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Pop-ups boost most-popular new gTLD domains, and it’s not just .xyz any more

Kevin Murphy, January 26, 2015, Domain Registries

The .xyz and .country gTLDs are currently dominating the league table of most-popular new gTLDs, but massive pop-up advertising campaigns using junk domains can account for the majority of their leading sites.

Today, Amazon’s Alexa site popularity tool sees 2,425 new gTLD domains in its top one million. Of those, 163 are in the top 50,000 sites.

But almost two thirds of those 163 domains appear to be throwaways that receive traffic not because they’re attracting visitors, but because they’re used to serve pop-up advertising, in some cases via adware.

The trend has been visible for a few months now, restricted almost exclusively to .xyz, but over the last two weeks .country has also started to be used in this way.

That’s interesting because, unlike .xyz, .country is not a low-cost gTLD. Go Daddy currently sells it for $39.95 per year.

(UPDATE: As Andrew points out in the comments, Uniregistry is selling .country names for $1 for the first year, which almost certainly explains the .country bump.)

Almost 100 of the top 163 new gTLD domains comprise two unrelated dictionary words put together to make something nonsensical.

Domains such as iciclecellar.country, laborervolcano.country, classkitten.country, sweepstakesglove.country, rewardmen.country, installationdesk.country have recently joined have joined the likes of vasegiraffe.xyz, cactusstew.xyz, bedcrow.xyz, notebookwrist.xyz, wishgrass.xyz, pencilkite.xyz and basketriver.xyz on this list.

As far as I can tell, they’re all registered via Uniregistry and using its free Whois privacy service to mask the identities of the registrants.

Visiting these domains in your browser will either result in an error — where I suspect the site is checking the referrer before deciding whether to show a page — or will send you on a merry redirect chain that terminates in an affiliate marketing sign-up page.

Some of the domains have been discussed in online forums as serving up pop-up ads, which would account for large amounts of traffic and high popularity.

Some have alleged that they’ve seen adware serve up ads from some of these domains.

Pop-up ads may be annoying, but they’re legal and — unlike spam and malware — not usually a violation of gTLD registries’ terms of service.

Whether benefiting from adware would leave a registrant in violation of a registrar or registry’s ToS is also a fuzzy area.

But for the new gTLD industry, which is currently in a mindshare-building mode, this kind of use does not make for great optics. If internet users see new gTLDs most often in an unwanted context, it could impair their trust in the new gTLD environment.

Jeff Neuman quits Neustar for Valideus

Kevin Murphy, January 23, 2015, Domain Registries

Neustar’s top domain name guy is moving to UK new gTLD consultancy Valideus.

Jeff Neuman, who’s been with Neustar for over 15 years, will become Valideus’ senior vice president for North America, starting this coming Monday, according to Valideus managing director Nick Wood.

I don’t know who’s replacing him at Neustar, where he’s been in charge of the company’s domain name business for the last couple of years, overseeing the company’s business as a registry back-end provider and registry for New York’s .nyc new gTLD.

Neuman was previously Neustar’s longstanding VP of policy, a role which also saw him heavily involved in ICANN’s GNSO Council and Neustar’s application for and launch of .biz, back in 2000.

He’s been quite a pivotal and sometimes outspoken figure over the years.

Valideus is the new gTLD service provider sister company to Com Laude, the brand-focused registrar. It provides application consulting and ongoing registry/registrar management for dot-brand gTLD applicants and registries, Amazon among them.

I gather that Neuman will remain based in the US, as his new job title implies.

NCC buys Open Registry for up to $22.6m — a gTLD registry now owns part of the TMCH

Kevin Murphy, January 20, 2015, Domain Registries

NCC Group has acquired registry back-end provider Open Registry in a deal that could be worth as much as £14.9 million ($22.6 million).

The deal means that NCC, which runs the new gTLD .trust via subsidiary Artemis Internet, now owns a back-end, a registrar and a piece of the Trademark Clearinghouse, in addition to its original core domain business of providing data escrow services to registries.

According to NCC, the acquisition is for a minimum of £7.9 million ($12 million), with the rest to be paid over three years if Open Registry meets performance targets.

Open Registry had revenue of €3.7 million ($4.3 million) in 2014, turning a profit of €15,000 ($17,300).

Its core business is as a back-end provider for new gTLD applicants. It has about 20 on its books, mostly European dot-brands and cities.

Part of the company’s business is CHIP, the Clearinghouse of Intellectual Property, which along with IBM and Deloitte runs the ICANN-sanctioned TMCH, which all new gTLD registries must use in their Sunrise and Trademark Claims launch periods.

