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Universal Acceptance – making the internet work for everyone [Guest Post]

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2021, Domain Tech

Editor’s note: this is a guest post written by Aman Masjide, head of compliance at new gTLD registry Radix.

Back in 2014, to foster innovation and to better the choice in domain names, ICANN introduced new generic top-level domains through its New gTLD Program. It was a monumental move that enabled businesses, individuals, and communities across the globe to mark their presence on the internet.

Allowing users to be present digitally in their chosen language (non-ASCII characters and scripts) gave opportunities to local businesses, civil societies, and governments to better serve their communities.

Analysys Mason conservatively estimates that there is scope of $9.8 billion growth in potential revenue from both; existing users who are using new domain names and from new internet users coming online through Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs).

To achieve this, Universal Acceptance of new gTLDs and IDNs is critical in making the Internet more accessible to the next billion users. Founded in February 2015, the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG) undertakes activities to promote Universal Acceptance of all valid domain names and email addresses.

Through its ambassadorship and local Initiative programs, UASG promotes Universal Acceptance globally. Their efforts are divided and executed through five working groups that include:

  • Technology Working Group
  • Email Address Internationalization Working Group
  • Communications Working Group
  • Measurement Working Group
  • Local Initiatives Working Group

Before we get into the acceptance of new domain extensions (nTLDs), we must first understand what acceptance means and how it’s measured.

The Universal Acceptance Steering Group’s mission sums up acceptance in one short statement: “All domain names and all email addresses work in all software applications.”

While this is a simple understanding of the concept, for an end user of an nTLD, this statement further branches out into multiple questions such as:

  • Will my domain name work on all platforms/applications–online or offline?
  • Will my email address on a new domain extension get accepted on all websites/platforms and pass all the validation tests?
  • Will my emails on new domain extensions, once accepted, stop going into the junk folder?
  • Will I be able to use all the features of a website/platform irrespective of my domain extensions? For example, will a social media platform accept a new domain extension in the bio, comments, posts, messenger, etc, and process it exactly like any other legacy TLD?

The Universal Acceptance (UA) of all domain names and email addresses requires that every piece of software is able to accept, validate, process, store, and display them correctly and consistently.

As a new domains registry, it was critical for us to understand what the gaps were and how to close them so that the internet operates the same for nTLD users as it does for the legacy TLD users.

Initial research concluded that UA readiness issues occur when applications are not able to handle the following categories of a domains name or email addresses:

Domain Names

  • New short top-level domain names: example.fun, example.site
  • New long top-level domain names: example.berlin, example.space
  • Internationalized Domain Names: παράδειγμα.ευ

Email Addresses

  • ASCII@ASCII; new short or long TLD: ekrem@misal.istanbul
  • ASCII@IDN: john@société.org
  • Unicode@ASCII: 测试@example.com
  • Unicode@IDN: ईमेल@उदाहरण.भारत
  • Unicode@IDN; right to left scripts: لیم@لاثم.عقوم ای

For Universal Acceptance to succeed, it needs to be examined holistically.

Over the years, UASG working group members have conducted several gap analysis on programming languages and frameworks, networking command-line tools, web browsers, websites, and have made great strides in acceptance of new domain extensions.

According to UASG’s FY 2020 report, tests conducted on top websites showed that

  • The acceptance rate of emails on short nTLDs has increased from 91% in 2017 to 98.3% in 2020.
  • The acceptance rate of emails on long nTLDs has increased from 78% in 2017 to 84.8% in 2020.

table

Note: The table above compares the 2020 results to the earlier 2017 and 2019 testing results.

Two important caveats should be remembered in this case:

  • Different email addresses were tested (but they were of the same type).
  • The websites tested in 2020 were different from previous ones as they were the 50 most popular in the 20 countries rather than the 1,000 most popular globally.

However, these results may still be used to compare overall trends.

