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Forget .sucks, .feedback will drive trademark owners nuts all over again

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2015, Domain Registries

Top Level Spectrum, the new gTLD registry behind .feedback, plans to give sell domains matching 5,000 of the world’s top brands to a third party that does not own the trademarks.

That’s one novel element of a .feedback business model that is guaranteed to drive the intellectual property community crazy in much the same way as .sucks did earlier this year.

The other piece of ‘innovation’ will see all .feedback domains — including the 5,000 brands — point by default to a hosted service that facilitates comment and criticism.

An example of such a site can be seen at www.eggsample.feedback. The registry’s CEO, Jay Westerdal, has a .feedback site at www.jay.feedback

If you agree to use the hosted service with your domain, the domain and service combined will cost a minimum of just $20 per year.

However, if you want to turn off the hosted service and use your .feedback like a regular domain, pointing to the web site of your choice, the price will ratchet up to $50 a month, or $620 a year.

Those are the wholesale prices. Both services will be offered through registrars, where some markup is to be expected.

The hosted service is being offered by Feedback SAAS LLC, a company that, judging by its web site, appears to share ownership with Top Level Spectrum, though Westerdal says the two firms have different employees.

It’s not dissimilar to the model employed by .tel, where name servers by default point to a registry-hosted service.

Unlike .tel, .feedback registrants will be able to opt out of using the SAAS service and point their domains to whatever name servers they want.

Westerdal told DI that .feedback is in the process of making a deal with a “third party” he could not yet name to have 5,000 branded .feedback domains deployed during the Early Access Period of the .feedback launch. That’s scheduled to start January 6.

“We are striking a deal to get feedback sites out there. We want everything to have feedback,” he said. “We are signing an agreement to get the ball rolling by doing a founders program to get names out there. Your favorite shoe, your pizza place, your everything.”

“The sites are all geared towards free speech and giving reviews,” he said. He said:

No trademark infringement will occur though, the sites are all geared towards free speech and giving reviews. Confusing the public that the brand is running the site will not happen, each site has a disclaimer and makes it clear the brand is not running the site.

Asked whether we were talking about a genuine third party or a shell set up by the registry, he said: “A real third party. I am not playing games.”

He said the higher pricing for the naked domain registration is intended to discourage companies from turning off the domains matching their brands.

The whole point of .feedback is to solicit feedback.

The as-yet unspecified third-party taking possession of the 5,000 brand names would not be prevented from selling the domains to the matching brand owner, or to any third parties, he said, though he would not be in favor of such a move.

He said that $20 a year to run a configurable .feedback site, with moderator privileges, is a “great deal” compared to the $300-a-month service he said consumer review site Yelp offers.

The SAAS service will make additional revenue by selling added features, suitable for enterprises, he said.

.feedback went into its sunrise period last week with a $2,000 wholesale fee — the same high price that attracted criticism for .sucks.

The original Registry Service Evaluation Process for the .feedback service hit ICANN over a year ago (pdf).

I missed it then. Sorry.

I noticed it today after corporate registrar MarkMonitor blogged about it.

Matt Serlin, VP of MarkMonitor, who blogged his opinion on .feedback’s strategy earlier today, said in an email that the .feedback strategy was “more objectionable” than he had thought, and that “[W]e would most likely look to raise to ICANN if that is his stated intent.”

Pro-.com analyst “sponsored” by Verisign. Is this a big deal?

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2015, Domain Registries

Verisign has admitted it “sponsors” an analyst who has written more than a dozen articles singing the praises of .com and questioning the value of new gTLDs over the last few years.

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst at ZK Research. He writes a regular column for Network World called Network Intelligence.

Last week, domain industry eyebrows were raised by the latest in a series of pro-.com articles — all of which seem to have been removed by Network World in the last 24 hours — to appear in the column.

The latest article was entitled “Why more companies are ditching new domain names and reverting to .com“.

Kerravala basically mined domain industry blogs, including this one, for examples of companies preferring .com over ccTLDs and new gTLDS, to support a view that .com is awesome and other TLDs are not.

He could have quite easily have used the same method to reach the opposite conclusion, in my view.

The Halloween-themed article concluded:

The good news is that .com will be here now and into the future, just like it has been for the past 30 years to provide treats to businesses after they have been “tricked” by other TLDs.

The article, and 12 more before it dating back to August 2012, looked to some like Verisign spin.

Other headlines include “Why .com is still the domain of choice for businesses” and “New generic top-level domain names do more harm than good” and “Companies are movin’ on up to .com domain names”.

They’re all basically opinion pieces with a strongly pro-.com slant.

The opinion that .com is better than the alternatives is not uncommon, especially among domainers who have lots of money tied up in .com investments.

The fact that Kerravala, who doesn’t usually touch the domain industry in his column, has written a dozen stories saying essentially the same thing about .com over the last couple of years looked a bit odd to some in the domain industry.

And it turns out that he is actually on the Verisign payroll.

A Verisign spokesperson told DI: “ZK Research is a sponsored industry analyst and blogger.”

The company declined to answer a follow-up question asking whether this meant he was paid to blog.

Kerravala told DI that Verisign is one of his clients, but denied blogging on its behalf. He said in an email:

they are a client like many of the other large technology firms. Although I blog, like many analysts, I am first an foremost an analyst. I have paid relationships with tech vendors, service providers, end user firms, resellers and the financial community.

Verisign pays me for inquiry time and to have access to my research. Verisign has many relationships like this with many analyst firms and I have this type of relationship with many other technology firms.

