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WordPress reveals IT bought .blog for $19 million

WordPress.com owner Automattic has outed itself as the bankroll behind the winner of the .blog auction and the new owner of the forthcoming new gTLD.

Founder Matt Mullenweg also revealed that the company paid around $19 million for the domain at private auction in February 2015, about $1 million more than the amount DI estimated at the time.

Until now, the winning .blog applicant, which fought off competition from eight competitors including Google, M+M, Radix and Donuts, was only known as Primer Nivel.

Primer Nivel is a Panamanian company previously described to DI as an investment vehicle with links to Colombian registrar My.co.

To the best of my knowledge, Automattic’s involvement with the bid has never even been hinted at, but Automattic founder Matt Mullenweg said in a blog post last night that it has been involved since well before the auction took place.

It’s now public that Automattic is the company behind Knock Knock Whois There LLC, the registry for the new .blog TLD. (And a great pun.) We wanted to stay stealth while in the bidding process and afterward in order not to draw too much attention, but nonetheless the cost of the .blog auction got up there (people are estimating around $20M).

An earlier version of the blog post put the price at “about $19m”, as captured by Google.

ICANN approved the reassignment of the .blog contract from Primer Nivel to Knock Knock WHOIS There on April 29.

In the original Primer Nivel application, only My.co CEO Gerardo Aristizabal and VP of business development Carlos Neira were listed as shareholders of 15% or more of the company in its answer to question 11 of the application form.

ICANN processed a change request to the question 11 answer in March 2014, but did not publish the result of the change. It may merely have been a change of personal contact information.

One has to wonder whether, had WordPress’ involvement in Primer Nivel been public, the .blog auction could have fetched even more.

One might imagine that Google, which competes with WordPress with its Blogger service, would have viewed .blog as more threatening in a rival’s hands.

But Primer Nivel and now Automattic/KKWT appear to have no intention to make .blog a WordPress-exclusive gTLD. The original application stated that it would be open to all, and ICANN has since banned so-called “closed generics”.

The registry has already opened a web site at kkwt.domains, which is currently pitching the product to accredited registrars.

It says it plans to go to general availability and “activate” 250,000 .blog domains before the end of the year.

Automattic obtained an ICANN registrar accreditation back in October 2010 but to date has not sold a single domain via that accreditation.

It offers WordPress.com hosting customers domain registrations, but I believe it does so as a GoDaddy reseller.

.blog is currently in “transition to delegation” and it’s probably only a matter of days before it is delegated to the internet.

Mullenweg blogged that the sunrise period is expected to start in August, with and October landrush.

Pricing is expected to be in line with current industry standards, including premium tiers.

The gTLD has always been one of my favorites, and having WordPress backing it will almost certainly make it more successful than if the registry were an independent third party, possibly raising the profile of new gTLDs as a whole.

World’s first vanity gTLD goes live

Hong Kong billionaire Richard Li has become the first person to own a top-level domain matching his name.

The new gTLD .richardli went live on the internet today. Richard Li

The registry is Pacific Century Asset Management (HK) Limited, a subsidiary of PCCW, the Hong Kong telecomms and internet giant of which Li is chair.

Forbes estimated Li’s personal wealth in 2015 at $4.7 billion, making him the 360th richest guy in the world.

The gTLD is a pure brand-protection play, according to the 2012 application, which states:

An important goal of the TLD is the safeguard of the intellectual property right of our Chairman’s name Richard Li.

The establishment of the .richardli TLD on the Internet safeguards our brand’s intellectual property right (in this case, our Chairman’s name Richard Li). PCCW has invested substantially in the online areas and will continue to do so.

There are no domains currently resolving in .richardli, though we should expect nic.richardli to start resolving in the coming days.

I believe .richardli was the only applied-for new gTLD that exactly matches a specific individual’s personal name.

A handful of gTLDs representing PCCW’s brands in Latin and Chinese scripts also went live today.

Rightside to modernize eNom, predicts $75m new gTLD revs

Rightside used its first quarter earnings call yesterday to address, albeit indirectly, some of the criticisms recently leveled at it by activist investors and competitors.

CEO Taryn Naidu revealed for the first time how the company sees the new gTLD market playing out in the longer term.

He said than in three to five years, Rightside expects annual revenue from its registry business to come it at $50 million to $75 million.

That’s a hell of a lot more than it makes today.

In the first quarter, registry revenue was $2.6 million, compared to $1.6 million a year ago. Annualized, that’s a shade over $10 million.

