DomainsBot to be “at the heart” of new gTLD sales

DomainsBot, which powers the name suggestion feature on most major registrar storefronts, has unveiled a significant update designed to make selling new gTLD domains easier.

The company reckons its new technology will soon be promoted from a follow-up sales tool, rolled out if a customer’s first choice of domain is not available, to “replacing the availability check” entirely.

“The idea is to be at the heart of the process of promoting new gTLDs,” CEO Emiliano Pasqualetti told DI.

The idea is pretty straightforward: a customer types a word into a search box, the service suggests available domain names with conceptually similar TLDs.

There’s a demo online already. If you type “chocolate”, it suggests domains such as chocolate.food, chocolate.menu and chocolate.health. Domain Name Wire did a quick test run today too.

While it may not be perfect today, it was pretty good at finding appropriate TLDs for the keywords I tested.

And Pasqualetti said that under the hood is a machine learning engine that will make its suggestions increasingly more relevant as new gTLD domains start to go on sale.

“It tries to predict which TLD we need to show to each individual using a combination of their query, their IP address and as much history as we can legally collect in partnership with registrars,” Pasqualetti said.

If, for example, customers based in London show a tendency to buy lots of .london domains but hardly ever .rome, Londoners will start to see .london feature prominently on their registrar’s home page.

“We learn from each registrar what people search for and what people end up buying,” he said.

Some registrars may start using the software in their pre-registration portals, increasing relevance before anything actually goes on sale, he said.

My feeling is that this technology could play a big role in which new gTLDs live or die, depending on how it is implemented and by which registrars.

Today, DomainsBot powers the suggestion engine for the likes of Go Daddy, eNom, Tucows and Moniker. Pasqualetti reckons about 10% of all the domains being sold are sold via its suggestions.

Judging by today’s press release, registrars are already starting to implement the new API. Melbourne IT, Tucows and eNom are all quoted, but Pasqualetti declined to specify precisely how they will use the service.

It’s been widely speculated that Go Daddy plans to deploy an automated “pay for placement” system — think AdSense for domains — to determine which TLDs get prominence on its storefront.

Pasqualetti said that’s the complete opposite of what DomainsBot is offering.

“We’re relevance for placement,” he said. “We want to give every TLD a chance to thrive, as long as they’re relevant for the end user.”

According to Pasqualetti (and most other people I’ve been talking to recently) there are a lot of new gTLD applicants still struggling to figure out how to market their TLDs via registrars.

There are about 550 “commercially interesting” applied-for gTLD strings in the DomainsBot system right now, he said. New gTLD applicants may want to make sure they’re one of them.

Next week, the company will reveal more details about how it plans to work with new gTLD registries specifically.

Melbourne IT gets out of brand protection with $157m sale to CSC

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2013, Domain Registrars

Corporation Service Company has acquired Melbourne IT’s flagship digital brand management service for a ridiculously expensive AUD 152.5 million ($157m).

The shock news takes Melbourne out of the high-margin defensive registration and brand monitoring market, leaving it as a basic domain registrar focused on small businesses.

For CSC, the deal leaves it with a considerably strengthened hand in the DBS space, which is poised to benefit from the massive influx of new gTLDs over the next few years.

It also means that all of the over 100 new gTLD applications Melbourne was supporting as a consultant will now be managed by CSC.

The price of AUD 152.5 million is far more than Melbourne IT could have hoped to ask for, equal to almost its entire market capitalization of AUD 160 million.

Melbourne has had a rocky time on the markets of late, and had previously disclosed that it was looking to sell off some units in order to appease shareholders and rationalize its business.

But DBS was considered a core business, bigger now than Melbourne’s regular domains business, and likely not for sale. CSC’s high-premium offer was too good, it seems, to be responsibly refused.

“While this was not a business that we had specifically earmarked for sale, given the value creation provided by the transaction, this was an opportunity which could not be ignored,” CEO Theo Hnarakis, said in a statement.

The deal follows the sale of MarkMonitor, a key Melbourne competitor, to Thomson Reuters last July. When it comes to brand protection in the domain name space, it’s a big boy’s game nowadays.

Melbourne will remain a domain registrar with over four million names under management.

The DBS business was formed in 2008, largely as a result of Melbourne’s purchase of Verisign’s brand services division for $50 million.

Melbourne IT may sell off businesses as ICANN delays hit bottom line

Kevin Murphy, November 26, 2012, Domain Registrars

Melbourne IT is looking into selling some of its business units after warning the Australian markets today that 2012 profit is likely to come in below 2011 levels.

The brand protection registrar, listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, partly blamed delays to ICANN’s new gTLD program for an expected 10% dip in earnings before interest and tax.

