s activities could violate the law in the jurisdiction of a registrar or registrant where the registry offers domain name registrations. In this case, the IPC letter was signed by an attorney based in New York City, and ICANN thought it appropriate to ask both U.S. and Canadian authorities to consider the IPC allegations.

ICANN seems to be saying on the one hand that registries are beholden to the laws of wherever their registrants are based and on the other hand that the jurisdiction of the IPC’s current president, Greg Shatan, somehow has a bearing on what laws gTLD registries are obliged to obey.

I await correction from more knowledgeable readers, but I don’t think either of those statements is accurate.

If the latter is true, then perhaps the IPC should in future elect its leaders from only the countries with the most trademark-friendly regimes.

In ICANN’s letters to the FTC and IPC, the organization said it was “evaluating other remedies”. From the context, it seems that ICANN is thinking it could initiate some kind of compliance action against .sucks regardless of the what governmental regulators say.

Asked to explain this, ICANN told DI:

We¹re currently doing some fact-finding and analysis to assess whether there has been any breach by the registry of its obligations, and, based on the results of that analysis, we will try to determine what remedies, if any, may be available. Obviously, it will depend on all the facts and circumstances. Beyond that, since we haven¹t finished that evaluation process it would be inappropriate to speculate about possible remedies.

That’s not saying much, but it leaves the door open for ICANN Compliance to do something even if the FTC and Office of Consumer Affairs deem that no laws have been broken.

One possible “breach” that has been floated relates to the differential pricing created by the Sunrise Premium list. However, my take on this is that, under the new gTLD contracts, it’s not massively different to other kinds of premium pricing program.

Differential pricing protections only apply to renewal fees. If the registrant is told at the point of sale that their renewal fees will be high, that enables registries to put different fees on different domains.

There have also been theories put forward about ICANN’s motivation for referring .sucks to regulators.

The idea that ICANN can defer to the FTC and others on legal matter is not entirely new. In cases where registries intend to merge, ICANN is allowed under its contracts to refer the deals to regulators before approving them.

But this is the first time ICANN has referred new gTLD pricing to competition authorities.

Is it a case of ICANN ass-covering?

ICANN is taking unique fees worth up to $1 million extra from Vox Populi and, as I wrote two weeks ago, the optics of this are bad for ICANN, which could look like it is profiteering from .sucks.

ICANN has explained that the extra fees related to entities that were owned by Vox Pop parent Momentous, the Canadian registrar that had many subsidiaries go out of business owing ICANN a tonne of cash.

By punting the IPC’s complaint to regulators, ICANN could deflect criticism that it is not doing enough to protect rights holders and registrants while avoiding having to make a tricky decision itself.

Regardless, the FTC referral and the fact that ICANN is charging Vox Pop special fees sends a strong message that ICANN does not trust the registry one bit.

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