Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Is Verisign .web applicant’s secret sugar daddy?

The fiercely contested .web gTLD is being forced into a last-resort auction and some people seem to think a major registry player is behind it.

Two .web applicants — Radix (pdf) and Schlund (pdf) — this week wrote to ICANN to demand that the .web auction, currently planned for July 27, be postponed.

They said the sale should be delayed to give applicants time “to investigate whether there has been a change of leadership and/or control” at rival applicant Nu Dot Co LLC.

Nu Dot Co is a new gTLD investment vehicle headed up by Juan Diego Calle, who launched and ran .CO Internet until it was sold to Neustar a couple of years ago.

I gather that some applicants believe that Nu Dot Co’s .web application is now being bankrolled by a larger company with deeper pockets.

The two names I’ve heard bandied around, talking to industry sources this week, are Verisign and Neustar.

Nobody I’ve talked to has a shred of direct evidence either company is involved and Calle declined to comment.

So is this paranoia or not?

There are a few reasons these suspicions may have come about.

First, the recent revelation that successful .blog applicant Primer Nivel, a no-name Panama entity with a Colombian connection, was actually secretly being bankrolled by WordPress, has opened eyes to the possibility of proxy bidders.

It was only after the .blog contention set was irreversibly settled that the .blog contract changed hands and the truth become known.

Some applicants may have pushed the price up beyond the $19 million winning bid — making the rewards of losing the private auction that much higher — had they known they were bidding against a richer, more motivated opponent.

Second, sources say the .web contention set had been heading to a private auction — in which all losing applicants get a share of the winning bid — but Nu Dot Co decided to back out at the last minute.

Under ICANN rules, if competing applicants are not able to privately resolve their contention set, an ICANN last-resort auction must ensue.

Third, this effective vetoing of the private auction does not appear to fit in with Nu Dot Co’s strategy to date.

It applied for 13 gTLDs in total. Nine of those have already gone to auctions that Nu Dot Co ultimately lost (usually reaping the rewards of losing).

The other four are either still awaiting auction or, in the case of .corp, have been essentially rejected for technical reasons.

It usually only makes sense to go to an ICANN last-resort auction — where the proceeds all go to ICANN — if you plan on winning or if you want to make sure your competitors do not get a financial windfall from a private auction.

Nu Dot Co isn’t actually an operational registry, so it doesn’t strictly have competitors.

That suggests to some that its backer is an operational registry with a disdain for new gTLD rivals. Verisign, in other words.

Others think Neustar, given the fact that its non-domains business is on the verge of imploding and its previous acquisition of .CO Internet from Calle.

I have no evidence either company is involved. I’m just explaining the thought process here.

According to its application, two entities own more than 15% of Nu Dot Co. Both — Domain Marketing Holdings, LLC and NUCO LP, LLC — are Delaware shell corporations set up via an agent in March 2012, shortly before the new gTLD application filing deadline.

Many in the industry are expecting .web to go for more than the $41.5 million GMO paid for .shop. Others talk down the price, saying “web” lacks the cultural impact it once had.

But it seems we will all find out later this month.

Responding to the letters from Schlund and Radix, ICANN yesterday said that it had no plans to postpone the July 27 last-resort auction.

All seven applicants had to submit a postponement form by June 12 if they wanted a delay, ICANN informed them in a letter (pdf), and they missed that deadline.

They now have until July 20 to either resolve the contention privately or put down their deposits, ICANN said.

The applicants for .web, aside from Nu Dot Co, are Google, Donuts, Radix, Schlund, Web.com and Afilias.

Due to a string confusion ruling, .webs applicant Vistaprint will also be in the auction.

China conference leads to 49% .vip spike

The Global Domain Industry Conference, held in China over the weekend, has led to a huge boost in .vip domain sales.

Registry Minds + Machines told the markets this morning that the recently launched gTLD hit 404,892 as of 1600 UTC yesterday, up 49% from Friday.

CEO Toby Hall confirmed to DI that China is very much behind the spike, and that the conference helped raise the profile of .vip.

Billings and orders have now hit $5.5 million, up from $3.2 million on May 22, M+M said. That number includes sunrise and premium sales.

At GDS, M+M sold eight .vip domains auction for a total of $232,000 before auction commissions, which very likely inspired the spike in base-fee registrations.

Photos of GDS published on social media yesterday show a packed auditorium, with hundreds of attendees.

