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Google abandons its .kid gTLD bid

Kevin Murphy, October 10, 2018, Domain Registries

Google has retreated from the interminable three-way battle for the .kids/.kid gTLDs.

The company this week withdrew its application for .kid, leaving the fight for .kids a two-horse race between Amazon and the not-for-profit DotKids Foundation.

Google’s application was intertwined with the two .kids applications due to a String Confusion Objection, which it won, drawing its bid into contention with DotKids and Amazon.

The contention set was, and arguably still is, due to be settled by an ICANN last-resort auction, but has been repeatedly postponed due to appeals to ICANN by DotKids, which doesn’t think it has the financial clout to beat its rivals.

Most recently, the auction was put on ice again after DotKids asked for ICANN money, then filed a Request for Reconsideration when ICANN refused.

Google’s .kid application had proposed an area for “kid-friendly content”. Registrants would have been vetted in advance of their domains going live to ensure they were established providers of such content.

ICANN number two Atallah is new CEO of Donuts

Kevin Murphy, October 9, 2018, Domain Registries

Akram Atallah, head of ICANN’s Global Domains Division, has quit and joined Donuts as its new CEO, DI has learned.

According to multiple sources, Atallah’s last day at ICANN was yesterday.

While neither company has announced the move yet, I gather that ICANN staff were informed by CEO Goran Marby today.

The news comes just a month after private equity firm Abry Partners, which counts former ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade among its partners, acquired Donuts for an undisclosed sum.

While the revolving door between industry and ICANN is pretty much continuous, Atallah is probably the highest-profile example since Kurt Pritz in 2012 and Peter Dengate Thrush in 2011.

As head of ICANN GDD, he was responsible for all things gTLD. Before the creation of the role, he was COO.

He was also interim president and CEO of the organization on two occasions, keeping the seat warm prior to the arrival of Chehade and Marby,

Atallah and Chehade also worked together in their pre-ICANN days in the software industry.

Donuts is of course the largest new gTLD registry in terms of TLDs, with 241 in its stable.

I’ve no word yet on where Bruce Jaffe, Donuts’ current CEO, is going, but I’ll update this post when I do.

Jaffe joined Donuts as chief a little over a year ago, replacing founder Paul Stahura.

Presumably, Jaffe was the turnaround guy and with Donuts’ acquisition secured the new owners figured it was time to hire an ops guy.

UPDATE 2022 UTC: Donuts just issued a press release in which it said that Jaffe will remain a senior adviser during the transition. It also said that Atallah starts in his new job November 12.

UPDATE October 10: ICANN said in a statement overnight that VP of DNS industry engagement Cyrus Namazi will head GDD on an interim basis, with support from CTO David Conrad.

ICANN blocks .islam after government veto

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2018, Domain Policy

After six years, ICANN has finally killed off the applications for the new gTLDs .islam and .halal, due to objections from several governments.

It has also rejected the application for .persiangulf from the same applicant.

The decisions were made by the ICANN board of directors last Wednesday. The resolutions were published Friday night.

The board said: “it is apparent that the vast majority of the Muslim community (more than 1.6 billion members) object to the applications for .HALAL and .ISLAM.”

This actually means that the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the 57-nation treaty group with a combined 1.6 billion nominal Muslim citizens, objected to the applications.

Several governments with large Muslim populations — including the UAE, Malaysia, Turkey, India and Iran — had also individually told ICANN on the record that they were not happy.

The view from these governments seemed to be that if there’s going to be a .islam, it should be run under the umbrella of a group such as the OIC, rather than some random tuppenny ha’penny gTLD registry.

In Christianity, the comparable gTLD .catholic is run by an affiliate of the world’s oldest pedophile ring, while .bible is being run as a propaganda tool by a group of sexually repressed, homophobic American evangelicals.

The ICANN board said its decision to reject .islam and .halal was in tune with its “core values” to protect the “public interest”.

The decision was based “on its consideration of and commitment to ICANN’s Mission and core values set forth in the Bylaws, including ensuring that this decision is in the best interest of the Internet community and that it respects the concerns raised by the majority of the community most impacted by the proposed .HALAL and .ISLAM gTLDs”.

It’s been avoiding making this decision since at least December 2013.

But it has now voted that the two applications “should not proceed”. It does not appear to have banned organizations from applying for the strings in subsequent application rounds.

The applicant for .islam and .halal was Turkey-based Asia Green IT System. It applications have been “on-hold” since the GAC issued non-consensus advice against them back in April 2013.

The OIC filed Community Objections against both gTLDs with the International Chamber of Commerce, but failed on both counts.

Having failed to see any progress, in December 2015, AGIT filed an Independent Review Process appeal against its treatment by ICANN, and won.

The November 2017 IRP decision held that the “on-hold” status was a “new policy”, unilaterally put in place by ICANN Org, that unfairly condemned AGIT’s applications to indefinite limbo.

The panel ordered ICANN to make its damn mind up one way or the other and pay about $270,000 in costs.

While rejecting the applications may not seem unreasonable, it’s an important example of a minority group of governments getting an essential veto over a gTLD.

Under the rules of the 2012 application round, consensus GAC advice against an application is enough to kill it stone dead.

But the GAC had merely said (pdf):

The GAC recognizes that Religious terms are sensitive issues. Some GAC members have raised sensitivities on the applications that relate to Islamic terms, specifically .islam and .halal. The GAC members concerned have noted that the applications for .islam and .halal lack community involvement and support. It is the view of these GAC members that these applications should not proceed.

That’s non-consensus advice, which is expected to initiate bilateral engagement with ICANN’s board before a decision is made.

In the case of .persiangulf, also applied for by AGIT and also now rejected, the GAC didn’t even give non-consensus advice.

