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EnCirca partners with PandoraBots to push .bot names to brands

Specialist registrar EnCirca has partnered with bot development framework vendor PandoraBots to market .bot domains at big brands.

The two companies are pushing their wares jointly at this week’s International Trademark Association annual meeting in Seattle.

In a press release, the companies said that PandoraBots is offering bot-creation “starter kits” for brand owners that tie in with .bot registration via EnCirca.

Bots are rudimentary artificial intelligences that can be tailored to answer customer support questions over social media. Because who wants to pay a human to answer the phones?

Amazon Registry’s .bot gTLD is a tightly restricted space with strict preregistration verification rules.

Basically, you have to have a live, functioning bot before you can even request a domain there.

Only bots created using Amazon Lex, Botkit Studio, Dialogflow, Gupshup, Microsoft Bot Framework, and Pandorabots are currently eligible, though Amazon occasionally updates its list of approved frameworks.

The .bot space has been in a limited registration period all year, but on May 31 it will enter a six-month sunrise period.

Despite not hitting general availability until November, it already has about close to 1,800 domains in its zone — most of which were registered via EnCirca — and hundreds of live sites.

EnCirca currently offers a $200 registration service for brand owners, in which the registrar handles eligibility for $125 and the first year reg for $75.

The biggest dot-brand in the world has 50,000 domains, but are they legit?

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2017, Domain Registries

The biggest dot-brand gTLD active today has about 50,000 domains under management, but the vast majority of them may not be compliant with ICANN rules.

Real Estate Domains LLC runs .realtor in partnership with the National Association of Realtors, a US-based real estate agent membership organization.

RED/NAR has an ICANN policy exemption that means it does not have to open .realtor to competition between registrars, but it does not appear to be sticking to the promises it made when it asked for that exemption.

RED has told DI that it believes it is fully compliant with its contractual obligations.

The .realtor gTLD is highly unusual, possibly even unique, in the market.

It is, by most comparisons, a thriving new gTLD. It has tens of thousands of domain names and thousands of active web sites.

It’s the 59th-biggest 2012-round gTLD, according to zone file counts. It has more names than .blog, .webcam and .ninja.

It currently has about 48,000 names in its zone file, a bit less than half of its November 2015 peak of 110,000. It’s been offering a free first-year name to NAR members since launch, which may account for the first-year peak and second-year trough.

It’s arguably a “dot-brand”, but its domains are primarily used by fee-paying third parties, which is not the case for the over 500 other dot-brands out there today.

The string “realtor” is in fact an trademark, fiercely guarded by the NAR and apparently at genuine risk of genericide.

To call yourself a realtor, you have to pay NAR local and national membership fees that can run into hundreds of dollars a year.

To register a .realtor domain, you have to be an NAR member. So, even though the price of a .realtor domain is only around $40 at Name Share (the only approved .realtor registrar), the cost of eligibility is much higher.

I think that the way the NAR is selling its names to third-party realtors is very possibly a breach of ICANN rules, but explaining why I think that will get a bit complicated.

To begin with, whether a gTLD is a “dot-brand” depends to a great extent on your definition of the term.

I usually take “dot-brand” to mean any new gTLD that has Specification 13 — which allows registries to ignore ICANN policies such as the otherwise mandatory Sunrise period — in its Registry Agreement.

There are 463 gTLDs that have Spec 13 so far. They’re being used to a greater or lesser extent by the respective registries to promote their own brands.

Some have set up a bunch of domains with redirects to specific URLs on their .com or ccTLD site. Others have built a modest number of custom sites to promote various products, services, offers or marketing campaigns.

A small number have been using their domains to help business partners. Spanish car maker Seat points scores of .seat domains to cookie-cutter sites promoting local car dealerships, but I’ve seen no evidence these dealers have any control over these domains.

Almost all of the time, the only entity actually using the domain is the registry — that is, the brand owner — itself.

There’s also another definition of dot-brand — any gTLD that does not have Spec 13, but does have an exemption to Specification 9 of the standard ICANN Registry Agreement.

Spec 9, also called the “Code of Conduct”, is the part of the RA that requires registries to give equal, non-discriminatory access to all ICANN-accredited registrars.

