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ICANN threatens to shut down .jobs

Kevin Murphy, February 28, 2011, Domain Registries

In an unprecedented move, ICANN has threatened to cancel a top-level domain registry operator’s contract.

Employ Media, the .jobs registry, faces losing its TLD if it does not shut down Universe.jobs, the controversial jobs board operated by its partner, the DirectEmployers Association.

In a letter to the company (pdf), ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey wrote:

By not establishing any meaningful restrictions on who may register second level registrations in the .JOBS TLD, Employ Media put in operation a TLD where anyone can register names, thus defeating the purpose for which the sponsored TLD came into existence.

We are calling on Employ Media to take immediate actions to implement restricted registration policies that support the purpose for which the .JOBS top-level domain was established, and to cancel registrations and/or disavow themselves of the benefits of any registrations that are owned by related parties, if any.

The move comes following a complaint filed by the so-called .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, made up of jobs board such as Monster.com and CollegeRecruiter.com.

They’re annoyed that the registry licensed 40,000 premium geographic and vocational .jobs domains to DirectEmployers for Universe.jobs, which has started to compete with them.

Jeffrey wrote:

It appears that Employ Media and SHRM, through the Direct Employers Association, intend to use the .JOBS TLD primarily to compete with other internet job boards. Such use is inconsistent with the purpose stated in the .JOBS Charter and represented to the ICANN community.

The deal came as a result of a change to the .jobs registry contract, made through ICANN’s Registry Services Evaluation Process, that allowed Employ Media to lift a rule that restricted registered domain names only to the names of companies.

What the RSEP didn’t do was change the .jobs Charter, which restricts “who” may register .jobs domains. Yet, weirdly, the Charter is partly the basis for ICANN’s threat.

Jeffrey refers to the Charter restrictions, which are easily circumvented, as “specious” and “do not serve the international human resource management community”.

This is the Charter that ICANN approved back in 2005, and which hasn’t changed since, remember.

To come back into compliance, ICANN wants Employ Media to shut down Universe.jobs and get back to selling company-name registrations.

I think it’s likely Employ Media will appeal, possibly by taking the case to arbitration, as its contract allows.

Trojan TLDs to get more scrutiny

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2011, Domain Registries

ICANN has proposed a new policy for its new top-level domain program that would make it harder for community-based TLDs to liberalize their registration policies after they launch.

The idea is to prevent a replay of the recent .jobs controversy, in which registry Employ Media substantially altered its business model after failing to sell enough .jobs domains.

Because the Applicant Guidebook gives “community” TLD applications an opportunity to avoid a potentially costly auction if their TLD is contested by multiple applicants, there’s a risk of gaming.

Under the current rules, a company could win a contested TLD without paying big bucks, by promising to restrict it to a narrowly defined community of registrants.

It could later attempt to change its rules via ICANN’s Registry Services Evaluation Process to broaden or limit its potential customer base, potentially harming others in the community.

I call these Trojan TLDs.

Employ Media, for example, restricted .jobs domains to the names of companies, but now has licensed thousands of geographical and vocational generic names to a partner, over the objections of major jobs search engines such as Monster.com.

Under ICANN’s proposed policies (pdf), community TLDs would still have to pass through the RSEP, but they’d also be subject to a review under the Community Priority Evaluation.

The CPE is already in the Guidebook. It will be used to score applications based on the strength of community support. To avoid an auction, you need to score 14 out of 16 points.

ICANN now suggests that the CPE criteria could also be used to evaluate what it calls a “Community gTLD Change proposal” made by a TLD registry post-launch.

The new score would be used to determine whether to accept or reject the change:

If the sum of all identified score changes for the first three CPE criteria is zero or positive, the recommendation would be to accept the proposal, regardless of any relevant opposition identified. If the sum is minus one, the recommendation would be to accept the proposal, unless there is relevant opposition from a group of non-negligible size, in which case the recommendation would be to reject the proposal. If the sum is minus two or lower, the recommendation would be to reject the proposal.

