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Are ISOC’s claims about .org’s history bogus?

Kevin Murphy, December 2, 2019, Domain Registries

The Internet Society has started to fight back against those trying to put a stop to its $1.13 billion sale of Public Interest Registry to Ethos Capital.

Among the tactics being deployed appears to be an attempt to play down the notion that .org has always been considered as a home for non-profits run by a non-profit.

Apparently, it’s perfectly fine for .org to transition back into commercial hands, because not-for-profit ISOC was never intended as its forever home and the TLD was never intended for non-profits anyway.

Is that bullshit?

Yes and no. Mostly yes. It turns out you get a different answer depending on when you look in .org’s storied history.

ISOC, it seems, is starting in 1994, in an internet standard written by Jon Postel (who was ICANN before there was an ICANN).

A statement published by ISOC last week tries to characterize .org as a home for the “miscellaneous”, quoting from RFC 1591

I also want to address some other misconceptions about .ORG. Although .ORG has often been thought of as a “home of non-profits”, the domain was not actually defined that way. In 1994, RFC 1591 described it this way: “ORG – This domain is intended as the miscellaneous TLD for organizations that didn’t fit anywhere else. Some non-government organizations may fit here.”

It’s an accurate quote.

.org is described in other RFCs in a similar way. The earliest reference is 1984’s RFC 920 which says .org means “Organization, any other domains meeting the second level requirements.”

RFC 1032 says:

“ORG” exists as a parent to subdomains that do not clearly fall within the other top-level domains. This may include technical-support groups, professional societies, or similar organizations.

I can’t find any mention of non-profits in any of the relevant DNS RFCs.

ISOC goes on to note that .org was managed by a for-profit entity — Network Solutions, then Verisign — from 1993 until PIR took over in 2003.

Again, that’s true, but while it might have been managed by a commercial entity, NetSol was pretty clear about who .org was for.

When it went public in 1997, the company told would-be investors in its S-1 registration statement:

The most common TLDs include .com, used primarily by commercial entities, .org for nonprofit organizations, .net for network service providers, .edu for universities and .gov for United States governmental entities

That’s pretty unambiguous: the .org registry in 1997 said that .org was for non-profits.

In 2001, when ICANN inked a deal with Verisign to spin off .org into a new registry, there was no ambiguity whatsoever.

In announcing the deal, ICANN said that it would “return the .org registry to its original purpose” and .org would return to “to its originally intended function as a registry operated by and for non-profit organizations” (my emphasis).

The price ICANN paid for extracting .org from Verisign’s clutches was the very first “presumptive renewal” clause being inserted into the .com contract, which has seen Verisign reap billions with no risk of ever losing its golden goose.

The prize was so potentially lucrative that Verisign even agreed to give a $5 million endowment — no questions asked — to the successor registry, for use relaunching or promoting .org.

The only catch was that the new registry had to be a non-profit. Commercial registries — Verisign competitors such as Neustar — wouldn’t get the money.

ICANN and its community spent the remainder of 2001 and most of 2002 devising an RFP, accepting proposals from 11 would-be .org registries, and picking a winner.

The multistakeholder Domain Names Supporting Organization — roughly equivalent to today’s GNSO — was tasked with coming up with a set of principles governing who should get to run .org and how.

It came up with a report in January 2002 that stated, as its first bullet point:

The initial delegation of the .org TLD should be to a non-profit organization that is noncommercial in orientation and the initial board of which includes substantial representation of noncommercial .org registrants.

It went on to say that applicants “should be recognized non-profit entities” and to suggest a few measures to attract such entities to the bidding process.

These recommendations, which secured consensus support of the DNSO’s diverse stakeholders and a unanimous vote of the Names Council (the 2002 equivalent of the GNSO Council), nevertheless never made it into ICANN’s final RFP.

At some point during this process, ICANN decided that it would be unfair to exclude for-profit bidders, so there was no non-profit requirement in the final RFP.

As far as I can tell from the public record and my increasingly unreliable memory, it was Vint Cerf — father of the internet, creator of ISOC, then-chair of ICANN, and one of the few people currently cool with PIR being sold into commercial hands — that opened it up to for-profit bidders.

