Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Windows 8 and the emotional reaction to new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, September 14, 2011, Domain Policy

Watching videos and reading reports about the Windows 8 demos at Build 2011 yesterday, I found myself experiencing a quite overwhelming feeling of despair.

I’m not usually what you’d call an early adopter.

I did buy my current laptop on the day Windows 7 was released. Not because I’m a Microsoft fanboy; I just needed a new laptop and figured I may as well wait for the new OS to come out.

I resisted buying a mobile phone until 2006. The one I have now cost me £5. I have literally no idea if it does internet or not. The thing I thought was a camera lens turned out to be a flashlight.

I bought an iPod once, but the only reason I haven’t stamped it to pieces yet is because it’s full of photos of loved ones I cannot retrieve because it’s “synched” to a PC that I did stamp to pieces.

I’ve never owned a touch-screen device, and I don’t really want to.

I’m not interested in gestural interfaces or chrome-free environments; I want menus that tell me what the software does and let me click on the thing I want it to do.

Hence my despair at Windows 8, which appears to be doing away with useful stuff in favor of, I dunno, looking nice or something. Microsoft appears to be trying to appeal to (shudder) Apple users.

I felt the same about Google+, which I have yet to join. Apparently it’s quite good, but my initial reaction to its launch earlier this year was “For god’s sake, why?” and “Do we really need more shit to update?”

I fear change…

(tenuous link alert)

…and I feel certain I’m having exactly the same emotional reaction to Windows 8 as many people are having to ICANN’s new gTLD program.

Just as I don’t want to have to think about typing onto a screen (a screen, for crying out loud!) there are millions of people just as pissed right now that they’re being forced to think about new gTLDs.

“But we don’t need them!” they wail. “Everything works just fine as it is!”

Yeah, well that’s how I feel about all the shiny shiny fondlelabs everybody else in the world seems to be currently obsessing over.

I share your pain, Bob Liodice.

But sometimes technology companies come out with new stuff because they think that’s the way to innovate and (of course) make more money.

It’s just the way it is. You’ve got to accept it and move on. If you’re smart, you’ll figure out a way to turn the thing to your advantage.

Everybody currently using Windows 7, Vista or XP will eventually upgrade to Windows 8, even if it’s probably going to be a prettier but less useful version of its predecessors.

If you still buy DVDs, one day you’ll probably be forced to buy a Blu-ray player, just the same as you were forced to upgrade from VHS.

And if you think VeriSign’s mindshare monopoly on the domain name system is the way things should stay forever, new gTLDs are going to make you think again.

ICANN “not an advocate” for new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, September 13, 2011, Domain Policy

ICANN is a facilitator of, not an advocate for, new top-level domains.

That’s the message ICANN is choosing to present as its executives begin their global awareness-raising campaign for the new gTLD program.

President Rod Beckstrom was in Sao Paolo, Brazil, at the Futurecom conference yesterday. In his address there, he said, according to an ICANN press release:

I want to make clear that ICANN is an organization that is not advocating new gTLDs for anyone. Our role is merely facilitation to implement the policy and the programs approved by our community, so we are here to educate not to advocate.

That will come as little surprise to anyone familiar with ICANN’s communications plan – it needs to tell people what new gTLDs are, and what they are not, without sounding like a salesman.

Senior ICANN staff, as well as chair Steve Crocker, are scheduled for a deal of outreach-focused globe-trotting over the next few months.

Beckstrom is due in London next week for a panel discussion on new gTLDs, and I understand similar events in Paris and Berlin have also been lined up.

I’m also on the London panel, along with Nominet’s Lesley Cowley and Lorna Gradden from Com Laude. The value of this kind of thing is in the questions, so hopefully there’ll be a decent turnout.

Beckstrom is also slated to appear at Gitex in Dubai next month.

Crocker is keynoting the newdomains.org conference in Munich in two weeks, and the Bulgarian Domain Forum event is also anticipating ICANN staff participation.

How many brands will lie in their gTLD applications?

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2011, Domain Policy

The Association of National Advertisers and related groups are currently telling ICANN and anyone who will listen that big brands don’t want new top-level domains.

But many of the ANA’s members, including members of its board, are understood to be currently talking to domain consultants and registries about applying for their own .brand gTLDs.

Assuming that the ANA is not lying, and that its members don’t want .brands, what on earth are these companies going to say in their applications next year?

If they are thinking about applying purely defensively (and I use that word loosely), truly believing that new gTLDs are useless, how will they answer the all-important Question 18(b)?

How do you expect that your proposed gTLD will benefit registrants, Internet users, and others?

The question, which was added to the Applicant Guidebook this year at the request of the Governmental Advisory Committee, is not scored, but is expected to be answered.

The answers will be published, and they will also be used in ICANN’s future reviews of the program.

The ANA is already on-record stating “there are no material or obvious benefits”, so an answer to 18(b) from one of its members that states anything other than: “We don’t think it will benefit anyone.” is going to look like a horrible lie.

And lying isn’t allowed. It’s in the Guidebook’s terms and conditions:

Applicant warrants that the statements and representations contained in the application (including any documents submitted and oral statements made and confirmed in writing in connection with the application) are true and accurate and complete in all material respects

Any company that lies in its application runs the risk of losing its whole $185,000 application fee and having its application rejected.