On the back of an envelope, Rightside seems to need roughly 50% growth per year over five years to hit the low end of its target.

Naidu told analysts that one factor built into this projection is that third-party registrars will start to sell just as many new gTLD domains as Rightside’s registrars do.

Currently, Rightside sees 15% to 20% new gTLD, but with others it’s 3% to 5%, he said.

Naidu said he expects margins to be 20% at the EBITDA level.

The revelation of these targets may go some way to address investor concerns that Rightside is putting too much effort into its new gTLD business at the expense of its cash-generating registrars.

J Carlo Cannell of Cannell Capital expressed these views and others in March, and was supported by fellow investor Frank Schilling, CEO of Uniregistry.

Naidu last night also addressed concerns about eNom, which Cannell had called a “time capsule” due to its aging user experience.

He admitted that eNom is “encumbered by some older technology” but said it was being fixed.

“Later this quarter we will be rolling out the first phase of our development efforts, which include a dramatically revamped user interface, a new suite of software development tools and a new developer hub to help our partners learn, develop and test faster,” he said.

The registrar business brought in $44 million in the quarter, up from $41.9 million. Aftermarket revenue was $9.3 million compared to $7.3 million.

Overall, revenue was up 9% at $55.1 million, with a net loss of $5.1 million. That compared to income of $1.9 million a year ago.

Naidu also seemed to obliquely address the criticism that a lot of Rightside’s new gTLDs are shit — .democrat, .dance, .army, .navy, and .airforce have been singled out by Cannell and others — by talking about how the company doesn’t necessarily put the same amount of effort into marketing its whole stable.

Some gTLDs will be marketed more heavily later, he said, comparing it to a real estate owner holding on to parcels of land for later development.

Naidu also talked up Rightside’s prospects in China, where apparently .pub is doing quite well because registrants think it means “public” rather than “drinking establishment”.

.flir becomes the 1,300th TLD

There are now 1,300 top-level domains live on the internet.

The milestone was hit today when the dot-brand .flir was delegated to FLIR Systems, a $1.5 billion-a-year thermal imaging systems manufacturer.

Its nic.flir domain is now live and currently redirects to existing sites in other TLDs.

According to the DI database, there are 292 ccTLDs, of which 45 are internationalized domain names.

There are 1,008 gTLDs of which 84 are IDNs; 985 were applied for in the 2012 new gTLD application round.

Of the gTLDs, 347 are dot-brands (defined as where the registry has signed Spec 9 and/or Spec 13 of the new gTLD Registry Agreement).

ZACR wades into .africa lawsuit, tells judge he screwed up

ZA Central Registry has told the judge in DotConnectAfrica’s lawsuit against ICANN that the preliminary injunction he granted DCA recently was based on a misunderstanding.

The injunction, granted a month ago, prevents ICANN delegating the .africa gTLD to ZACR until the lawsuit reaches a conclusion.

But, in papers filed Friday, ZACR points out that the judge screwed up in his reasoning. Judge Gary Klausner’s ruling was “predicated upon a key factual error”, ZACR says.

The error is the same one I wrote about last month — the judge thinks DCA originally passed the Geographic Names Review of its Initial Evaluation for .africa, and that ICANN later failed it anyway.

In fact, DCA never passed the GNR, and the document the judge cites in his ruling is actually ZACR’s Initial Evaluation report.

The GNR is the bit of the evaluation where both .africa applicants had to prove they had support from 60% of African governments and no more than one African governmental objection.

ZACR said in one of its Friday filings (pdf):

The record is undisputed that DCA’s application had not passed the geographic names evaluation process. And it could not because DCA did not have the requisite support of 60% or more of the African Union governments. Further, DCA’s application had been the subject of 17 “Early Warning” submissions by African Union governments. Correcting for this factual error, the record is clear that DCA has no likelihood of success in this litigation.

ZACR also says Klausner erred by saying .africa could only be delegated once, saying that TLDs can be redelegated to different operators after their initial delegation.

It’s filed a motion asking the judge to “reconsider and vacate” his preliminary injunction ruling.

ZACR is now named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which originally only named ICANN and unidentified parties.

ICANN has dropped its motion to dismiss the case and last week filed its answer (pdf) to DCA’s complaint, in which it denies any wrongdoing.

ICANN appears to be happy to let the judge’s mistake slide, or at least to allow ZACR to burden the risk of potentially pissing him off by highlighting his error.