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dotFree to allow pre-registrations October 1

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2010, Domain Registries

The dotFree Group, which plans to apply for the top-level domain .free, plans to start allowing pre-registrations from October 1, this year.

While .xxx has had an open pre-registration period for years, I believe .free is the first of the next round of new TLD applicants to offer a similar pre-launch phase.

It would be well over a year from now before .free would be able to actually start taking live registrations, assuming its application was even successful.

The Czech company has just relaunched its web site with a new look and new information. It appears to be closely modelled on the .CO Internet site, even copying big chunks of text in some cases.

It also includes a page targeting registrars, containing this text:

How much do I earn for every free registered .FREE domain?

We plan to pay each reseller $0.05 for every .FREE domain name which was referred to us. The definitive reseller commission is still under review.

Now there’s a way to get Go Daddy beating down your door.

It’s not much of an incentive, and it suggests that dotFree isn’t planning on targeting a traditional registrar channel, at least as far as the free .free domains go.

If you can make a recurring $10 mark-up (my estimate) on a .co domain, or a one-off $0.05 on a .free, which TLD would get your store-front real estate?

However, as I’ve previously reported, not all .free domains will be free, so there may yet be opportunities for the ICANN-accredited registrar market.

ICANN replaces three directors

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2010, Domain Policy

ICANN has named Cherine Chalaby, Bertrand de La Chapelle and Erika Mann as the new members of its board of directors.

The three will replace current vice-chair Dennis Jennings, along with Harald Tveit Alvestrand and Jean-Jacques Subrenat, whose terms expire next month.

Under ICANN bylaws, Jennings, Alvestrand and Subrenat could have served two additional three-year terms, but I do not know whether any of them applied to do so.

The ICANN Nominating Committee, which was responsible for selecting the new directors, highlighted the fact that the board is getting its first Arabic-speaking member.

That’s Egyptian Cherine Chalaby. I must confess I’d never heard of him either. Google tells me he has a tech/consulting background, and works for a UK-based investment bank.

ICANN has had a couple of minor run-ins with Arabic members of the community recently, such as over the the delegation of Arabic-script ccTLDs, which came in for criticism.

There was also a small flare-up over the random inclusion of an anti-terrorism clause in the new gTLD application process, which led to (in my view overblown) accusations of insensitivity.

NomCom chair Wolfgang Kleinwaechter said the appointment of Chalaby “underlines the importance of further internationalization of ICANN.”

The appointment of Bertrand de La Chapelle, who becomes the first second person to leave the ICANN Governmental Advisory Committee to join the board, is also particularly interesting.

De La Chapelle is France’s GAC representative, and one of the most vocal members of the committee.

In my view, he’s currently the GAC rep doing the most to build bridges with the rest of the community over the tricky “morality and public order” policy process. The board’s gain is the GAC’s loss.

Clearly serious about his new role, de La Chapelle said he will quit his job as “Thematic Ambassador and Special Envoy for the Information Society in the French Foreign and European Affairs Ministry” and look for other sources of funding.

German Erika Mann joins the board after a 15-year stint as a Member of the European Parliament, sitting in the Socialist group. She speaks four languages and once ran her own IT consultancy.

According to her CV, she was an expert in ICANN matters between 1985 and 1994, which is almost supernaturally impressive.

ICANN surveys – Fail or Win?

Kevin Murphy, September 6, 2010, Domain Policy

A couple of times this year, ICANN has supplemented its regular email public comment periods with quicker, easier point-and-click surveys.

I assume they were designed to more clearly communicate the issues and increase response rates. In some respects they seem to have been a success, in others, not so much.

First, the Win.

Of the two comment periods I’ve looked at – on the Post-Expiration Domain Name Recovery policy and ICANN’s public meetings strategy – response rates were definitely up on what you would normally expect to see.

The PEDNR report solicited 10 regular email comments and a whopping 412 survey responses. The meetings survey had three emailed comments and 297 survey responses.

Judging from the PEDNR summary and analysis report, which breaks down the actual responses, the majority of respondents had something of value to say for most of the questions posed.

(It also reveals that I was the first person to take the survey. Take that, Kirikos!)

The majority of responses came from Germanic-sounding names, so I’m guessing there was some outreach in a German-language forum somewhere. Due to this fact, some respondents confessed to not fully understanding some of the English-only questions.

Now, the Fail.

The survey conducted to gauge feeling on ICANN policy for deciding meeting locations has produced some incomprehensible data. Take this, for example:

Considerations in choosing a host city
246 voters replied:
591 or 40% felt that Facilities were most important
399 or 27% felt that Convenience of meeting location and cost for both ICANN and attendees most important
495 or 33% felt that Safety and Security were most important

So… 246 people voted, but 1,485 votes are tallied?

A few more questions had similar anomalies in their results, rendering the data pretty much worthless. It’s reproduced by ICANN regardless, and without comment.

