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US official Heineman joins GoDaddy

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2019, Domain Policy

Former US government official Ashley Heineman has joined the staff of GoDaddy.

Heineman was until quite recently a policy specialist at the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the US representative on ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

But GoDaddy confirmed to DI today that she’s now left NTIA and joined the market-leading registrar.

I don’t know what her job title is yet. One assumes it’s related to policy or legal issues.

Heineman spent 15 years at NTIA and has been the ICANN GAC rep for the US for the last few years.

She’s had a respectably hands-on role, for a GACer, including being a member of the ongoing “EPDP” cross-community working group conducting a post-GDPR review of Whois policy.

Judging by my embarrassing error at the weekend, the US is currently being represented on the GAC by the NTIA’s Vernita Harris.

I’ve also heard rumors from ICANN 66 that another former NTIA official has also recently moved into the domain name industry. I’ll blog it up just as soon as I get confirmation.

Berkens says new gTLDs mostly suck but geos suck hardest

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2019, Domain Sales

Ever since he cashed out his massive portfolio of domain names in a bulk sale to GoDaddy three and a half years ago, domain investor Mike Berkens has been dabbling in new gTLDs, and so far he’s not impressed.

In a recent conference speech and blog post, he revealed some of his experiences parking and trying to sell his new g names, and he has come down particularly harshly on geographic TLDs.

City TLDs such as .london, .nyc and .miami are “death” to a domain investor, he said at a domainer meetup in Asheville, North Carolina last week.

His portfolio of 29 .miami names has had just 532 type-in visits in the last year, and have not received a single offer, he wrote on TheDomains.com.

On the flip-side, Berkens told his audience that domain combinations that naturally fit together, such as online.dating, atlantic.city, moving.company and bank.loans are profitable from type-in traffic and can get thousands of visitors a year.

They can be profitable even when the registry charges a premium renewal fee, he said. The domain obama.care makes him $500 a year parked and has a $150 annual renewal, he said.

But when asked directly whether he would recommend new gTLDs to domain investors, Berkens said he would not, citing among other things the added risk of unregulated price increases in the new gTLD space.

Berkens made eight figures selling his portfolio of 70,000 names to GoDaddy in 2015, but the deal apparently did not include the new gTLD names he’d picked up along the way.

You can watch his 24-minute talk here.

Record-breaking $30 million domain sale was financed by cryptocurrency

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2019, Domain Sales

Records were broken yesterday when voice.com became the most-expensive domain name ever sold.

Handed over for a cool $30 million cash, it more than doubled the previous record for a domain-only transaction, 2010’s $13 million sale of sex.com.

The seller was MicroStrategy, an analytics software provider that just happens to have a stash of high-end, one-word .com domains among its assets.

The new owner is Block.one, a blockchain software developer that has raised a staggering amount of money despite not yet having any products.

The voice.com domain will be used for Voice, its first service, a social media platform based on the EOSIO blockchain platform that Block.one develops.

How Voice specifically differs from existing social media offerings is currently a little vague. It’s currently just a press release and a beta-signup form.

But the company says it will be more transparent than competitors such as Facebook or Instagram, with revenue generated feeding its content-creating users rather than the platform owner.

Not even the blogs covering crypto on a daily basis seem to understand the Voice business model yet.

A crucial step in the early stages appears to be enticing so-called “influencers” — social media personalities with large followings — over from the current dominant platforms with the promise of huge financial rewards (presumably paid in cryptocurrency) if they bring their fans with them.

Key differences include the fact that users will need a government-issued ID to sign up (mitigating the problem of anonymous trolling and bots), and that every post will be recorded for eternity in the blockchain.

Is this what social media users are crying out for? More friction and less privacy? I don’t get it, personally. But then I didn’t get Twitter at first either.

The product was announced at a flashy news event in Washington, DV a few weeks ago. An executive discusses the value proposition briefly at around the 20-minute mark in this video recording.

Block.one itself is an equally odd fish.

It has amassed oodles of cash despite having no obvious business model. It may be the only company with a billion-dollar-plus valuation that doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page.

It reportedly raised over $4 billion through an initial coin offering — where speculators buy a basically unused cryptocurrency in the hope that it will be adopted and its value will rise — over the space of a year.

The ICO’s success appears to be partly based on the personal branding of its founders, backers and executives, who have made names for themselves in the burgeoning crypto space.

Since the ICO ended about a year ago, the company has been pumping tens of millions of dollars into third-party projects that use its EOS blockchain, in an attempt to spur adoption.

It also reportedly expects to spend $150 million developing Voice.

So, $30 million is pretty much pocket change to these guys, who’ve rewarded MicroStrategy’s speculation in domain names with the fruits of their own investors’ speculation in another type of essentially worthless digital record.

