Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Two more gTLD bids kicked out of the program, but .kids gets ICANN funding

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2013, Domain Services

Two more applications have been rejected from the new gTLD program, after they tried and failed to have their application fees subsidized by ICANN’s Applicant Support Program.

Three gTLDs were submitted for financial assistance, but ICANN’s Support Application Review Panel, delivering its results (pdf) today, decided that only one of them qualified for a cheapo bid.

DotKids Foundation Ltd, which is applying for .kids, is the lucky recipient of $138,000 worth of waived application fees. Its application now enters Initial Evaluation.

The applicants for .ummah (Ummah Digital Ltd) and .idn (NameShop), on the other hand, have been given a refund of the $47,000 application fee they paid and politely shown the door.

ICANN said: “applications that did not meet the threshold criteria for financial assistance will be excluded from further participation in this round of the New gTLD Program”.

That rule was introduced to prevent gaming — companies that asked for cheaper applications risked losing their applications if they failed to meet the requirements for support.

It doesn’t mean there was anything wrong with their gTLD applications, however.

The approval of funding for the DotKids Foundation is goodish news for people uncomfortable with Amazon’s closed gTLD land-grab — the retailer is the only other applicant for .kids.

While the .kids contention set remains, is pretty safe to say that Amazon will be able to utterly crucify its competition if the TLD goes to auction.

Mystery gTLD applicant to take Google fight to lawmakers

Kevin Murphy, February 13, 2013, Domain Policy

An as-yet unidentified new gTLD applicant plans to lobby Washington DC and Brussels hard to get dozens of Google’s new gTLD bids thrown out of ICANN on competition grounds.

Phil Corwin of the law firm Virtuallaw, who is representing this applicant, told DI yesterday that his client believes Google plans to use new gTLDs to choke off competition in the web search market.

“They’re trying to use the TLD program to enhance their own dominance and exclude potential competitors,” Corwin said. “We think this should be looked at now because once these TLDs are delegated the delegations are basically forever.”

He’s planning to take these concerns to “policy makers and regulators” in the US and Europe, in a concerted campaign likely to kick off towards the end of the month (his client’s identity will be revealed at that time, he assured us).

Corwin’s client — which is in at least one contention set with Google, though in none with Amazon — reckons ICANN’s new gTLD program is ill-suited to pick the best candidate to run a gTLD.

If objections to new gTLD applications fail, the last-resort method for deciding the winner of a contention set is auction. Google obviously has the resources to win any auction it finds itself in.

“On any TLD Google has applied for, nobody can beat them,” said Corwin. “They have $50bn cash, plus the value of their stock. If they want any of the TLDs they’ve applied for, they get them.”

“A string contention process that relies solely on an auction clearly favors the deep-pocketed,” he said.

Google applied for 101 new gTLDs, 98 of which remain in play today. A small handful of the strings are dot-brands (such as .youtube and .google), with the majority comprising dictionary words and abbreviations.

Some of its generic bids propose open business models, while others would have “closed” or single-registrant business models. As we reported on Friday, this has kicked off a firestorm in the ICANN community.

Corwin said that Google appears to be planning to close off not only individual TLDs, but entire categories of TLDs.

For example, Google has applied for .youtube as a brand, but it’s also applied for .film, .movie, .mov, .live, .show and .tube with a variety of proposed business models.

“You can pretty well bet that they’ll exclude those that will pose a competitive threat to YouTube,” Corwin said.

Search will become much more important after the launch of hundreds of new gTLDs, Corwin reckons, as consumers are “not going to know that most of them exist”.

“Generic words are the perfect platform for constructing vertical search engines that can compete against Google’s general search engine,” Corwin said.

“Google is trying to buy up not just one but multiple terms that cover the same goods and services in key areas of internet commerce, and in effect control them so competition cannot arise and challenge Google’s dominance as a search engine,” he said.

Google has not yet revealed in any meaningful way how its search engine will handle new gTLDs.

The US Federal Trade Commission, at the conclusion of an antitrust investigation, recently gave Google a pass for its practice of prominently displaying results from its own services on results pages.

With that in mind, if Google were to win its contention set for .movie, but not for .film, is it possible that .movie would get a competitive advantage from preferential treatment in search?