I suspect the survey provider, BigPulse, may have some of the blame, although it can’t have helped that the ICANN survey itself was reportedly highly confusing.

The PEDNR survey was conducted using Zoomerang. I do not recall having any trouble using it.

On balance I’d say that, teething troubles aside, surveys make a nice complement to public comment periods, provided that, due to the risk of “framing”, they do not carry too much weight.

Opponents pick holes in .jobs auction plan

Kevin Murphy, September 6, 2010, Domain Registries

A coalition of jobs web sites has accused Employ Media of trying to violate its own charter with its proposal to open up the .jobs namespace to all-comers.

The newly formed .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition wants ICANN to reverse its approval of the proposal, which would largely liberalize the .jobs domain.

The ad hoc group, made up of dozens of organizations including the International Association of Employment Web Sites, Monster.com and the Newspapers Association of America, wrote:

ICANN is sanctioning a registry operator’s decision to disregard the commitments contained in its charter, which is the fundamental basis upon which the sTLD was awarded.

ICANN approved Employ Media’s “phased allocation program” last month. It allows the company to loosen its previously restrictive policies on who can register domain names and for what purposes.

The first phase of the program, a request for proposals, has already launched. It would assign premium generic .jobs domains to companies willing to offer interesting business partnerships.

It’s seen by some as an obvious smokescreen for Employ Media to hand thousands of domains to the DirectEmployers Association, which plans a huge free jobs portal called Universe.jobs.

The new Coalition is against this plan, and has submitted a paper (pdf) to ICANN claiming to show how the RFP proves Employ Media wants to violate its sponsorship charter.

Its argument seems to boil down to the fact that the charter limits registrations to active human resources professionals, and that the DEA, like members of the Coaltion, does not fall into that strictly defined category.

The document was filed as an addendum to the Coalition’s reconsideration request, which itself was filed with ICANN last month before the Employ Media RFP was published.

Five killer TLDs nobody wants (and five rubbish ones)

Kevin Murphy, September 1, 2010, Domain Registries

Not including the incumbents, there are roughly 130 known new top-level domain applicants at the moment, covering everything from music to sport to health.

While several would-be TLDs, such as .gay and .eco, are known to have multiple applicants, there are some no-brainer strings that so far no company has staked a claim on.

Here’s five, off the top of my head.

.blog

Apparently there are something like 400 million active blogs on the internet today. And that’s just in the English language. I’ll take 1% of that, thanks.

.sex/.porn

We may already have .xxx by the time the first application round opens, but that’s no reason to prevent the porn industry taking its fate into its own hands and applying for either of these strings.

Both of these potential TLDs are category killers, moreso than .xxx. According to Google’s keyword tool, [sex] and [porn] each get 24.9 million searches per month, compared to 20.4 million for [xxx].

Yes, it will add even more defensive registrations costs, but it could be run on a cheap-as-chips basis, with free grandfathering, and without the expensive policy oversight body that they all seem to hate so much.

.sucks

The only UDRP-proof TLD. No sunrises, no trademark worries, just tens of thousands of disgruntled former employees happily slandering away.

That’s the theory, anyway. To be more mercenary, this is the one TLD guaranteed to make millions in defensive registrations alone.

Esther Dyson said she liked the idea back in 2000, and I agree with her. The internet needs a renewed dose of anarchic freedom of speech.

.poker

Online poker is worth billions. The term [poker] attracts far more interest than [casino], some 20 million searches per month, according to Google.

The value of the landrush auctions alone would be enough of an incentive for a registry to apply for .poker. Registration fees could also be set pretty high.

And, for balance, five rubbish TLDs.

Again, I’m not talking about guaranteed flops that have already been announced (.royal anyone?), but rather the TLDs that appear attractive at first look, but would, in my humble opinion, almost certainly fail hard.

.book

Sure, every year something like 400,000 books are published in the UK and US, but how many of them really get marketed to the extent that they need their own web site? Very few, I suspect.

And if you’re planning on using the TLD to sell books, good luck trying to train the world out of the Amazon mindset.

.kids

A legal nightmare, requiring a bloated policy oversight body to make sure all content is kid-friendly, which is pretty much impossible when nobody can even agree what a kid is.

You need look no further than the spectacularly unsuccessful government-mandated .kids.us effort to see what a waste of time a .kids would be. It has fewer domains than .arpa.

Still, it kept the politicians happy.

.news

A smaller market than you’d think. Google News only sources from about 25,000 publications, and only 4,500 of those are in English. How many will want to make the switch to a new TLD?

I’d say a .news TLD would struggle to hit six figures.

.secure

No, it isn’t. This is the internet.

A .secure TLD would be a PR nightmare from launch day to its inevitable firey death six months later.

.any-fad-technology

Back in 2000, there was an application for .wap. Really. It almost makes .mobi look like a good idea.

Pretty much no technology is immune from this rule. You can’t build a sustainable business on a string that’s likely to be tomorrow’s Betamax. Even the humble DVD has a shelf life.