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Notes from day one of the Munich new gTLDs conference

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2011, Domain Registries

The newdomains.org conference on new top-level domains kicked off here in Munich today, the first major show in Europe dedicated to new gTLDs.

The city is the grasp of Oktoberfest at the moment – the drunk tourist contingent is high, and it seems like every fifth person you pass on the street is in traditional local costume.

Hairy knees and lederhosen are the order of the day for the men. For the ladies: tight, low-cut biermädchen bodices and flowing skirts in earthy colors. Cleavage as far as the eye can see.

Munich feels, to this cultural Luddite at least, like it’s ready to dissolve into a bawdy, soft-core 1970s Bavarian sex comedy at any moment.

Thankfully, inside the stylish Sofitel Munich Bayerpost hotel the attire is strictly business-casual.

Turnout for newdomains.org appears to be good — maybe a couple hundred people — and there are plenty of faces beyond the “usual suspects”, thanks probably to the number of locals in attendance.

Today kicked off with a keynote from new ICANN chair Steve Crocker.

Allotted 30 minutes, he whizzed through his presentation on “New gTLDs: Innovation and Protection” in about 20, covering many of the same bases, I’m told by attendees, as he did at the INTA trademark conference in Washington DC last week.

“These new TLDs are a springboard for innovation,” he said. “But this must not happen at the expense of brand holders.”

At a press conference later, I got the distinct impression – and it is only my impression – that Crocker is rather more enthusiastic about the program than ICANN’s current softly-softly approach to new gTLDs outreach allows him to express.

The party line from ICANN for the last few weeks has been one of “awareness, not advocacy”, which Crocker toed loyally today.

This may be sensible – it should not be seen to encourage the world and his dog to apply for a new gTLD – but the end result is that the naysayers have managed to successfully frame the issue, which is reflected in the largely negative questions that are usually asked.

The conference is split into two streams, one aimed at newbies, the other at people in more advanced stages of planning their new gTLD bids. I’ve been mainly sitting in on the latter.

In the morning, Roland LaPlante from Afilias presented some really good data and charts showing domain registration trends in the new gTLDs that have been introduced over the last 10 years – both ICANN-approved gTLDs and ccTLDs such as .eu and .me.

If there was one big takeaway from that session, it was that the first and second-year renewal dates are crucial if you want to build a sustainable gTLD. Every TLD dips around that mark.

LaPlante also revealed that, in a first-quarter 2011 survey, 18.7% of .info addresses hosted unique, dedicated web sites. About 65% were inactive or redirected to other TLDs.

While this seems like a small amount, given the size of .info it actually works out to a couple of million people/businesses using a non-.com gTLD as their main home on the web. Any TLD, I think, would be happy to have so many actual users.

The main letdown in the Afilias data, I thought, was the absence of any mention of the success of .co.

Fair enough, .co is only a year old and its numbers are not fully public, but the cynic in me notes that its exclusion probably will have made Afilias’ back-end figures shape up against rival Neustar’s rather better than they would have otherwise.

In the afternoon, I moderated a panel on registration strategies in the world of new gTLDs, featuring Monte Cahn and Mike Berkens of Right Of The Dot and Tim Schumacher of Sedo.

But first, I caught the tail-end of a presentation about internet policy from PIR’s CEO Brian Cute, who seems to be worried about the growing problem of governments using domain takedown notices as a means of law enforcement.

Schumacher kicked off our session with a presentation on his thoughts about new gTLD pricing, in which he compared four categories of company you might find on the stockmarket to four equivalent categories of domain names.

Essentially, he concluded that new gTLDs are going to be split between “junk” – the gTLD equivalent of www.a-junk-site.ws – and “brands” – comparable to vodka.com.

He said the new gTLD boom will mean “Some new business. No real change.” in terms of pricing and said a small number of “disruptive” new registries could help the industry.

We then launched into a discussion of registries’ premium name strategies – how to balance the allocation of premiums between founders programs, landrush auctions and registry reservations.

Unsurprisingly, you couldn’t slide a cigarette paper between Cahn and Berkens, but I think there was probably some disagreement on the panel about the relative importance of the role of domain investors in promoting a new gTLD.

Berkens said that high-profile domainers are “market-makers”, helping set the valuation expectations, whereas Schumacher (and to a lesser extent some of my questions) put a greater emphasis on the need for end user adoption and development.

It’s difficult to judge the success of a panel you’re sitting on, but I will admit that we shamefully overlooked the issue of IDNs until the closing moments, which was entirely my fault.

I finished the day at the “Ask the Experts” session in the newbie channel, on the basis that I’ve listened to enough panels on new gTLDs in the last two years to know that the value, for me, is in the questions.

Sadly, possibly due to attendees flagging at the end of the day, there weren’t many questions from the floor, leaving professional moderator Melinda Crane to pick up the slack.

One session unlikely to have that problem tomorrow is a two-man panel on the Applicant Guidebook comprising ICANN’s Kurt Pritz and Olof Nordling.

Today, these two ICANN experts been sitting on the front row of many sessions, enabling panelists to deflect tricky audience questions about the application process to them.

I don’t think there will be any shortage of questions during their session tomorrow.

New TLDs conference calls for speakers

The newdomains.org conference on new top-level domains, scheduled for September 26 and 27 in Munich, has put out a call for speakers.

Here’s the catch: if you’re interested, you might need an audition tape. The organizers want to see a short YouTube clip of your presenting skills in action before they consider your pitch.

Ram Mohan, CTO of Afilias, and Tim Schumacher, CEO of Sedo, are both already named on the draft agenda, but there are still plenty of open spots, including the first-day keynote.

Franz Josef Pschierer, IT commissioner of the Bavarian state government, will keynote day two.

The conference is being organized by the registrar United Domains, part of the same family of domain name companies as Sedo and 1&1 Internet.

While newdomains.org will take place in Germany, possibly the biggest market for new TLDs outside of the US, all the sessions will be conducted exclusively in English.

The conference currently looks like it’s shaping up along the same lines as the .nxt conference last month, with sessions on brand protection, community building, marketing and so on.

One notable difference is the addition of coached “workshops” as well as panel discussions.

Extracurricular activities include a tram ride around the city and a visit to the Hippodrom tent at Oktoberfest, the world-famous beer-drinking festival.

Needless to say, I shall be in attendance. For the trams, obviously.