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Donuts gets bought by former ICANN CEO’s firm

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2018, Domain Registries

Donuts is to be bought by a private equity firm that has a former ICANN CEO as a partner.

The company, which holds the largest portfolio of new gTLDs, has agreed to be acquired by Boston-based private equity firm Abry Partners for an undisclosed sum.

Not much info about the deal has been released, but one senses an ICANN alum’s hand at the wheel.

Former ICANN chief Fadi Chehade is a partner at Abry, having been initially employed as senior advisor on digital strategy back in 2016 after he left ICANN.

Abry, on its web site, says it focuses its investments on profitable companies, adding:

Depending on the type of fund, we target investments from $20 million to $200 million.

Since Abry’s inception, we’ve developed deep industry expertise in Broadband, Business Services, Communications, Cybersecurity, Healthcare IT, Information Services, Insurance Services, Internet-of-Things, Logistics, Media, and Software as a Service.

Since its formation in 1989, Abry has “completed more than $77 billion of transactions, representing investments in more than 650 properties.”

Donuts was founded by domain veterans Paul Stahura, Jon Nevett, Richard Tindal and Daniel Schindler in order to take advantage of ICANN’s new gTLD program..

It was initially funded by $100 million from Austin Ventures, Adams Street Partners, Emergence Capital Partners, TL Ventures, Generation Partners and Stahurricane.

It currently runs over 200 TLDs, the most populous of which I believe is .ltd, with over 400,000 names.

Donuts is the latest of a series of domain companies to exit via the private equity route, notably following Neustar and Web.com.

Chehade was ICANN’s CEO between 2012 and 2015. While he was not involved in the industry during the new gTLD’s program’s inception, he did oversee its early years.

Donuts confirms six-figure .news buyer used a fake name

Mike Texas is in fact noted conspiracy theorist Mike Adams.

New gTLD registry Donuts confirmed with DI over the weekend that the buyer of six figures worth of “platinum” .news domain names used a fake name.

The company last week said that a company called WebSeed bought registry-reserved names including science.news, climate.news, medicine.news, health.news and pollution.news.

After a small amount of digging, I discovered that these sites were affiliated with a controversial site called Natural News, which is regularly criticized for spreading bogus, anti-science content.

I suspected that “Mike Texas”, the WebSeed CEO quoted railing against “fake news” in Donuts’ press release, was very probably a pseudonym for Natural News owner Mike Adams, who calls himself the “Health Ranger” but peddles theories often characterized as dangerous.

Yesterday, Donuts told us that, following DI’s coverage, it has managed to confirm with Texas that he is in fact Adams. The company has changed its press release accordingly.

I will note that the most compelling piece of evidence connecting Texas to Adams was a pre-GDPR Whois record.

Donuts makes six-figure .news sale to dangerous conspiracy theorist

Donuts has sold a package of “platinum” .news domains to a network of dubious news sites peddling what many describe as dangerous pseudo-scientific nonsense.

A company called WebSeed acquired science.news, food.news, health.news, medicine.news, pollution.news, cancer.news and climate.news from the registry for an undisclosed sum in the six-figure range last December, Donuts said.

It appears that the same buyer has acquired several other presumably non-platinum .news domains, including vaccines.news, nutrients.news, menshealth.news and emergencymedicine.news

The sites have already been developed, incorporating a back catalog of “news” content from other sites under the same ownership, and Donuts reckons searches for “climate news” and “science news” already return the matching domains prominently (they don’t for me, but Google can be fickle).

Unfortunately, the domains seem to have been sold to a leading purveyor of misinformation and conspiracy theories.

That’s right, climate.news now belongs to a climate change denier, vaccines.news belongs to an anti-vaxxer, and medicine.news belongs to somebody who values alternative remedies over science-based medicine.

As far as I can tell, pretty much all of the content on the network of .news domains comes from Natural News, the controversial site owned by “Health Ranger” Mike Adams.

Natural News has been fingered as an “empire of misinformation” and a leading contributor to the “fake news” crisis that has been blighting society for the last few years.

Check out climate.news today to be treated to Adams’ theory that climate change is nothing but a conspiracy peddled by the UN and the mainstream media.

Over on vaccines.news, you’ll find a scaremongering story about how the measles vaccine has killed more people than measles over the last decade.