The ICANN board would be able to deviate from the CPE recommendation, as long as it stated its reasons for doing so, and the registry would have the right to appeal that decision under the existing Reconsideration Request process.

These rules would apply to all new TLDs that designate themselves as community-based, apparently regardless of whether they successfully passed the CPE during the application process.

The rules are presented as a “discussion draft”, but I don’t think they’re going to be opened to official public comment.

Coalition complains to ICANN about Universe.jobs

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2011, Domain Registries

The .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition thinks Employ Media is violating its own policies by allowing Universe.jobs to be launched, and has complained to ICANN.

Coalition chief John Bell said the group, which comprises jobs sites such as Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com, “filed a formal notice” with ICANN’s compliance department December 17.

That was just one week after ICANN’s board of directors, at the Cartagena meeting, passed a resolution calling for ICANN staff to “closely monitor” the registry for charter violations.

“We are confident that ICANN is taking our claims seriously and we are looking forward to a favorable decision,” Bell said.

Universe.jobs was turned on by the DirectEmployers Association last week, using hundreds of generic domains, after ICANN give the registry the all-clear to start selling non-company-name domains.

The issue is whether this independent jobs board, which is fed traffic from domains such as usa.jobs, texas.jobs and marketing.jobs, is a permissible use of .jobs domains.

The Coalition thinks it isn’t. Employ Media thinks it is.

The Coalition has also apparently complained about NativeAmerican.jobs, another employer-independent jobs site, on behalf of NativeAmericanJobs.com.

Universe.jobs launches with hundreds of premium domains

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2011, Domain Registries

The controversial Universe.jobs project has soft-launched, offering jobs listings at hundreds of premium geographic and vocational .jobs domains.

Country and state domains such as usa.jobs, gbr.jobs and texas.jobs, as well as industry domains such as firefighter.jobs and journalist.jobs are live and resolving.

If you visit, say, usa.jobs or rus.jobs, you’ll be presented with a bunch of job listings from the USA or Russia. If you visit retail.jobs, you’ll be bounced to usa.jobs/retail (at least, I was).

Even combinations, such as texas.nursing.jobs, seem to work.

I’ve no idea how many domains have been activated this way, but since all the geographics seem to be active I’m guessing it’s at least several hundred at the second-level.

The site, which is presented as a service of the DirectEmployers Association’s National Labor Exchange, currently says it’s in beta.

But the big questions now are: is this legit, and who owns the domains?

Employ Media, the .jobs registry, had to fight ICANN and mainstream commercial jobs boards in order to drop the contractual restrictions that previously limited .jobs to company names.

But some argued that, despite the relaxation of the string restrictions, employer-independent jobs sites such as Universe.jobs would still be verboten under Employ Media’s charter.

The .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, made up of newspaper associations and boards such as Monster.com, tried to get ICANN to reconsider its decision, but failed (kinda).

While the Coalition’s Reconsideration Request was unsuccessful, ICANN did say it will start to monitor Employ Media for compliance with its charter more closely.

More interestingly, perhaps, during the ICANN investigation Employ Media abruptly dropped plans to create a “self-managed” class of domains – names registered to itself, but “used” by third parties such as DirectEmployers.

Did it make good on its promise? It’s difficult to be certain, because the Whois for the many of the domains in question seems to be broken.

I’ve been able to establish that some older domains, such as usa.jobs and nursing.jobs, currently belong to DirectEmployers, but trying to figure out who owns some of the more recently registered geographical .jobs names is an excruciating process.

The Whois link buried at the bottom of the official Employ Media web site directs you to the Whois service provided by VeriSign (which runs the back-end registry infrastructure for .jobs).

VeriSign’s tool does not return the name of the registrant, only details such as the registration date, associated name servers, and the URL of the appropriate registrar’s Whois server.

In the case of all these geo domains, the registrar appears to be NameShare. The Whois server URL given by VeriSign points to a second tool, at whois.nameshare.com, that doesn’t work.

