First new gTLD contracts signed

Donuts, an ARI Registry Services subsdiary and CORE this morning became the first new gTLD applicants to sign registry contracts with ICANN.

The ceremonial signing took place live on stage at the opening ceremony of ICANN 47, the week-long public meeting in Durban, South Africa.

ARI CEO Adrian Kinderis signed on behalf of شبكة. applicant International Domain Registry. The string is Arabic for “.web” and transliterates as “.shabaka”. It is 3 in the program’s evaluation queue.

In an ARI press release, Go Daddy CEO Blake Irving confirmed that Go Daddy will carry .shabaka.

Donuts CEO Paul Stahura signed for .游戏, the Chinese-language “.games”, which had prioritization number 40.

It was not immediately clear which contracts Iliya Bazlyankov, chair of CORE’s executive committee, signed. CORE has applied for three internationalized domain name gTLDs with high priority numbers.

(UPDATE: Bazlyankov has been in touch to say: “We signed the .сайт (site) and .онлайн (online) contracts which had numbers 6 and 9 in the priority”.)

Representatives of Go Daddy, MarkMonitor, Momentous, Mailclub and African registrar Kheweul.com also joined ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade on stage to sign the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

The event marks the beginning of the contract signing phase of the new gTLD program, an important milestone.

For applicants without outstanding objections, contention or Governmental Advisory Committee advice, signing a contract means only pre-delegation testing and the final transition to delegation remains.

DomainsBot to be “at the heart” of new gTLD sales

DomainsBot, which powers the name suggestion feature on most major registrar storefronts, has unveiled a significant update designed to make selling new gTLD domains easier.

The company reckons its new technology will soon be promoted from a follow-up sales tool, rolled out if a customer’s first choice of domain is not available, to “replacing the availability check” entirely.

“The idea is to be at the heart of the process of promoting new gTLDs,” CEO Emiliano Pasqualetti told DI.

The idea is pretty straightforward: a customer types a word into a search box, the service suggests available domain names with conceptually similar TLDs.

There’s a demo online already. If you type “chocolate”, it suggests domains such as chocolate.food, chocolate.menu and chocolate.health. Domain Name Wire did a quick test run today too.

While it may not be perfect today, it was pretty good at finding appropriate TLDs for the keywords I tested.

And Pasqualetti said that under the hood is a machine learning engine that will make its suggestions increasingly more relevant as new gTLD domains start to go on sale.

“It tries to predict which TLD we need to show to each individual using a combination of their query, their IP address and as much history as we can legally collect in partnership with registrars,” Pasqualetti said.

If, for example, customers based in London show a tendency to buy lots of .london domains but hardly ever .rome, Londoners will start to see .london feature prominently on their registrar’s home page.

“We learn from each registrar what people search for and what people end up buying,” he said.

Some registrars may start using the software in their pre-registration portals, increasing relevance before anything actually goes on sale, he said.

My feeling is that this technology could play a big role in which new gTLDs live or die, depending on how it is implemented and by which registrars.

Today, DomainsBot powers the suggestion engine for the likes of Go Daddy, eNom, Tucows and Moniker. Pasqualetti reckons about 10% of all the domains being sold are sold via its suggestions.

Judging by today’s press release, registrars are already starting to implement the new API. Melbourne IT, Tucows and eNom are all quoted, but Pasqualetti declined to specify precisely how they will use the service.

It’s been widely speculated that Go Daddy plans to deploy an automated “pay for placement” system — think AdSense for domains — to determine which TLDs get prominence on its storefront.

Pasqualetti said that’s the complete opposite of what DomainsBot is offering.

“We’re relevance for placement,” he said. “We want to give every TLD a chance to thrive, as long as they’re relevant for the end user.”

According to Pasqualetti (and most other people I’ve been talking to recently) there are a lot of new gTLD applicants still struggling to figure out how to market their TLDs via registrars.

There are about 550 “commercially interesting” applied-for gTLD strings in the DomainsBot system right now, he said. New gTLD applicants may want to make sure they’re one of them.

Next week, the company will reveal more details about how it plans to work with new gTLD registries specifically.

Go Daddy IPO “not off the table”

Go Daddy may be on the IPO track with its new investors and management.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal about the possibility of going public, CEO Blake Irving said:

It’s not off the table. We’re growing at double digits [in terms of percentage] on the customer side, on revenue, on earnings, so the opportunity for us to have an IPO is quite good. The board is quite supportive of taking that direction, if that’s what we want to do.

Go Daddy famously yanked its planned IPO in 2006 just weeks before it was set to execute, apparently at the whim of then-CEO and majority owner Bob Parsons.

Since then, Parsons has taken a lower profile role at the company, and his shareholding was diluted to reportedly lower than 35% by an investment from KKR and Silver Lake Partners reportedly worth over $2 billion.

The short WSJ interview also reveals a few other interesting tidbits, such as the fact that Irving commutes to Go Daddy’s Arizona headquarters by plane once a week.

Interim CEO gets two C-level roles at Go Daddy

Go Daddy’s management shake-up continues apace, with the news last night that former interim CEO Scott Wagner has been appointed COO and CFO.

Wagner comes from KKR, one of three major investors to take a big stake in the registrar in 2011.

He was CEO in the interregnum between Warren Adelman’s short-lived stint and the appointment of Yahoo alum Blake Irving this January.

Irving has been filling senior spots at the company ever since taking over. Many of his new recruits are former Yahoo colleagues.

GoDaddy said in a press release that its sales hit almost $1.3 billion last year and that it has more than 11 million customers.

Go Daddy building big new facility in Arizona

Go Daddy has “broken ground” on a new 150,000 square foot facility in Tempe, Arizona.

The new Global Technology Center will have room for 1,300 technology and customer care employees, the registrar said in a press release today. It expects to create 300 new jobs locally.

The construction project was ceremonially kicked off by CEO Blake Irving and Arizona governor Jan Brewer today.

Go Daddy is of course a native of the state, with its headquarters in Scottsdale.

The new two-story center will be located in Arizona State University Research Park, and is set for completion in 2014.