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Something weird’s going on at .sucks

Kevin Murphy, October 14, 2020, Domain Registries

Ever heard of a domainer or cybersquatter putting their freshly-registered domains up for sale at cost?

Me neither, but that’s what seems to be going on at .sucks right now.

The sudden appearance of many hundreds of .sucks domains — many of them matching very famous trademarks — at Sedo and Uniregistry comes as the registry unveils plans to open up a secondary marketplace of its own.

.sucks registry Vox Populi, a part of the Momentous group of companies, wants to open its own marketplace, according to a letter it recently sent to ICANN.

The registry told ICANN it plans to launch a service “whereby a Registrant of a .sucks domain name can list their domain for resale with the Registry”, saying it will “allow our Registrars to show the domain as available for purchase by third parties at the price set by the current Registrant.”

It’s taking a somewhat confrontational approach from the outset, telling ICANN that it does not believe the service would constitute a “registry service” that would require ICANN’s approval under the Registry Service Evaluation Process.

It points to the fact that registrants can already list their .sucks names on existing marketplaces such as Sedo as proof that it’s not a “product or service that only a registry operator is capable of providing, by reason of its designation as the registry operator” requiring the RSEP.

This interpretation strikes me as open to debate, but I’m not going to get into that here.

What’s more interesting is that the vast majority of the domains listed on these competing platforms appear to have been registered relatively recently, in bulk, all via Momentous-owned registrar Rebel, and quite possibly by the same registrant.

What’s weird is that the majority of the .sucks names listed at Sedo have a buy-now price of $199. Some are priced higher. Some priced at $199 at Sedo are priced at $599 at Uniregistry.

$199 is the absolute cheapest you can buy a .sucks domain name anywhere. It’s Rebel’s retail price, and I believe it’s also Vox Pop’s wholesale price. Even the cheapest unaffiliated registrars slap a $50 markup on the registry fee.

The domains started being listed on the aftermarkets after a sharp spike in .sucks sales back in June, where my data shows that over 2,000 names were registered, via Rebel, in the space of about 24 hours.

The .sucks zone file has been growing ever since, swelling from 7,347 — where volume had been flattish and under 8,000 names for years — to 11,255 since June 16, the date of the first spike.

Almost every .sucks listing I spot-checked on Sedo has three things in common: the $199 price-tag, a recent registration date, and a seller who signed up for the service in 2020 submitting their home territory as Turks and Caicos.

Turks and Caicos, which is also where Rebel is legally based, is a British island territory in the Caribbean with fewer than 38,000 inhabitants. It’s often used for offshore company registrations.

Whois records for the domains I checked with June reg dates use Momentous privacy service Privacy Hero, while other more-recent regs list the registrant as Honey Salt Ltd, a company apparently also based in Turks and Caicos.

So what we seem to have here is a registrant willing to invest half a million dollars or more in .sucks domain names, a great many matching famous brands, and then list them for resale at the exact same price he paid for them.

Why would a cybersquatter pay $199 for jackdaniels.sucks or dolceandgabbana.sucks or unitedinternetmedia.sucks and then put them up for sale for $199? It makes no sense to me.

And it comes at a time when Vox Pop is trying to persuade ICANN that there’s a thriving aftermarket for .sucks domains.

I put all these observations to the CEOs of Momentous and the registry earlier today, and Vox Pop chief John Berard got back to us to say:

With regard to those 2,000 registered names, that was most welcome. I don’t know much more than that about Honey Salt… I am certainly not going to speculate on their plans.

That they are in the Turks and Caicos is interesting, for sure. But you know as well as I that the Caribbean is a hotbed of domain name innovation and investment.

He later added: “Yes, take it to the bank that VPR [Vox Populi Registry] is not behind the registrations.”

On the issue of the registry’s own secondary market plans, Berard said:

we are trying to catch up to others in the domain name industry who first saw the customer value of fostering a secondary market. I think we may be the first registry to do it, but we, i am sorry to say, weren’t the first to market.

If I receive more information or commentary on this weirdness I shall provide updates accordingly.

Uniregistry offers dating-inspired buy-now domains

Kevin Murphy, June 20, 2019, Domain Sales

Uniregistry has come up with a novel way to flog its clients’ domains, inspired by a dating web site.