If you try to query, for example, usa.jobs (after filling out the Captcha) you get this message:

[r3] Error Message: Unsupported TLD .jobs

If you visit the NameShare homepage, you will be able to find a third .jobs Whois tool, at whois-jobs.nameshare.com/whois/. This doesn’t seem to work properly either.

This tool will tell you that the domain usa.jobs belongs to DirectEmployers.

However, almost every other Universe.jobs-related domain that I queried returned a “not found” message, even when the domain resolves and the VeriSign tools says it’s been registered for over a month.

I’m not sure what’s going on. Some kind of technical problem, no doubt.

ICANN to tackle Trojan TLDs

Kevin Murphy, December 22, 2010, Domain Registries

When failing community-based top-level domain registries attempt to change their business models, ICANN may in future have a new way of dealing with them.

That seems to be a possible result of Employ Media’s controversial .jobs liberalization plans and the subsequent Reconsideration Request, which I blogged about last week.

The .jobs reconsideration revealed that not only are Reconsideration Requests a rubbish way to appeal ICANN’s decisions, but also that the Registry Services Evaluation Process is often a rubbish way to handle major contract changes.

The RSEP was introduced back in 2005 in belated response to a couple of controversial “services” that VeriSign, testing boundaries, had planned to unilaterally introduce in the .com registry, notably Site Finder and the Waiting List Service.

But since then the process has been used as a general-purpose tool for requesting changes to registry contracts, even when it’s debatable whether the changes fit the definition of “registry services”.

For example, when .jobs launched five years ago, it was put into Employ Media’s contract that the TLD was designed for companies to register their brands and list their jobs, and that’s all.

But that model didn’t work. It’s one of the least successful TLDs out there.

So the registry decided it could make more money with general purpose jobs boards, using generic .jobs domains. But it did not necessarily want to let existing independent jobs sites take part.

For want of a better term, I’ll call this an example of a “Trojan” TLD – a registry that gets its attractive TLD string approved by ICANN after making a certain set of promises, then later decides to move the goal posts to broaden its market, potentially disenfranchising others.

I’ve no reason to believe it was a premeditated strategy in Employ Media’s case, but precedent has now been set for future TLD applicants to use “community” as a foot in the door for broader aspirations.

To take a stupid, extreme, unrealistic example, imagine that ICM Registry’s .xxx flops badly. Should the company be allowed to start selling all the good .xxx domains to churches and other anti-porn campaigners? That would be a pretty big departure from its promises.

There were similar concerns, although not nearly as loudly expressed, with regards to Telnic’s recent contract changes, which will allow it to start registering phone number domain names in .tel, despite years of promises that it would not.

Go Daddy’s policy chief Tim Ruiz objected to the proposal on the grounds that it would be “unfair to other [.tel] applicants and potential applicants to allow an sTLD to change its purpose after the fact.”

The ICANN Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration Requests, acknowledged these problems in its decision on .jobs in Cartagena (pdf), concluding that it:

thinks that the Board should address the need for a process to evaluate amendments that may have the effect of changing, or seeking to change, an sTLD Charter or Stated Purpose of a sponsored, restricted or community-based TLD.

The BGC seems to be saying that the RSEP is not up to the task of dealing with community-based TLDs that later decide their business plans are not the money-spinners they had hoped and want to loosen up their agreed community restrictions.

The committee went on to say that:

Because such a process may impact gTLDs greatly and is a policy issue, the GNSO is the natural starting point for evaluating such a process. We therefore further recommend that the Board direct the CEO to create a briefing paper for the GNSO to consider on this matter, and for the GNSO to determine whether a policy development process should be commenced.

So the GNSO will soon have to decide whether new policies are needed to deal with broad contract changes at failing community TLDs.

Any new policies would, I believe, be binding on community TLDs approved under the new gTLD program as well as older sTLDs, so it will be an interesting policy track to follow.

Did .jobs win or lose in Cartagena?

Kevin Murphy, December 17, 2010, Domain Registries

Employ Media, the .jobs registry, had a victory in Cartagena last week, when the ICANN board voted not to overturn its August decision to allow .jobs to relax its registration policies.

