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Second last-resort gTLD auction raises $14.3m

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2014, Domain Registries

ICANN has raised $14.3 million auctioning off three new gTLDs — .buy, .tech and .vip.

It was the second batch of “last resort” auctions, managed by ICANN and Power Auctions, in which the winning bids are placed in a special ICANN fund.

Notably, while Google participated in all three auctions, it failed to win any, setting a reassuring precedent for any smaller applicants that are set to face the deep-pocketed giant in future auctions.

.tech was the biggest-seller, fetching $6,760,000 after nine rounds of bidding.

The winner was Dot Tech LLC, which beat Google, Minds + Machines, Donuts, NU DOT CO, and Uniregistry.

.buy went to Amazon for $4,588,888, beating Google, Donuts and Famous Four Media. The bidding lasted seven rounds.

Finally, .vip sold to Minds + Machines for $3,000,888 after Google, Donuts, I-Registry and VIP Registry dropped out.

The prices are in the same ball-park as we’ve inferred from previous, private auctions managed by Applicant Auction (a company affiliated with Power Auctions).

That’s notable because the first last resort auction, for .信息, fetched just $600,000 when it sold to Amazon back in June.

As far as we can tell, last-resort auctions do not necessarily keep prices low, even though the losing bidders in this week’s auctions will have walked away empty-handed.

In private auctions, losers leave holding a share of the winner’s bid.

This week, most of the $14.3 million raised will go into a special ICANN fund.

Akram Atallah, president of ICANN’s Global Domains Division said in a statement:

The proceeds from these Auctions will be separated and reserved until the Board determines a plan for the appropriate use of the funds through consultation with the community. We continue to encourage parties to reach agreements amongst themselves to resolve contention.

The ICANN community has been chatting about possible uses for auction funds for years.

Ideas such as subsidizing new gTLD applicants from poorer nations in future rounds and investing in internet infrastructure in the developing world have been floated.

DotGreen is back from the dead

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2014, Domain Registries

DotGreen Community, a popular but unsuccessful applicant for the .green gTLD, has been resurrected to manage the marketing for the successful applicant, Afilias.

It appears that Afilias, which won .green at auction against two other applicants in late February, is essentially outsourcing the marketing of .green to DotGreen.

DotGreen withdrew its bid last October, citing the high cost of the looming auction.

DotGreen’s plan for the TLD, had it won, was to distribute some of its profits to worthy environmental causes, and that plan seems to have been brought back from the dead too.

According to a press release:

DotGreen brings additional partnerships with EarthShare, a federation comprised of the world’s leading environmental and conservation charities; and The DotGreen Foundation, a California Non-profit, 501 (c)3 Public Charity. These organizations will work together to distribute a percentage of the proceeds collected from the sales of the .green domain names to programs that work towards the advancement of sustainability worldwide.

It appears to be a unique, first-of-its-kind relationship in the new gTLD space.

Afilias remains the contracted party and will continue to run the technical infrastructure of the registry, but the heavy-lifting of actually marketing the names falls on DotGreen.

Given that DotGreen spent quite a lot of time in the run-up to the new gTLD application process building relationships with environmental groups, this could be an incredibly shrewd move by Afilias.

Afilias has not yet revealed its sunrise or general availability launch dates for .green, which was delegated in June.

Uniregistry beats 1-800-FLOWERS.COM to .flowers

Kevin Murphy, September 10, 2014, Domain Registries

Uniregistry has won the contention set for .flowers, beating three other new gTLD applicants.

The company won the rights to the string after withdrawals from Donuts, Minds + Machines and a subsidiary of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM.

The price of forcing the withdrawals, as usual, has not been disclosed.

Uniregistry currently has 15 delegated new gTLDs and a handful of others, won at auction, that are in the contracting stage of the process.

The string “flowers” has a bit of a tainted history in the domain name space.

Investor Rick Schwartz famously paid $200,000 for flowers.mobi, only to sell it on a few years later to another investor for $6,500.

That domainer flipped it in 2012, and it ultimately wound up in the hands of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM for an undisclosed sum.

Amazon and Google deal on .talk, .play, .drive and others

Google and Amazon have started making deals to settle their new gTLD contention sets.