It’s there to stop registries favoring registrars they have close relationships with and therefore to keep the market competitive.

Every Spec 13 dot-brand has a Spec 9 exemption, but not every TLD with a Spec 9 exemption has signed Spec 13.

There are 66 gTLDs that have the Spec 9 exemption but do not have Spec 13 in their contracts. Almost all of these have fewer than 100 domains in their zone file today.

The Spec 9 exemption was created to avoid the stupid and undesirable situation where a big-name company has to open access to its dot-brand back-end registry to multiple registrars, even though it is the only registrant permitted to register names there.

The Code of Conduct is there to protect registrants. When there is only one registrant, there’s no need for protection. With multiple registrants, competition needs to be enforced.

To get the Spec 9 exemption, dot-brands have to send a letter to ICANN promising three things:

  1. All domain name registrations in the TLD are registered to, and maintained by, Registry Operator for the exclusive use of Registry Operator or its Affiliates (as defined in the Registry Agreement);
  2. Registry Operator does not sell, distribute or transfer control or use of any registrations in the TLD to any third party that is not an Affiliate of Registry Operator; and
  3. Application of the Code of Conduct to the TLD is not necessary to protect the public interest

Those bullets are copied from the March 2014 .realtor letter (pdf), but they’re all basically the same.

The first bullet says that domains have to be registered to the registry operator. In the case of .realtor, that’s RED/NAR.

And in fact, as far as I can tell, every .realtor domain has the RED/NAR listed in the “Registrant” field of its Whois record. The registry owns the lot.

But that bullet also says that .realtor domains have to be “maintained by” and “for the exclusive use of” the registry operator (in this case, the NAR) and its “Affiliates”.

The second bullet says that the registry cannot give “control or use” of any .realtor domain to a third party that is not an “Affiliate” of the registry.

The term “Affiliate” is important here. The Spec 9 exemption states that it is defined by the RA, and the RA defines it like this:

For the purposes of this Agreement: (i) “Affiliate” means a person or entity that, directly or indirectly, through one or more intermediaries, or in combination with one or more other persons or entities, controls, is controlled by, or is under common control with, the person or entity specified, and (ii) “control” (including the terms “controlled by” and “under common control with”) means the possession, directly or indirectly, of the power to direct or cause the direction of the management or policies of a person or entity, whether through the ownership of securities, as trustee or executor, by serving as an employee or a member of a board of directors or equivalent governing body, by contract, by credit arrangement or otherwise.

My reading of this is that an Affiliate is an entity that is controlled, in a corporate sense, by the registry. The definition came about as a way to stop domain companies trying to avoid policy obligations by hiding behind shell companies.

However, in my opinion, the vast majority of .realtor domains today are in fact being controlled and used by third parties that are not registry Affiliates by the RA definition.

The first giveaway is Whois. While RED/NAR is listed as the “Registrant” of pretty much all .realtor domains, in most cases the “Administrative” contact is listed as the person or company who caused the name to be registered. Third-party realtors, in other words.

Realtor screenSecond, the registry’s web site states plainly that NAR member realtors can “get” and “use” .realtor domains and goes on to specify that they can use the names to build a web site, set up an email address, and even redirect the domain to an existing site.

Doing a Google search for .realtor sites, you’ll find that realtors are in fact using .realtor domains for these permitted purposes.

This seems to be a case of thousands of non-registry parties paying for “control” and “use” of domains that are supposed to be restricted to the registry’s control and use.

It seems to be true that they don’t “own” the domains that they “use”, but they nevertheless do “use” them in much the same way as I expect a significant majority of non-domainer registrants in other TLDs “use” their domains.

NAR/RED is of course fully aware of its RA obligations, and has written its own terms to accommodate them.

On a .realtor registry web site, its registration agreement, or “License Agreement”, states:

You represent, warrant and agree that you are a REALTOR®, an NAR member, the Canadian Real Estate Association (“CREA”), a member of CREA, an NAR or CREA member Board or Association, an NAR affiliate, an NAR licensee, or otherwise in a contractual relationship with NAR relating to use of NAR’s REALTOR® mark and that, in such capacity, you are deemed an “Affiliate” of RED as such is defined in the Registry Agreement, including as specifically set forth in the Code of Conduct Exemption.

