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After long fight, Donuts adds .charity to its gTLD stable

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2018, Domain Registries

Snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, Donuts has prevailed in the two-horse race for the .charity gTLD.

The company appears to have privately resolved its contention set, paying off rival bidder Famous Four Media, judging by updates to ICANN’s web site today.

The gTLD had been scheduled for an ICANN “last resort” auction in April, but that’s now off.

Famous Four has also withdrawn its application, leaving Donuts the only remaining applicant.

I believe it will be Donuts’ 239th 240th gTLD.

But for a while it looked like Famous Four had a slam-dunk on its hands.

Back in 2014, the Independent Objector of the new gTLD program had filed an Community Objection against Donuts’ application, saying it was too risky to unleash a .charity domain onto the world without registration eligibility restrictions.

The fear was (and probably still is) that fraudsters could use the domains to lend an air of credibility to their online scams.

The IO prevailed, pretty much gifting Famous Four — which had proposed restrictions — the TLD.

But Donuts embarked upon an arduous set of appeals, including an Independent Review Process case, that culminated, last December, in a ruling (pdf) that reversed the original Community Objection decision.

That cleared the way for Donuts back into the application process and, now, the private auction it seems to have won.

Due to ICANN’s adoption of Governmental Advisory Committee advice on sensitive strings, Donuts will be obliged to put some Public Interest Commitments into its .charity contract, with the aim of reducing abuse.

Donuts scraps 200 companies, consolidates under Binky Moon

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2018, Domain Registries

Donuts has consolidated all of its original portfolio of new gTLD contracts under a single LLC, scrapping almost 200 shell companies in the process.

At least 196 contracts, each of which were originally allocated to a unique LLC, have been assigned now to Binky Moon LLC.

This seems to have happened back in late November, but ICANN only added the transfers to its published list of reassignments last week.

When Donuts applied for over 300 gTLDs back in 2012, each application belonged to a different shell company. Apparently randomly generated names — such as New Sky LLC, Sand Shadow LLC and Bitter Fields LLC — were chosen for each.

This was for “tax and other purposes” that made sense when Donuts was a new company, I’m told.

Now, with Donuts by one measure the fastest-growing tech company in the world, it made more sense to “retire” the old LLCs and realize the “operational efficiencies” of consolidation, a spokesperson said.

Not all of Donuts’ contracts belong to Binky Moon. When the company acquired 2003-round .travel last month it assigned the Registry Agreement to Dog Beach LLC.

Donuts may make .travel names easier to buy after acquiring its first legacy gTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2018, Domain Registries

Donuts has added .travel to its swelling portfolio of gTLDs, under a deal with original registry Tralliance announced today.

It’s the company’s first acquisition of a legacy, pre-2012 gTLD, and the first “community” gTLD to join its stable of strings, which now stands at 239.

.travel went live in 2005, a part of ICANN’s 2003 round of “sponsored” TLD applications.

As a sponsored TLD, .travel has eligibility and authentication requirements, but executive vice president Jon Nevett told DI that Donuts will look at “tinkering with” the current process to make domains easier to buy.

The current system requires what amounts to basically a self-declaration that you belong to the travel community, he said, but you have to visit the registry’s web site to obtain an authentication code before a registrar will let you buy a .travel domain.

Given that the community captured by .travel is extremely broad — you could be somebody blogging about their vacations and qualify — it seems to be a barrier of limited usefulness.

Nevett said Donuts has no immediate plans to migrate the TLD away from the Neustar back-end upon which it currently sits.

The rest of its portfolio runs on its own in-house registry platform, and one imagines that .travel will wind up there one day.

While .travel is one of Donuts most-expensive domains — priced at $99 retail at its own Name.com registrar — Nevett said there are no plans to cut pricing as yet.

There may be discounts, he said, and possibly promotions involving bundling with other travel-related gTLDs in its portfolio.

Donuts already runs .city, .holiday, .flights, .cruises, .vacations and several other thematically synergistic name spaces.

.travel had about 18,000 domains registered at the last count, with EnCirca, Name.com, 101domain, Key-Systems and CSC Corporate as its top five registrars.

It peaked 10 years ago at just under 215,000 registrations, largely due to to speculative bulk registrations made by parties connected to the registry that were dumped a couple of years later.

It’s been at under 20,000 names for the last five years, shrinking by small amounts every year.