Google won three contention sets against Amazon this week, judging by the latest withdrawals, while Amazon won two.

Amazon won .talk and .you after Google, the only other applicant, withdrew.

Neither company appears to have a “You” brand, unless you count YouTube, but the .talk settlement strongly suggests that Google Talk, the company’s instant messaging client, is on the way out.

When Google applied for .talk in 2012 it intended to give Talk users custom domains to act as a contact point, but in 2013 Google started to indicate that it will be replaced as a brand by Google Hangouts.

The withdrawal seems to suggest that the existence of a gTLD application, a relatively small investment, is not an overwhelming factor when companies consider product rebranding.

I wonder what effect a live, active TLD will have on similar decisions in future.

But Google won the two-horse races for .dev and .drive and after Amazon withdrew its applications.

Google has a product called Google Drive, while Amazon runs Amazon Cloud Drive. Both companies have developer programs, though Google’s is arguably the more substantial of the two.

Google has also won .play — Google Play is its app store — after Amazon, Radix and Star Registry’s withdrawals. Amazon does not have a Play brand.

Google has also withdrawn its application for .book, leaving six remaining applicants, including Amazon, in the contention set.

I don’t currently know whether these contention sets were settled privately or via a third-party auction.

ICANN smacks new gTLDs for pre-sunrise auctions

Running a premium domain name auction before you’ve finished your new gTLD sunrise period is Officially Not Cool, according to ICANN’s compliance department.

People who won premium new gTLD domains in auctions that took place before sunrise periods now face the possibility of losing their names to trademark owners.

.CLUB Domains, and probably XYZ.com, operators of .club and .xyz, two of the highest-volume new gTLDs to launch so far, appear to be affected by the ICANN decision.

ICANN told .CLUB that its “winter auction“, which took place in late February, may have violated the rules about allocating or “earmarking” domains to registrants before sunrise takes place.

Meanwhile, NameJet has cancelled the auction for deals.xyz, which “sold” for $8,100 late last year, suggesting that .xyz’s pre-sunrise auction is also considered ultra vires.

ICANN told .CLUB that its auction sales “constitute earmarking” in violation of the rule stating that registries “must not allow a domain name to be allocated or registered prior to the Sunrise period”.

.CLUB had told its auction winners that a sunrise period registration would prevent them from getting the domain they wanted and that they would be refunded if a sunrise registrant emerged.

But ICANN evidently told the registry:

Irrespective of whether “[a]llocation was expressly conditioned upon any Sunrise claim,” or whether any Sunrise claim was made, the pre-selection, pre-registration or pre-designation to third parties, in this case via .Club Domains’ “winter auction,” constitutes improper allocation.

I kinda thought this would happen.

Back in November, when XYZ.com ran its first .xyz auction — about six months before its sunrise even started — CEO Daniel Negari told us he believed it was “comfortably within the rules“.

We said the auction “seems to be operating at the edge of what is permissible under the new gTLD program’s rights protection mechanisms, which state that no domains may be allocated prior to Sunrise.”

I’ve not yet been able to definitively confirm that .xyz is affected by this ICANN decision, but .club definitely is.

.CLUB Domains told its auction winners today that the names they won are now subject to a 60-day period during which they could be obtained by trademark owners.

If no trademark owner claims the name, .CLUB said it will give the auction winner a 10% rebate on their purchase price.

The email states:

We are placing the domain on hold for 60 days, during which time a Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) holder will have the opportunity to purchase the domain at Sunrise rates. Although, the domain is not currently in the TMCH, if a trademark holder should file in the TMCH over the next 60 days, the domain will be offered to that registrant. However, if the name is not claimed by filing in the TMCH over the next 60 days, your transaction will move forward as planned.

Although we disagree with ICANN compliance’s position on this matter, the actions we are taking are necessary to ensure that we are not offside with ICANN compliance in any way. We understand that you have been caught in the middle of this issue due to no fault of your own. Given these circumstances, we are offering you two options:

1) Should you decide to complete this transaction, we will issue you a payment of 10% of the purchase price after the transaction closes in 60 days, assuming the name is not registered by a TMCH mark holder because of the delay.

2) At any time during the 60 day period you have the option to rescind the auction bid and not purchasing the domain.