In many ways, I guess cryptocurrency really is turning out to be to this decade what domain investment was to the last.

Ten years from now, perhaps voice.com will be sold for a trillion dollars, paid for in telepathic tulips or something.

Oh, the irony! Banned anti-Islam activist shows up on “Turkish” new gTLD domain

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2019, Domain Policy

Tommy Robinson, who has been banned from most major social media platforms due to his anti-Islam “hate speech”, is now conducting business via a domain name that some believe rightfully belongs to the Muslim-majority nation of Turkey.

The registration could add fuel to the fight between ICANN and its governmental advisers over whether certain domains should be blocked or restricted.

Robinson, the nom de guerre of the man born Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, is the founder and former leader of the far-right English Defence League and known primarily for stirring up anti-Muslim sentiment in the UK for the last decade.

He’s currently, controversially, an adviser to the UK Independence Party. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, also a thoroughly unpleasant bloke, considers Robinson so far to the right he quit the party in response to the appointment.

Over the last year, Robinson has been banned from Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, and had his YouTube account placed under serious restrictions. This month, he was also banned from SnapChat, and the EDL he used to lead was among a handful of far-right groups banned from Facebook.

Since his personal Facebook page went dark in February, he’s been promoting his new web site as the primary destination for his supporters.

It features news about his activities — mainly his ongoing fights against social media platforms and an overturned contempt of court conviction in the UK — as well as summaries of basically any sufficiently divisive anti-Islam, anti-immigration, or pro-Brexit stories his writers come across.

The domain he’s using is tr.news, a new gTLD domain in a Donuts-owned registry. It was registered in December via GoDaddy.

Given it’s a two-character domain, it will have been registry-reserved and would have commanded a premium price. Other two-character .news domains are currently available on GoDaddy for between $200 and $10,000 for the first year.

It will come as no surprise at all for you to learn that the domain was transferred out of GoDaddy, which occasionally kicks out customers with distasteful views, to Epik, now de facto home of those with far-right views, a couple of weeks after the web site launched.

The irony of the choice of domain is that many governments would claim that tr.news — indeed any two-character domain, in any gTLD, which matches any country-code — rightfully belongs to Turkey, a nation of about 80 million nominal Muslims.

TR is the ISO 3166-1 two-character code for Turkey, and until a couple of years ago new gTLD registries were banned from selling any of these ccTLD-match two-letter domains, due to complaints from ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee.

Many governments, including the UK and US, couldn’t care less who registers their matching domain. Others, such as France, Italy and Israel, want bans on specific domains such as it.pizza and il.army. Other countries have asked for blanket bans on their ccTLD-match being used at all, in any gTLD.

When new gTLDs initially launched in 2012, all ccTLD matches were banned by ICANN contract. In 2014, ICANN introduced a cumbersome government-approval system under which governments had to be consulted before their matches were released for registration.

Since December 2016, the policy (pdf) has been that registries can release any two-letter domains, subject to a provision that they not be used by registrants to falsely imply an affiliation with the country or registry with the matching ccTLD.

Robinson is certainly not making such an implication. I imagine he’d be as surprised as his readers to learn that his new domain has a Turkish connection. It’s likely the only people who noticed are ICANN nerds and the Turkish themselves.

Would the Turkish people look at tr.news and assume, from the domain alone, that it had some connection to Turkey? I think many would, though I have no idea whether they would assume it was endorsed by the government or the ccTLD registry.

Would Turkey — a government whose censorship regime makes Robinson’s social media plight look like unbounded liberalism — be happy to learn the domain matching its country code is being used primarily to deliver divisive content about the coreligionists of the vast majority of its citizens? Probably not.

But under current ICANN policy it does not appear there’s much that can be done about it. If Robinson is not attempting to pass himself of as an affiliate of the Turkish government or ccTLD registry, there’s no avenue for complaint.

However, after taking the cuffs off registries with its December 2016 pronouncement, allowing them to sell two-letter domains with barely any restrictions, ICANN has faced continued complaints from the GAC — complaints that have yet to be resolved.

The GAC has been telling ICANN for the last two years that some of its members believe the decision to release two-character names went against previous GAC advice, and ICANN has been patiently explaining the process it went through to arrive at the current policy, which included taking GAC advice and government comments into account.

In what appears to be a kind of peace offering, ICANN recently told the GAC (pdf) that it is developing an online tool that “will provide awareness of the registration of two-character domains and allow for governments to report concerns”.

The GAC, in its most-recent communique, told ICANN its members would test the tool and report back at the public meeting in Montreal this November.

The tool was not available in December, when tr.news was registered, so it’s not clear whether Turkey will have received a formal notification that its ccTLD-match domain is now registered, live, and being used to whip up mistrust of Muslims.