It has published a list of 60 domains where a final price had already been negotiated by its brokers and agreed by both sides but the sale had for whatever reason not been completed.

The total value of the list appears to be $433,800.

VP of sales Jeffrey Gabriel blogged that the listed prices won’t come down, but that the sellers may decide not to sell at the stated price after all.

All the sales will go through the usual Uniregistry landing-page offer system.

Andrew Allemann has already bought one.

It appears to be a one-off (or occasional) proposition, rather than a new formal, developed, automated buy-it-now service.

I imagine it will be more popular among buyers — who don’t have to muck about too much negotiating a price — than sellers.

Smart sellers, from what I can tell, tend to base their price to a large extent on how rich they think the buyer is.

Gabriel said he’s calling this hook-up service “Missed Connections”, named after the section of Craigslist where people who make meaningful eye contact on public transport can post classifieds in an attempt to make contact with their near-miss.

I once told my girlfriend I loved her for the first time via Missed Connections. True story. Of course, that was back in San Francisco in the mid-noughties, a time and place in history when almost every meaningful transaction or life experience was carried out via Craigslist.

Nowadays, I hear it’s mainly just prostitutes.

ICANN terminates 450 drop-catch registrars

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2017, Domain Registrars

Almost 450 registrars have lost their ICANN accreditations in recent days, fulfilling predictions of a downturn in the domain name drop-catch market.

By my reckoning, 448 registrars have been terminated in the last week, all of them apparently shells operated by Pheenix, one of the big three drop-catching firms.

Basically, Pheenix has dumped about 90% of its portfolio of accreditations, about 300 of which are less than a year old.

It also means ICANN has lost about 15% of its fee-paying registrars.

Pheenix has saved itself at least $1.2 million in ICANN’s fixed accreditation fees, not including the variable and transaction-based fees.

It has about 50 registrars left in its stable.

The terminated registrars are all either numbered LLCs — “Everest [1-100] LLC” for example — or named after random historical or fictional characters or magic swords.

The move is not unexpected. ICANN predicted it would lose 750 registrars when it compiled its fiscal 2018 budget.

VP Cyrus Namazi said back in July that the drop-catching market is not big enough to support the many hundreds of shell registrars that Pheenix, along with rivals SnapNames/Namejet and DropCatch.com, have created over the last few years.

The downturn, Namazi said back then, is material to ICANN’s budget. I estimated at the time that roughly two thirds of ICANN’s accredited registrar base belonged to the three main drop-catch firms.

Another theory doing the rounds, after Domain Name Wire spotted a Verisign patent filing covering a system for detecting and mitigating “registrar collusion” in the space, is that Verisign is due to shake up the .com drop-catch market with some kind of centralized service.

ICANN reckoned it would start losing registrars in October at a rate of about 250 per quarter, which seems to be playing out as predicted, so the purge has likely only just begun.

Sixteen-year-old emoji .com sells for €3,400

Kevin Murphy, June 1, 2017, Domain Sales

An emoji domain name believed to be in the first three such domains ever registered has been sold.

The domain ☮.com (xn--v4h.com) seems to to have been sold to an end-user buyer, via Sedo, for €3,400 ($3,816). The sale appears to have been a quick flip by an Austrian investor.

☮ is of course better known as a symbol representing peace, most associated with campaigns for nuclear disarmament.

The name now redirects to Sonshi.com, an “educational resource for Sun Tzu’s The Art of War”. The owner explains:

As students of Sun Tzu, we understand the objective of understanding warfare is peace. Even when we are forced to do battle, we want to end it quickly. If possible, it is best to prevent fighting altogether. There are few symbols that represent peace and are as recognizable as ☮.

According to research carried out by domain investor Michael Cyger, ☮.com is one of the three oldest emoji domains, after a “hot spring” symbol in .com and .net, all having been registered April 19, 2001.

It’s not a knock-your-socks-off price, given the scarcity of emoji domains and the age of the registration, but it seems to show there are buyers out there.

Emoji domains were recently discouraged by ICANN’s security committee due to the potential for security risks, and are currently effectively banned in new gTLDs.