It also owns a small registrar, Nexperteam, which has about 8,000 domains under management.

The Benelux company employs eight people.

Open Registry’s founding CEO Jean-Christophe Vignes joined Artemis as head of domain operations in 2013.

.top says Facebook shakedown was just a typo

Kevin Murphy, January 16, 2015, Domain Registries

Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology, the .top registry, is blaming a typo for a Facebook executive’s claim that it wanted $30,000 or more for facebook.top.

Information provided to the ICANN GNSO Council by Facebook domain manager Susan Kawaguchi yesterday showed that .top wanted RMB 180,000 (currently $29,000) for a trademarked name that previously had been blocked due to ICANN’s name collisions policy.

But Mason Zhang, manager of the registry’s overseas channel division, told DI today that the price is actually RMB 18,000 ($2,900):

We were shocked when seeing that our register price for TMCH protected names like Facebook during Exclusive Registration Period is changed from “eighteen thousand” into what is written, the “one hundred and eighty thousand”.

I think that might be a type mistake from our side, and we checked and we are certain that the price is CNY EIGHTEEN THOUSAND.

The 18,000-yuan sunrise fee is published on the registry’s official web site, as I noted yesterday.

The registry email sent to Facebook is reproduced in this PDF.

I wondered yesterday whether a breakdown in communication may to be blame. Perhaps I was correct.

While $3,000 is still rather high for a defensive registration, it doesn’t stink of extortion quite as badly as $30,000.

Still, it’s moderately good news for Facebook and any other company worried they were going to have to shell out record-breaking prices to defensively register their brands.

New gTLD extortion? Registry asks Facebook for $35,000 to register its brand

Kevin Murphy, January 16, 2015, Domain Registries

More Chinese weirdness, or just plain old trademark owner extortion?

The registry for the new gTLD .top is asking Facebook to cough up $35,000 in order to defensively register one of its trademarks as a .top domain — probably facebook.top — according to a Facebook executive.

The registry’s demand — which some are cautiously likening to “extortion” — is linked to the release of name collision domains in .top, which is due to start happening today.

Nanjing, China-based registry Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology runs the .top gTLD.

It has been in general availability since November 18 and currently has just shy of 40,000 names in its zone file, making it the 16th-largest new gTLD.

I haven’t checked whether they’re all legitimate buyer registrations, but given the shape the new gTLD industry is in right now I have my doubts.

From today, Jiangsu Bangning is running a month-long “Exclusive Registration Period”, according to ICANN records.

But Facebook domain manager Susan Kawaguchi today complained on an ICANN GNSO Council call that the registry had asked for $4,500 for a Sunrise period registration and now wants an extra RMB 180,000 ($30,000) because the desired domain is on its collisions block-list.

UPDATE: The registry says the price is just RMB 18,000. It blames a typo for the error.

I don’t know for sure what domain Facebook wants — I’ve reached out to Kawaguchi for clarification — but I rather suspect it’s facebook.top, which appeared on the list of 30,205 name collisions that Jiangsu Bangning was obliged by ICANN to block.

Name collisions are domains that were already receiving traffic prior to the launch of the new gTLD program. ICANN forces registries to block them for a minimum of 90 days in order to mitigate potential security risks.

According to the registry’s web site, Sunrise registrations cost RMB 18,000 per name per year. That’s about $3,000 a year for a defensive registration, a ridiculously high sum when compared to most new gTLDs.

There’s no mention on its site that I can find of the additional RMB 180,000 collision release fee, but Kawaguchi forwarded an email to the GNSO Council that strongly suggests that trademark owners with brands on the .top collisions list face the inexplicable extra $30,000.

Sunrise prices, just like regular general availability prices, are not controlled by ICANN in new gTLDs.

There are no rules I’m aware of governing pricing for collision names, nor am I aware of any registry costs that could justify a $30,000 fee to register one. A premium generic string may be worth that much, but asking that amount for a trademark smacks of extortion.

So, assuming this isn’t just a breakdown of communication, is the registry trying to screw Facebook in a targeted fashion, knowing it has deep pockets and a cybersquatting target painted on its back, or is it applying a $30,000 fee to every domain coming off its collisions list this week?

Facebook isn’t the only big tech company with its primary trademark on the list — Microsoft, Google, Twitter and Amazon also appear on it, along with many other famous brands.

Kawaguchi said she’s taken her complaint to ICANN Compliance.