Universal Acceptance Readiness Report 2020 (pdf) also segregated test websites as per different categories such as eCommerce, government, education, etc and the results were promising.

table

Such studies help UASG ambassadors and advocates to identify and focus on websites of a specific category that require immediate attention. We conducted a similar study at Radix where we analysed top websites belonging to different categories. These were the results (click to enlarge):

table

While the acceptance rates for new short and new long cases is more than 80% under most categories, we see a drastic dip when a domain is on an IDN TLD. Such comparisons highlight problem areas and provide direction to ambassadors and members who are advocating for Universal Acceptance.

Radix’s contribution to UASG

UA is something that affects nTLD users the most. This is why it’s crucial to focus on the feedback that we receive from them. At Radix, we work closely with our users to ensure we have the first hand information on any UA related issues faced by the customer.

The feedback could be about linkification, validation or acceptance of emails on nTLDs on different websites and platforms. Radix also actively invests its resources in gap analysis by testing various websites and social media platforms. We are also part of the ambassadorship program promoting and supporting local and global UA initiatives.

Here are some of the UASG initiatives that Radix is part of:

At Radix, our objective is to ensure that nTLDs are accepted across websites and platforms. To achieve this, we actively work with UASG and share as many issues and gaps noticed and reported by customers.

Contribution by other registries

A key objective for most registries is to ensure great customer experience when it comes to their nTLDs and I’ve always admired it when registry operators have actively taken initiative and participated in the five UASG groups mentioned above.

One of the ways to do this is to capture all the queries and complaints reported by their customers/registrar partners and share it with UASG. This will help their support team direct their resources in solving the problems and encouraging those websites to become UA compliant.

Contribution by registrars

When it comes to UA-related issues, registrars are the first in chain to receive a complaint or feedback from the user. Therefore, it’s crucial that their support teams have all the necessary information needed on how to best handle such complaints.

For now, they can:

  • Inform the customer about the potential UA issue and raise a request on behalf of the customer with UASG. Issues can be logged at – https://uasg.tech/global-support-center/
  • Report these instances to the Registry Operator so that they can connect and follow up with UASG.
  • Join any of the five working groups and participate.

The path ahead

The UASG is consistently compiling and sharing all the important information needed for organizations and developers to become UA ready. This is not only about ensuring the readiness of a system to accept certain TLDs or emails, but also about realising the full potential of an organization by connecting with people and businesses that might not be even on it’s radar.

Every successful step taken by an organization towards UA readiness is also a step towards equality and inclusiveness on the internet.

Guest poster Aman Masjide leads compliance and abuse mitigation at Radix.

Correction: UNR’s trademark block service

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2021, Domain Registries

The registry or registries that buy UNR’s portfolio of new gTLDs at its firesale auction next month will be obliged to honor domains blocked by subscribers to its UniEPS brand protection service.

That’s contrary to what I reported yesterday, which was pretty much the opposite. I apologize for the error.

I asked UNR CEO Frank Schilling for comment about the post-auction UniEPS service, but did not receive a reply. Today, I learned that Schilling had in fact sent a lengthy reply, but it wound up in my email spam folder. Apparently my emails to him also wound up in his spam folder. The filtering gods clearly do not approve of our relationship.

According to Schilling, bidders for each of the 23 auctioned TLDs have been told “blocked names have to remain blocked, banned, or reserved after acquisition, even if they do not participate in our blocking service”.

Registrars were told:

Should an auction winner elect to withdraw the Asset(s) from UNR’s blocking services, the blocked domains will have to remain blocked, reserved, or banned in the acquired Registries until the expiry dates below. This is no different than a new owner honoring prepaid domains under management with expiry dates in the future. Once a block expires, the associated domains can be released for any registrant to purchase (fees from future registrations will be paid to the new owner).

Schilling also said that UNR is forgoing revenue from UniEPS auto-renews after March 15 until the gTLDs change hands. The new owners will be able to cancel these free renewals, he said.

The new owners will be able to continue to use UniEPS if the gTLDs remain on its registry platform. They could also choose to migrate them to their own blocking service, should they have one.

