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Battles for .chat, .style, .tennis, bingo and .sas over

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2014, Domain Registries

Seven new gTLD contention sets have been formally resolved with application withdrawals this morning, five of which we haven’t previously reported on.

Most appear to have been settled by private auctions, with Donuts often the victor.

The standout, however, is .sas, an unusual case of a contention set of two would-be dot-brand registries being resolved.

The business software maker SAS Institute, which applied as Research IP, has prevailed over the Scandinavian airline holding company SAS AB for the .sas gTLD.

Both applicants had applied for closed, single-registrant namespaces.

On the regular, open gTLD front, .chat has gone to Donuts after withdrawals from Top Level Spectrum, Radix and Famous Four Media.

.style has also gone to Donuts, after Uniregistry, Top Level Design, Evolving Style Registry and Minds + Machines withdrew their applications.

.tennis is another Donuts win. Applications from Famous Four, Washington Team Tennis and Tennis Australia have been withdrawn, after a failed Community bid from Tennis Australia.

Donuts, finally, beat Famous Four to .bingo.

Afilias and Top Level Spectrum have officially withdrawn their .wine applications. As we reported earlier this week, this leaves Donuts as the sole remaining applicant.

Top Level Spectrum’s bid for .sucks has also been withdrawn, confirming DI’s report from earlier this week that the controversial gTLD has been won by Vox Populi Registry.

But Donuts failed to win .online, withdrawing its application today. Only two applicants — Radix and I-Registry — remain in this once six-way contention set.

We’ll know the winner (my money’s on Radix) in a matter of days, I expect.

.sucks domains “will not be $25k”

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Registries

Vox Populi Registry, which won the auction for the .sucks new gTLD last week, says its Sunrise prices will not be $25,000 a year after all.

The company has further denied that its general availability prices will be $300 a year.

As DI reported earlier today, the Momentous affiliate beat off competition from Donuts and Top Level Spectrum to win the .sucks contention set.

We reported it was likely to be controversial due to the high prices Vox Populi had previously revealed.

But CEO John Berard, while neither confirming or denying that Vox Populi won the auction, told DI tonight that the company has had a rethink of its pricing strategy.

“We are considering something much more in line with current pricing practices,” he said.

While Berard would not discuss numbers, current pricing practices among new gTLDs tend to be in the $10 to $150 range for GA names and a few hundred for Sunrise registrations.

That’s a far cry from the $25,000 a year Sunrise fee the registry hopeful aired last December.

Berard added that .sucks under Vox Populi would have additional rights protection mechanisms beyond the mandatory set all new gTLDs must carry, but he could not yet provide specifics.

My criticisms of the company’s .sucks have been concerned entirely with its pricing, which I thought would bring the industry into disrepute. If its proposed fees have been lowered, that can only be a good thing.

Momentous pays over $3 million for .sucks

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2014, Domain Registries

Momentous Corp, whose .sucks application has been branded “predatory”, has won the three-way contention set for the new gTLD, according to sources with knowledge of the auction.

The company paid over $3 million for the string, one source said.

Momentous affiliate Vox Populi Registry beat Donuts and Top Level Spectrum, the other applicants, at a private auction I gather was managed by Applicant Auction.

It’s likely to be a controversial win.

Vox Populi has said it plans to charge $25,000 per year for a single Sunrise registration, leading some (myself included) to believe its business model is to exploit the fears of brand owners.

(UPDATE: The company has changed its mind about pricing. It says it won’t charge $25,000 after all.)

In March, US Senator Jay Rockefeller branded the plan nothing more than a “predatory shakedown scheme” with “no socially redeeming value”.

But the company’s CEO, John Berard, told DI last year that .sucks will be an “innovative part of customer service, retention and loyalty”.

Vox Populi is positioning .sucks as a customer feedback tool that companies can budget alongside other pricey items such as retaining a PR agency, for example.

The registry plans to have strict rules against cyber-bullying. The proposed $300-a-year general availability price tag is likely to keep it out of the hands of most schoolyard bullies.