The company said it is “in the process of pursuing possible ownership alternatives for its current portfolio of businesses”, and that overseas buyers have already been identified.

While Melbourne did not specify which units face the chop, my hunch is that it’s not talking about its domain name business.

Digital Brand Management services, which includes its registrar, is performing “strongly” despite the delays, the company said.

However, its small business, enterprise and legal content management businesses are suffering from competition and spending freezes among government clients, the company said.

Even the registrar business is facing challenges. In the first half of 2012, its total domains under management dropped 8%. The brand management side of that business is now bigger.

Melbourne IT scales back HARM proposal

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2012, Domain Policy

Melbourne IT has published a revised, less-complicated version of its High At-Risk Marks (HARM) proposal for protecting famous brands in the new gTLD program.

The new version throws more than a few bones to trademark lawyers, most of whom rejected many aspects of the original proposal at a meeting in Washington DC this September.

It’s a lot closer to the eight-point wish-list published jointly by the Intellectual Property Constituency and Business Constituency last month.

HARM envisions a two-tier set of trademark rights protection mechanisms in new gTLDs, with the super-famous brands that get cybersquatted and phished on a regular basis enjoying greater privileges.

Companies that could prove their trademarks were subject to regular abuse would, for example, benefit from a perpetual Trademark Claims notification service on “brand+keyword” domains.

The new version would lower the bar for inclusion on the list.

The first HARM said trademarks should be registered on five continents, but the new version reduces that to a single registration, provided that the jurisdiction does substantive review.

A provision to only extend the protection to five-year-old marks has also been removed, and the number of UDRP wins required to prove abuse has also been reduced from five to one.

I’ve previously expressed my fondness for the idea of using UDRP decisions to gauge the risk profile of a trademark, but it was recently pointed out to me that it may incentivize mark holders to pay people to cybersquat their marks, in order to win slam-dunk UDRPs and thus benefit from better RPMs, which makes me less fond of it.

Even if such skullduggery is an outside risk, I think a single UDRP win may be too low a bar, given the number of dubious decisions produced by panelists in the past.

The revised HARM would still exclude dictionary words from the special protections (as the paper points out, Apple and Gap would not be covered). The proposal states:

Melbourne IT believes it will be difficult to get consensus in the ICANN community that this mechanism should apply to all trademark owners, most of whom do not suffer any trademark abuse. Many trademarks also relate to generic dictionary words that would be inappropriate to block across all gTLDs.

The original HARM paper was put forth as compromise, designed to help prevent or mitigate the effects of most cybersquatting, while being slightly more palatable to registries and registrars than the usual all-or-nothing demands coming from trademark lawyers.

While not particularly elegant, most of its recommendations were found wanting by the ICANN community, which is as bitterly divided as always on the need for stronger rights protection mechanisms.

The IPC and BC did adopt some of its ideas in their recent joint statement on enhanced RPMs, including the idea that frequently squatted names should get better protection, but rejected many more of the Melbourne-proposed criteria for inclusion on the list.

Meanwhile, many registrars shook their heads, muttering something about cost, and new gTLD applicants staunchly rejected the ideas, based on the mistaken notion that paying their $185,000 has rendered the Applicant Guidebook immutable.

Read the new Melbourne IT paper here (pdf).

Melbourne IT holding new gTLD trademarks summit

Kevin Murphy, August 29, 2012, Domain Services

Melbourne IT will hold a half-day conference on trademark protection in new gTLDs next month in Washington DC.

Google, Microsoft, Donuts, and the Association of National Advertisers are among those expected to take part in the discussion.

The meeting follows on from Melbourne IT’s recent anti-cybersquatting proposal, which calls for stronger protections for brands that are frequent targets of trademark infringement.

The panel includes many familiar faces from ICANN meetings. Applicant interests are represented, albeit by a minority of the panelists.

It will be moderated by Melbourne IT chief strategy officer (and ICANN vice-chair) Bruce Tonkin. Here’s the full line-up:

Andrew Abrams, Trademark Counsel, Google

James L. Bikoff, Partner, Silverberg, Goldman & Bikoff

Steve DelBianco, Executive Director, NetChoice and Vice Chair Policy Coordination, ICANN GNSO Commercial Business Users Constituency

Dan Jaffe, Group EVP Government Relations, Association of National Advertisers

Jon Nevett, Co-Founder, Donuts

Russell Pangborn, Associate General Counsel – Trademarks, Microsoft

Craig Schwartz, General Manager – Registry Programs, BITS/The Financial Services Roundtable

Brian J. Winterfeldt, Partner, Steptoe & Johnston and ICANN GNSO Counselor (Intellectual Property Constituency)

The event starts at 1.30pm local time at the Capital Hilton in DC on September 18. An RSVP is needed. There’s no official word on remote participation yet.