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Verisign and Afilias testing Whois killer

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2017, Domain Tech

Verisign and Afilias have become the first two gTLD registries to start publicly testing a replacement for Whois.

Both companies have this week started piloting implementations of RDAP, the Registration Data Access Protocol, which is expected to usurp the decades-old Whois protocol before long.

Both pilots are in their very early stages and designed for a technical audience, so don’t expect your socks to be blown off.

The Verisign pilot offers a web-based, URL-based or command-line interface for querying registration records.

The output, by design, is in JSON format. This makes it easier for software to parse but it’s not currently very easy on the human eye.

To make it slightly more legible, you can install a JSON formatter browser extension, which are freely available for Chrome.

Afilias’ pilot is similar but does not currently have a friendly web interface.

Both pilots have rudimentary support for searching using wildcards, albeit with truncated result sets.

The two new pilots only currently cover Verisign’s .com and .net registries and Afilias’ .info.

While two other companies have notified ICANN that they intend to run RDAP pilots, these are the first two to go live.

It’s pretty much inevitable at this point that RDAP is going to replace Whois relatively soon.

Not only has ICANN has been practically champing at the bit to get RDAP compliance into its registry/registrar contracts, but it seems like the protocol could simplify the process of complying with incoming European Union privacy legislation.

RDAP helps standardize access control, meaning certain data fields might be restricted to certain classes of user. Cops and IP enforcers could get access to more Whois data than the average blogger or domainer, in other words.

As it happens, it’s highly possible that this kind of stratified Whois is something that will be legally mandated by the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into effect next May.

Huge registrar shake-up coming to .biz and .info

Afilias and Neustar will be soon able to sell .biz and .info domains direct, and may have to shut down registrars that refuse to sign up to the new 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement.

Those are two of the biggest changes proposed to the companies’ ICANN contracts, drafts of which were published this morning six months after their last registry agreements expired.

The new .biz and .info deals would allow both companies to vertically integrate — that is, own a controlling position in a registrar that sells domains in their respective gTLDs.

This would remove unwanted friction from their sales and marketing efforts, but would mean both registries would start competing with their own registrar channel in the retail market.

That’s currently not allowed in almost all gTLD contracts, but is expected to become commonplace in the era of new gTLDs, which have no such ownership restrictions.

These new vertical integration clauses were not unexpected; it’s been envisaged for a couple of years that the restrictions would be dropped in legacy gTLDs.

What is surprising are newly proposed clauses that would oblige Neustar and Afilias to terminate accredited registrars’ access to their TLDs if they don’t sign up to the 2013 RAA.

Under the process set out in the contracts, when registrars representing 67% of the domains in each given TLD have signed up to the 2013 RAA, all the other registrars would have between 270 and 330 days to also sign up to it or lose their ability to access the .biz/.info registries.

That would mean no selling new names and no accepting inbound transfers — a growth death sentence in the affected TLDs.

In the case of .info, in which Go Daddy has a 45% market share, it would only take the top four registrars to sign up to the 2013 RAA before the clock started ticking for the others.

However, this 67% rule would only kick in for Afilias and Neustar if Public Interest Registry and Verisign also voluntarily agree to the same rules for their .org, .com and .net gTLDs.

It’s a pretty aggressive move by ICANN to push the 2013 RAA onto registrars via its contracts with registries, but not the first.

In the separately proposed base New gTLD Registry Agreement, expected to be finalized in the next few weeks, registrars can only sell new gTLD domains if they’re on the 2013 RAA.

Other changes to the .biz and .info contracts include giving the registries the ability to block certain domains from registration to deal with security threats. Registries have been doing this since Conficker, but now they’ll be explicitly allowed to under their contracts.

They’ll also now be subject to the same emergency back-end transition provisions as new gTLDs, in the event of a catastrophic failure.

Both companies will also get to keep their ability to raise registry fees by 10% a year.

Presumably, given that the US Department of Commerce is not party to the .biz and .info deals, neither registry will get the same nasty surprise that Verisign got last year when Commerce froze its prices.

Both proposed contracts are now open for public comment at ICANN, here and here.

The previous contracts actually expired last December but were extended for six months due to ICANN’s focus on new gTLDs and the fact that it wanted to bring both agreements closer to the new gTLD contract.

Afilias blames security crackdown for massive drop in .info domains

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2013, Domain Registries

Afilias says a new anti-abuse policy is responsible for .info losing almost a million domains in 2012.

The .info space ended the year down 914,310 domains, an 11% decline on 2011, the biggest gTLD shrinkage in actual domain terms and second only to .tel in percentage terms, according to DI’s TLD Health Check.

The TLD ended the year with 7,402,557 domains under management, still the runaway leader of “new” gTLDs in terms of total domains.

An Afilias spokesperson blamed the DUM decline on a crackdown on abusive domain use, which impacted sales. He said in a statement:

To fight the growing scourges of spam, phishing and other Internet problems, .INFO established an industry-leading anti-abuse policy and began aggressively working with its registrar partners to take down any and all sites that violated the policy, regardless of the sales impact. This approach reinforces .INFOs strong foundation of great sites and enhances the reputation of .INFO as the ‘home of information on the Web’.