The price of the acquisition was not disclosed.

dotgay lawyer insists it is gay enough for .gay gTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 6, 2018, Domain Policy

What do Airbnb, the Stonewall riots and the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting have in common?

They’re all cited in a lengthy, somewhat compelling memo from a Yale law professor in support of dotgay LLC’s argument that it should be allowed to proceed with its .gay gTLD application unopposed by rival applicants.

The document (pdf), written by William Eskridge, who has decades of publications on gay rights under his belt, argues that dotgay’s Community Priority Evaluation and the subsequent review of that evaluation were both flawed.

At the crux of the dispute is whether the word “gay” can also be used to describe people who are transgender, intersex, and “allied” straight — dotgay says it can, but the Economist Intelligence Unit, which carried out the CPE, disagreed.

dotgay scored 10 out of 16 points on its CPE, four shy of a passing grade. An acceptance of dotgay’s definition of the “gay” community could have added 1 to 4 extra points to its score.

The company also lost a point due to an objection from a gay community center, despite otherwise broad support from gay-oriented organizations.

Eskridge spends quite a lot of time on the history of the word “gay”, from Gertrude Stein and Cary Grant using it as a wink-wink code-word in less-tolerant times, via the 1969 Stonewall riots, to today’s use in the media.

The argument gets a bit grisly when it is pointed out that some of the 49 people killed in the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida — routinely described as a “gay” club in the media — were either transgender or straight.

My research associates and I read dozens of press and Internet accounts of this then-unprecedented mass assault by a single person on American soil. Almost all of them described Pulse as a “gay bar,” the situs for the gay community. But, like the Stonewall thirty-seven years earlier, Pulse was a “gay bar” and a “gay community” that included lesbians, bisexual men and women, transgender persons, queer persons, and allies, as well as many gay men.

Eskridge argues that EIU erred by applying an overly strict definition of the applied-for string with dotgay, but not with successful community applicants for other strings.

For example, he argues, a manufacturer of facial scrubs would qualify for a “.spa” domain, and Airbnb and the Orient Express train line would qualify for “.hotel” domains under that applicant’s definition of its community, even though it could be argued that they do not fit into the narrow categories of “spas” and “hotels”.

Similarly, a transgender person may not consider themselves “gay” and a straight person certainly would not, but both might feel a part of the broader “gay community” when they get shot at a gay nightclub.

It’s an unpleasant way to frame the argument, but in my view it’s compelling nevertheless.

Eskridge also thinks that dotgay should have picked up an extra point or two in the part of the CPE dealing with community support.

It dropped one point there because the Q Center, a community center for LGBTQ people in Portland, Oregon, sent a letter objecting to the dotgay application (an objection apparently later revoked, then reinstated).

Eskridge spend some time questioning the Q Center’s bona fides as a big-enough organization to warrant costing dotgay a point, noting that it was the only member of a 200-strong umbrella organization, CenterLink, to object. CenterLink itself backed the bid.

He then goes on to cite articles seemingly showing that Q Center was in the midst of some kind of liberal paranoia meltdown — accused of racial insensibility and “transphobia” — and allegations of mismanagement at about the same time as it was objecting to dotgay’s application.

He also insinuates that Q’s base in Portland is suspicious because it’s also where rival applicant Top Level Design is based.

In summary, Eskridge reckons the EIU CPE and FTI Consulting’s subsequent investigation were both flimsy in their research, unfairly applying criteria to .gay that they did not apply to other strings, and that dotgay should have picked up enough points to pass the CPE.

It’s important to remember that this is not a case of ICANN getting decide whether the gTLD .gay gets to exist — it’s going to exist one way or the other — but rather whether the winning registry is selected by auction or not.

If dotgay wins either by getting another CPE or winning the auction then .gay will be restricted to only vetted members of the “gay” community. This could mean less homophobic abuse in .gay domains but probably also less opportunity for self expression.

If it goes to Top Level Design, MMX or Donuts, it will be open to all comers. That could increase cyber-bulling with .gay domains, but would remove barriers to entry to those who would otherwise be excluded from registering a domain.

ICANN has had .gay on hold for years while the dispute over the CPE has worked itself out, and it now has a piece of paper from FTI declaring the result hunky-dory. I doubt there’s any appetite to reopen old wounds.

My feeling is that we’re looking at an auction here.

Donuts releases free TLD-neutral name-spinner

Kevin Murphy, January 24, 2018, Domain Services

Donuts has announced the release of a free name-spinner tool for registrars and resellers.