UniEPS, like other products on the market, blocks trademarks and variants such as IDN homographs from registration. It works out cheaper than defensively registering domains, but the domains cannot be used.

UNR, the former Uniregistry, will auction all of its 23 gTLD contracts April 28, as the company refocuses on back-end registry services.

Everything.sucks, in losing UDRPs, puts the lie to the .sucks business model

The World Intellectual Property Organization has delivered its first UDRP decision concerning a .sucks domain name, ruling that the name sanofi.sucks is in fact cybersquatting.

The three-person panel ruled that the domain was identical or confusingly similar to a trademark owned by Sanofi, a French pharmaceuticals manufacturer involved in producing vaccines for the COVID-19 virus.

That was despite the fact that the registrant, affiliated with the Everything.sucks project, argued that nobody would think a domain name ending in “.sucks” would be affiliated with the trademark owner.

That argument flies in the face of official .sucks registry marketing from Vox Populi Registry, which positions .sucks as a place for brand owners to consolidate and manage customer criticism, feedback and support.

The sanofi.sucks case is one of two UDRP losses in the last few weeks for Honey Salt, a Turks and Caicos-based company that is believed to account for over a third of all .sucks registrations.

Honey Salt has registered thousands of brand names in .sucks, linking them to a wiki site operated by Everything.sucks Inc that contains criticism of the brands concerned copied from third-party web sites such as TrustPilot and GlassDoor.

There’s evidence that Everthing.sucks and Honey Salt are affiliated or share common ownership with Vox Pop, but the registry has denied this.

In the Sanofi case, Honey Salt mounted a free speech defense, saying it was providing a platform for legitimate criticism of the company and that Sanofi was using the UDRP to silence such criticism.

Sanofi claimed that the domain had in fact been registered for commercial purposes and to unfairly suggest an official connection to the company.

But what’s interesting is how Honey Salt argues that the domain itself, regardless of the associated web site’s content, is not confusingly similar to the Sanofi mark. The WIPO panelsts wrote, with my added emphasis:

The Respondent maintains that the disputed domain name is not identical or confusingly similar to a trademark in which the Complainant has rights. According to it, the “.sucks” gTLD is not like other generic TLDs, and its pejorative nature renders the disputed domain name as a whole nonidentical and prevents confusion, and the inclusion of “.sucks” in the disputed domain name makes clear that the associated website is not affiliated with the Complainant, but instead contains criticism of it and of its business.

In other words, if you visit a .sucks domain, you automatically will assume that the site is not associated with the brand owner.

Honey Salt seems to have made an identical argument in the UDRP case of cargotec.sucks, which it also lost at the Czech Arbitration Forum last month. The panelists in that decision summarized the company’s defense like this:

The TLD at issue here, however, .sucks, is not like other generic top level domains. Its pejorative nature renders the domain name as a whole nonidentical and prevents confusion… The inclusion of “.sucks” makes abundantly clear that the website is not affiliated with Complainant and instead contain criticism of its business.

Again, this is completely contrary to the stated goal of the .sucks registry.

Vox Pop has from the outset claimed that .sucks domains are a way for brands to aggregate customer feedback and criticism in one place, using a .sucks domain controlled by the brands themselves.

That purpose goes all the way back to its 2012 ICANN new gTLD application and continues to this day on its official web site and Twitter feed, which is primarily used to goad companies undergoing media controversies into registering and using their .sucks exact-match.

Back in 2015, Vox Pop CEO John Berard told us:

A company would be smart to register its name because of the value that consumer criticism has in improving customer loyalty, delivering good customer service, understanding new product and service possibilities… They’re spending a lot more on marketing and customer service and research. This domain can another plank in that platform

Vox Pop even owns and uses voxpopuli.sucks and dotsucks.sucks, where it hosts a little-used forum welcoming criticism from people who say the company sucks.

But Honey Salt, its largest registrant by a significant margin, is now on-record stating that .sucks domains only imply ownership by third parties and could not possibly be confused with brand-owner ownership.