The company will now be able to continue with its RFP process, allocate premium generic .jobs domains to its partners, auction them, and generally liberalize the namespace.

But the registry may not have got everything it wanted.

For at least a year, Employ Media, along with the DirectEmployers Association, has been pushing the idea of creating a massive free jobs board called universe.jobs.

The site would be fed traffic from thousands of premium geographic domains such as newyork.jobs, texas.jobs and canada.jobs, as well as vocational names such as nursing.jobs and sales.jobs.

Because Employ Media was previously only allowed to sell domains that corresponded to the names of companies, such as ibm.jobs and walmart.jobs, it asked ICANN to change its contract to allow these new classes of generic names to be registered.

The registry submitted a Registry Services Evaluation Process request, which was approved by the ICANN board in early August. The contract was amended shortly thereafter.

A few weeks later, a group of jobs sites including Monster.com, calling itself the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, filed a Reconsideration Request, asking ICANN to reverse its decision.

The Coalition was concerned that the contract changes would enable universe.jobs, creating a potentially huge competitor with an unfair SEO advantage, while continuing to prohibit independent jobs sites from registering .jobs domains.

While the .jobs contract had been amended, the .Jobs Charter, which restricts those who can register .jobs domains to members of the human resources community, was not.

This potentially presented a problem for universe.jobs, as DirectEmployers may not have qualified to be a registrant under the charter.

But Employ Media’s RSEP proposal talked about creating a “self-managed class” of domains – the domains would belong to the registry but would be shared with third parties such as DirectEmployers.

That would have created an interesting precedent – registries would be able to keep hold of premium generic domain names and allow them to be “used” by only partner companies that agree to enter into revenue-sharing agreements.

But that “implementation method was withdrawn” by Employ Media after the ICANN Board Governance Committee asked about it as part of its Reconsideration Request investigation.

The BGC, while rejecting the Coalition’s request (pdf), also asked ICANN’s compliance department to keep a close eye on Employ Media, to make sure it does not overstep the bounds of its charter:

the BGC recommends that the Board direct the CEO, and General Counsel and Secretary, to ensure that ICANN’s Contractual Compliance Department closely monitor Employ Media’s compliance with its Charter

Even though its Reconsideration Request was denied, the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition counted both of these developments as a big win for its campaign, saying in a press release:

Given the Board’s commitment to aggressively monitor Employ Media’s implementation of the Phased Allocation Program, the Coalition is highly confident that ICANN will not permit Employ Media to register domain names to “independent job site operators” for purposes of operating job sites.

So does this mean that universe.jobs is dead?

Apparently not. Talk in the halls at the ICANN Cartagena meeting last week leads me to believe that the registry has figured out a way to launch the service anyway.

And DirectEmployers this Monday published a white paper (pdf), dated January 2011, which says universe.jobs will launch early next year.

DirectEmployers declined to immediately comment on its plans when I inquired this week, and the white paper sheds little light on the technicalities of the plan.

Judging from a promotion currently being run by EnCirca, a .jobs registrar, it seems that companies will only be able to list their jobs on universe.jobs if they own their own companyname.jobs domain.

EnCirca’s offer, which alludes to the .jobs sponsor, the Society for Human Resources Management, a “SHRM special“, says:

NEWS ALERT: December 13, 2010: ICANN has RE-CONFIRMED the .Jobs registry’s plan to allocate generic occupational and geographic-related .jobs domain names. Register your companyname.jobs to be part of this new initiative.

It will be interesting to see how domain allocations are ultimately handled.

While Employ Media’s request for proposals is ostensibly open, it looks a little bit like a smokescreen for its plan to hand big chunks of the .jobs namespace to the universe.jobs project.

But who will be the registrant of these domains? And will the allocations violate the .jobs charter? Will the registry carry on with its plan to create new “self-managed” class of domain names?

I think we’re going to have to wait for the new year to find out.

Go Daddy objects to numeric .tel domains

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2010, Domain Registries

Go Daddy has objected to Telnic’s plan to start selling numeric .tel domain names, saying that it, among other things, “smells a lot like gaming”.