Update April 30: ICANN informs me that the tool has been available since February, but that it does not push notifications to governments. Rather, governments can search to see if their two-letter codes have been registered in which gTLDs.

Uniregistry calls for domain Bill of Rights as Schilling says Gab.com was not booted

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2018, Domain Services

Uniregistry has called for a “Domain Bill of Rights” to protect free speech in a world were domain takedowns can be used to de-platform controversial speakers.

Meanwhile, CEO Frank Schilling has told DI that the company did not expel the right-wing social network Gab.com from Uniregistry’s platform, and would have allowed it to stay.

In a press release this week, Uniregistry COO Kanchan Mhatre said that while the company rejects “hatred and bigotry”, free speech is an “inalienable” human right.

The company called for the new agreement “to guarantee every domain name owner a formal ‘due process’ when being faced with accusations and demands for censorship”.

Schilling said that Uniregistry’s idea for a Domain Bill of Rights is still in the early stages. It has sketched out 10 draft bullet points but is not ready to publish them yet.

The press release was issued to coincide with Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal for a “Contract for the Web”, a set of broad principles governing rights and responsibilities online.

But it also coincided with the ongoing controversy over Gab.com, the microblogging platform favored by right-wing voices, including many white supremacists, that have been kicked off Twitter.

The guy who murdered 11 people at a Synagogue in Pittsburgh last month used Gab, a back-breaking straw which prompted GoDaddy to inform the network it intended to suspend its domain unless it was immediately moved to another registrar.

It’s not the first time GoDaddy has shut down the far right for breaching its terms of service. Last year, it took the same action against a neo-Nazi site.

The Gab.com domain briefly wound up at Uniregistry, before Epik CEO Rob Monster stated publicly that he would offer Gab a home. Gab took him up on his offer, and transferred away from Uniregistry.

Uniregistry’s Schilling confirmed that “We did not ask gab.com to leave our platform… they were welcome to stay subject to law”.

Monster said in a blog post largely praising Gab and founder Andrew Torba that “De-Platforming is Digital Censorship”. He noted that for Gab, “there is a duty to monitor and lightly curate, keeping content within the bounds of the law”.

Wagner takes dig at Verisign as GoDaddy reports $310 million domain revenue

Kevin Murphy, November 7, 2018, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy CEO Scott Wagner ducked a question about how the company will react to future .com price increases during its third-quarter earnings call yesterday, but used the opportunity to take a gentle swipe at Verisign.

Asked by an analyst whether the first 7% price increase, almost certainly coming in 2020, would have any effect on GoDaddy’s gross margins (ie, will they shrink as the company swallows increased costs, or swell as it increases its own prices above 7%), Wagner said:

the last time VeriSign took a price increase the industry passed that through to the end registrant.

.com and more importantly the software around bringing somebody’s .com to life is valuable and, modestly, we’re providing the value in that relationship around taking a domain name and actually turning it into something that somebody cares about.

I’m interpreting that as a pop at the idea that Verisign enjoys the fat registration margins while GoDaddy is the one that actually has to market domains, up-sell, innovate, deal with customers, and so on.

The remarks came just a few days after Verisign, in a blog post, branded GoDaddy and other secondary-market players “scalpers”, infuriating domainers.

Wagner was talking to analysts as the market-leading registrar reported revenue for Q3 of $679.5 million, up 16.7% year over year.

Revenue from domains, still the biggest of its three reporting business segments, was $309.5 million, up 14.0% compared to the year-ago quarter. GoDaddy now has 18 million customers and over 77 million domains under management.

Overall net income was down to $13.2 million from $22.4 million, as operating expenses rose over 16% to hit $642 million, after the company invested more in marketing, development and so on. Its operating income was $37.5 million.

Contrast this with Verisign’s performance for the same quarter, reported two weeks ago.

It saw revenue about the same as GoDaddy’s domains revenue — $306 million — but net income of $138 million and operating income of $195 million.

GoDaddy and Verisign could find themselves competing before long. As part of its deal with the US government to allow it to raise .com wholesale prices once more, the government also lifted its objection to Verisign becoming a registrar, just as long as it does not deal in .com names.

Parsons quits GoDaddy board

Kevin Murphy, October 3, 2018, Domain Registrars

Bob Parsons has resigned from GoDaddy’s board of directors, 21 years after he founded the company.

The registrar announced today that Parsons will leave this Friday to devote more attention to his philanthropic Bob and Renee Parsons Foundation and to the various motorcycle and golf-related businesses he runs under the Yam Worldwide brand.

He was CEO of GoDaddy from 1997 until 2011 and executive chairman until 2014.

