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After shaky start, .blog launches today

Kevin Murphy, November 21, 2016, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .blog goes into general availability today, after some mild controversy about the way the registry allocated reserved domain names.

Knock Knock Whois There, the registry affiliated with WordPress maker Automattic, last week apologized to some would-be customers for declining to honor some landrush pre-registrations.

Some registrants had complained that domains that were accepted for pre-registration were subsequently added to KKWT’s list of registry-reserved names, making them unavailable for registration.

KKWT said in a blog post Thursday that the confusion was due to it not having finalized its reserved list until just before its landrush period kicked off, November 2.

Registrars, including those accepting pre-registrations, were not given the final lists until the last minute.

Landrush applications cost around $250 but were refundable.

KKWT also revealed the make-up of its founders program domains, the 100-strong list of names it was allowed to allocate pre-sunrise.

The founders program currently seems to be a bit of a friends-and-family affair.

Of the 25 live founder sites currently listed, about 20 appear to be owned by the registry, its employees and close affiliates.

The registry said in its blog post that 25 super-generic domains had been given to WordPress.com. It seems the blog host will offer third-level names in these domains for free to its customers.

.blog had 1,743 domains in its zone file yesterday.

General availability starts about 30 minutes from the time this post was posted, at 1500 UTC. Prices are around the $30 mark.

Could ICANN reject Verisign’s $135m .web bid?

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2016, Domain Registries

ICANN is looking into demands for it to throw out Verisign’s covert $135 million winning bid for the highly prized .web gTLD.

ICANN last week told the judge hearing Donuts’ .web-related lawsuit that it is “currently in the process of investigating certain of the issues raised” by Donuts through its “internal accountability mechanisms”.

Donuts is suing for $22.5 million, claiming ICANN should have forced Nu Dot Co to disclose that its .web bid was being secretly bankrolled by Verisign and alleging that the .com heavyweight used NDC as cover to avoid regulatory scrutiny.

ICANN’s latest filing (pdf), made jointly with Donuts, asked for an extension to October 26 of ICANN’s deadline to file a response to Donuts’ complaint.

It was granted, the second time the deadline has been extended, but the judge warned it was also the final time.

The referenced “internal accountability mechanism” would seem to mean the Cooperative Engagement Process — a low-formality bilateral negotiation — that Donuts and fellow .web bidder Radix initiated against ICANN August 2.

The filing states that the “resolution of certain issues in controversy may be aided by allowing [ICANN] to complete its investigation of [Donuts’] allegations prior to the filing of its responsive pleading.”

In other words, Donuts is either hopeful that ICANN may be able to resolve some of its complaints in the next month, or it’s not particularly impatient about the case progressing.

Meanwhile, fellow .web applicant Afilias has demanded for the second time that ICANN hand over .web to it, as the second-highest bidder, throwing out the NDC/Verisign application.

In a September 9 letter, published last night, Afilias told ICANN to “disqualify and reject” NDC’s application, alleging at least three breaches of ICANN rules.

Afilias says that by refusing to disclose Verisign’s support for its bid, NDC broke the rules and should have its application thrown out.

The company also confirmed on the public record for what I believe is the first time that it was the second-highest bidder in the July 27 auction.

Afilias would pay somewhere between $57.5 million and $71.9 million for the gTLD, depending on what the high bid of the third-placed applicant was.

In its new letter, Afilias says NDC broke the rule from the Applicant Guidebook that does not allow applicants to “resell, assign or transfer any of applicant’s rights or obligations in connection with the application”.

It also says that NDC was obliged by the AGB to notify ICANN of “changes in financial position and changes in ownership or control”, which it did not.

It finally says that Verisign used NDC as a front during the auction, in violation of auction rules.

“In these circumstances, we submit that ICANN should disqualify NDC’s bid and offer to accept the application of Afilias, which placed the second highest exit bid,” Afilias general counsel Scott Hemphill wrote (pdf).

Hemphill told ICANN to defer from signing a Registry Agreement with NDC or Verisign, strongly implying that Afilias intends to invoke ICANN accountability mechanisms (presumably meaning the Request for Reconsideration process and/or Independent Review Process).