Historically, .info was favored by bad actors due to the low cost of registrations. At some points over the last ten years, it’s even been possible to register a .info domain for free.

Afilias’ crackdown affected .pro too, as then-president Karim Jiwani told us in January, but .pro managed to double in size anyway, due to new registrar partners and lower prices.

Of the 18 gTLDs tracked by TLD Health Check, only .name, .tel and .travel also suffered significant declines in domains under management in 2012.

.info and .biz prices to go up

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2013, Domain Registries

Afilias and Neustar have separately announced increased to the registry fees for .info and .biz domain names.

Afilias yesterday said the maximum wholesale price for a .info domain would increase to $8.16 effective September 1, a 10% increase on the current rate of $7.42 per year.

The last 10% hike, which the company is allowed to take under its ICANN registry agreement, came in July 2011.

Neustar last week also said it was taking its permitted 10% increase.

The maximum registry fee for .biz will go up to $8.63, also starting September 1. It last increased its prices in February 2012.

.info and .biz contracts extended after expiring

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2013, Domain Registries

Afilias and Neustar have had their key gTLD registry contracts temporarily extended after they expired on New Year’s Eve.

The .info and .biz agreements, which were both signed with ICANN in 2006, both ended on December 31 2012.

Both deals, of course, have a presumption of renewal. They’ve been extended for six months while renewal terms are finalized.

I understand that the delay in getting new contracts negotiated and approved is due largely to all the other stuff going on at ICANN right now.

(New gTLD applicants planning to negotiate a non-standard contract with ICANN, take note.)

According to ICANN, drafts of the the next versions of the .info and .biz contracts will be posted for public comment this month.

I’d expect to see some of the same minor technical and legal changes made as those that were made to Verisign’s .net contract, which was renegotiated in 2011.

It’s going to be interesting to see whether .info and .biz will keep the same rights to increase registry fees, in light of the US Department of Commerce’s move to freeze .com prices.

However, .com is a special case and Commerce does not have a built-in right to examine .biz and .info contracts.

Second premium .info auction goes live on Go Daddy

Kevin Murphy, January 8, 2013, Domain Registries

Go Daddy and Afilias are auctioning off a second batch of premium dictionary-word .info domain names.

The registrar has just gone live with a list of 138 domains, including stuff like home.info, autos.info, boat.info, fashion.info and computer.info.

The domains were all claimed in Afilias’ .info sunrise period back in 2001 but were subsequently found to be ineligible under the sunrise rules and reclaimed by the registry.

Bidding starts on January 15, with starting bids at about $100.

A first batch of domains from the same pool were auctioned in December, with some fetching five-figure sums — cancer.info led, selling for $16,005, with loans.info going for $12,205.

Afilias to apply for Chinese .info

Kevin Murphy, November 8, 2011, Domain Registries

Afilias has announced that it plans to apply for the traditional and simplified Chinese script equivalents of .info under ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program.

The company becomes the last of the Big Three registries to give a glimpse into its new gTLD strategy.

VeriSign has said it wants transliterations of .com in multiple scripts, while Neustar has said it plans to apply for its own dot-brand, .neustar.

Afilias did not disclose the exact strings it wants in its announcement. There was no mention of .mobi, which the company also runs.

According to the last official count, there are close to 7.9 million registered .info domains. Marketing director Roland LaPlante said in September that about 19% host unique web sites.

Overstock.com: a registry’s best friend

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2011, Domain Registries

O.co, the company formerly known as Overstock.com, has bought the domain name o.info directly from registry manager Afilias for an undisclosed amount.

It’s the first single-character sale Afilias has announced since ICANN gave it the go-ahead to release one and two-letter names from reserved status in April 2010.

What makes it particularly interesting is that O.co has agreed to build a separate web site at o.info, using the domain for the purpose suggested by the TLD string.

The idea of allocating a valuable name to a big brand in exchange for a use commitment – the “founders program” model – is of course now a standard part of a TLD registry’s marketing toolkit.

It’s more unusual too see the same tactics used to promote a decade-old gTLD.

O.co CEO Patrick Byrne said in a statement:

We will use O.info as a website destination to consolidate useful consumer information. The .info domain is the logical destination for visitors to find product information, user manuals, buying guides, manufacturer and brand reviews, video demonstrations and recall notices.

The price has not been disclosed. It could easily be in the six-figures, extrapolating from the $350,000 the company dropped on o.co last year.

On the other hand, it could be lower.

I feel certain that .CO Internet would have handed over o.co for free if it had known how much great publicity it would bring; it’s possible Afilias may have sacrificed part of its windfall in the hope of reaping some marketing benefits too.

It has 25 more letters to sell, after all.

What The X Factor taught me about new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, September 4, 2011, Domain Registries

Elitist, pseudo-intellectual snob that I am, I rarely watch commercial television. But I make an exception when the The X Factor is on.