The NAR is basically asking its members to affirm, via the small print of their registration agreement (that the majority won’t read) and the .realtor RA (which I’m sure none of them will read), that the NAR has some kind of corporate control over them.

That’s clearly not the case, in my understanding. The NAR’s members are generally fully independent sole traders or limited companies.

Realtors causing .realtor domains to be registered on their behalf are no more “Affiliates” of RED or the NAR than I would be an Affiliate of Facebook if, perchance, there’s a similar clause in the Facebook terms of service.

While I’ve been asking industry experts about this for the last couple of weeks, it was suggested to me that the fact that .realtor registrants have a “contract” with the registry (to license the Realtor trademark) is enough to satisfy the “Affiliate” definition.

I don’t buy it. Every registrant in every TLD signs a contract whenever they register a domain name. If a contract were sufficient for a Spec 9 opt-out, every gTLD would have the opt-out.

At this point you may be wondering what the harm of this business model is. I wondered the same thing myself.

The main harm, as far as I can see it, is that it sets a precedent for other gTLDs to avoid contractual obligations.

The other is that .realtor registrants (for want of a better term) are locked into the one approved registrar, Name Share, forever. If Name Share were to raise its prices, they would not have the option to move to another registrar.

Name Share, part of the EnCirca registrar family, specializes in niche TLDs and currently charges a not-unreasonable $39.95 per year for a .realtor domain.

There’s also the fact that gTLDs themed around real estate are thin on the ground right now.

RED/NAR also controls the new gTLD .realestate, but it has yet to launch for unknown reasons.

.realtor went from delegation to general availability in less than three months back in mid-2014 — a fast launch — but .realestate was delegated in April 2016 and hasn’t even set out its launch plan yet.

It’s a fully generic, non-brand gTLD but it hasn’t told ICANN when its sunrise, trademark claims or GA dates are yet. It hasn’t even launched its nic.realestate web site yet, which is a contractual obligation also in the RA.

I don’t know why RED/NAR has not started to launch .realestate yet. When I asked RED’s top brass I did not get a reply.

But I do know that a real estate agent in North America today who wants to get a domain in a semantically valuable TLD has one fewer option due to the absence of .realestate from the market.

Another option, buying a .realty domain from Top Level Spectrum, is not possible either because, 18 months after delegation, it also has not launched.

Then there’s .homes, a restricted gTLD operated by Dominion Enterprises, but that has virtually no registrar support and fewer than 100 names in its zone eight months after general availability started.

The only real option right now (other than using an unrelated TLD) is to buy a .realtor domain, but they’d have to pay hundreds of dollars to NAR for membership and then would not have a choice of registrars through which to register.

I put all of my questions about the business model and the Spec 9 exemption to RED last week.

“We believe we are in full compliance with the Spec 9 exemption as granted by ICANN based on our request and posted publicly here,” CEO Matthew Embrescia said in an email (link in original).

Brian Johnson, general counsel for RED, said in a separate email:

our position is that RED is in full compliance as such relates to Spec 9 for .REALTOR. In fact, we think .REALTOR is a very successful example of a TLD with a legitimate business model which incorporates a Spec 9 exemption.

I also pushed Johnson and Embrescia for specific explanations of why I might be wrong in my interpretation of the Spec 9 exemption and how RED is applying it, but I did not get any replies.

A senior ICANN staffer, while declining to comment on the specifics of any TLD or any compliance investigation, told me that my understanding of the Spec 9 exemption is correct.

I gather that all Spec 9-exempt registries are obliged to submit an annual report about their exemption compliance, and that the 2016 report is due tomorrow.

However, I believe .realtor’s business model is well over one year old already, so it’s debateble whether ICANN has been paying attention.

.xxx to sell at .com prices to pump .porn launch

ICM Registry is to offer .xxx domain names at dramatically reduced prices, which could be in line with .com pricing at some registrars, for the month of April.

At least one registrar plans to offer .xxx names at about $13 for the duration of the offer.

.porn and .adult are set to go to general availability June 4. Before then, there will be a series of launch phases aimed at giving trademark owners and .xxx registrants plenty of opportunity to defensively register.