Telnic applied to ICANN last month to revise its registry contract to enable it to start selling domains containing numbers and hyphens.

I speculated a month ago that the International Telecommunications Union might object to the proposal, for reasons I explained in some depth.

(Briefly, Telnic won the .tel sponsored TLD partly because it promised for years not to enable domains that could look like phone numbers.)

But the ITU had nothing to say, at least in terms of the ICANN public comment period.

Go Daddy’s Tim Ruiz did object last Saturday on related grounds, telling ICANN:

We believe that this request cannot be granted without requiring the rebidding of the .tel sTLD itself. It is unfair to other applicants and potential applicants to allow an sTLD to change its purpose after the fact.

Since community, purpose, and use were such important aspects of the sTLD allocation decisions it seems inappropriate, fundamentally unfair, and even smells a lot like gaming, to allow an sTLD to change those aspects without an opportunity for others to bid competitively.

In response to Ruiz’s letter, Telnic chief executive Khashayar Mahdavi wrote to ICANN:

The restriction on all-numeric strings has nothing to do with the nature of .tel and was instead a measure put in place to address initial concerns about potential conflicts with ENUM… We believe time and the growing understanding of the .tel technology have proven such a conflict does not exist.

ENUM is a protocol for addressing voice services using the DNS. It uses dots between each individual digit of a phone number, which would be specifically disallowed under Telnic’s plans.

Mahdavi also expressed confusion as to why Go Daddy bothered to object – it is not currently a registry, it does not carry .tel domains and it will presumably not be affected by the relaxation of the .tel rules.

Is it possible the registrar is taking a principled stance?

Ruiz also noted:

We believe that certain other recent requests under the guise of the RSEP [Registry Services Evaluation Process] by sTLDs were also likely inappropriate for similar reasons

He didn’t specify which sTLDs he was talking about. Without wishing to put words into his mouth, I can think of at least one that fits the description.

The Telnic proposal has already passed ICANN’s staff evaluation. I expect it could come before the board next month at its Cartagena meeting.

In separate news, Telnic’s less-controversial proposal to start selling one and two-character .tel domains has now passed its ICANN evaluation (pdf).

Native American domain gives .jobs critics ammo

Kevin Murphy, October 22, 2010, Domain Registries

The coalition of companies opposed to the expansion of the .jobs top-level domain seems to think it has found a ‘gotcha’ in the recent registration of nativeamerican.jobs.

The domain leads to a site listing jobs that are identified, for whatever reason, as being particularly suitable for Native Americans. It’s based on an earlier site at ndianjobs.com

The .jobs TLD was originally intended to allow human resources departments to list their corporate job openings using only their own company name or brand in the domain.

The .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition, made up of a number of jobs portals including Monster.com, now points to nativeamerican.jobs as an example of .jobs registry Employ Media breaking its charter commitments.

The Coalition wrote to ICANN yesterday in support of its effort to get ICANN to overturn its recent decision on .jobs liberalization.

In August, ICANN told the registry that it could start accepting non-company-name .jobs registrations through a “phased allocation process” that involves an RFP and possibly auctions.

But the Coalition contends that the amended registry contract does not allow Employ Media to break its Charter commitment to restrict registrations to purely human resources registrants.

It could not be clearer that Employ Media is using the Board’s approval of the Phased Allocation Program to transform the fundamental nature of the .JOBS sponsored top level domain from a site for employers to link directly with job seekers to a generic employment services theme park – in clear violation of the .JOBS charter, and without the smallest consideration of third party rights.

These “third-party rights” include the owner of nativeamericanjobs.com, who presumably did not have the chance to register the contested domain.

It’s not clear whether the Coalition statement is entirely correct, however.

Judging from Whois records, the domain nativeamerican.jobs was registered in May, prior to ICANN’s board approving the .jobs registry contract changes.

It was certainly registered prior to the closure of the initial RFP stage of Employ Media’s phased allocation program.