While M+M makes much of the fact that it has not used a “freenium” strategy for .vip — which it says may lead to better renewal rates than competitors — retail prices are still pretty damn cheap.

At West.cn, its leading Chinese registrar, a .vip can be had today for about $3. It’s closer to $10 at GoDaddy.

Today’s batch of zone files have not yet been published by ICANN for verification, but yesterday there were 245,872 names in .vip.

WordPress reveals IT bought .blog for $19 million

WordPress.com owner Automattic has outed itself as the bankroll behind the winner of the .blog auction and the new owner of the forthcoming new gTLD.

Founder Matt Mullenweg also revealed that the company paid around $19 million for the domain at private auction in February 2015, about $1 million more than the amount DI estimated at the time.

Until now, the winning .blog applicant, which fought off competition from eight competitors including Google, M+M, Radix and Donuts, was only known as Primer Nivel.

Primer Nivel is a Panamanian company previously described to DI as an investment vehicle with links to Colombian registrar My.co.

To the best of my knowledge, Automattic’s involvement with the bid has never even been hinted at, but Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg said in a blog post last night that it has been involved since well before the auction took place.

It’s now public that Automattic is the company behind Knock Knock Whois There LLC, the registry for the new .blog TLD. (And a great pun.) We wanted to stay stealth while in the bidding process and afterward in order not to draw too much attention, but nonetheless the cost of the .blog auction got up there (people are estimating around $20M).

An earlier version of the blog post put the price at “about $19m”, as captured by Google.

ICANN approved the reassignment of the .blog contract from Primer Nivel to Knock Knock WHOIS There on April 29.

In the original Primer Nivel application, only My.co CEO Gerardo Aristizabal and VP of business development Carlos Neira were listed as shareholders of 15% or more of the company in its answer to question 11 of the application form.

ICANN processed a change request to the question 11 answer in March 2014, but did not publish the result of the change. It may merely have been a change of personal contact information.

One has to wonder whether, had WordPress’ involvement in Primer Nivel been public, the .blog auction could have fetched even more.

One might imagine that Google, which competes with WordPress with its Blogger service, would have viewed .blog as more threatening in a rival’s hands.

But Primer Nivel and now Automattic/KKWT appear to have no intention to make .blog a WordPress-exclusive gTLD. The original application stated that it would be open to all, and ICANN has since banned so-called “closed generics”.

The registry has already opened a web site at kkwt.domains, which is currently pitching the product to accredited registrars.

It says it plans to go to general availability and “activate” 250,000 .blog domains before the end of the year.

Automattic obtained an ICANN registrar accreditation back in October 2010 but to date has not sold a single domain via that accreditation.

It offers WordPress.com hosting customers domain registrations, but I believe it does so as a GoDaddy reseller.

.blog is currently in “transition to delegation” and it’s probably only a matter of days before it is delegated to the internet.

Mullenweg blogged that the sunrise period is expected to start in August, with and October landrush.

Pricing is expected to be in line with current industry standards, including premium tiers.

The gTLD has always been one of my favorites, and having WordPress backing it will almost certainly make it more successful than if the registry were an independent third party, possibly raising the profile of new gTLDs as a whole.

.web has an auction date

Kevin Murphy, April 29, 2016, Domain Registries

The .web gTLD will go to auction July 27, according to ICANN.

The organization released an updated auction schedule (pdf) on Wednesday night that also slates .kids/.kid for an auction on the same day.

Both auctions have confusing “indirect contention” elements, where two strings were ruled confusingly similar.

With .web, it’s lumped in with Vistaprint’s application for .webs, which lost a String Confusion Objection filed by Web.com.

Under ICANN rules, .webs is confusingly similar to to Web.com’s .web, but not to the other six .web applications.

This means that Vistaprint and Web.com basically are fighting a mini contention set auction to see who gets their applied-for gTLD.

If Web.com wins the auction for .web, Vistaprint cannot have .webs. However, if any other .web applicant wins, Vistaprint can go ahead with .webs.

Either way, there will be a .web delegated this year. Google, Donuts, Radix, Afilias, Schlund Technologies, Nu Dot Co are all contenders.

In the case of .kids/.kid, the one applicant for .kid — Google — won SCOs against DotKids Foundation and Amazon by default because both .kids applicants failed to respond to the complaints.