The decision was made at ICANN’s board meeting in Accra, Ghana, at ICANN 12. Back then, the board did its thinking aloud, in front of an audience, so we have a transcript.

The transcript shows that Cerf recommended that ICANN remain neutral on whether the successor registry was non-profit or for-profit. He put forward the idea that a commercial registry could quite easily create a non-profit entity in order to bid anyway, so it would be a kinda pointless restriction. The board agreed.

So in 2002, 11 entities, some of them commercial, submitted proposals to take over .org.

In ISOC’s bid, it stated that it would use the $5 million Verisign endowment “primarily to expanding outreach to non-commercial organizations on behalf of .ORG”.

ISOC/PIR took Verisign’s millions, as a non-profit, in order to pitch .org at other non-profits, in other words.

The evaluation process to pick Verisign’s successor was conducted by consultancy Gartner, a team of “academic CIOs” and ICANN’s Noncommercial Domain Name Holders’ Constituency (roughly equivalent to today’s Non-Commercial Stakeholders Group).

The NCDNHC was under strict instructions from ICANN management to not give consideration to whether the applicants were commercial or non-commercial, but its report (pdf) did “take notice of longstanding relationships between the bidders (whether for-profit or non-profit) and the noncommercial community available in the public record”.

It ranked the PIR bid as third of the 11 applicants, on the basis that .org money would go to support ISOC and the IETF, which NCDNHC considered “good works”.

ICANN’s preliminary and final evaluation reports were both opened for public comment, and comment from the applicants themselves, and on both occasions ISOC sought to play up its not-for-profit status. In August 2002, it said:

Overall, we believe ISOC’s experience as a not-for-profit, Internet-focused organization, combined with Afilias’ expertise as a stable and proven back end provider, enables us to fully meet all the criteria set forth by the ICANN Board.

In October 2002, it said:

We believe strongly that the voice of the non-commercial community is critical to the long-term success of .ORG. ISOC’s global membership and heritage and PIR’s non-profit status will ensure the registry remains sensitive to non-commercial concerns. Should the ICANN Board select ISOC’s proposal, PIR will execute extensive plans to ensure that this voice is heard.

ISOC’s application was of course ultimately determined to be the best of the bunch, and in October 2002 ICANN decided to award it the contract.

Then there was the small matter of the IANA redelegation. IANA is the arm of ICANN that deals with changes to the root zone. Whenever a TLD changes hands, IANA issues a report explaining how the redelegation came about.

In the case of .org, IANA echoed the previous feelings about .org’s “intended” purpose, stating:

the Internet Society is a long-established organization that is particularly knowledgeable about the needs of the organizations for which the .org top-level domain was intended. By establishing PIR as a subsidiary to serve as the successor operator of .org, the Internet Society has created a structure that can operate the .org TLD in a manner that will be sensitive to the needs of its intended users

So, does history tell us that .org is meant to be a TLD by and for non-profits?

Mostly, yes, I think it does.

Three-letter .com owned by hospital “hijacked”

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2019, Domain Registrars

A California hospital has seen its three-letter .com domain reportedly hijacked and transferred to a registrar in China.

Sonoma Valley Hospital, a 75-bed facility north of San Francisco, was using svh.com as its primary domain until earlier this month, when it abruptly stopped working.

The Sonoma Index-Tribune reports that the domain was “maliciously acquired”, according to a hospital spokesperson.

It does not seem to be a case of a lapsed registration.

Historical Whois records archived by DomainTools show that svh.com, which had been registered with Network Solutions, had over a year left on its registration when it was transferred to BizCN in early August.

BizCN is based in China and has around 711,000 gTLD domains under management, having shrunk by about 300,000 names over the 12 months to April.

The Sonoma newspaper speculates that the domain may have been hijacked via a phishing attack. It’s not clear whether the hospital or NetSol, part of the Web.com group, was the target.

Three-letter .com names are highly prized, usually selling for tens of thousands of dollars.