If the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics is correct, there exists a corner of the multiverse in which Honey Salt and Everything.sucks are just fronts for the entities that also control Vox Pop and its top registrar, Rebel.com. In that universe, it would be trippy indeed for the registry’s own affiliates to admit its entire stated business model is bullshit.

In our universe, that particular cat, which very probably has a goatee, is still firmly in the box, however.

Speculative forays into science fiction aside, Honey Salt’s record on UDRP is now three losses versus one win. It has six more cases pending at WIPO

Domain industry shrank in Q4, but as usual there’s a big BUT

The worldwide domain name count shrank in the fourth quarter, according to newly released Verisign data, but as usual the numbers were hugely impacted by big swings in just a few TLDs.

The latest Domain Name Industry Brief (pdf), which is mainly compiled from zone file counts, shows that 2020 ended with 366.3 million names, down by 4.4 million or 1.2% compared to the end of the third quarter.

It’s the free and almost-free TLDs that swung the math.

Remarkably, industry wild-card .tk actually shrank during the quarter. This is highly unusual, as the registry’s business model is based on giving out names for free, never deleting domains, and monetizing the traffic to expired or suspended names.

It saw domains down by 2.8 million names over the quarter, from 27.5 million to 24.7 million.

Another big dipper was .icu, which sells cheap (usually under $1) and appeals to speculators largely in China.

While it slipped out of the top 10 TLDs, meaning the DNIB no longer breaks out its numbers, DI’s own zone file counts show its zone decline from 5.3 million to 3.4 million during Q4, a 1.9 million decline.

Notably spammy new gTLD .top, which also costs next to nothing and is popular in China, also had a role to play. Its zone count was down by about 900,000 between September 30 and December 31.

Those three TLDs alone account for a loss of 5.6 million names, far more than the 4.4 million industry-wide quarterly drop calculated by Verisign.

The impact of .icu’s continued spiral downwards is likely to be felt in Q1 2021 also. It’s lost another 2.4 million zone file names since the start of the year.

Verisign said the the universe of ccTLD domains contracted by 1.7 million of 1% during the quarter, ending the year with 158.9 million names.

The .tk shrinkage of course more than accounts for this dip. Without it, ccTLDs would be up by 1.1 million names or 1.1%. The major, top-10 ccTLDs mostly showed six-figure growth, the DNIB reflects.

New gTLDs were down 4.2 million names or 13.8% sequentially, ending the quarter with 26 million.

In addition to the aforementioned .top and .icu, this figure appears to have been affected by six-figure losses in some of the highest-volume, lowest-priced new gTLDs, including .club, .site .work and .vip.

In the main legacy gTLDs, Verisign’s own .com grew by 1.5 million names, from 151.8 million to 150.3 million, during the quarter. Its .net was again flat at 13.4 million. Public Interest Registry’s .org gained a (rounded) 100,000 names, ending the year at 10.3 million.

The annual numbers across the industry for 2020 have better optics. The DNIB shows that domain volume was up by 4.0 million or 1.1% year over year.

That breaks down into a 6.3 million increase in .com, a 1.3 million increase across the ccTLDs, and a 3.3 million decrease in new gTLDs, not all of which can be explained away by factoring out .icu and .top.

Got beef with ICANN? Why you may not want to use the Ombudsman

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2021, Domain Policy

Complaining to the independent Ombudsman may not be the best way to start a beef with ICANN, and that’s according to the Ombudsman himself.

Herb Waye told DI this week that consulting him as a first port of call may well lock complainants out of escalating their complaints through his office in future procedures.

Earlier this week, I reported on a lawsuit filed by three so-far unsuccessful .hotel gTLD applicants, which among other things alleges that ICANN’s Request for Reconsideration appeals process is a “sham”.

Reconsideration has quite a high barrier to success, and complaints are rarely successful. Requests are dealt with by the Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee, a subset of the very same board of directors that passed the resolution being complained about, advised by the same ICANN lawyers.