DotKids Foundation recently lost a Community Priority Evaluation, enabling the auction to go ahead.

Because Google is in contention with both .kids applicants, only one of the two strings will ultimately be delegated — .kids and .kid will not coexist.

The only other scheduled auction right now is that of .doctor, which is planned for May 25. Radix, Donuts and The Medical Registry will fight it out in this rather less complex battle.

It’s worth noting that if any of these contention sets unanimously choose to resolve their differences via private auction, none of the ICANN auctions will go ahead.

The .web gTLD could go live in 2016

Kevin Murphy, April 27, 2016, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .web could be coming to the internet sooner than expected after two of the remaining barriers to delegation disappeared.

Following the withdrawal last week of an application for the plural .webs, an auction for .web could happen in the next couple of months, enabling a go-live date possibly in 2016.

.web, often considered the most desirable truly generic gTLD, has had a rough time of it in the 2012 ICANN new gTLD program.

There were seven applications for the string. Google, Web.com, Donuts, Radix, Afilias, Schlund Technologies, Nu Dot Co all applied.

The registrar Web.com (owner of Network Solutions, Register.com, et al) appears to be especially keen to get the domain, given that the string more or less matches its brand.

It perhaps should have been a straightforward auction shoot-out.

But, complicating matters, bespoke printing firm Vistaprint had filed two applications — one vanilla, one “community” based — for the plural version of the string, “.webs”.

Vistaprint runs a website development service called Webs.com. It’s the plural of the Web.com brand.

Web.com wasn’t happy about Vistaprint’s .webs applications, so it filed String Confusion Objections against both, arguing that .web and .webs were too confusingly similar to co-exist on the internet.

While there are now many examples of plurals and singulars living together (see .auto/s, .fan/s and .gift/s), the registrar won both of its SCO complaints, meaning Vistaprint’s two applications and the seven .web applicants were lumped together into the same contention set.

If two strings are in the same contention set, only one can survive to be ultimately delegated to the DNS.

Vistaprint appealed the SCO decisions, first with a Request for Reconsideration to the ICANN board (predictably unsuccessful) and then with an Independent Review Process complaint.

While the IRP was being mulled over, .web was in limbo.

The IRP was unsuccessful. The IRP panel ruled in October that ICANN had not violated its bylaws in accepting the SCO panel’s decision.

But it gave ICANN a nudge, suggesting that perhaps it could give Vistaprint leave to appeal the original SCO determinations via another mechanism.

In early March, the ICANN board proper decided that:

the Vistaprint SCO Expert Determination is not sufficiently “inconsistent” or “unreasonable” such that the underlying objection proceedings resulting in the Expert Determination warrants re-evaluation.

The board said that the .web/.webs contention set should be processed as normal; in other words: go to auction.

That removed the first barrier to the .web/.webs auction going ahead.

The second barrier was the fact that Visaprint had file two applications for .webs — one regular, one “community”.

By self-identifying as a “community”, Vistaprint qualified for the Community Priority Evaluation. A winning CPE means all competing applications — including the .web applications in this case — would be eliminated.

While the CPE process is far from perfect, I think the chances of Vistaprint winning would be pretty slim.

Perhaps Vistaprint agreed with me. Whatever the thought process, the company has withdrawn its “community” application. The withdrawal was reflected on the ICANN web site at the weekend, according to the little birds at DI PRO.

What this means is that the seven .web applications and Vistaprint’s remaining, non-community .webs application will be going to auction together.

It could be a private auction, where the proceeds are divvied up between the losers, or an ICANN “last resort” auction, where ICANN gets all the money.

Either way, the winning bidder is likely to pay a LOT of cash for their chosen string.

GMO Registry paid $41 million for .shop back in January. I’d be flabbergasted if .web wasn’t eight figures too.

If Vistaprint offers to pay more money for .webs than Web.com wants to pay for .web, Web.com will be eliminated from the race and Vistaprint will get .webs.

In that scenario, the remaining six .web applicants fight it out for control of the gTLD.

However, if Vistaprint loses against Web.com then all of the seven .web applicants fight it out at auction.

Depending on the identity of the winner and the timing of auctions and pre-delegation testing, it could slip into the root and possibly even become available before the end of the year.

That’s assuming no more surprises, of course.

UPDATE: This post originally incorrectly described the rules of the .web/.webs auction. It was updated with a correct explanation at 2120 UTC.