One phase, Domain Matching, will run from May 6 to May 31.

During DM, owners of .xxx names will be able to get their matching .porn and .adult domains (assuming they haven’t been claimed in the prior sunrise periods) at a reduced fee.

The discount period in April will enable registrants to pre-qualify for .porn’s Domain Matching by buying .xxx names at a much reduced price.

.porn and .adult prices during general availability are expected to be the same as in .xxx, which retails for around $100 ($62 going to ICM).

I don’t know what ICM’s registry fee during the discount period is, but the registrar EnCirca said it plans to sell a bundle of .xxx, .porn and .adult for $39 during April, which works out to $13 each.

EnCirca and 101domain appear to be pricing DM for a registration in a single TLD at about $19.

ICM’s gesture follows its admission in November that .xxx registrants would not get the free, perpetual block of matching .porn and .adult names that the registry had originally planned to offer.

The company has run a deep-discount program once before, in May 2013, when it sold .xxx at .com prices and saw 13,136 adds, compared to 1,131 in the previous month.

Weirdest new gTLD launch yet? .wed launches with a single registrar

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2014, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .wed went into sunrise yesterday with the strangest pricing model yet and a stringent Registry-Registrar Agreement that seems to have scared off all but one registrar.

Atgron is positioning .wed as a space for marrying couples to celebrate their weddings, but only temporarily.

It seemingly has little interest in domain investors or ongoing customer relationships beyond one or two years.

If you register a second-level .wed domain, you can have it for $150 a year for the first two years, according to the Atgron web site. After that, the price rockets to $30,000 a year.

Registrars, resellers and wedding-oriented businesses are allowed to opt out of the third-year spike on their own .wed names if they join Atgron’s reseller program and sell at least 10 a year.

Unlike Vox Populi, which is actively marketing .sucks domains at $25,000 as a reasonable value proposition, Atgron jacks the price up as a deterrent to registrants holding on to names too long. It says:

.WED domain names are sold to couples for one or two years to celebrate their wedding. The domain names then become available to another couple… Mary and John can have MaryandJohn.WED and then YES the next Mary and John can have MaryandJohn.WED a year or two later and so on and so on.

That alone would be enough to put off most registrars, which value the recurring revenue from ongoing annual renewals, but I gather that the .wed RRA contains even more Draconian requirements.

Incredulous registrars tell me that Atgron wants them to create an entirely new web site to market .wed domains — they’re not allowed to sell the names via their existing storefronts.

The only registrar to bite so far is EnCirca, known historically for promoting obscure gTLDs such as .pro and .travel, which is selling .wed via a new standalone site at encirca.wed.

I also gather that Atgron won’t let registrars opt out of selling its third-level .wed domains, which are expected to go for about $50 a year with no third-year spike.

That didn’t work well for .name — registrars hated its three-level structure, forcing the registry to ultimately go two-level — and I don’t think it’s going to work for .wed either.

Registrars also tell me that Atgron wants to ban them from charging a fee for Whois privacy on .wed domains. They can offer privacy, but only if it’s free to the registrant.

With privacy a relatively high-margin value-add for registrars, it’s hardly surprising that they would balk at having this up-sell taken away from them.

As weird as this all sounds, it is of course an example of the kind of innovative business models that the new gTLD program was designed to create. Mission accomplished on that count.

Another thing the program was designed to create is competition, something Atgron will soon encounter when Minds + Machines arrives with .wedding and eats .wed’s lunch. In my view.

The .wed launch period is also quite unusual.

Atgron is running a landrush period concurrently with its 30-day sunrise period.

Even if you don’t own a trademark, you can apply for a .wed domain today. You’ll get a refund if your name is registered by a trademark owner during sunrise, and names won’t go live until April 20.

The registry has extended the 90-day Trademark Claims period to cover the sunrise period too, so it appears to be in compliance with ICANN rights protection rules on that count.

It’s a 30-day sunrise, so it’s first-come, first served if you’re a trademark owner.

As for sunrise pricing, the third-year spike appears to apply too.

Atgron documentation does say there’s going to be an option to purchase a 10-year trademark block for a one-time fee, but I couldn’t find any way to do this on the EnCirca.wed web site today.