But RfRs are also automatically sent to the Ombudsman for a determination before the BAMC looks into them, which should provide a valuable and ostensibly independent second set of critical eyes.

However, in practice this has almost never happened since the provision was added to the ICANN bylaws five year ago.

The .hotel plaintiffs tallied up the 14 RfRs related to the new gTLD program since 2017 and found that the Ombudsman had recused himself, without detailed explanation, on every single occasion. Their complaint in California Superior Court reads:

Neither ICANN nor the Ombudsman has provided any intelligible reason for this gross flouting of ICANN’s bylaws and the Ombudsman’s dereliction of duty, other than a naked and vague claim of “conflict of interest”. The lack of any Ombudsman process not only violates ICANN’s bylaws and its contracts with Plaintiffs, but it renders the promise of a fair and independent Reconsideration process null and illusory, and the notion of true accountability a farce.

The ICANN bylaws state that the Ombudsman must recuse himself from considering RfRs “involving matters for which the Ombudsman has, in advance of the filing of the Reconsideration Request, taken a position while performing his or her role as the Ombudsman”.

According to Waye’s explanation, this is a very broad standard indeed. He told DI in an email:

it is not just me but over 18(?) years of Office of the Ombudsman involvement in complaints or investigations. So I need to go back through the archives when I receive an RR to make sure neither Chris [LaHatte] nor Frank [Fowlie] have made a determination (it doesn’t have to be a public report (or position) or a report to the Board to qualify for recusal).

Among other factors, it also doesn’t have to be a past determination directly involving the RR requestor either… if the substance of the RR has been reviewed by the Office in the past, or if the RR is about an issue similar to one that has been the subject of a complaint and a determination, then recusal is also required to avoid inconsistencies or perceived bias.

He consults with his “independent outside counsel”, Dave Marglin, when figuring out whether recusal is necessary, he said.

Waye published an explanation of his role in Reconsideration on page 19 of the Ombusdman’s most-recent annual report (pdf).

I wondered whether a 2015 decision by Waye predecessor LaHatte related to the new gTLD program’s controversial Community Priority Evaluation might account for the spate of recusals over the last few years, but Waye would not be drawn.

“I can’t identify specifics about each recusal as I must at all cost avoid identifying past complainants or subjects of complaints,” he said. “As I mentioned, some published reports may be the reason for a recusal but it may also be the result of the RfR issue having passed through my Office prior to the RfR being filed as a complaint; which may or may not be a known fact, so I err on the side of caution and treat all recusals the same.”

Given that the Ombudsman also deals with sensitive interpersonal interactions, including sexual harassment complaints, a code of confidentiality could be a good thing.

But it also means that there are an unknown number of undisclosed topics, dating back the best part of two decades, that the Ombudsman is apparently powerless to address via the Reconsideration process.

And that list of untouchable topics will only get longer as time goes by, incrementally weakening ICANN’s accountability mechanisms.

It seems to me that for companies with no interest in confidentiality but with serious complaints against an ICANN board action, complaining to the Ombudsman as the first port of call in a case that would likely be escalated to Reconsideration, Cooperative Engagement Process and Independent Review Process may be a bad idea.

Not only would they be locking the Ombudsman out of their own subsequent RfR, but they’d be preventing him or her getting involved in related RfRs for eternity.

Waye does not disagree. He said:

I think anyone considering bringing a complaint to the Office of the Ombuds should now consider their desired outcome if there is any possibility the issue may be something that could eventually take the RfR route. Do they want an informal (potentially confidential) determination from the Ombuds or do they want something more “public” from the Ombuds in the form of a substantive evaluation made directly to the BAMC. It’s still a new process and my participation in the RfR accountability mechanism is still a work in progress for the people considering using the RfR. But it’s what the community wanted and we will make it work.

It strikes me that the Reconsideration policy outlined in the ICANN bylaws is, by accident or design, self-terminating and opaque. It becomes less useful the more often it is used, as the range of topics the Ombudsman is permitted to rule on are slowly whittled away in secret.