In fact, in its July 2013 Durban communique (pdf) is explicitly stated it “does not object to them proceeding”.

This appears to have been a not atypical GAC screw-up. The minutes of the Durban meeting, published months later, showed that the Gulf Cooperation Council states had in fact objected — there’s a bit of a dispute in that part of the world about whether it’s the “Persian Gulf” or “Arabian Gulf” — so the GAC would have been within its rights to publish non-consensus advice.

This all came out when the GCC filed its own IRP against ICANN, which it won.

The IRP panel in that case ordered ICANN to outright reject .persiangulf. Two years later, it now has.

While the three gTLDs in question are now going into “Will Not Proceed” status, that may not be the end of the story. One “Will Not Proceed” applicant, DotConnectAfrica, has taken ICANN to court in the US over its .africa application.

CentralNic buys .fans for peanuts

Kevin Murphy, October 8, 2018, Domain Registries

CentralNic has acquired the flailing new gTLD .fans for an undisclosed sum.

The value of the deal was low enough that publicly traded CentralNic was not obliged to disclose the purchase to the market, CEO Ben Crawford confirmed.

The ICANN contract seems to have changed hands — transferred to a CentralNic subsidiary call Fans TLD Ltd — back in August.

We revealed back in May that CentralNic was acting as a caretaker for .fans, and sister TLD .fan, after original registry Asiamix Digital failed to make enough money to keep the business going.

.fan, which Asiamix bought from Donuts but never launched, was sold back to Donuts in June.

Donuts took .fan to sunrise last week and plans to take it to general availability in December.

.fans domains, meanwhile, have been in registrar storefronts since 2015, but the current tally of registered domains is barely above 1,600.

Domains are still selling for around the $100 mark, roughly double the expected retail price of .fan.

MMX waving goodbye to .london? Boss puts focus on renewal profits, China

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2018, Domain Registries

MMX’s revenue from domain renewals could cover all of its expenses within the next 24 months, if everything goes to plan, according to CEO Toby Hall.

Hall was speaking to DI this evening after the company reported its first-half financial results, which saw revenue up 22% to $6.4 million and a net loss of $14.7 million, which compared to a loss of $526,000 a year earlier.

MMX’s huge loss for the period was largely — to the tune of $11.8 million — attributable to the restructuring of an “onerous” contract with one of its gTLD partners.

Hall refuses point blank to name that partner, but for reasons I discussed last year, I believe it is .london sponsor London & Partners, which is affiliated with the office of the Mayor of London.

When L&P selected MMX to be its registry partner for .london back in 2012, I understand a key reason was MMX’s promise to pay L&P a fixed annual fee and commit to a certain amount of marketing spend.

But two years ago, after it became clear that .london sales were coming in waaaay below previous management’s expectations, MMX renegotiated the deal.

Under the new deal, instead of committing to spend $10.8 million on marketing the TLD itself, MMX agreed to give half that amount to L&P for L&P to do its own marketing.

It appears that L&P has already spunked much of that cash ineffectively, or, as MMX put it:

a significant portion of that marketing budget has been spent by the partner with minimal impact on revenues in the current year and no expectation of any material uplift in future periods

MMX seems to have basically written off the .london deal as a bad call, and now that MMX is no longer in the registry back-end or registrar businesses, it seems unlikely that the .london partnership will be extended when it expires in three years.

Again, Hall would not confirm this bad contract was for .london — I’m making an informed guess — but the alternatives are limited. The only other TLDs MMX runs in partnership currently are .review and .country, and not even 2012 MMX management would have bet the farm on those turkeys.

Another $2.1 million of the company’s H1 net loss is for “bad debt provisions” relating the possibility that certain US-based registrar partners may not pay their dues, but this provision is apparently related to a new accounting standard rather than known deadbeats threatening to withhold payments.

If you throw aside all of this accountancy and look at the “operating EBITDA” line, profit was up 176% to $661,000 compared to H1 2017.

While the loss may have cast a cloud over the first half, Hall is upbeat about MMX’s prospects, and it’s all about the renewals.

“Renewal revenue will be more than all the costs of business within 24 months,” he said. To get there, it needs to cross the $12 million mark.

He told DI tonight that “an increasing percentage of our business is based on renewals… just on renewal revenue alone we’ll be over $10 million this year”.

Renewal revenue was $4.7 million in 2017 and $2.4 million in 2016, he said. In the first half, it was was up 40% to $3.4 million.

MMX’s acquisition of porn domain specialist ICM Registry, which has renewal fees of over $60 per year, will certainly help the company towards its 2018 goal in the second half. ICM only contributed two weeks of revenue — $250,000 — in H1.

Remarkably, and somewhat counter-intuitively, the company is also seeing renewal strength in China.

Its .vip gTLD, which sells almost exclusively in China, saw extremely respectable renewals of 76% in the first half, which runs against the conventional wisdom that China is a volatile market

Hall said that .vip renewals run in the $5 to $10 range, so apparently TLD volume is not being propped up by cheap wholesale renewal fees. The TLD accounts for about 30% of MMX’s renewal revenue, Hall said.

About 60% of .vip’s domains under management are with Chinese registrar Alibaba. The biggest non-Chinese registrar is GoDaddy, with about 3% of the namespace.

More exposure to China, and specifically Alibaba, is expected to come soon due to MMX’s repurposing of the 2012-logic gTLD .luxe, which is being integrated into the Ethereum blockchain.

MMX said last week that some six million (mostly Chinese) users of the imToken Ethereum wallet will in November get the ability to register .luxe domains via imToken and easily integrate them with their Ethereum assets.

The announcement was made at the Alibaba Cloud Computing Conference in China last week, so you can probably guess imToken’s registrar of choice.