Domain investors should obviously steer clear of svh.com, which will is probably already up for sale.

Not only is there a possibility of attracting unwelcome legal attention, but there’s also the moral implications of paying somebody who would steal from a hospital.

The hospital in question has now changed its name to sonomavalleyhospital.org. This transition, which includes migrating the email addresses of all of its staff, seems to have taken several days.

Anyone sending personal medical information to the old svh.com email addresses may find that information in the wrong hands.

Wix.com obtains ICANN accreditation — bad news for Web.com?

Web site building tools provider Wix.com has got itself an ICANN accreditation, potentially bad news for current partner Web.com.

The Nasdaq-listed, Israel-based company popped up on the official registrar list in the last day or so with the IANA ID 3817.

That means it could before long start selling gTLD domains directly from the registries rather than going through its current business partner.

According to its domain services agreement and other online sources, Wix currently acts as a reseller for Network Solutions, a Web.com company.

Its retail prices are therefore, as you might expect, rather above the market average, pretty much in line with NetSol’s.

If it does choose to go solo, it could potentially pass on savings to its customers, or just pocket higher margins on domain sales.

While Wix says it has 110 million users, obviously it has sold nowhere near that number of domains.

Its relationship with NetSol is not lucrative enough for Web.com to count the relationship as a risk factor in its Securities and Exchange Commission filings, though Wix is listed as one of just a small handful of competitors.

If Web.com should lose Wix as a reseller, we won’t get to find out what impact that had on revenue; Web.com’s going private in a $2 billion deal.

Disclosure: I’ve had to listen to or skip through repetitive Wix ads on YouTube a dozen times a day for what seems like years, so I’m not naturally predisposed to like this company. Same goes for Grammarly. Grrrr!

Did XYZ.com pay NetSol $3m to bloat .xyz?

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registries

Evidence of a possibly dodgy deal between XYZ.com and Network Solutions has emerged.

Court documents filed last week by Verisign suggest that the .xyz registry may have purchased $3 million in advertising in exchange for $3 million of .xyz domain names.

Verisign, which is suing .xyz and CEO Daniel Negari over its allegedly “false” advertising, submitted to the court a list of hundreds of exhibits (pdf) that it proposes to use at trial.

Among them are these two:

  • Email from Negari to Andrew Gorrin re EPP Feed and billing directly for $3,000,000 in domains
  • Credit Memo to Andrew from Negari “We have elected to pay for our $3MM Q2 advertising insertion order, which was dated May 20th with a credit…….” (5/31/14)

Gorrin is Web.com’s senior VP of marketing and Negari is Daniel Negari, XYZ.com’s CEO.

The documents these headings refer to are not public information, and are not likely to be any time soon, but they appear to refer to on the one hand XYZ billing NetSol for $3 million in domain names and on the other NetSol billing XYZ for $3 million in advertising.

Only one of the two document headings is dated, so we don’t know how closely they coincided.

Other headings, among the 446 documents Verisign wants to use at trial, suggest that they happened at pretty much the same time:

  • Email from Andrew Gorrin to Ashley Henning (web.com) re Bulk Purchase of .xyz domains (5/29/14)
  • Email from Andrew Gorrin to Negari re XYZ.Com Advertising IO and Marketing Agreement attaching signed agreements (5/20/14)
  • Email string Ashley Henning to Christine Nagey, Andrew Gorrin, Edward Angstadt re Bulk Purchase of .XYZ Domains (5/30/14)

The emails Verisign cites were dated May 2014, shortly before .xyz went into general availability June 2.

What we seem to be looking at here — and I’m getting into speculative territory here — are references to two more or less simultaneous transactions, both valued at exactly $3 million, between the two parties.

Both companies have consistently refused to address the nature of their deal, citing NDAs.

As you recall, the vast majority of .xyz’s early registrations were provided by NetSol, which pushed hundreds of thousands of free .xyz domains into its customers’ accounts without their explicit consent.

The number of freebies is believed to be about 350,000, based on comments Negari recently made to The Telegraph, in which he stated that .xyz, which had about 850,000 domains in its zone at the time, would have 500,000 registrations if the freebies were excluded.

