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Has the world’s biggest new gTLD registry gone bankrupt?

Has Famous Four Media, by some measures the largest new gTLD registry, gone bankrupt?

There’s some startling evidence that this may be the case, but the company and others concerned are maintaining radio silence.

Last week, IANA’s administrative contact for all of the company’s 16 TLDs changed from its CEO, Geir Rasmussen, to someone called Edgar Lavarello. Here’s an example.

Lavarello, it turns out, is a partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers in Gibraltar who specializes in insolvency and liquidation.

Here he is in a three-year-old interview explaining why my headline today technically really should have used the word “insolvent” rather than “bankrupt”.

On Wednesday, I reached out for comment to Rasmussen and Lavarello, along with others known to work at FFM (at least recently) but have not received any responses.

Absence of a reply is not proof of anything of course — FFM has never been the most communicative company in the world and nobody is under any obligation to respond to inquiries from a humble blogger.

But I suspect that if I posed the straightforward if slightly cheeky question “Has your company gone bankrupt?” to almost any other member of the domain name industry, I’d usually expect to receive a denial in short order.

Sadly, insolvency records in laissez-faire British tax haven Gibraltar, where FFM is based, do not appear to be a matter of public record.

Even if FFM has not gone insolvent, I think there are clear signs it is having problems.

Its primary web site at famousfourmedia.com has been stripped back to be little more than a privacy policy and a contact form. Gone are all the sales pitches, press releases and TLD-specific pages. It’s now basically a one-pager.

The web site of its parent company, Domain Venture Partners, no longer resolves.

Reaching out to industry sources who have business relationships with FFM, I was unable to find anyone who’d talked to the company recently, though there were rumors of departing staff.

Earlier this year, company chair Iain Roache spent £3.9 million ($5.4 million) to buy out former FFM COO Charles Melvin, after Melvin filed a lawsuit against him and Rasmussen.

The nature of the suit is not particularly clear from public records, but at one point Gibraltar’s top judge ruled that the defendants had filed inaccurate — technically “forged” — documents to the court.

These documents included 10 invoices between FFM and AlpNames, its affiliated registrar.

Famous Four runs 16 new gTLDs — the largest among them .loan, .win and .men — and has arguably shifted more domains than any other portfolio registry.

Group volume currently runs at about 4.5 million names according to ntldstats, compared to 3.9 million for Donuts with its far larger portfolio of 241 strings.

It’s achieved this impressive scale largely by selling domains super cheap, often at or below cost and often via AlpNames.

This has resulted in huge numbers of domains being acquired by spammers. FFM strings are routinely listed in the SpamHaus top-ten list of dirtiest TLDs.

AlpNames is also regularly fingered as one of the most spam-friendly registrars.

The company’s chosen business model means that renewals, where you’d expect to make your actual revenue, are on the low side. If you take its .science as a representative example, the TLD peaked at 350,000 domains under management in April 2016 but stood at around 63,000 this February.

SpamHaus now publishing better TLD abuse data

SpamHaus has updated its “10 Most Abused Top Level Domains” list to provide a much more useful insight into abuse levels.

Rather than simply showing unexplained percentages of “badness” in each TLD, the spam-fighting organization’s daily report now exposes the hard numbers, in domain terms, underneath.

For example, on today’s list Famous Four Media’s .download is the most-abused TLD with 82% bad domains.

That percentage is based on SpamHaus categorizing 11,431 domains as abusive of the 13,945 .download domains that crossed its systems.

But the gTLD has 67,500 domains in its zone file, so the actual percentage of abusive domains could be as low as about 17%, much lower than SpamHaus’s 82%.

Whether you think the 82% metric is fair will depend on whether you think SpamHaus’s sample — about 20% of the full .download zone — is representative.

Some of the other TLDs on its list have even smaller sample sizes.

Minds + Machines’ .work is ranked #2 on the SpamHaus list with 73.3% badness, based on a SpamHaus-seen sample of 6,297 domains, something like 7% of the full .work zone.

Registries criticized SpamHaus for publishing misleading data when this list was first published in March, and I agreed with them.

Now that the group is publishing empirical data alongside its percentages, the conversation can now shift to something along the lines of:

“Is it okay that at least 17% of .download domains are abusive?”

To which the answer I believe is a clear: “Hell, no.”

The SpamHaus daily report can be found here.

Epic new gTLD fail? Gambling site named after new gTLD but doesn’t use it

Online gambling company bwin.party owns the domain name bwin.party but, bafflingly, hasn’t even turned it on.

The company runs PartyPoker and other betting sites and is in the business news today due to a takeover bid from rival 888.

Having just heard the story reported on the TV, I went to check out its web site — this was a significant company which had apparently rebranded to a new gTLD, and I hadn’t heard of it before.

But the domain name bwin.party doesn’t resolve, even though it’s an exact — exact, down to the lower case letters and the dot — match of the company name.

bwin.party actually uses bwinparty.com and bwin.com.

The domain is registered via Com Laude, so I assume it’s a defensive play.

.party is a new gTLD managed by Famous Four Media. It currently has over 134,000 names it its zone, growing by thousands of names per day, strongly suggesting it’s being sold for next to nothing at one or more registrars.

As .stream is won, ICANN’s auction list empties

Kevin Murphy, April 22, 2015, Domain Registries

.stream has become the latest new gTLD contention set to be settled prior to its ICANN auction, leaving ICANN’s auction schedule looking barren.

Famous Four Media beat Hughes Satellite Systems to the string, which was due to auction May 27.

The four strings scheduled for bidding April 29 — .living, .fun, .map and .search — were also recently settled.

All that remains on ICANN’s schedule is the controversial .game/.games contention set, which will employ a unique process designed for contention sets created by inconsistent singular/plural string confusion rulings.

The five .game applicants and one .games applicant (Donuts) are still due to hit the block May 20.

A couple dozen other gTLDs are still pending ICANN auction but do not have set dates due to various challenges and disputes.

Most new gTLDs use NameSentry after Famous Four signs with Architelos

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2014, Domain Services

Architelos yesterday announced that Famous Four Media has signed up to use its NameSentry security service across its portfolio of new gTLDs.

The company said that it now has 60% of launched new gTLDs on the platform, which gives registries a way to view potentially abusive domain names and automate remediation. That’s over 250 TLDs.

Famous Four only has five delegated gTLDs currently, but it has another 30 active applications. The bulk of NameSentry’s TLD base comes from early adopter Donuts, which has 157. Rightside, with its 33 new gTLDs, is also a customer.

Architelos said that .build, .ceo, .lat, .luxury, and .ooo have also recently signed up to the service.

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