(Gee, I wonder why measles isn’t killing anyone any more? Could it be that we have a fucking vaccine?).

On medicine.news, Adams himself writes of “PROOF that vaccines target blacks for depopulation”.

And at pollution.news, you’ll find any number of articles discussing the “chemtrails” conspiracy theory.

To be perfectly honest, I’m not scientifically literate enough to debunk most of the content on these sites, but I know quackery when I see it.

Donuts’ press release goes to suspicious pains to point out that the sites’ content is “thoroughly researched” and advertising is “limited and relevant to the sites’ content”.

In fact, the advertising seems in most if not all cases to lead back to Adams’ own stores, where he sells stuff like water purifiers, dietary supplements and alternative medicines.

The Donuts press release also quotes the founder and CEO of WebSeed, one “Mike Texas”.

Now, I have absolutely no evidence whatsoever that Mr Texas is not a real person.

But.

Whois records (remember those?) show that the original registrant of science.news was one Mike Adams of WebSeed LLC, and WebSeed.com, while under privacy for some years, was originally registered to Adams’ Taiwan-based company.

It goes without saying that Donuts, as a neutral registry, is under no obligation whatsoever to police content on the domains it sells. That would be a Bad Thing.

But I can’t help but feel that .news has the potential to take a big credibility hit due to the content of these sites.

Imagine a fox, buying up all the good .henhouse domains. It’s a bit like that.

GoDaddy signs up for basically unrestricted .travel gTLD

Donuts has started to market the now practically prehistoric and newly liberalized gTLD .travel, and it’s signed up GoDaddy to offer domains there.

The registry, which acquired .travel from former owner Tralliance in February, announced a soft relaunch on its blog last week, highlighting that GoDaddy, Name.com and Encirca are now among its registrars.

GoDaddy appears to be only new signing there — Encirca and Name.com have been carrying .travel from long before Donuts got involved and are in fact its two largest registrars.

The big daddy of the registrar space appears to have become interested after Donuts “simplified” the process of registering .travel domains. Donuts said:

Since the acquisition, Donuts has simplified the registration process, enabling registrants to stay on the registrar’s website for the entirety of the registration/checkout process. Donuts believes that this streamlined registration process will increase registrations, as compared to the previous process, which was disjointed and complex for registrants.

What this seems to translate to is: .travel is essentially an unrestricted TLD, despite being applied for in 2003’s round of “sponsored” gTLDs.

If you attempt to register a .travel domain at GoDaddy today, the only additional friction en route to the purchase button is a simple, prominent check-box asking you to confirm you are a member of the travel community.

That’s apparently enough for Donuts to say it has fulfilled the part of its ICANN contract that says it has to carry out a “review of Eligibility prior to completion of all registrations.”

Under its previous ownership, .travel required registrars to bounce their customers to the registry web site to obtain an authentication code during the registration process.

.travel names are still pretty pricey — GoDaddy was going to hit me with a bill of over $110 before I abandoned my cart, and that was just a year-one promotional price.

The gTLD peaked at 215,000 domains 10 years ago but now sits at under 18,000, having seen slight declines every month for the past five years.

Donuts buys back .fan, ignores plural .fans

Donuts has purchased the unlaunched new gTLD .fan from its struggling owner, just three years after selling it.

The company said today that .fan will become its 241st TLD in its portfolio, having inked a deal with Asiamix Digital.

Asiamix also runs the plural .fans, which Donuts has not acquired.

A Donuts spokesperson said the singular variant was the only acquisition considered, but did not say why.

The gTLD has a colorful ownership history, given that it has not even launched yet.

It was originally owned by Donuts, which won it unopposed in the 2012 application round.

The company then transferred it to then-independent Rightside under a deal the two companies had covering about 100 applications.

Rightside then in 2015 briskly sold the contract to Asiamix, which already had the rights to the plural .fans and presumably wanted to reduce market confusion.

For whatever reason, Asiamix sat on .fan and never even announced launch plans.

Rightside was then acquired by Donuts last year.

Donuts’ spokesperson declined to disclose whether the latest re-acquisition was for the same, more, or less than the original 2015 transaction.

Asiamix is currently very likely facing the death of its business, having failed to make a go of .fans.

The plural has never had more than about 1,500 names in its zone file.

Donuts plans to launch .fan in short order, with general availability expected in mid-September. We should be looking at a sunrise period fairly soon.