Relevant Name Search, found at rns.domains, isn’t a destination site in itself, but will be free for registrars to integrate into their storefronts.

The company said it’s been in beta testing with eNom, Dreamhost, Dynadot and Name.com, with eNom using it for over a year.

The service recalls something similar released by Verisign.

However, unlike the Verisign NameStudio tool, Donuts said RNS is “registry-neutral”, meaning it’s not designed to plug its own portfolio of TLDs over those from other registries.

I subjected the service to a quick, non-scientific test today and found the results much more semantically relevant than the Verisign tool, which only returns .com, .net and .cc results.

When I used NameStudio in November to search for “vodka”, my best offering was dogvodka.com. With RNS, I was offered the likes of vodka.bar, vodka.rocks, vodka.party, vodka.social and vodka.trade (all of which appear to carry premium pricing).

While Verisign offered me funattorney.com on a search for “attorney”, Donuts offered up attorney.lawyer, attorney.lgbt and attorney.blog.

RNS does not ignore legacy gTLDs, however. Doing a search for something a little more niche will bring up .com and .net domains, appropriately (in my view) ranked.

Search for “birmingham taxi” and you’ll get three relevant .limo domains (yeah, .limo exists, apparently) before birminghamtaxi.net.

Similarly, if you want to open up a pizza place in Cardiff, search for “cardiff pizza” and you’ll get offered cardiff.pizza, cardiffpizza.menu, cardiffpizza.restaurant, cardiffpizza.cafe and cardiffpizza.delivery before you get to cardiffpizza.com.

Many domain investors would say that the .com is unarguably the superior domain (it’s also unregistered and non-premium), but even those people would have to admit that the five more prominent suggestions have more semantic relevance.

Donuts said that RNS is configurable to take into account TLD-specific promotions, geography and marketing campaigns, and that it can be integrated with a single API call.

.web closer to reality as antitrust probe ends

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2018, Domain Registries

Verisign has been given the all-clear by the US government to go ahead and run the new gTLD .web, despite competition concerns.

The Department of Justice told the company yesterday that the antitrust investigation it launched almost exactly a year ago is now “closed”.

Verisign’s secret proxy in the 2016 auction, the original .web applicant Nu Dot Co, now plans to try to execute its Registry Agreement with ICANN.

That contract would then be assigned to Verisign through the normal ICANN process.

The .com registry operator today filed this statement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission:

As the Company previously disclosed, on January 18, 2017, the Company received a Civil Investigative Demand from the Antitrust Division of the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) requesting certain material related to the Company becoming the registry operator for the .web gTLD. On January 9, 2018, the DOJ notified the Company that this investigation was closed. Verisign previously announced on August 1, 2016, that it had provided funds for Nu Dot Co’s successful bid for the .web gTLD and the Company anticipates that Nu Dot Co will now seek to execute the .web Registry Agreement with ICANN and thereafter assign it to Verisign upon consent from ICANN.

This basically means that Justice disagrees with anyone who thinks Verisign plans to operate .web in a way that just props up its .com market dominance, such as by burying it without a trace.

People clamoring to register .web domains may still have some time to wait, however.

Rival applicant Donuts, via subsidiary Ruby Glen, still has a pending lawsuit against ICANN in California.

Donuts had originally sued to prevent the .web auction going ahead in mid-2016, trying to force Nu Dot Co to reveal who was really pulling its strings.

After the auction, in which Verisign committed to pay ICANN a record-setting $125 million, Donuts sued to have the result overturned.

But in November 2016, a judge ruled that the no-suing covenant that all new gTLD applicants had to sign was valid, throwing out Donuts’ case.

Donuts is now appealing that ruling, however, filing its most-recent brief just a few weeks ago.

Whether that will stop ICANN from signing the .web contract and delegating it to Verisign is an open question. It managed to delegate .africa to ZA Central Registry despite the existence of an ongoing lawsuit by a competing applicant.

If history is any guide, we may see a rival applicant apply for a temporary restraining order against .web’s delegation before long.

Donuts loses Cole to law firm

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2017, Domain Registries

Donuts vice president Mason Cole has quit to join a law firm.

Cole said on social media yesterday that he has joined Seattle-based Perkins Coie as an “Internet Governance Advisor”.

He said he will continue to participate in ICANN in his new capacity, where Perkins Coie is involved in intellectual property matters.