In no way do vendors pay me to write blogs nor do they influence my research or my opinions. Sometimes, I may choose to interview a vendor on a certain topic and include them in the article.

Kerravala had not disclosed in his Network World articles or boilerplate biography that Verisign is one of his clients.

In a January 2014 article published on SeekingAlpha, “New Generic Top Level Domain Names Pose No Threat To VeriSign“, contains a disclosure that reads in part “I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.”

Kerravala said in an email that although his relationship with Verisign started in 2013, the company was not a client at the time the SeekingAlpha article appeared.

The relationship came to light after new gTLD registry Donuts emailed Kerravala via a third party — and Kerravala says under false pretenses — claiming to have liked his most recent article and asking for a contact name at Verisign.

He would have responded honestly to just being asked directly by Donuts, he said.

In a telephone conversation yesterday, he said that his articles about .com represent his genuinely held beliefs which, as we agree, are not particularly unusual.

He observed that DI has a generally pro-TLD-competition point of view, and that many of my advertisers are drawn from the new gTLD industry, and said that his relationship with Verisign is not dissimilar to DI’s relationship to its advertisers.

.apple goes live

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2015, Domain Registries

Apple’s .apple new gTLD was delegated today.

It’s going to be a strict dot-brand gTLD, in which only Apple can register domain names, but could wind up being highly influential.

While .apple now appears in the DNS root zone, no second-level names (not even nic.apple) are yet resolving.

Should Apple actually use its new TLD in a prominent way, it would be good news for the visibility of new gTLDs internationally.

The company has sold hundreds of millions of devices over the last decade or so.

But the company has a spotty history of paying attention to domain names, regularly launching products without first securing matching domain names.

It did recently adopt a .news domain name for one of its apps, however.

.apple could wind up being purely defensive, at least in the near term.

Apple’s 2012 application to ICANN describes its plans in literally one sentence, repeated five times:

Apple seeks to obtain the new .apple gTLD in order to provide consumers with another opportunity to learn about Apple, and its products and services.

Apple division Beats Electronics, which makes headphones, also had its dot-brand, .beats, delegated today.

Correction: .shop auction weirder than I thought

Kevin Murphy, November 2, 2015, Domain Registries

The upcoming auction for .shop and .shopping new gTLDs is weird, but in a different way to which I reported on Friday.

The actual rules, which are pretty complicated, mean that one applicant could win a gTLD auction without spending a single penny.

The nine applicants for .shop and the two applicants for .shopping are not necessarily all fighting it out to be a single victor, which is what I originally reported.

Rather, it seems to be certain that both .shop and .shopping will wind up being delegated.

The ICANN rules about indirect contention are not well-documented, as far as I can tell.

When I originally reported on the rules exactly two years ago today, I thought an animated GIF of a man’s head exploding was an appropriate way to end the story.

In the .shop/.shopping case, it seems that all 11 applications — nine for .shop and two for .shopping — will be lumped into the same auction.

Which applicant drops out first will determine whether both strings get delegated or only one.

Uniregistry and Donuts have applied for .shopping, but only Donuts’ application is in contention with Commercial Connect’s .shop application (due to a String Confusion Objection).

As Donuts has applied for both .shop and .shopping, it will be submitting separate bids for each application during the auction.

The auction could play out in one of three general ways.

Commercial Connect drops out. If Commercial Connect finds the .shop auction getting too rich for it and drops out, the .shopping contention set will immediately become an entirely separate auction between Uniregistry and Donuts. In this scenario, both .shop and .shopping get to become real gTLDs.

Donuts drops its .shopping bid. If Donuts drops its bid for .shopping, Uniregistry is no longer in indirect contention with Commercial Connect’s .shop application, so it gets .shopping for free.

Commercial Connect wins .shop. If Commercial Connect prevails in .shop, that means Donuts has withdrawn from the .shopping auction and Uniregistry wins.

It’s complicated, and doesn’t make a lot of logical sense, but it seems them’s the rules.

It could have been even more complex. Until recently, Amazon’s application for .通販 was also in indirect contention with .shop.

Thanks to Rubens Kuhl of Nic.br for pointing out the error.

.shop among four gTLDs heading to auction

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2015, Domain Registries

The new gTLDs .shop, .shopping, .cam and .phone are all set to go to auction after their various delays and objections were cleared up.

It seems that .shop and .shopping contention sets remain merged, so only one string from one applicant will emerge victorious.

That’s due to a completely mad String Confusion Objection decision that ruled the two words are too confusingly similar to coexist in the DNS.

That SCO ruling was made by the same guy who held up both sets of applications when he ruled that .shop and .通販 (“.onlineshopping”) were also too confusingly similar.

The two rulings combined linked the contention sets for all three strings.

.通販 applicant Amazon appealed its SCO loss using a special process that ICANN created especially for the occasion, and won.

But .shop and .shopping applicants were not given the same right to appeal, meaning the auction will take place between nine .shop applicants and .shopping applicants Uniregistry and Donuts.

Donuts is an applicant for .shop and .shopping, meaning it will have to make its mind up which string it prefers, if it intends to win the auction.

If it’s a private auction, Donuts would presumably qualify for a share of its own winning bid. Weird.

(UPDATE: That was incorrect).

The other contention set held up by an inconsistent SCO decision was .cam, which was originally ruled too similar to .com.

Rightside won its appeal too, meaning it will be fought at auction between Famous Four, Rightside and AC Webconnecting.

.phone had been held up for different reasons.

It’s a two-way fight between Donuts and Dish DBS, a TV company that wanted to run .phone as a closed generic. Like almost all closed generic applicants, Dish has since changed its plans.