I’m not sure I’d even describe the show as a guilty pleasure. It’s just consistently great television.

I’m not alone. According to BARB, which tracks viewing figures in the UK, The X Factor is Britain’s top-rated show, with about 11 million viewers each Saturday night.

It is estimated that a 30-second spot in the latest series costs advertisers £154,000 ($250,000), which will likely increase dramatically as buzz builds toward the December finals.

If a company is willing to spend $250,000 on a single ad spot, I got to wondering how these advertisers use domain names. The price of a new “.brand” gTLD is in the same ball park, after all.

So rather than zoning out during The X Factor‘s commercial breaks last night, I took notes.

Of the 15 brands advertised during the show, five did not promote their online presence at all. Ads for products such as breakfast cereal showed no URLs, search terms or Facebook profiles.

Another three displayed their domains on-screen as footnotes, but with no explicit call to action.

Two advertisers, amazon.co.uk and weightwatchers.co.uk, explicitly encouraged the viewer, on-screen and in the voice-over, to visit their sites.

Barclays was the only advertiser that asked viewers to find it using a search engine. Its call to action was “search Barclays offset mortgage”, with no accompanying URL.

There were also a couple of ads that used call-to-action .co.uk domains.

Mars used bagamillionmovies.co.uk to direct viewers to an M&Ms movie competition, while Microsoft (windows.co.uk/newpc) was the only advertiser to use a directory in addition to its domain.

But the two commercials that interested me the most were those that used alternative or “new” TLDs – the ones that are usually afterthoughts when you’ve already put a .com into your cart.

Mars used getsomenuts.tv to advertise Snickers, and the healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson asked viewers to visit sleepchallenge.info.

That’s right. J&J seems to be spending six-figure sums advertising a .info domain during Britain’s most-watched TV show every Saturday night.

This is noteworthy for, among other reasons, the fact that J&J has a seat on the board of directors of the Association of National Advertisers.

The ANA is of course currently leading the campaign against ICANN’s new gTLD program.

ANA general counsel Doug Wood rubbished .info, albeit only by association, in a video interview with WebProNews on Friday, stating:

The idea of [ICANN’s new gTLD program] being successful and delivering the competition or the innovation that they’re speculating on is clearly questionable to a great degree, based purely on the success or lack of success of the last group they introduced – .biz, .travel, .jobs, etc – none of which has as done anything significant vis-a-vis competition or innovation

I would suggest that the existence of sleepchallenge.info shows how dubious these claims are.

First, sleepchallenge.info redirects to a rather longer URL at johnsonsbaby.co.uk. This indicates that it was registered purely to act as a memorable and measurable call-to-action domain.

The fact that J&J used the .info, rather than sleepchallenge.co.uk, which it also owns, suggests that the company appreciates the additional meaning in the word “info”.

(Mere added semantic value would make a poor definition of innovation, but until now it’s been one of the few things that new gTLD registries have been able to offer.)

The domain sleepchallenge.info was a hand registration in May 2010, according to Whois records, costing J&J just $35 from Network Solutions.

The .com equivalent has been registered since 2007 and would have cost substantially more to acquire from its current registrant, if indeed it was for sale, which it may not be.

Because ICANN introduced competition into the gTLD market 11 years ago, J&J was able to obtain a meaningful domain for a massive ad campaign at a low price.

Watching The X Factor has taught me that Johnson & Johnson is an ANA board member that has already directly benefited from new gTLDs.

I guess commercial TV can be educational after all.

Domain universe breaks through 200 million

Kevin Murphy, November 29, 2010, Domain Registries

VeriSign is reporting that the number of registered domain names worldwide broke through the 200 million mark in the third quarter.

There were 202 million domains at the end of September, according to the company’s Domain Name Industry Brief, which was published today.

Over half of those domains, 103 million names in total, can be found in the .com and .net namespaces that VeriSign manages.

In a not-so-subtle plug for VeriSign’s 2011 growth strategy, the company also declared that the next ten years will be “The Decade of the International Internet”.

In the coming decade, the Internet will continue to become a ubiquitous, multi-cultural tool, fueled in part by the adoption of IDNs. By enabling online content and businesses to be represented in local scripts and languages, IDNs help the Internet to expand the power of technology to regions and cultures, and connect the world in new ways. Over the past year, several new IDNs for ccTLDs have been approved. The next step will be approval of IDNs for generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs).

The company, of course, plans to apply to ICANN to operate IDN versions of .com and .net, although it has not to date discussed openly which languages or strings it wants.

The VeriSign report also says that ccTLD registrations grew 2.4%, compared to the same quarter last year, to 79.2 million domains.

I expect this growth would have been tempered had it not been for the relaunch of .co, which occurred during the quarter, but it does not merit a mention in the report.

The report also reveals that .info has overtaken .cn in the biggest-TLD charts, although this is due primarily to the plummeting number of registrations in the Chinese ccTLD.

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