While Afilias and Donuts are both taking issue with the secretive nature of Verisign’s acquisition of .web, they’re not necessarily fighting the same corner.

Donuts is looking for $22.5 million because that’s roughly what it would have received if the .web contention set had been resolved via private auction and $135 million had been the winning bid.

But Afilias wants the ICANN auction outcome to stand, albeit with NDC’s top bid rejected. That would mean Donuts, Radix, and the other applicants would still receive nothing.

There’s also the question of other new gTLD applications that have prevailed at auction and been immediately transferred to third-party non-applicants.

The most notable example of this was .blog, which was won by shell company Primer Nivel with secretive backing from WordPress maker Automattic.

Donuts itself regularly wins gTLD auctions and immediately transfers its contracts to Rightside under a pre-existing agreement.

In both of those cases, the reassignment deals predated, but were not disclosed in, the respective applications.

There’s the recipe here for a messy, protracted bun fight over .web, which should come as no surprise to anyone.

“Dave” becomes first .blog blogger

Kevin Murphy, August 19, 2016, Domain Registries

Blogging pioneer Dave Winer has become the first person to start blogging at a .blog domain name.

His new site, dave.blog, went live yesterday as a beneficiary of registry Knock Knock Whois There’s pioneer program.

The site is one of two pioneer .blog domains — the other being design.blog — highlighted by KKWT yesterday in publicity connected to the opening of its sunrise period.

Winer is the author of Scripting News, which has been around since 1997, one of the first must-read tech blogs.

He also made major contributions to the format and popularity of RSS syndication technology.

He was an outspoken critic of Google, which had planned to use blog in a “closed generic” fashion, linked closely to its Blogger service, writing in 2012:

I played a role in establishing blogs. How does Google get the right to capture all the goodwill generated in the word blog?

Yesterday he expressed relief that the .blog auction was actually won by KKWT, a subsidiary of WordPress owner Automattic, writing:

I’m glad to say that my friend Matt Mullenweg and Automattic are consistent champions of user and developer freedom. That’s why they host .blog for all to use. They could have said “blog” == “wordpress” — many companies would have — but they didn’t. That’s very good! I wish more big tech companies had that philosophy.

Winer said he will use his self-developed 1999.io blogging software on his new domain.

His allocation of dave.blog is arguably bad news for blokey British cable TV station Dave and disgraced former prime minister David “Call Me Dave” Cameron.

.blog launch date and pricing revealed

The new gTLD .blog will go to general availability in November with a wholesale price tag of $20, it was revealed today.

The registry, Knock Knock Whois There, told registrars that sunrise will kick off August 18 and run for 60 days with a $130 price tag. Disputed sunrise domains will go to auction.

Landrush will follow for a week from November 2 with a $130 application fee and auctions for contested domains a week later.

General availability is then due to begin November 21, with a registry fee of $20.

There will be tiered pricing on reserved “premium” names.

The registry does not seem to have ruled out an Early Access Period either.

This is all fairly consistent with KKWT’s previous statements that its pricing and launch structure will be in line with current industry norms.

The registry is owned by Automattic, the company behind the WordPress blogging software and service.

It emerged as the surprise secret backer of original applicant Primer Nivel earlier this year, following a $19 million auction win.

Nominet to run .blog’s back-end

Kevin Murphy, May 13, 2016, Domain Services

Nominet is to run the back-end registry systems for .blog, the company announced this evening.

We reported earlier today that .blog has a surprise new owner — Knock Knock, Whois There, which belongs to Automattic, owner of WordPress.com — and it seems the change of ownership comes with a change of back-end.

Primer Nivel, the company that applied for .blog and just transferred the ICANN contract to Automattic, had named Malaysian also-ran Qinetics as its original back-end.

“Nominet will provide the registry services, as well as technical support to the registrar channel,” Nominet said tonight. The deal includes EPP and DNS.

Nominet’s press release confirms that registrants will not need a WordPress.com account to buy a .blog domain name.

It’s the second big back-end deal for Nominet in recent weeks. The company recently revealed it will be taking over technical services for all 28 of Minds + Machines new gTLDs.

Automattic/KKWT is predicting 250,000 .blog registrations in 2016, and general availability is not expected until the fourth quarter.