Corwin reckons that Google anti-competitive intentions are already suggested by its strategy in ICANN’s new gTLD prioritization draw, which took place in December.

Of the roughly 150 applications for which Draw tickets were not purchased, Google is behind 24 of them — including .movie, .music, .tube and .search — 22 of which are in contention sets.

As a result, these contention sets have all been shunted to the back of ICANN’s application processing queue, adding many months to time-to-market and costing rival, less-well-funded applicants a lot of money in ongoing overheads.

“We see Google playing a rather different game here to most other applicants in terms of their motivation, which is not to enter the market but to protect their market dominance,” Corwin said.

Corwin said the game plan is to taken all these concerns to policy makers and regulators in the US and Europe in order to get governments on-side, both inside and outside of the ICANN process.

Corwin is also counsel and front-man for domainer group the Internet Commerce Association, but he said that the new anti-Google drive is unrelated to his work for ICA.

So why is his client only bringing up the issue now? After all, we’ve all known about the contents of every new gTLD application since last June.

My hunch is that Google is playing hard-ball behind the scenes in settlement talks with contention set rivals.

Contention sets can be resolved only when all but one of the applicants drops out, either following an ICANN auction or private buy-outs. Most applicants favor private resolution because it offers them the chance to recoup some, all, or more than the money they splashed out on applying.

That game plan probably does not apply to Google, of course, which is not wanting of funds. The company may even have good reason to prefer ICANN auctions, in order to to discourage those who would apply for new gTLDs in future just in order to put their hands in Google’s pockets.

The topic of closed generics and competition is likely to be a hot-button topic at ICANN’s next public meeting, coming up in Beijing this April.

Members of ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee have already expressed some concerns about many “closed gTLD” applications made by Google, Amazon and others.

ICANN’s board of directors is currently mulling over what to do about the issue, and has thrown it open to public comment for your feedback.

Consumer Watchdog slams “outrageous” Google and Amazon keyword gTLD bids

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2012, Domain Registries

Consumer Watchdog, a California-based consumer rights advocacy group, has attacked Google and Amazon’s new gTLD applications in a letter to an influential senator.

The organization has asked Sen. Jay Rockefeller, chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, to “thwart” the “outrageous” plans for single-registrant dictionary-word gTLDs.

Google and Amazon have separately applied for dozens of gTLDs — such as .music, .blog and .book — that they would exclusively use to market their own products and services.

Consumer Watchdog said in its letter (pdf):

If these applications are granted, large parts of the Internet would be privatized. It is one thing to own a domain associated with your brand, but it is a huge problem to take control of generic strings. Both Google and Amazon are already dominant players on the Internet. Allowing them further control by buying generic domain strings would threaten the free and open Internet that consumers rely upon. Consumer Watchdog urges you to do all that you can to thwart these outrageous efforts and ensure that the Internet continues its vibrant growth while serving the interests of all of its users.

As we reported yesterday, a number of domain name industry participants are planning to complain to ICANN about these applications on pretty much the same grounds.

Industry objection forming to Google and Amazon’s keyword gTLD land grab

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2012, Domain Registries

Members of the domain name industry, led by Michele Neylon of Blacknight, plan to complain to ICANN about dozens of single-registrant new gTLD applications filed by Google and Amazon.

The signatories of a new letter are bothered by plans by these companies and others to hold dictionary word gTLDs for their own exclusive use, not allowing regular internet users to register domains.

While the letter does not call out applicants by name, it specifically mentions .blog, .music and .cloud as examples of potentially objectionable single-registrant gTLDs.

Google has applied for .blog and .cloud for its own use, among many others. Amazon has done the same for .cloud and .music and dozens of others. All three are heavily contested.

The letter is so far signed by 13 people, many of whom work for registrars. It states in part:

generic words used in a generic way belong to all people. It is inherently in the public interest to allow access to generic new gTLDs to the whole of the Internet Community, e.g., .BLOG, .MUSIC, .CLOUD. Allowing everyone to register and use second level domain names of these powerful, generic TLDs is exactly what we envisioned the New gTLD Program would do. In contrast, to allow individual Registry Operators to segregate and close-off common words for which they do not possess intellectual property rights in effect allows them to circumvent nation-states’ entrenched legal processes for obtaining legitimate and recognized trademark protections.