There will also be a “zero tolerance” policy toward parked domains and pornography, according to its web site.

That’s unlikely to calm the concerns of trademark owners, however.

.sucks is a gTLD that many advisers have been characterizing as a “must-have” for companies worried about their online image, rather like .xxx was a few years ago.

Vox Populi started accepting Sunrise pre-registrations for $2,500 on its web site last December, but that offer does not appear to be still available.

Is the free ride over for Verisign’s .net?

Kevin Murphy, October 27, 2014, Domain Services

Verisign’s .net is on the rocks due to new gTLDs, executives have confirmed.

Speaking to investors and analysts on the company’s third-quarter earnings call last week, CFO George Kilguss said that .net “is experiencing some headwinds from the launch of the new gTLD program”.

Further comments from Kilguss and CEO Jim Bidzos seem to confirm what DI reported a month ago: .net is in trouble.

Latest stats collated by DI show that the .net zone file shrunk by over 121,000 domains in the seven months between March 26 and October 26 this year.

Executives said on the call that .net stood at 15.1 million names at the end of September. That compares to 15.2 million at the end of the previous quarter.

“It’s been relatively flat,” Kilguss said. “I actually think .net has held up pretty well over the year with all these new names coming on… So I don’t view .net’s performance as anything negative.”

Bidzos told analysts that “confusion” around the new gTLDs was to blame.

“I think generally, .net may be more susceptible to that confusion that swirls around new gTLDs,” he said.

He characterized .net as being like new gTLDs, falling into “that category of ‘different'”.

In my view, this is an implicit acknowledgement that .net has been getting a free ride for the last 20 years.

Asked whether the .net weakness could spill over to .com, Bidzos said that .com is a “trusted brand” because it’s almost 30 years old and has a 17-year record of uninterrupted up-time.

While there’s no doubt that .com is a trusted brand, it’s not because of its up-time or longevity, in my view — .net has the same stability record and is actually fractionally older than .com.

The reason .net is suffering now is that that for the last two decades it’s been essentially a defensive play.

People buy the .net when they buy the .com because they’ve been marketed as a bundle — the only two truly generic TLDs out there. Unlike .org, .net lost its semantic differentiation a long time ago.

As .com buyers start to see more and more options for duplicative or defensive registrations in their shopping carts, they’re going to be less likely to grab the .net to match their .com, in my opinion.

And it’s likely to get worse.

“It’s going to continue,” Bidzos said. “We’re seeing hundreds of more new gTLDs coming, and they’re coming at the rate of many every single week. So that confusion is likely to get worse.”

Two-letter domains to be released in new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2014, Domain Registries

New gTLD registries will be able to release all two-character strings in their zones, following an ICANN decision last week.

The ICANN board of directors voted on Thursday to instruct ICANN’s executive to

develop and implement an efficient procedure for the release of two-character domains currently required to be reserved in the New gTLD Registry Agreement

The procedure will have to take into account the advice of the Governmental Advisory Committee issued at the end of last week’s ICANN 51 meeting in Los Angeles.

But that advice merely asks that governments are informed when a registry requests the release of two-character names.

All two-character strings were initially reserved due to the potential for confusion with two-letter ccTLDs.

But the GAC decided in LA that it doesn’t really have a problem with such strings being released, with some governments noting that ccTLD second-levels such as us.com and uk.com haven’t caused a problem to date.

The board’s decision is particularly good news for dot-brand applicants that may want to run domains such as uk.google or de.bmw to service specific regions where they operate.

Registries representing over 200 new gTLDs have already filed Registry Service Evaluation Process requests for the release of some two-character strings (some including ccTLD matches, some not).

It’s not yet clear how ICANN will go about removing the two-character restriction.

It may be more efficient to offer all registries a blanket amendment to the RA rather than process each RSEP request individually as it is today.

However, because the GAC has asked for notification on a case-by-case basis, ICANN may be forced to stick to the something along the lines of the existing procedure.