It also occurs to be that it might be open to abuse and gaming.

Worried that a rival company will try to use Reconsideration to your disadvantage? Why not file a preemptive Ombudsman complaint on the same topic, forcing him to recusing himself and leaving the eventual RfR in the hands of the far-from-objective BAMC and ICANN board?

Waye said:

I suppose it would be possible, though it would require me making a determination or taking a position of sorts related to the eventual RfR… a complaint doesn’t automatically mean recusal. And of course it would mean me and my counsel not seeing through the “gaming” agenda and declining the complaint at the outset.

.hotel battle lands ICANN in court over accountability dodges

Kevin Murphy, February 22, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN’s accountability mechanisms, or lack thereof, have landed the Org in court.

Three applicants for the .hotel new gTLD have sued in California’s Superior Court in LA, claiming ICANN has consistently failed to provide true accountability, refusing for over seven years to implement fundamental mechanisms required by its bylaws.

They want the court to force ICANN to stick to its bylaws and to also temporarily freeze an Independent Review Process case related to .hotel.

The registries in question are Fegistry, Domain Venture Partners and Radix. They filed their complaint at the end of October, but ICANN did not publish it until the end of January, after its terse reply, and an administrative ruling, had also been filed with the court.

While the endgame is presumably to get the .hotel contention set pushed to auction, the lawsuit barely mentions the gTLD at all. Rather, it’s a broad-ranging challenge to ICANN’s reluctance to submit to any kind of accountability at all.

The main beef is that ICANN has not created a so-called “Standing Panel” of judges to preside over IRP cases, something that its bylaws have required since 2013.

The Standing Panel is meant to comprise seven legal experts, trained up in all things ICANN, from which the three panelists presiding over each IRP would be selected.

It would also operate as a final appeals court for IRP rulings, with all seven panelists involved in such “en banc” challenges.

The idea is to have knowledgeable panelists on a retainer to expedite IRPs and ensure some degree of consistency in decision-making, something that has often been lacking in IRP decisions to date.

Despite this requirement being in the bylaws since 2013, ICANN has consistently dragged its feet on implementation and today there still is no Standing Panel.

The .hotel plaintiffs reckon ICANN has dodged $2.7 million in fees by refusing to pick a panel, all the while offloading certain fees onto complainants.

It didn’t get the ball rolling until January 2018, but the originally anticipated, rather streamlined, selection process quickly devolved into the usual mess of ICANN bureaucracy, red tape and circular community consultation.

The latest development was in November 2020, when ICANN announced that it was looking for volunteers for a cross-community “IRP Community Representatives Group”, a team similar to the Nominating Committee. which would be responsible for picking the Standing Panel members.

The deadline to apply was December 4, and we’ve not heard anything else about the process since.

The .hotel litigants also have beef with the “sham” Request for Reconsideration process, which is notorious for enabling the board to merely reinforce its original position, which was drafted by ICANN staff lawyers, based on advice provided by those same ICANN staff lawyers.

They also take aim at the fact that ICANN’s independent Ombudsman has recused himself from any involvement in Reconsideration related to the new gTLD program, for unclear reasons.

The lawsuit (pdf) reads:

ICANN promised to implement these Accountability Mechanisms as a condition of the United States government terminating its formal oversight of ICANN in 2016 — yet still has wholly failed to do so.

Unless this Court forces ICANN to comply with its bylaws in these critical respects, ICANN will continue to force Plaintiffs and any other complaining party into the current, sham “Reconsideration” and Independent Review processes that fall far short of the Accountability Mechanisms required in its bylaws.

The plaintiffs say that ICANN reckons it will take another six to 12 months to get the Standing Panel up and running. The plaintiffs say they’re prepared to wait, but that ICANN is refusing and forcing the IRP to continue in its absence.

They also claim that ICANN was last year preparing to delegate .hotel to HTLD, the successful applicant now owned by Donuts, which forced them to pay out for an emergency IRP panelist to get the equivalent of an injunction, which cost $18,000.