The ICANN Applicant Guidebook gives certain special privileges to single-registrant gTLDs.

In its discretion, ICANN can release such registries from the Code of Conduct, which obliges them to treat all accredited registrars on a non-discriminatory basis.

The condition for this exception is that “all domain name registrations in the TLD are registered to, and maintained by, Registry Operator for its own exclusive use”.

The measure was designed to capture dot-brand gTLDs such as .google and .amazon, where only the registry itself controls the second-level domain names.

But Google seems to want to benefit from the exception to the Code of Conduct while still offering second-level domains for use by its customers, at least in some applications.

In its .blog application, for example, it states:

Charleston Road Registry [the applying Google subsidiary] intends to apply for an exemption to ICANN’s Registry Operator Code of Conduct and operate the proposed gTLD with Google as the sole registrar and registrant. The proposed gTLD will specifically align with Blogger, an existing Google product, and will provide users with improved capabilities that meet their diverse needs.

The specialization goal of the proposed gTLD is to provide a dedicated second-level domain space for the management of a userʹs Blogger account.

However, the same application also states:

The mission of the proposed gTLD is to provide a dedicated domain space in which users can publish blogs. All registered domains in the .blog gTLD will automatically be delegated to Google DNS servers, which will in turn provide authoritative DNS responses pointing to the Google Blogger service. The mission of the proposed gTLD is to simplify the Blogger user experience. Users will be able to publish content on a unique .blog domain (e.g., myname.blog) which will serve as a short and memorable URL for a particular Blogger account.

“Google want .blog to be only for Blogspot users, which is insane,” Neylon told DI. “No one company should have control of a generic name space like that.”

“The new TLD project spent thousands of hours working on protecting IP rights, and then you get big companies blatantly abusing the system,” he said.

It’s not at all clear whether Google’s plan for .blog is a permitted use case. Does Google’s plan for .blog and other gTLDs mean third parties will be “controlling” and/or “using” .blog domains?

Or is its plan more akin to a dot-brand offering its customers vanity URLs, such as kevin.barclays or john.citi?

I err to the former interpretation.

When a new gTLD applicant asked ICANN for clarity on this matter last December, ICANN’s response was:

“Exclusive use” has its common meaning. The domain name must be exclusively used by the Registry Operator, and no unaffiliated (using the definition of “Affiliate” in the Registry Agreement) third-party may have control over the registration or use of the domain name.

Neylon said he plans to send the letter to ICANN management, board and new gTLD program Independent Objector next week. There’s no target number of signatures.

One-letter domain sales not enough for .co

.CO Internet has added another high-profile customer to its roster of .co domain name registrants with the announcement today that Amazon has purchased four premium names.

Amazon has acquired a.co, k.co, z.co and cloud.co. The deal follows the allocation of t.co and x.co to Twitter and Go Daddy respectively and Overstock.com’s purchase of o.co.

While this is undoubtedly great news for .co’s visibility, it seems to me that .CO Internet is in danger of looking like a one-trick pony due to the brand’s over-reliance on high-profile short domain deals.

If Amazon throws its marketing muscle behind cloud.co, that will prove much more useful in terms of awareness-raising than the allocation of more single-character domains ever will.

It remains to be seen what Amazon plans to do with its three new short .co domains. It would be much more useful for the TLD if they are used for purposes other than URL shorteners.

There are only 36 such domains available. If people only associate .co with short Twitter links, the appeal of the TLD could be checked.

.CO Internet knows this, of course, which is why its marketing strategy from the start has been focused on gaining rank-and-file support from entrepreneurs and web developers.

Right now, I can’t help but feel that the longevity of the .co brand could benefit much more from a successful start-up or two than yet another single-character domain sale.

Prices for the Amazon domains were not disclosed. The four domains combined could feasibly have fetched a seven-figure sum, judging by the $350,000 Overstock paid for o.co.

The registry has also for some months been trying to sell off i.co, and has engaged Sedo as its broker.