The Coalition has a Reconsideration Request pending. ICANN earlier this week asked Employ Media to respond to 13 questions about its plans.

ICANN asks .jobs registry to explain itself

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2010, Domain Registries

ICANN has asked .jobs registry manager Employ Media to clarify its plan to lift restrictions on who can register names in its top-level domain.

The ICANN board committee which handles Reconsideration Requests – essentially ICANN’s first-stop appeals court – has sent the registry a list of 13 questions (pdf), apparently distilled from a much longer list (pdf) supplied by the .JOBS Charter Compliance Coalition.

Employ Media wants to be able to start allocating premium generic .jobs domain names to companies via an RFP process and possibly auctions, dropping the rule which states that only companyname.jobs domains are permitted in the TLD.

ICANN’s board of directors approved the company’s plan in August, and Employ Media opened its RFP process shortly thereafter. Then the Compliance Coalition filed its Reconsideration Request.

This ad-hoc coalition comprises a number of employment web sites, such as Monster.com, and the Newspapers Association of America, which believe Employ Media’s plans fall outside its remit and could pose a competitive threat.

It’s common knowledge that the registry was planning to allocate a big chunk of premium real estate to the DirectEmployers Association, which wants to run a massive jobs board called universe.jobs, fed traffic by thousands of generic industry or geographic .jobs names.

Essentially, the Coalition’s questions, echoed by the Board Governance Committee, seem to be a roundabout way of asking whether this violates the .JOBS Charter, which limits the registrant base to corporate human resources departments.

Notably, the BGC wants to know when a universe.jobs promotional white paper (pdf) was produced, how much input Employ Media had in it, and whether the ICANN board got to see it before making its decision.

(A bit of a ludicrous question really, given that the BGC is comprised of four ICANN directors)

It also wants to know which purported “independent job site operators” have welcomed the Employ Media plan (a situation reminiscent of the recent unsuccessful calls for ICM Registry to disclose its .xxx supporters.)

The BGC’s Question 9 also strikes me as interesting, given that it does not appear to be inspired directly by the Coalition’s list of questions:

Please state whether Employ Media took any steps to prevent or interfere with any entity or person’s ability to state its position, or provide information, to the Board regarding amendment of the .JOBS Registry Agreement before or during the 5 August 2010 Board meeting.

I’m now beginning to wonder whether we may see a rare reversal of an ICANN board decision based on a Reconsideration Request.

Monster.com slams .jobs plan

Kevin Murphy, September 17, 2010, Domain Registries

Monster.com and the US Chamber of Commerce have ripped into Employ Media’s plans to liberalize the .jobs top-level domain, with Monster calling the plan “anti-competitive”.

Both organizations have over the last two days said they support the ICANN Reconsideration Request I reported on here.

Essentially, they want ICANN’s board to reverse the decision that would allow Employ Media, the .jobs registry, to start leasing thousands of .jobs domains to whichever company offers it the best deal.

Monster said (pdf) this:

The Board has, without proper consideration and deliberation, consented to the privatization and capture of a sponsored top-level domain (“sTLD”) by a single registrant or small group of registrants.

The jobs boards market is pissed that Employ Media has already made it pretty obvious that it plans to lease thousands of premium domains to the DirectEmployers Association.

Monster claims that the ICANN decision to allow the registry to start accepting “non-company-name” registrations violates the original .JOBS Charter, which limited the registrant pool to companies that wanted to advertise their own vacancies at “company.jobs” URLs.

The company says that the move could create “serious consequences for ICANN’s credibility” as it rolls out new TLDs, on the basis that it sets a bad precedent for ostensibly restricted “community” TLDs:

ICANN will be viewed as willing to tolerate sweeping, unauthorized changes to community based TLDs with no regard for the representations made during the application process.

Monster also says that the board’s decision “has broad anti-competitive implications that were not examined by staff”.

The US Chamber of Commerce, which has previously opposed TLD expansion in principle, has also chipped in (pdf) with its opposition, echoing Monster’s thoughts and adding that the proposed .jobs expansion fails to protect IP rights.