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As .wed goes EBERO, did the first new gTLD just fail?

Kevin Murphy, December 11, 2017, Domain Registries

A wedding-themed gTLD with a Bizarro World business model may become the first commercial gTLD to outright fail.

.wed, run by a small US outfit named Atgron, has become the first non-brand gTLD to be placed under ICANN’s emergency control, after it lost its back-end provider.

DI understands that Atgron’s arrangement with its small New Zealand back-end registry services provider CoCCA expired at the end of November and that there was a “controlled” transition to ICANN’s Emergency Back-End Registry Operator program.

The TLD is now being managed by Nominet, one of ICANN’s approved EBERO providers.

It’s the first commercial gTLD to go to EBERO, which is considered a platform of last resort for failing gTLDs.

A couple of unused dot-brands have previously switched to EBERO, but they were single-registrant spaces with no active domains.

.wed, by contrast, had about 40 domains under management at the last count, some apparently belonging to actual third-party registrants.

Under the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement, ICANN can put a TLD in the emergency program if they fail to meet up-time targets in any of five critical registry functions.

In this case, ICANN said that Atgron had failed to provide Whois services as required by contract. The threshold for Whois triggering EBERO is 24 hours downtime over a week.

ICANN said:

Registry operator, Atgron, Inc., which operates gTLD .WED, experienced a Registration Data Directory Services failure, and ICANN designated EBERO provider Nominet as emergency interim registry operator. Nominet has now stepped in and is restoring service for the TLD.

The EBERO program is designed to be activated should a registry operator require assistance to sustain critical registry functions for a period of time. The primary concern of the EBERO program is to protect registrants by ensuring that the five critical registry functions are available. ICANN’s goal is to have the emergency event resolved as soon as possible.

However, the situation looks to me a lot more like a business failure than a technical failure.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the transition tell me that the Whois was turned off deliberately, purely to provide a triggering event for the EBERO failover system, after Atgron’s back-end contract with CoCCA expired.

The logic was that turning off Whois would be far less disruptive for registrants and internet users than losing DNS resolution, DNSSEC, data escrow or EPP.

ICANN was aware of the situation and it all happened in a coordinated fashion. ICANN told DI:

WED’s backend registry operator recently notified ICANN that they would likely cease to provide backend registry services for .WED and provided us with the time and date that this would occur. As such, we were aware of the pending failure worked to minimize impact to registrants and end users during the transition to the Emergency Back-end Registry Operator (EBERO) service provider.

In its first statement, ICANN said that Nominet has only been appointed as the “interim” registry, while Atgron works on its issues.

It’s quite possible that the registry will bounce back and sign a deal with a new back-end provider, or build its own infrastructure.

KSregistry, part of the KeyDrive group, briefly provided services to .wed last week before the EBERO took over, but I gather that no permanent deal has been signed.

One wonders whether it’s worth Atgron’s effort to carry on with the .wed project, which clearly isn’t working out.

The company was founded by an American defense contractor with no previous experience of the domain name industry after she read a newspaper article about the new gTLD program, and has a business model that has so far failed to attract customers.

The key thing keeping registrars and registrants away in droves has been its policy that domains could be registered (for about $50 a year) for a maximum period of two years before a $30,000 renewal fee kicked in.

That wasn’t an attempt to rip anybody off, however, it was an attempt to incentivize registrants to allow their domains to expire and be used by other people, pretty much the antithesis of standard industry practice (and arguably long-term business success).

That’s one among many contractual reasons that only one registrar ever signed up to sell .wed domains.

Atgron’s domains under management peaked at a bit over 300 in March 2016 and were down to 42 in August this year, making it probably the failiest commercial new gTLD from the 2012 round.

In short, .wed isn’t dead, but it certainly appears extremely unwell.

UPDATE: This post was updated December 12 with a statement from ICANN.

Weirdest new gTLD launch yet? .wed launches with a single registrar

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2014, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .wed went into sunrise yesterday with the strangest pricing model yet and a stringent Registry-Registrar Agreement that seems to have scared off all but one registrar.

Atgron is positioning .wed as a space for marrying couples to celebrate their weddings, but only temporarily.

It seemingly has little interest in domain investors or ongoing customer relationships beyond one or two years.

If you register a second-level .wed domain, you can have it for $150 a year for the first two years, according to the Atgron web site. After that, the price rockets to $30,000 a year.

Registrars, resellers and wedding-oriented businesses are allowed to opt out of the third-year spike on their own .wed names if they join Atgron’s reseller program and sell at least 10 a year.