Barrett launches new gTLD launch calendar

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2013, Domain Services

EnCirca’s Tom Barrett has launched a collaborative calendar to help spread the word about new gTLD launch dates.

Leveraging Google Apps, the service can be found at Calzone.org and is currently in a short beta open only to applicants and registries.

All new gTLD sunrise dates published by ICANN will be incorporated into the service, Barrett tells us, and the registries themselves are invited to add other useful deadlines, such as for founders programs.

Users will be able to synchronize the calendar with their own and receive alerts, he said. They’ll also be able to filter by categories of string, such as “finance” or “health”.

Trademark Clearinghouse to get tested out on three existing TLDs

Kevin Murphy, April 6, 2013, Domain Services

Three already-live TLDs are going to use the Trademark Clearinghouse to handle sunrise periods, possibly before the first new gTLDs launch.

BRS Media is set to use the TMCH, albeit indirectly, in its launch of third-level domains under .radio.am and .radio.fm, which it plans to launch soon as a budget alternative to .am and .fm.

The company has hired TM.Biz, the trademark validation firm affiliated with EnCirca, to handle its sunrise, and TM.biz says it will allow brand owners to leverage Clearinghouse records.

Trademark owners will be able to submit raw trademarks for validation as in previous sunrises, but TM.Biz will also allow them to submit Signed Mark Data (SMD) files, if they have them, instead.

Encrypted SMD files are created by the TMCH after validation, so the trademarks and the strings they represent are pre-validated.

There’ll presumably be some cost benefit of using SMD files, but pricing has not yet been disclosed.

Separately, Employ Media said today that it’s getting ready to enter the final stage of its .jobs liberalization, opening up the gTLD to essentially any string and essentially any registrant.

The company will also use the TMCH for its sunrise period, according to an ICANN press release, though the full details and timing have not yet been announced.

Unusually, .jobs is a gTLD that hasn’t already had a sunrise — its original business model only allowed vetted company-name registrations.

The TMCH is already accepting submissions from trademark owners, but it’s not yet integrated with registries and registrars.

Directi to relaunch .pw as an open TLD

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2012, Domain Registries

Directi will soon relaunch .pw, the ccTLD for the tiny Micronesian nation of Palau, as an open pseudo-gTLD.

The official launch of the registry will happen at the ICANN meeting in Toronto next week, according to Directi CEO Bhavin Turakhia, with a sunrise period kicking off in December.

It’s the first TLD for which Directi — an applicant for 30 new gTLDs as well as a top-ten registrar — will act as the registry.

.pwThe company will brand the offering around the retroactive acronym “Professional Web”.

Turakhia hopes success will come from a combination of low cost — registry fees are not yet finalized, but will be sub-.com, he said — and the fact that .pw is mostly virgin territory.

“It’s a pretty good pricing model,” he said. “We’re making sure that people have access to desirable names at an affordable cost.”

The company plans to run .pw “exactly like a gTLD”, with standard sunrise, landrush and registration lifecycle policies. It will even adopt the UDRP, Turakhia said.

CentralNic, which already runs subdomain services such as .gb.com and .us.com, has been hired to run the back-end, despite the fact that Directi is using ARI Registry Services for its gTLD bids.

Sunrise is expected to start in early December and run for about 70 days. Landrush will run for a month, starting in February 2013. Pricing has yet to be finalized.

Directi is currently looking for registrars to sell the domains, above and beyond its own network of registrars.

Directi obtained the exclusive license to .pw about four years ago via EnCirca, the registrar that attempted to relaunch .pw under the “Personal Web” slogan in 2004.

The company originally planned to use the second level as a bundled service to tie in with a social networking slash instant messaging product that it was working on, but those plans have changed.

As a result .pw hasn’t been accepting registrations for a while.

Palau is a Pacific island nation with only about 20,000 citizens. As such, .pw doesn’t have a great many legacy registrations.

One such registration is pay.pw, which Directi is using for a payment gateway service.

Turakhia said that six second-level domains have been reserved for Palau’s use: co.pw, ne.pw, or.pw, ed.pw, go.pw and belau.pw. No other two-letter domains will be available.