The company is of course the runaway success story of the competitive registrar market, using a combination of cheap prices and bold marketing to eat incumbent Network Solutions’ lunch in just a few short years.

Today, it has over $2.2 billion in annual revenue and somewhere in the region of 60 million domains under management, and that’s just the gTLDs.

GoDaddy’s success made Parsons himself a billionaire.

ICANN closes GoDaddy Whois probe

Kevin Murphy, August 9, 2018, Domain Registrars

ICANN has closed its investigation into GoDaddy’s Whois practices with no action taken.

Senior VP of compliance Jamie Hedlund yesterday wrote to David Redl, head of the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration, to provide an update on the probe, news of which first emerged in April.

The NTIA and members of the intellectual property community had complained that GoDaddy was throttling Whois access over port 43 and that it was masking certain fields in the output.

That was when GoDaddy and the rest of the ICANN-regulated industry was working under the old rules, before the new temporary Whois policy had been introduced to comply with the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

Hedlund told Redl in a letter (pdf):

Based on our review and testing (including outside of ICANN’s network), GoDaddy is not currently masking WHOIS data or otherwise limiting access to its WHOIS services. Consequently, the complaints related to GoDaddy’s masking of certain WHOIS fields, rate limiting, and whitelisting of IP addresses have been addressed and closed.

GoDaddy had said earlier this year that it was throttling access over port 43 in an attempt to reduce the availability of Whois data to the spammers that have been increasingly plaguing its customers with offers of web site development and search engine optimization services.

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.

Christians rail against GoDaddy’s six-color gay rights flag

GoDaddy changed its social media avatars to a gay rights flag yesterday, incurring the wrath of some self-declared Christians and US right-wingers.

GoDaddy rainbow

The change was made in recognition of LGBT Pride Month, in which every June gay rights groups hold marches and generally celebrate/call for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.

The most egregious thing about the change is surely that there’s a color missing. For some reason, the world’s largest registrar has decided that rainbows look better with only six colors.

But many customers took to Facebook to decry the change on religious or political grounds.

Here’s a sample of some of the comments on the logo.

Now finding another service !!! I don’t support this crap !! I serve s higher power and I am as a Christian warrior to turn my back on this !!!

Don’t you start making a hard left turn to GoDaddy, are you gonna choose the coastal liberals over the other half of the country? Stay out of politics and picking sides. Your not above Boycott like every other Mega Company that chooses a Globalist agenda…

Keep your sexual or political opinion out of your business or I’ll leave your business son! Weather I agree or disagree Im not doing business with you for you to push your views upon me! Just sell me websites and hosting and keep your mouth shut, thanks!

Not doing business there anymore

To be fair, compared to the size of GoDaddy’s customer base, the number of outraged commenters was vanishingly small. I don’t think anyone at GoDaddy is shaking in their boots over the possible loss of a few hard-core right-wing customers.

But those saying it’s a political statement may have a point.

It might be interesting to note that on GoDaddy’s Facebook page for the UK, where equal rights are far less controversial and barely considered a mainstream political issue, the company has not changed its logo.

There were also lots of comments in favor of the change, of course.

Always been a huge fan of godaddy. Your customer service and products are superior. Now I’m even more of a fan. Thanks for taking a powerful stand, even amidst these trolls. I can’t even believe the hate spewing from them. #teamGoDaddy

Comment section, its not getting political or “imposing views” on others to support & respect gays as human beings. They’re not talking about gun rights or abortion or whatever, its LGBT, thats not a belief, or a view. So if you’re gonna seriously stop using the website over human decency & compassion during pride month, thats on you if ya wanna be a whining mope

The amount of offended people in these comments is killing me 😂 much love, GoDaddy. Happy pride. To all the high- strung offended snowflakes: you and your kind have enjoyed thousands of years without LGBT visibility. One site changes their profile pic and your anger burns for nothing. Suck it.

And there were plenty of ambivalent comments.

I am ok with supporting LGBT rights. I am not ok with my slow as hell server that I paid extra for it to be fast, but I paid up front for 3 years so whatever I guess I am hanging out awhile.

While I generally tend to steer away from stories about bogus, whipped-up, social media controversies (this is maybe the third time DI has posted such an article) I find it interesting as it reflects GoDaddy’s perception shift as a company.

A large reason GoDaddy got into the leading position it is today is due to its unabashedly breast-based advertising and sponsorship of sports only Republicans understand.

Less than a decade ago, it was more common for the company to attract controversy when founding CEO Bob Parsons did something dumb like brag about shooting an elephant.

Now it’s taking flak for making a half-assed nod towards gay rights? How times change.

Disclosure: it’s not lost of me that throughout this article I’ve used the word “gay” interchangeably with “LGBT”.