Unlike Vox Populi, which is actively marketing .sucks domains at $25,000 as a reasonable value proposition, Atgron jacks the price up as a deterrent to registrants holding on to names too long. It says:

.WED domain names are sold to couples for one or two years to celebrate their wedding. The domain names then become available to another couple… Mary and John can have MaryandJohn.WED and then YES the next Mary and John can have MaryandJohn.WED a year or two later and so on and so on.

That alone would be enough to put off most registrars, which value the recurring revenue from ongoing annual renewals, but I gather that the .wed RRA contains even more Draconian requirements.

Incredulous registrars tell me that Atgron wants them to create an entirely new web site to market .wed domains — they’re not allowed to sell the names via their existing storefronts.

The only registrar to bite so far is EnCirca, known historically for promoting obscure gTLDs such as .pro and .travel, which is selling .wed via a new standalone site at encirca.wed.

I also gather that Atgron won’t let registrars opt out of selling its third-level .wed domains, which are expected to go for about $50 a year with no third-year spike.

That didn’t work well for .name — registrars hated its three-level structure, forcing the registry to ultimately go two-level — and I don’t think it’s going to work for .wed either.

Registrars also tell me that Atgron wants to ban them from charging a fee for Whois privacy on .wed domains. They can offer privacy, but only if it’s free to the registrant.

With privacy a relatively high-margin value-add for registrars, it’s hardly surprising that they would balk at having this up-sell taken away from them.

As weird as this all sounds, it is of course an example of the kind of innovative business models that the new gTLD program was designed to create. Mission accomplished on that count.

Another thing the program was designed to create is competition, something Atgron will soon encounter when Minds + Machines arrives with .wedding and eats .wed’s lunch. In my view.

The .wed launch period is also quite unusual.

Atgron is running a landrush period concurrently with its 30-day sunrise period.

Even if you don’t own a trademark, you can apply for a .wed domain today. You’ll get a refund if your name is registered by a trademark owner during sunrise, and names won’t go live until April 20.

The registry has extended the 90-day Trademark Claims period to cover the sunrise period too, so it appears to be in compliance with ICANN rights protection rules on that count.

It’s a 30-day sunrise, so it’s first-come, first served if you’re a trademark owner.

As for sunrise pricing, the third-year spike appears to apply too.

Atgron documentation does say there’s going to be an option to purchase a 10-year trademark block for a one-time fee, but I couldn’t find any way to do this on the EnCirca.wed web site today.

Ten more new gTLDs go live

Kevin Murphy, January 24, 2014, Domain Registries

Donuts, Afilias and Atgron were the beneficiaries of 10 new gTLD delegations yesterday.

Various Donuts subsidiaries had .boutique, .bargains, .cool, .expert, .tienda (“shop” in Spanish), .tools, .watch, .works delegated, bringing the company’s total portfolio to 70 gTLDs.

Afilias had its fourth new gTLD of this round go live in the DNS root: .kim, which is expected to serve people who have the first or last name Kim.

I think it’s the first personal-name gTLD to hit the internet.

Finally, Atgron had .wed delegated. It’s going to be an unrestricted gTLD aimed at marrying couples. It will eventually compete with the currently contested string .wedding.

I have to ponder what the renewal rates are going to be like for what seems to be the first event-focused TLD.

How long before their big day will registrants register their names, and for how long afterwards will they keep the registration alive for sentimental reasons? Atgron reckons such sites stay live for about 18 months.

There are also reportedly twice half as many divorces as marriages in the US at the moment. One wonders why nobody applied for .divorce.

.pink and two other gTLDs get contracts

Kevin Murphy, October 3, 2013, Domain Registries

ICANN has signed Registry Agreements this week with three new gTLD applicants, covering the strings .wed, .ruhr and .pink.

I would characterize these strings as a generic, a geographic and a post-generic.

regiodot GmbH wants to use .ruhr as a geographic for the Ruhr region of western Germany while Atgron wants to providing marrying couples with .wed for their wedding-related web sites.

Afilias’ .pink belongs to that unusual category of applied-for gTLDs that I’m becoming increasingly interested in: the non-SEO generic.

The vast majority of generic, open gTLDs that have been applied for (mostly by domainer-driven portfolio applicants) in the current round are essentially “keyword” strings — stuff that’s very likely going to prove useful in search engine optimization.

I’m talking here about stuff like .music, .video, .football and .porn. These may prove popular with small business web site owners and domainers.

But there’s another category of generic gTLDs I believe have little SEO value but offer a certain quirky-cool branding opportunity that may prove attractive to regular, non-commercial registrants.

I’d put strings such as .ninja, .bom, .wow, .hot, .love and .pink into this category.

I’m very curious to see how these kinds of strings fare over the next few years, as I suspect we may see many more such applications in future gTLD rounds.