Firm offers .xxx trademark checks

Kevin Murphy, July 7, 2011, Domain Tech

We’ve seen domain “reservation” services and “preregistration” services, now the soon-to-launch .xxx top-level domain is getting a pre-sunrise trademark verification service.

Trademark Fact Check is a new offering from EnCirca president Tom Barrett and Mark Kudlacik, formerly of NetNames and now president of Checkmark Network.

It’s an automated tool for checking whether a trademark will qualify for the .xxx sunrise period – and the sunrise periods of other new gTLDs – according to the service’s web site.

The output, among other things, consists of a list of domain names you qualify to register in the sunrise.

It supports about 30 national jurisdictions.

Checks will cost $10 a pop, but Barrett and Kudlacik think they can save applicants money.

If a sunrise application is rejected due to a filing error, the only option is to pay again to file again, which for .xxx is likely to cost at least $200 with the cheapest registrars.

There’s a money back guarantee if Trademark Fact Check says an application will pass and it does not.

I’m not sure how much of a market there will be for this kind of thing when the new gTLDs start to launch in 2013 and sunrise trademark validation will be largely handled by the Trademark Clearinghouse.

Universe.jobs launches with hundreds of premium domains

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2011, Domain Registries

The controversial Universe.jobs project has soft-launched, offering jobs listings at hundreds of premium geographic and vocational .jobs domains.

Country and state domains such as usa.jobs, gbr.jobs and texas.jobs, as well as industry domains such as firefighter.jobs and journalist.jobs are live and resolving.

If you visit, say, usa.jobs or rus.jobs, you’ll be presented with a bunch of job listings from the USA or Russia. If you visit retail.jobs, you’ll be bounced to usa.jobs/retail (at least, I was).

Even combinations, such as texas.nursing.jobs, seem to work.

I’ve no idea how many domains have been activated this way, but since all the geographics seem to be active I’m guessing it’s at least several hundred at the second-level.

The site, which is presented as a service of the DirectEmployers Association’s National Labor Exchange, currently says it’s in beta.

But the big questions now are: is this legit, and who owns the domains?

Employ Media, the .jobs registry, had to fight ICANN and mainstream commercial jobs boards in order to drop the contractual restrictions that previously limited .jobs to company names.

But some argued that, despite the relaxation of the string restrictions, employer-independent jobs sites such as Universe.jobs would still be verboten under Employ Media’s charter.

The .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, made up of newspaper associations and boards such as Monster.com, tried to get ICANN to reconsider its decision, but failed (kinda).

While the Coalition’s Reconsideration Request was unsuccessful, ICANN did say it will start to monitor Employ Media for compliance with its charter more closely.

More interestingly, perhaps, during the ICANN investigation Employ Media abruptly dropped plans to create a “self-managed” class of domains – names registered to itself, but “used” by third parties such as DirectEmployers.

Did it make good on its promise? It’s difficult to be certain, because the Whois for the many of the domains in question seems to be broken.

I’ve been able to establish that some older domains, such as usa.jobs and nursing.jobs, currently belong to DirectEmployers, but trying to figure out who owns some of the more recently registered geographical .jobs names is an excruciating process.

The Whois link buried at the bottom of the official Employ Media web site directs you to the Whois service provided by VeriSign (which runs the back-end registry infrastructure for .jobs).

VeriSign’s tool does not return the name of the registrant, only details such as the registration date, associated name servers, and the URL of the appropriate registrar’s Whois server.

In the case of all these geo domains, the registrar appears to be NameShare. The Whois server URL given by VeriSign points to a second tool, at whois.nameshare.com, that doesn’t work.

If you try to query, for example, usa.jobs (after filling out the Captcha) you get this message:

[r3] Error Message: Unsupported TLD .jobs

If you visit the NameShare homepage, you will be able to find a third .jobs Whois tool, at whois-jobs.nameshare.com/whois/. This doesn’t seem to work properly either.

This tool will tell you that the domain usa.jobs belongs to DirectEmployers.

However, almost every other Universe.jobs-related domain that I queried returned a “not found” message, even when the domain resolves and the VeriSign tools says it’s been registered for over a month.