With a registry fee roughly equivalent to .com’s (.xyz’s is believed to be a little lower), 350,000 names would work out to roughly $3 million.

Negari has stated previously that every .xyz registration was revenue-generating, even the freebies.

Is it possible that NetSol paid XYZ’s registry fees using money XYZ paid it for advertising? Is it possible no money changed hands at all?

I’m not saying either company has done anything illegal, and it’s completely possible I’m completely misunderstanding the situation, but it does rather put me in mind of the old “round-trip” deals that tech firms used to dishonestly prop up their tumbling revenue at the turn of the century.

Back in 2000, the dot-com bubble was on the verge of popping, taking the US economy with it, and companies facing the decline of their businesses came up with “creative” ways to show investors that they were still growing.

AOL Time Warner, for example, “effectively funded its own online advertising revenue by giving the counterparties the means to pay for advertising that they would not otherwise have purchased”.

Regulators exercised their legal options in these cases only where there appeared to be dishonest accounting, and I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that XYZ or Web.com unit NetSol have failed to adhere to anything but the highest accounting standards.

Again, I’m not saying we’re looking at a “round-trip” deal here, and there’s not a great deal of evidence to go on, but it sure smells familiar.

Certainly, questions have been raised that Verisign did not raise in its initial complaint.

Anyway.

On a personal note, I’d like to disclose that among the documents Verisign demanded from XYZ are dozens of pages of previously confidential emails exchanged between myself and Negari.

I’ve read them, and they’re mostly heated arguments about a) his refusal to give details about the NetSol deal and b) my purported lack of journalistic integrity whenever I published a post about .xyz with an even slightly negative angle.

XYZ had no choice but to supply these emails. I can’t blame it for complying with its legal requirements.

I wasn’t the only affected blogger. Mike Berkens, Konstantinos Zournas, Rick Schwartz and Morgan Linton also had their private correspondence compromised by Verisign.

I don’t know how they feel about this violation, but in my view this shows Verisign’s contempt for the media and its disregard for the sanctity of off-the-record conversations between reporters and their sources.

And that’s what I have to say about that.

NetSol’s free .xyz bundle renews at $57

Kevin Murphy, April 13, 2015, Domain Registrars

Network Solutions is charging a total of $57.17 for renewing the .xyz domain names and associated services it gave away for free as part of .xyz’s controversial launch last year.

A little over a year ago, NetSol found controversy when it pushed hundreds of thousands of .xyz domain names into its customers’ accounts without their explicit consent.

The offer, which required customers to opt out if they didn’t want it, included a year of private registration and a year of email.

The move allowed XYZ.com, the .xyz registry, to report itself as the largest new gTLD registry.

It’s been the subject of some speculation how renewals would be treated by NetSol, but now we know.

Customers, at least in cases reported by DI readers, are being sent renewal notices for their .xyz bundles in the same mailshots as for their .com domains.

Clicking the “Renew” button in these emails takes registrants to a NetSol page on which they can select which of their products they would like to renew.

All, including the .xyz products, are pre-selected for renewal but may be deselected.

Pricing is set at $15.99 for the .xyz domain, $15.99 for the private registration and $25.19 for the email service. That’s a total of $57.17.

Here’s a screenshot of the shopping cart with the pricing (I’ve redacted the domain). Click to enlarge.

The original email sent by NetSol to customers last June, said:

We want to show you how much we appreciate your loyalty by rewarding you with complimentary access to a 1-year registration of a .XYZ domain, one of the hottest new domain extensions. .XYZ domains are proving to have broad appeal and also be extremely memorable. In addition to your complimentary domain, you’ll also receive Professional Email and Private Registration for your .XYZ domain – free of charge.

If you choose not to keep this domain no action is needed and you will not be charged any fees in the future. Should you decide to keep the domain after your complementary first year, simply renew it like any other domain in your account.

The fine print read:

Offer applies to first year of new registrations only. The offer is not transferable and is only available to the recipient. After the complimentary first year the .XYZ domain name and its related services shall expire unless you actively renew the .XYZ domain name and its related services at the then-current rates.