That panelist declined to force ICANN to immediately appoint a Standing Panel or independent Ombudsman, however.

The .hotel plaintiffs allege breach of contract, fraud, deceit, negligence and such among the eight counts listed in the complaint, and demand an injunction forcing ICANN to implement the accountability mechanisms enshrined in the bylaws.

They also want an unspecified amount of money in punitive damages.

ICANN’s response to the complaint (pdf) relies a lot on the fact that all new gTLD applicants, including the plaintiffs in this case, signed a covenant not to sue as part of their applications. ICANN says this means they lack standing, but courts have differed of whether the covenant is fully enforceable.

ICANN also claims that the .hotel applicants have failed to state a factual case for any of their eight counts.

It further says that the complaint is just an effort to relitigate what the plaintiffs failed to win in their emergency hearing in their IRP last year.

It wants the complaint dismissed.

The court said (pdf) at the end of January that it will hold a hearing on this motion on DECEMBER 9 this year.

Whether this ludicrous delay is related to the facts of the case or the coronavirus pandemic is unclear, but it certainly gives ICANN and the .hotel applicants plenty of time for their IRP to play out to conclusion, presumably without a Standing Panel in place.

So, a win-by-default for ICANN?

ICANN purges another dormant dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, February 19, 2021, Domain Registries

The 89th unwanted dot-brand has filed with ICANN for voluntarily contract termination.

Iveco, an Italian industrial vehicle manufacturer, has told ICANN it no longer wishes to run the .iveco dot-brand.

As is the case with self-terminations more often than not, the gTLD was almost completely unused, with only the obligatory nic.example domain active.

Iveco is a big ole company, with revenue of €4.9 billion ($5.9 billion) a year, so it appears to be a case of a lack of enthusiasm rather than a lack of resources.

Donuts acquires four more gTLDs, but allows one to be scrapped

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2021, Domain Registries

Donuts has acquired a portfolio of four finance-related new gTLDs, according to a source familiar with the matter, but is allowing a fifth string to fall onto the scrap heap of history.

I’m told Donuts will soon take over the ICANN contracts for .markets, .forex, .broker and .trading, which were all part of the Boston Ivy stable.

But its appears that Boston Ivy couldn’t find a buyer for .spreadbetting, which describes a complex form of gambling used in sports and financial markets, and has filed with ICANN to instead terminate its Registry Agreement.

You’ll recall that earlier this month I reported that ShortDot has acquired .cfd from Boston Ivy and plans to market it as “clothing and fashion design”, rather than its originally intended purpose of “contracts for difference”.

Both .spreadbetting and .cfd were unlaunched — both represent controversial forms of financial instrument — but the ones Donuts is acquiring already have a small number of registrations and active sites.

.markets, .forex, .trading and .broker have fewer than 4,000 registered names between them and appear to retail for between $17 and $50 per year.

I’ve lost track of precisely how many gTLD contracts Donuts currently controls, what with its recent acquisitions, but I’m pretty sure it’s pushing 300.

As for Boston Ivy, it’s game over as far as being a gTLD registry is concerned. Its only other string was .nadex, and it terminated that over a year ago.

ShortDot adds fourth gTLD to its stable, plans March launch

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2021, Domain Registries

Another unused new gTLD has changed hands, ending up at ShortDot, the registry best-known for high-volume .icu.

ShortDot confirmed to DI today that it has acquired .cfd from its former owner, DotCFD.

The original plan for .cfd, one of the Boston Ivy collection of investment-related new gTLD applications, was for it to represent CFDs, or “contracts for difference”, a risky type of financial instrument that has proved sufficiently controversial that they’re not even legal in the US.

Since 2012, when the string was first applied for, CFDs have come in for serious criticism from market regulators and others due to the risk of significant losses they present to retail investors.

No .cfd domains have ever been sold, and it doesn’t appear to have ever properly launched, even though it’s been in the DNS root for five years.

But ShortDot COO Kevin Kopas tells me the plan is to repurpose the domain for an entirely different market.

