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Win $5,000 for your new gTLD idea

Kevin Murphy, October 3, 2011, Domain Registries

Afilias is offering $5,000 for the best idea about what to do with a new generic top-level domain.

The company has kicked off a competition today designed to stimulate interest in ICANN’s new gTLD program.

It said in a press release this evening:

With this contest, Afilias is looking for unique new TLD ideas, whether that domain is a “dot Brand” (for a company) or a “dot Niche” (for a concept or community) or a “dot City” domain. The goal is to discover ideas for “right of the dot” domains that cannot be done today with any of the existing domains, like .com or .net.

Basically, you send in your best new gTLD idea – not just a string, but an innovative way to use it – and you stand a chance of winning prizes of $5,000, $3,000 or $1,500.

The contest web page can be found here. The rules are here.

According to the press release, I’ve agreed to be on the judging panel, apparently as the latest stage of my ongoing campaign of utterly shameless self-promotion.

The other judges are former ICANN president Paul Twomey, Matthew Quint of the Center on Global Brand Leadership and David Rogers of BRITE, both at Columbia Business School, as well as Afilias’ CTO and CMO, Ram Mohan and Roland LaPlante.

I’m not sure what to expect, but it strikes me that if you have a halfway decent idea for a new gTLD – and you don’t actually plan to apply for it – you may not have much to lose by entering.

Afilias is accepting submissions until October 17, just two weeks from now, and the winners will be announced October 24.

First video of ICANN’s new gTLDs outreach

Kevin Murphy, September 30, 2011, Domain Policy

Here’s what I believe is the first publicly available video from ICANN’s ongoing new top-level domains marketing road-trip, which kicked off earlier this month.

CEO Rod Beckstrom, along with a small entourage of ICANN staffers, attended a breakfast panel discussion of new gTLDs at the London offices of PR company Edelman on September 20.

Also on the panel, moderated by Edelman’s Jonathan Hargreaves, were: Lesley Cowley, CEO of .uk registry Nominet; Lorna Gradden, director of brand-focused registrar Com Laude; and me.

There were roughly 75 people in the audience, which I’ve heard is somewhat more than showed up to similar ICANN panels in Berlin and Paris later in the week.

I know from conversations after the camera stopped rolling that a decent number of attendees were from outside the domain name industry – potential applicants – but the questions you’ll hear on the video pretty much all come from those with a closer interest in the new gTLD program.

As I’ve been reporting, ICANN is taking a softly-softly approach to outreach, saying it’s trying to “educate not advocate”, which is also evident in this video.

My main takeaway – and the story I would have written had I been in the audience taking notes rather than on the panel not – is that some of the recommendations of the JAS working group on new gTLD developing-world applicant support appear to be stillborn.

In the meantime, here’s all 68 minutes of the video.

Will URS really be as cheap as ICANN says?

Kevin Murphy, September 29, 2011, Domain Policy

I’m having a hard time believing that trademark holders will be able to enforce their rights in new top-level domains for just $300.

The Uniform Rapid Suspension policy (pdf) is one of the new systems ICANN is putting in place to deter cybersquatters from abusing trademarks in new gTLDs.

It’s very similar to the existing UDRP, but it’s quicker and it only deals with the suspension – not transfer – of infringing domain names.

No URS arbitration provider has yet been appointed, but ICANN’s Applicant Guidebook, which spells out the policy, currently estimates a price of $300 per single-domain filing.

At least twice during the newdomains.org conference in Munich this week I heard ICANN representatives quote a price between $300 and $500.

I’m wondering how realistic this is.

Typically, domain arbitration fees are split between the provider, which receives a third, and the panelist, who receives the remaining two thirds.

With a $300 fee, that’s $100 to the provider and $200 to the sole panelist – who must be an experienced trademark lawyer or similar – compared to a $500/$1,000 split with the UDRP.

My question is: how many trademark lawyers will get out of bed for $200?

The URS gives panelists between three and five days to come up with a decision, but I’m guessing that you’d be lucky, for $200, to buy three to five hours of a panelist’s time.

Even I charge more than $200 for half a day’s work.

The Rapid Evaluation Service recently introduced by ICM Registry, which serves essentially the same purpose as URS but for the .xxx gTLD, costs $1,300 in National Arbitration Forum fees.

Like URS, the RES is designed for a speedy turnaround – just three days for a preliminary evaluation – of clear-cut cybersquatting cases.

Like URS, complaints submitted using RES have a tight word-count limit, to minimize the amount of work panelists have to do.

With that in mind, it seems to me that a $300 fee for URS may be unrealistic. Even the $500 upper-end ICANN estimate may be optimistic.