Please note that your use of this .XYZ domain name and/or your refusal to decline the domain shall indicate acceptance of the domain into your account, your continued acceptance of our Service Agreement located online at http://www.networksolutions.com/legal/static-service-agreement.jsp, and its application to the domain.

There’s concern from some registrants that customers may renew their .xyz services without really understanding how they ended up in their account in the first place.

.xyz currently has over 857,000 domains in its zone file.

XYZ.com CEO Daniel Negari was recently quoted as saying that roughly 500,000 of those were not freebies.

The company is being sued by .com registry Verisign for using its reg numbers in “false advertising” that seeks to compare .xyz to .com.

.xyz is now the biggest new gTLD (kinda)

The controversial new gTLD .xyz is now officially the biggest, with 67,504 domains under management.

That’s according to today’s zone files, which see former number ones .club at 65,630 and .guru at 60,480.

Due to what appears to be an ICANN screw-up, there were no zone files available for any new gTLDs via the Centralized Zone Data Service yesterday, so I can’t tell you what the daily growth numbers are.

But .xyz had 36,335 names in its zone on Wednesday. It’s grown by 85% in two days.

That’s a shocking, unprecedented growth spurt.

The question is, of course, how many of these registrations are legit?

.xyz has come under a great deal of fire from domainers the last few days, after it emerged that the majority of its growth in the first days of general availability was questionable.

Network Solutions, it transpired, had seriously inflated .xyz’s numbers by registering .xyz names matching existing .coms on behalf of its customers without their permission and for no charge.

NetSol seems to have paid .xyz a few hundred thousand dollars for domain names its customers have not requested.

Data from today’s .xyz zone file is likely to reinforce the perception that most of .xyz’s apparent popularity is bogus.

I see that 56,019 domain names in .xyz today — 82% of the gTLD’s total — are using register.com name servers.

Those name servers belong to Web.com, NetSol’s parent company.

There were 27,000 such names on Wednesday. While .xyz as a whole has grown by about 31,000 names in two days, NetSol’s .xyz share has grown by about 29,000 names.

Nobody believes that NetSol, with its $40 retail price for .xyz (with a wholesale price I peg at around $6 to $7), could have obtained this market share with actual, paid-for sales.

I believe that the large majority of NetSol’s roughly 56,000 .xyz names are freebies, not reflective of buyer demand.

Many domainers are incandescent about this.

They look to registration numbers as a measurement of demand, which could be a predictor of the resale market for a TLD, so they’re upset at anything that looks like a manipulation of that number.

Daniel Negari, the charismatic CEO of .xyz, has borne the brunt of this criticism, despite the fact that there’s no evidence out there yet that .xyz supported or had prior knowledge NetSol’s mass giveaway.

Negari has so far refused to comment on the situation (he hasn’t responded to several inquiries from yours truly), which has only served to reinforce the suspicion that the registry was somehow complicit in NetSol’s promotion and used the registrar to artificially inflate its numbers.

I have no evidence one way or the other.

NetSol refused to even confirm the existence of the promotion when DI inquired earlier this week.

More layoffs planned at NetSol

Kevin Murphy, October 17, 2011, Domain Registrars

Web.com plans to lay off more people than previously expected at recently acquired domain name registrar Network Solutions, according to a report.

“There is significantly more overlap than we originally estimated, and so it’s likely going to be more headcount reduction,” CEO David Brown said in a Reuters interview.

He named marketing, development, and engineering as areas where the merged company plans to cut more than $30 million in costs.

If there was any doubt about it, he confirmed that NetSol’s incumbent CEO faces the chop. Lower-level staff appear to have safer positions.

At least two senior NetSol executives have already jumped shipped since the acquisition was announced.

Senior director of policy Statton Hammock left to form his own consulting business a month ago, and last week senior policy manager Paul Diaz joined the Public Interest Registry.

Web.com announced its $561 million acquisition of NetSol in early August. It had already acquired the company’s old rival, Register.com.