Google has muscled in to the registry service provider market with the launch of Nomulus, an open-source TLD back-end platform.
The new offering appears to be tightly integrated with Google’s various cloud services, challenging long-held registry pricing conventions.
There are already indications that at least one of the gTLD market’s biggest players could be considering a move to the service.
Donuts revealed yesterday it has been helping Google with Nomulus since early 2015, suggesting a shift away from long-time back-end partner Rightside could be on the cards.
Nomulus, which is currently in use at Google Registry’s handful of early-stage gTLDs, takes care of most of the core registry functions required by ICANN, Google said.
It’s a shared registration system based on the EPP standard, able to handle all the elements of the domain registration lifecycle.
Donuts contributed code enabling features it uses in its own 200-ish gTLDs, such as pricing tiers, the Early Access Period and Domain Protected Marks List.
Nomulus handles Whois and likely successor protocol RDAP (Registration Data Access Protocol).
For DNS resolution, it comes with a plug-in to make TLDs work on the Google Cloud DNS service. Users will also be able to write code to use alternative DNS providers.
There’s also software to handle daily data escrow to a third-party provider, another ICANN-mandated essential.
But Nomulus lacks critical features such as billing and fully ICANN-compliant reporting, according to documentation.
So will anyone actually use this? And if so, who?
It’s too early to say for sure, but Donuts certainly seems keen. In a blog post, CEO Paul Stahura wrote:
As the world’s largest operator of new TLDs, Donuts must continually explore compelling technologies and ensure our back-end operations are cost-efficient and flexible… Google has a phenomenal record of stability, an almost peerless engineering team, endless computing resources and global scale. These are additional potential benefits for us and others who may contribute to or utilize the system. We have been happy to evaluate and contribute to this open source project over the past 20 months because this platform provides Donuts with an alternative back-end with significant benefits.
In a roundabout way, Donuts is essentially saying that Nomulus could work out cheaper than its current back-end, Rightside.
The biggest change heralded by Nomulus is certainly pricing.
For as long as there has been a competitive market for back-end domain registry services, pricing has been on a per-domain basis.
While pricing and model vary by provider and customer, registry operators typically pay their RSPs a flat fee and a buck or two for each domain they have under management.
Pricing for dot-brands, where DUM typically comes in at under 100 today, is believed to be weighted much more towards the flat-fee service charge element.
But that’s not how Nomulus is to be paid for.
While the software is open source and free, it’s designed to run on Google’s cloud hosting services, where users are billed on the fly according to their usage of resources such as storage and bandwidth consumed.
For example, the Google Cloud Datastore, the company’s database service that Nomulus uses to store registration and Whois records, charges are $0.18 per gigabyte of storage per month.
For a small TLD, such as a dot-brand, one imagines that storage costs could be reduced substantially.
However, Nomulus is not exactly a fire-and-forget solution.
There is no Google registry service with customer support reps and such, at least not yet. Nomulus users are responsible for building and maintaining their registry like they would any other hosted application.
So the potentially lower service costs would have to be balanced against potentially higher staffing costs.
My hunch based on the limited available information is that for a dot-brand or a small niche TLD operating on a skeleton crew that may lack technical expertise, moving to Nomulus could be a false economy.
With this in mind, Google may have just created a whole new market for middleman RSPs — TLD management companies that can offer small TLDs a single point of contact for technical expertise and support but don’t need to build out and own their own expensive infrastructure.
The barrier to entry to the RSP market may have just dropped like a rock, in other words.
And Nomulus may work out more attractive to larger TLD operators such as Donuts, with existing teams of geeks, that can take advantage of Google’s economies of scale.
Don’t expect any huge changes overnight though. Migrating between back-ends is not an easy or cheap feat.
As well as ICANN costs, and data migration and software costs, there’s also the non-trivial matter of shepherding a horde of registrars over to the new platform.
How much impact Nomulus will have on the market remains to be seen, but it has certainly given the industry something to think about.
Verisign has emerged as the likely winner of the .web gTLD auction, which closed on Thursday with a staggering $135 million winning bid.
The shell company Nu Dot Co LLC was the prevailing applicant in the auction, which ran for 23 rounds over two days.
Just hours after the auction closed, Domain Name Wire scooped that Verisign had quietly informed investors that it has committed to pay $130 million for undisclosed “contractual rights”.
In its Securities and Exchange Commission quarterly report, filed after the markets closed on Thursday, Verisign said:
Subsequent to June 30, 2016, the Company incurred a commitment to pay approximately $130.0 million for the future assignment of contractual rights, which are subject to third-party consent. The payment is expected to occur during the third quarter of 2016.
There seems to be little doubt that the payment is to be made to NDC (or one of its shell company parents) in exchange for control of the .web Registry Agreement.
The “third-party consent” is likely a reference to ICANN, which must approve RA reassignments.
We speculated on July 14 that Verisign would turn out to be NDC’s secret sugar daddy, which seems to have been correct.
Rival .web applicant Donuts had sued ICANN for an emergency temporary restraining order, claiming it had not done enough to uncover the identity of NDC’s true backers, but was rebuffed on multiple grounds by a California judge.