“When we were contemplating the purchase and subsequent marketing angle we found that the traditional meaning of a CFD in the finance world doesn’t have the most positive connotation to it,” he said.

“We’re branding .cfd for the Clothing & Fashion Design industry and will be marketing it to entrepreneurs, bloggers, vloggers and others that are on the cutting edge of the fashion industry,” he said.

If that sounds like a stretch, you’re probably right — as far as I can tell, the fashion industry has never used that acronym and creating demand there will be a tall order. We’re in “professional web” territory here.

But Kopas said that ShortDot is already working with some influencers in the space “to create some pioneer cases that will go live at launch”. It’s also planning to attend fashion industry events after pandemic travel restrictions are over.

The company is planning to launch the domain with a first-come, first-served sunrise period beginning March 10 and ending April 12. General availability is slated for April 13 with a seven day early access period.

It’s the fourth unwanted gTLD ShortDot has acquired, repurposed and relaunched.

Its biggest success to date is .icu, a low-cost domain that proved popular almost exclusively in China and currently has 2.5 million domains in its zone file (down from a peak of 6.3 million less than a year ago).

ShortDot has shifted, then lost, so many .icu domains over the last two years that you’ve really got to factor out its influence if you want to get any sensible picture of what the new gTLD industry’s growth looks like.

It also runs .bond (2,500 names in its zone today) and .cyou (with 65,000).

Defensive windfall on the cards for .spa? It’s not just for spas any more

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

Forthcoming new gTLD .spa has published its planned launch dates and registrations policies, and it’s not just for spas any more.

Asia Spa and Wellness Promotion Council, the registry, has informed ICANN that it plans to take .spa to sunrise for 30 days starting April 20 and expects to go to general availability around the start of July.

But despite being a “Community” gTLD under ICANN rules, it appears to be also marketing itself at any Italian company that uses the S.p.A corporate suffix, which is generally equivalent to the US Inc/Corp and UK Plc.

According to its eligibility criteria (pdf), under the heading “Coincidental Community Guidelines”, proof of an Italian business address should be enough for any SpA company to qualify to register.

The registry’s web site at nic.spa currently says:

Apart from the spa and wellness industry, .spa can also be a abbreviation to represent:

  • Società per Azioni (a form of corporation in Italy, Public Limited Companies By Shares)
  • Sociedad por acciones (Joint-stock company in South American Countries)

This offers a great opportunity for entitles in Italy and South American Countries to registered a wonderful name.

This is interesting, because ASPWC applied for .spa as a Community applicant dedicated to the spa and wellness industry.

The primary reason it’s getting to run .spa rather than rival applicant Donuts is that ASPWC won a Community Priority Evaluation, enabling it to avoid a potentially costly auction against its deeper-pocketed competitor.

There’s no mention of Italians or South Americans in its 2015 CPE result (pdf).

Donuts fought the CPE result in ICANN’s Cooperative Engagement Process for three years, but eventually backed away for unknown reasons.

In its original application, ASWPC spends a lot of time discussing its “intended use” of .spa and possible overlap with other meanings of the string. Among this text can be found:

The use of “S.p.A.” as a short form for the Italian form of stock corporation: “Società Per Azioni” is also relatively much less prevalent than the word as intended for the spa community. Furthermore, a more proper and popular way of denoting the form of corporation is “S.p.A.” with the periods included. While this is an important usage of the string “SpA”, the Registry believes that it should not take away from the significant meaning of the word “spa” in its intended use for the spa community as a TLD. Furthermore, additional preventive measures can be put in place to mitigate against any concerns for abusive utilization of the TLD in this manner.

I could find no text explicitly ruling out the Italian corporate use in the application, nor could I find any indication that it was part of the hard-C “Community” upon whose behalf ASWPC was applying for, and eventually won, the gTLD.

The application does seem to envisage some kind of reserved names list that could include S.p.A companies, but that doesn’t appear to be what the registry has in mind any more.