Okay, I admit, I’m being a bit cheeky here – I don’t really think anyone will be rejected for using a bit of colorful marketing BS in their applications. I doubt the evaluators will even notice.

I am perhaps suggesting that the ANA’s outrage today may not fully reflect the diversity of opinions among its board and general membership.

Either way, it’s going to be fascinating to read the applications filed by ANA members, and to compare their words to the positions they’re allowing ANA management to put forth on their behalf today.

If you pre-register a domain, you are the product

Kevin Murphy, September 8, 2011, Domain Registries

“If you’re not paying for it, you are the product.”

That’s a maxim that has been doing the rounds on the internet for the last few years to describe services such as Facebook, which gets users in for free and then monetizes them to third parties.

It struck me today that this saying also applies to services that allow you to pre-register domain names in non-existent top-level domains.

If you’ve recently registered your interest in a domain in a new gTLD – example.web, say – you’ve gained nothing and potentially lost a lot.

Pre-registering creates two main benefits as I see it, and neither accrues to the registrant.

First, you’re now on the company’s mailing list. When your selected new gTLD(s) go live, the company you pre-registered with is going to try to convert you into a paying customer.

Second, you’ve just freely contributed information to an extremely valuable database, possibly to your own detriment.

When new gTLDs launch, many registries are going to reserve thousands of premium domains to either sell or auction at a later date, to periodically drum up interest in their extensions.

How will these companies decide which domains to add to their premium lists? A database of hundreds of thousands of pre-registrations would be a great place to start looking.

If you pre-register, what you may be doing is voting for your desired domain to be reserved by the registry, for possibly years, and then sold at a large premium.

Something to think about.

What The X Factor taught me about new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, September 4, 2011, Domain Registries

Elitist, pseudo-intellectual snob that I am, I rarely watch commercial television. But I make an exception when the The X Factor is on.

I’m not sure I’d even describe the show as a guilty pleasure. It’s just consistently great television.

I’m not alone. According to BARB, which tracks viewing figures in the UK, The X Factor is Britain’s top-rated show, with about 11 million viewers each Saturday night.

It is estimated that a 30-second spot in the latest series costs advertisers £154,000 ($250,000), which will likely increase dramatically as buzz builds toward the December finals.

If a company is willing to spend $250,000 on a single ad spot, I got to wondering how these advertisers use domain names. The price of a new “.brand” gTLD is in the same ball park, after all.

So rather than zoning out during The X Factor‘s commercial breaks last night, I took notes.

Of the 15 brands advertised during the show, five did not promote their online presence at all. Ads for products such as breakfast cereal showed no URLs, search terms or Facebook profiles.

Another three displayed their domains on-screen as footnotes, but with no explicit call to action.

Two advertisers, amazon.co.uk and weightwatchers.co.uk, explicitly encouraged the viewer, on-screen and in the voice-over, to visit their sites.

Barclays was the only advertiser that asked viewers to find it using a search engine. Its call to action was “search Barclays offset mortgage”, with no accompanying URL.

There were also a couple of ads that used call-to-action .co.uk domains.

Mars used bagamillionmovies.co.uk to direct viewers to an M&Ms movie competition, while Microsoft (windows.co.uk/newpc) was the only advertiser to use a directory in addition to its domain.

But the two commercials that interested me the most were those that used alternative or “new” TLDs – the ones that are usually afterthoughts when you’ve already put a .com into your cart.

Mars used getsomenuts.tv to advertise Snickers, and the healthcare giant Johnson & Johnson asked viewers to visit sleepchallenge.info.

That’s right. J&J seems to be spending six-figure sums advertising a .info domain during Britain’s most-watched TV show every Saturday night.

This is noteworthy for, among other reasons, the fact that J&J has a seat on the board of directors of the Association of National Advertisers.

The ANA is of course currently leading the campaign against ICANN’s new gTLD program.

ANA general counsel Doug Wood rubbished .info, albeit only by association, in a video interview with WebProNews on Friday, stating:

The idea of [ICANN’s new gTLD program] being successful and delivering the competition or the innovation that they’re speculating on is clearly questionable to a great degree, based purely on the success or lack of success of the last group they introduced – .biz, .travel, .jobs, etc – none of which has as done anything significant vis-a-vis competition or innovation

I would suggest that the existence of sleepchallenge.info shows how dubious these claims are.

First, sleepchallenge.info redirects to a rather longer URL at johnsonsbaby.co.uk. This indicates that it was registered purely to act as a memorable and measurable call-to-action domain.

The fact that J&J used the .info, rather than sleepchallenge.co.uk, which it also owns, suggests that the company appreciates the additional meaning in the word “info”.

(Mere added semantic value would make a poor definition of innovation, but until now it’s been one of the few things that new gTLD registries have been able to offer.)

The domain sleepchallenge.info was a hand registration in May 2010, according to Whois records, costing J&J just $35 from Network Solutions.

The .com equivalent has been registered since 2007 and would have cost substantially more to acquire from its current registrant, if indeed it was for sale, which it may not be.

Because ICANN introduced competition into the gTLD market 11 years ago, J&J was able to obtain a meaningful domain for a massive ad campaign at a low price.

Watching The X Factor has taught me that Johnson & Johnson is an ANA board member that has already directly benefited from new gTLDs.

I guess commercial TV can be educational after all.