Donuts, and other applicants, had wanted the contention set settled privately, but NDC was the only hold-out.
Had it been settled with a private auction, and the $135 million price tag had been reached, each of the seven losing applicants would have walked away with somewhere in the region of $18.5 million in their pockets.
This draws the battle lines for some potentially interesting legal fallout.
It remains to be seen if Donuts will drop its suit against ICANN or instead add Verisign in as a defendant with new allegations.
There’s also the possibility of action from Neustar, which is currently NDC’s named back-end provider.
Assuming Verisign plans to switch .web to its own back-end, Neustar may be able to make similar claims to those leveled by Verisign against XYZ.com.
Overall, Verisign controlling .web is sad news for the new gTLD industry, in my view.
.web has been seen, over the years, as the string that is both most sufficiently generic, sufficiently catchy, sufficiently short and of sufficient semantic value to provide a real challenge to .com.
I’ve cooled on .web since I launched DI six years ago. Knowing what we now know about how many new gTLD domains actually sell, and how they have to be priced to achieve volume, I was unable to see how even a valuation of $50 million was anything other than a long-term (five years or more) ROI play.
Evidently, most of the applicants agreed. According to ICANN’s log of the auction (pdf) only two applicants — NDC and another (Google?) — submitted bids in excess of $57.5 million.
But for Verisign, .web would have been a risk in somebody else’s hands.
I don’t think the company cares about making .web a profitable TLD, it instead is chiefly concerned with being able to control the impact it has on .com’s mind-share monopoly.
Verisign makes about a billion dollars a year in revenue, with analyst-baffling operating margins around 60%, and that’s largely because it runs .com.
In 2015, its cash flow was $651 million.
So Verisign has dropped a couple of months’ cash to secure .web — chickenfeed if the real goal is .com’s continued hegemony.
In the hands of a rival new gTLD company’s marketing machine, in six months we might have been seeing (naive) headlines along the lines of “Forget .com, .web is here!”.
That won’t happen now.
I’m not privy to Verisign’s plans for .web, but its track record supporting the other TLDs it owns is not fantastic.
Did you know, or do you remember, that Verisign runs .name? I sometimes forget that too. It bought it from Global Name Registry in late 2008, at the high point of its domains under management in this chart.
I don’t think I expect Verisign to completely bury .web, but I don’t think we’re going to see it aggressively promoted either.
It will never be positioned as a competitor to .com.
If .web never makes $135 million, that would be fine. Just as long as it doesn’t challenge the perception that you need a .com to be successful, Verisign’s purchase was worth the money.
Google’s registrar, Google Domains, has started offering a widget to make it easier to become a reseller.
The Google Domains widget has already been deployed by five web site builders — Big Cartel, Duda, Selz, Square and Webflow — the company said.
Google said it handles payment and DNS configuration — pointing the newly registered domains to the appropriate service — on behalf of its partners.
Google has started using its primary dot-brand gTLD for its registrar business.
The URL domains.google.com now bounces users to domains.google. The site sells domains from $12 a year with free Whois privacy.
Is this move a big deal for improving new gTLD awareness? I don’t think so.
Anyone visiting any major registrar’s storefront is likely to become aware that new gTLDs exist really rather quickly, regardless of the registrar’s own choice of domain.
A registrar using its dot-brand is not going to work wonders for new gTLD awareness in the general populace.
If Google were to start using .google for any of its non-domain projects, such as search.google, that would be different.
The company was already using registry.google for its registry business’s web site.
Security vendor Blue Coat apparently doesn’t check whether domains are actually domains before it advises customers to block them.
Unrepentant, Blue Coat continued to insist that businesses should consider blocking .zip domains, while acknowledging there aren’t any.
It said that its censorware treats anything entered into a browser’s address bar as a URL, so it has been treating file names that end in .zip — the common format for compressed archive files — as if they are .zip domain names. The blog states:
when one of those URLs shows up out on the public Internet, as a real Web request, we in turn treat it as a URL. Funny-looking URLs that don’t resolve tend to get treated as Suspicious — after all, we don’t see any counter-balancing legitimate traffic there.
Further, if a legal domain name gets enough shady-looking traffic — with no counter-evidence of legitimate Web traffic — it’s possible for one of our AI systems to conclude that the behavior isn’t changing, and that it deserves a Suspicious rating in the database. So it gets one.
In other words, Blue Coat has been categorizing Zip file names that somehow find their way into a browser address bar as .zip domain names.
That may sound like a software bug that Blue Coat needs to fix, but it’s still telling people to block Google’s gTLD anyway, writing:
In conclusion, none of the .zip “domains” we see in our traffic logs are requests to registered sites. Nevertheless, we recommend that people block these requests, until valid .zip domains start showing up.
That’s a slight change of position from its original “Businesses should consider blocking traffic that leads to the riskiest TLDs”, but it still strikes me as irresponsible.
The company has still not disclosed the real numbers behind any of the percentages in its report, so we still have no idea whether it was fair to label, for example, Famous Four’s .review as “100% shady”.