I’m not sure what’s going on. Some kind of technical problem, no doubt.

Did .jobs win or lose in Cartagena?

Kevin Murphy, December 17, 2010, Domain Registries

Employ Media, the .jobs registry, had a victory in Cartagena last week, when the ICANN board voted not to overturn its August decision to allow .jobs to relax its registration policies.

The company will now be able to continue with its RFP process, allocate premium generic .jobs domains to its partners, auction them, and generally liberalize the namespace.

But the registry may not have got everything it wanted.

For at least a year, Employ Media, along with the DirectEmployers Association, has been pushing the idea of creating a massive free jobs board called universe.jobs.

The site would be fed traffic from thousands of premium geographic domains such as newyork.jobs, texas.jobs and canada.jobs, as well as vocational names such as nursing.jobs and sales.jobs.

Because Employ Media was previously only allowed to sell domains that corresponded to the names of companies, such as ibm.jobs and walmart.jobs, it asked ICANN to change its contract to allow these new classes of generic names to be registered.

The registry submitted a Registry Services Evaluation Process request, which was approved by the ICANN board in early August. The contract was amended shortly thereafter.

A few weeks later, a group of jobs sites including Monster.com, calling itself the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, filed a Reconsideration Request, asking ICANN to reverse its decision.

The Coalition was concerned that the contract changes would enable universe.jobs, creating a potentially huge competitor with an unfair SEO advantage, while continuing to prohibit independent jobs sites from registering .jobs domains.

While the .jobs contract had been amended, the .Jobs Charter, which restricts those who can register .jobs domains to members of the human resources community, was not.

This potentially presented a problem for universe.jobs, as DirectEmployers may not have qualified to be a registrant under the charter.

But Employ Media’s RSEP proposal talked about creating a “self-managed class” of domains – the domains would belong to the registry but would be shared with third parties such as DirectEmployers.

That would have created an interesting precedent – registries would be able to keep hold of premium generic domain names and allow them to be “used” by only partner companies that agree to enter into revenue-sharing agreements.

But that “implementation method was withdrawn” by Employ Media after the ICANN Board Governance Committee asked about it as part of its Reconsideration Request investigation.

The BGC, while rejecting the Coalition’s request (pdf), also asked ICANN’s compliance department to keep a close eye on Employ Media, to make sure it does not overstep the bounds of its charter:

the BGC recommends that the Board direct the CEO, and General Counsel and Secretary, to ensure that ICANN’s Contractual Compliance Department closely monitor Employ Media’s compliance with its Charter

Even though its Reconsideration Request was denied, the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition counted both of these developments as a big win for its campaign, saying in a press release:

Given the Board’s commitment to aggressively monitor Employ Media’s implementation of the Phased Allocation Program, the Coalition is highly confident that ICANN will not permit Employ Media to register domain names to “independent job site operators” for purposes of operating job sites.

So does this mean that universe.jobs is dead?

Apparently not. Talk in the halls at the ICANN Cartagena meeting last week leads me to believe that the registry has figured out a way to launch the service anyway.

And DirectEmployers this Monday published a white paper (pdf), dated January 2011, which says universe.jobs will launch early next year.

DirectEmployers declined to immediately comment on its plans when I inquired this week, and the white paper sheds little light on the technicalities of the plan.

Judging from a promotion currently being run by EnCirca, a .jobs registrar, it seems that companies will only be able to list their jobs on universe.jobs if they own their own companyname.jobs domain.

EnCirca’s offer, which alludes to the .jobs sponsor, the Society for Human Resources Management, a “SHRM special“, says:

NEWS ALERT: December 13, 2010: ICANN has RE-CONFIRMED the .Jobs registry’s plan to allocate generic occupational and geographic-related .jobs domain names. Register your companyname.jobs to be part of this new initiative.

It will be interesting to see how domain allocations are ultimately handled.

While Employ Media’s request for proposals is ostensibly open, it looks a little bit like a smokescreen for its plan to hand big chunks of the .jobs namespace to the universe.jobs project.

But who will be the registrant of these domains? And will the allocations violate the .jobs charter? Will the registry carry on with its plan to create new “self-managed” class of domain names?

I think we’re going to have to wait for the new year to find out.