Cole has been in the industry for over 15 years, first at SnapNames and Oversee.net before becoming a founding employee of new gTLD registry player Donuts.

He was most recently VP communications and industry relations there.

He’s not a lawyer, but he does have extensive experience on the Generic Names Supporting Organization, including being its first liaison to the Governmental Advisory Committee.

Kickstarter launches Patreon rival on .RIP domain hack

Kevin Murphy, November 15, 2017, Domain Sales

They’re deadly serious.

Crowdfunding service Kickstarter has relaunched its Drip subscriptions service on a .rip domain.

It’s a domain hack using a single-character domain: d.rip.

It’s actually a case of a migration away from a .com domain, which is not something you see every day from a major online brand.

Drip was acquired by Kickstarter from record company Ghostly International in 2012 and has had a relatively low-key presence at drip.kickstarter.com.

Rather than enabling creators to fund a project entirely in advance, with an “all-or-nothing” approach, it allows them to collect subscription fees from fans.

It’s aimed at musicians, podcasters, comedians, YouTubers and the like — people who need a way to support their work now that advertisers are increasingly wary of edgy online content.

The .rip gTLD was originally a Rightside domain. It’s now in the Donuts stable.

It was intended to stand for Rest In Peace, giving registrants a memorable name with which to memorialize the dead.

In reality, with under 3,000 names in its zone, it’s used for a wide variety of other purposes too. Some sites use it to represent “rip” as a verb, others use it to evoke a sense of horror.

As a single-character registry premium name, d.rip would not have been cheap. However, it would have been certainly a lot cheaper than Drip.com, which is in use by an email marketing company.

59,000% revenue growth at Donuts leads to Deloitte award

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2017, Domain Registries

Deloitte has placed new gTLD registry Donuts at the top of its 2017 Technology Fast 500, a league table of the fastest-growing North American technology firms.

Donuts won by growing its revenue by 59,093% over three years.

Given that Donuts didn’t have its first revenue-generating gTLD delegated until the final quarter of 2013, the three-year judging period basically covers almost the entire period of its existence as a trading company.

The runners up were ClassPass (46,556%, founded 2013), which gives fitness junkies a centralized way to book from multiple classes, and Toast (31,250%, founded 2012), which makes point-of-sale software for restaurants.

Companies could submit themselves for consideration on the 500-strong table. They only needed 135% growth over three years to make it to the list.

The rankings are based on revenue, not profit, so it does not necessarily mean that gTLDs are a way to get rich quick.

Still, it’s impressive that something as dated as domain names could top the rankings, given the number of transformational technologies hitting the market every year.

This is who won the .inc, .llc and .llp gTLD auctions

Kevin Murphy, October 19, 2017, Domain Registries

The winners of the auctions to run the gTLD registries for company identifiers .inc, .llc and .llp have emerged due to ICANN application withdrawals.

All three contested gTLDs had been held up for years by appeals to ICANN by Dot Registry — an applicant with the support of US states attorneys general — but went to private auction in September after the company gave up its protests for reasons its CEO doesn’t so far want to talk about.

The only auction won by Dot Registry was .llp. That stands for Limited Liability Partnership, a legal construct most often used by law firms in the US and probably the least frequently used company identifier of the three.

Google was the applicant with the most cash in all three auctions, but it declined to win any of them.

.inc seems to have been won by a Hong Kong company called GTLD Limited, run by DotAsia CEO Edmon Chong. DotAsia runs .asia, the gTLD granted by ICANN in the 2003 application round.

My understanding is that the winning bid for .inc was over $15 million.

If that’s correct, my guess is that the quickest, easiest way to make that kind of money back would be to build a business model around defensive registrations at high prices, along the lines of .sucks or .feedback.

My feedback would be that that business model would suck, so I hope I’m wrong.

There were 11 original applicants for .inc, but two companies withdrew their applications years ago.

Dot Registry, Uniregisty, Afilias, GMO, MMX, Nu Dot Co, Google and Donuts stuck around for the auction but have all now withdrawn their applications, meaning they all likely shared in the lovely big prize fund.

MMX gained $2.4 million by losing the .inc and .llc auctions, according to a recent disclosure.

.llc, a US company nomenclature with more potential customers of lower net worth, went to Afilias.

Dot Registry, MMX, Donuts, LLC Registry, Top Level Design, myLLC and Google were also in the .llc auction and have since withdrawn their applications.