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AusRegistry wins .jewelers deal

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2011, Domain Registries

GJB Partners, one of the few companies to recently announce a commercial new top-level domain bid, has selected AusRegistry International to provide the back-end registry for .jewelers.

It’s the first non-geographic TLD contract win AusRegistry has announced this year.

While it’s probably a small deal, it’s notable because one of GJB’s managing partners is George Bundy, CEO of BRS Media, the registry for .fm and a potential .radio applicant.

BRS is currently the only public reference customer for Espresso, the registry platform offered by Minds + Machines, an AusRegistry competitor.

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.

It’s official: London to seek .london gTLD

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2011, Domain Registries

The official promotional agency for the city of London has formally declared its interest in applying to ICANN for a .london generic top-level domain.

I reported the story for The Register yesterday, and the official press release was sent out this afternoon, but it appears that I was misinformed about the issuance of a Request for Proposals.

According to London & Partners, at the moment it is only analyzing the potential costs and benefits, as well as consulting with local stakeholders.

The agency said in its press release:

In addition to enhancing the promotion of the capital, London & Partners is investigating what opportunities the ownership of the gTLD licence could bring in terms of harnessing commercial revenue streams and new job creation, whilst ensuring value for money.

It’s been backed by the office of Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London.

Two UK registries, Nominet and CentralNic, have already thrown their hats in the ring as likely bidders if and when an RFP is released.

M+M offers .brand gTLDs from $25k

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2011, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines is promoting its gTLD registry services to brand owners at the International Trademark Association meeting in Washington DC, revealing prices as low as $25,000 a year.

Its .brand package covers preparing and filing the application with ICANN and then running the technical back-end.

The company also appears to have introduced a price ceiling of $100,000 a year for .brand clients, according to a press release.

M+M is even offering to throw in a private, ICANN-accredited registrar. I believe the company may be the first registry to publicize this kind of bundled service.

The company is targeting brand owners that may not be convinced by the attractiveness of a .brand, and may have no clue what to do with one, but which nevertheless do not want to be left behind in the event that the second round of new gTLD applications is delayed for many years.

M+M CEO Antony Van Couvering is quoted as saying:

There are a lot of innovative ways for brands to use new gTLDs, but most brands want to first secure their gTLD for a reasonable price, and maybe use it internally, before deciding on the next step.

M+M, which hired former ICANN chair Peter Dengate Thrush as chairman in June, has been among the most aggressive marketers of new gTLDs (which are, after all, it’s entire raison d’etre).

Its enthusiasm has already caused a couple of raised eyebrows.

A teaser announcement from M+M earlier this week, which mentioned how its “registry platform is connected with all major registrars, including MarkMonitor” caused MarkMonitor to issue a clarification stating that it has “no business relationship” with the company.

While MarkMonitor is plugged into CoCCA, the registry platform that handles dozens of ccTLDs, it is not plugged into Espresso, which is M+M’s in-house version of the open-source CoCCA software, the company said in a blog post.

(UPDATE: M+M’s Antony Van Couvering notes in the comments below that MarkMonitor accepts .fm registrations, and that the .fm registry uses Espresso)

CoCCA itself felt compelled to issue a statement in July, clarifying that CoCCA and M+M are not working together on Espresso, as some had inferred from an M+M interview.

There’s a new new gTLDs Applicant Guidebook and it’s quite boring

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN has released the eighth version of the Applicant Guidebook for the new generic top-level domains program as promised, and as expected it’s rather dull.

Here it is.

By far the most important change appears to be the firm inclusion of a new deadline: March 29, 2012.

If you’re a new gTLD applicant, and you have not registered with ICANN’s TLD Application System by 2359 UTC, March 29, 2012, you’re done – your application fails at the starting blocks.

Apart from that, there does not appear to be much to get excited about.

The long gap since the program was approved by the ICANN board on June 20 had some people scratching their heads, wondering whether major changes were in store.

But what’s been published tonight appears to differ very little from the draft published in May, and most of the edits are those specifically envisaged by the June resolution.

It has, for example, been updated to reflect some of the Governmental Advisory Committee’s requests that ICANN’s board of directors acceded to in Singapore.

There’s no longer a requirement for the GAC to reach consensus in a transparent way when it deliberates about new gTLD objections.

There’s also almost 40 new strings – variants of the Olympic, Olympiad, Red Cross and Red Crescent trademarks – that are now explicitly banned from the first round of gTLD applications. These are being called “Strings Ineligible for Delegation”, rather than “Reserved” strings.

(As an aside, while it’s easy to understand the GAC’s rationale for this, does it strike anyone else as a completely pointless move? The gTLD .olympic may be now banned, but the far better and more obvious squat, .olympics, is not.)

No redline version of the Guidebook – in which all the edits are highlighted – has yet been published, but ICANN has released a non-exhaustive document summarizing the changes here.

Not included in that summary is ICANN president Rod Beckstrom’s new introduction, which addresses the latest batch of criticisms leveled at the program (such as the perceived lack of publicity since June and the unfinished applicant support policy).

It also drops the “Dear Prospective Applicant” salutation found in previous versions of the Guidebook, which probably doesn’t mean anything.

The disclaimer that the Guidebook has not been approved has also disappeared. While the document could be considered a production copy, it by no means presents a full picture of the program

Some of the items of unfinished business I outlined in this article last month remain unfinished.

The aforementioned applicant support program, for example, is not likely to be approved until the ICANN board’s meeting in Dakar, October 28.

The new Guidebook explicitly punts this, now saying it will be handled “through a process independent of this Guidebook”.

The Singapore promise that ICANN would continue discussing the US and EU government concerns about cross ownership between registrars and registries does not appear to have led to any edits either, but that does not necessarily mean it’s settled law.

Also, the process the GAC will use internally to decide whether to raise objections to gTLD applications is still not known.

In summary, it appears that we have an Applicant Guidebook that is “approved”, but is unlikely to be the “final” version.