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Domainer Jan Barta invests in dotFree

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2011, Domain Registries

The Czech company hoping to apply to ICANN for the .free top-level domain next year has secured an undisclosed investment from local domainer Jan Barta.

Jeremie Godreche from dotFree described the deal as “an active and long term relationship”.

Barta is the founder of Elephant Orchestra, a domain investment and lead generation company based in Prague. You can read a recent interview with him in the Prague Post here.

DotFree appears to have recently overhauled its web site also.

It now has a planned launch schedule that would see a .free founders program open in January 2012 and its sunrise period begin a year later.

Now there’s confidence.

I expect .free to be a contested gTLD, and we won’t find out until April at the earliest how many other applicants are also chasing it.

The company plans to monetize .free by charging for 200,000 premium names and imposing an annual upgrade fee on registrants with more than one non-premium domain.

It has had 97,000 pre-registrations since last November.

Now you can outsource your whole gTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2011, Domain Services

It’s already common practice for domain name registries to outsource their technical operations to a back-end provider such as VeriSign or Afilias, but a new company hopes that new gTLD registries will want to go one step further.

Sedari, which appears to have soft-launched at the .nxt conference today, wants successful new gTLD applicants to outsource their back-office functions too.

The company, headed by former ICANN policy advisor Liz Williams, “helps string owners outsource the risk and responsibility of running a registry in compliance with ICANN’s contracts”, according to its site.

I understand this means functions such as billing, support, compliance, and liaising with the back-end registry and the front-end registrars.

I guess it’s going to be possible for a successful gTLD applicant to sign a registry contract with ICANN and then do very little to actually manage its day-to-day operation.

A registry that outsources its technical infrastructure to the likes of Neustar and its back office to Sedari will presumably be free to focus on nothing but marketing.

Sedari is staffed by a number of familiar faces.

Its CFO is Kevin Wilson, who had the same role at ICANN until January, and former ICANN director Dennis Jennings is on the board.

Its CTO is Wayne MacLaurin, who was previously CTO of Momentous. Jothan Frakes, formerly with Minds + Machines, is senior VP of channel management.

Direct marketers join anti-gTLD bandwagon

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2011, Domain Policy

The UK Direct Marketing Association has added its voice to the collection of advertising trade groups that oppose ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program.

DMA executive director Chris Combemale said in a statement:

Creating a tranche of new internet domain names will be extremely costly to businesses. As well as the associated costs of registering new domain names and spending money to attract customers to multiple domains, businesses face the legal and financial headache of having to contend with cybersquatters grabbing specific domains.

Customised domain names won’t offer brands any enhanced marketing possibilities because consumers can easily search for specific information with the current domain name system.

Companies are already hard pressed to find cost savings in these tough trading times; adding a further financial burden that won’t reap any commercial benefits cannot be justified.

The organization said it plans to formally ask ICANN to withdraw or revise the program.

The Association of National Advertisers, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the American Association of Advertising Agencies have already made similar calls.

The DMA UK has over 800 members, according to its web site.

Most new gTLDs will fail

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2011, Domain Registries

We’re going to see hundreds of new gTLDs over the coming years, but we’re also going to see potentially hundreds of failures.

That’s the view being espoused by some of the biggest cheerleaders of ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program, including its former chairman, at the .nxt conference this week.

During the opening session on Wednesday, a panel of experts was asked to imagine what the domain name industry might look like in 2017, five years after the first new gTLDs go live.

“My assumption is that many TLDs will have completely failed to live up to their promoters’ hype,” said Minds + Machines executive chairman Peter Dengate Thrush, whose last action as ICANN chair was pushing through approval of the program. “But on the other hand many of them, and I hope a majority of them, will be thriving.”

Anyone expecting to build a business on defensive registrations better think again, panelists said.

“Many ill-conceived generic-term TLDs will have failed by that point, especially those generic term TLDs that are taking comfort in the .xxx Sunrise Part B revenue model,” said Paul McGrady of the law firm Greenberg Traurig.

“There’s definitely going to be burnout in the brand-owner community, so don’t expect the brand owners to show up to to fuel that,” he said.

Others, such as Tucows CEO Elliot Noss, went further.

“I think there’ll be more failures than successes and I’m not fussed by that,” said Noss. “For the users in the namespace, it’s not like they’re left high and dry.”

He compared failing gTLDs to the old Angelfire and Geocities homepage services that were quite popular in the late 1990s, but which fizzled when the cost of domains and hosting came down.

But while the disappearance of an entire gTLD would take all of its customers with it, a la Geocities, that’s unlikely to happen, panelists acknowledged.

ICANN’s program requires applicants to post a bond covering three years of operations, and it will also select a registry provider to act as an emergency manager if a gTLD manager fails.

When gTLD businesses fail, and they will, they’re designed to fail gracefully.

In addition, taking on an extra gTLD after its previous owner goes out of business would be little burden to an established registry provider — once the transition work was done, a new string would be a extra renewal revenue stream with possibly little additional overhead.

M+M surprised by .mumbai snub

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2011, Domain Registries

One of Minds + Machines’ key top-level domain applications has been thrown into confusion after government support for its .mumbai bid was apparently revoked.

In a letter that surfaced on the ICANN web site this week, Y.S. Mahangade, deputy director of IT at the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, wrote (pdf):

Honorable Deputy Mayor of MCGM inadvertently issued a letter to one organization which has been revoked later by Honorable Deputy Major of MCGM. It may please be noted that the official position of the City of Mumbai is communicated by Municipal Commissioner.

Under ICANN’s rules, all applications for geographical gTLDs must be backed officially by the local government, otherwise they get rejected.

According to Wikipedia, the Mayor of Mumbai (and presumably the deputy) has a “largely ceremonial” function, “as the real powers are vested in the Municipal Commissioner”.

Wikipedia does not say what kind of power the deputy director of IT wields. I’m guessing it’s not much.

M+M CEO Antony Van Couvering said in a statement:

This is the first we have heard about this and we are looking into the matter with our client, India TL Domain Pvt Ltd, to whom the original letter of appointment was issued by the Deputy Mayor of Mumbai. Once we understand what the situation is viz-a-viz India TL Domain Pvt Ltd and the City of Mumbai, we will provide an update.

You can view the letter of support from the deputy mayor here.

M+M announced its deal with the .mumbai applicant, India TL Domain, in June. As I noted at the time, not much is known about the company.

But according to official records, the company’s managing director is Ashok Hiremath, who’s also chairman of Mumbai-based fungicide manufacturer Astec Lifesciences.

His brother Suresh, now apparently a British citizen living in London, appears to be the only one of the company’s three directors to have engaged, albeit lightly, in ICANN policy development.

The third director is also Astec’s corporate secretary. The company shares its address with Astec.

In June, M+M’s parent company, Top Level Domain Holdings, issued two million new shares to an unnamed consultant as a result of the .mumbai deal, raising £160,000 ($260,000).

This is not the first time a geographic gTLD applicant that apparently raised support from the necessary governmental entity has had its plans thrown into doubt.

The same happened to DotConnectAfrica, a potential .africa bidder, in May, after the African Union apparently did an about-face.

Mumbai is India’s largest city, with over 20 million citizens. It’s also the richest (although the poverty there is enough to make you weep) making .mumbai a potentially lucrative gTLD.