It will be interesting to see if ICANN’s negotiating clout with likely URS providers is better than ICM’s and, more importantly, to see whether $200 is enough to buy consistent, reliable decisions from panelists.

AusRegistry wins .jewelers deal

Kevin Murphy, September 27, 2011, Domain Registries

GJB Partners, one of the few companies to recently announce a commercial new top-level domain bid, has selected AusRegistry International to provide the back-end registry for .jewelers.

It’s the first non-geographic TLD contract win AusRegistry has announced this year.

While it’s probably a small deal, it’s notable because one of GJB’s managing partners is George Bundy, CEO of BRS Media, the registry for .fm and a potential .radio applicant.

BRS is currently the only public reference customer for Espresso, the registry platform offered by Minds + Machines, an AusRegistry competitor.

Notes from day one of the Munich new gTLDs conference

Kevin Murphy, September 26, 2011, Domain Registries

The newdomains.org conference on new top-level domains kicked off here in Munich today, the first major show in Europe dedicated to new gTLDs.

The city is the grasp of Oktoberfest at the moment – the drunk tourist contingent is high, and it seems like every fifth person you pass on the street is in traditional local costume.

Hairy knees and lederhosen are the order of the day for the men. For the ladies: tight, low-cut biermädchen bodices and flowing skirts in earthy colors. Cleavage as far as the eye can see.

Munich feels, to this cultural Luddite at least, like it’s ready to dissolve into a bawdy, soft-core 1970s Bavarian sex comedy at any moment.

Thankfully, inside the stylish Sofitel Munich Bayerpost hotel the attire is strictly business-casual.

Turnout for newdomains.org appears to be good — maybe a couple hundred people — and there are plenty of faces beyond the “usual suspects”, thanks probably to the number of locals in attendance.

Today kicked off with a keynote from new ICANN chair Steve Crocker.

Allotted 30 minutes, he whizzed through his presentation on “New gTLDs: Innovation and Protection” in about 20, covering many of the same bases, I’m told by attendees, as he did at the INTA trademark conference in Washington DC last week.

“These new TLDs are a springboard for innovation,” he said. “But this must not happen at the expense of brand holders.”

At a press conference later, I got the distinct impression – and it is only my impression – that Crocker is rather more enthusiastic about the program than ICANN’s current softly-softly approach to new gTLDs outreach allows him to express.

The party line from ICANN for the last few weeks has been one of “awareness, not advocacy”, which Crocker toed loyally today.

This may be sensible – it should not be seen to encourage the world and his dog to apply for a new gTLD – but the end result is that the naysayers have managed to successfully frame the issue, which is reflected in the largely negative questions that are usually asked.

The conference is split into two streams, one aimed at newbies, the other at people in more advanced stages of planning their new gTLD bids. I’ve been mainly sitting in on the latter.

In the morning, Roland LaPlante from Afilias presented some really good data and charts showing domain registration trends in the new gTLDs that have been introduced over the last 10 years – both ICANN-approved gTLDs and ccTLDs such as .eu and .me.

If there was one big takeaway from that session, it was that the first and second-year renewal dates are crucial if you want to build a sustainable gTLD. Every TLD dips around that mark.

LaPlante also revealed that, in a first-quarter 2011 survey, 18.7% of .info addresses hosted unique, dedicated web sites. About 65% were inactive or redirected to other TLDs.

While this seems like a small amount, given the size of .info it actually works out to a couple of million people/businesses using a non-.com gTLD as their main home on the web. Any TLD, I think, would be happy to have so many actual users.

The main letdown in the Afilias data, I thought, was the absence of any mention of the success of .co.

Fair enough, .co is only a year old and its numbers are not fully public, but the cynic in me notes that its exclusion probably will have made Afilias’ back-end figures shape up against rival Neustar’s rather better than they would have otherwise.

In the afternoon, I moderated a panel on registration strategies in the world of new gTLDs, featuring Monte Cahn and Mike Berkens of Right Of The Dot and Tim Schumacher of Sedo.

But first, I caught the tail-end of a presentation about internet policy from PIR’s CEO Brian Cute, who seems to be worried about the growing problem of governments using domain takedown notices as a means of law enforcement.

Schumacher kicked off our session with a presentation on his thoughts about new gTLD pricing, in which he compared four categories of company you might find on the stockmarket to four equivalent categories of domain names.

Essentially, he concluded that new gTLDs are going to be split between “junk” – the gTLD equivalent of www.a-junk-site.ws – and “brands” – comparable to vodka.com.

He said the new gTLD boom will mean “Some new business. No real change.” in terms of pricing and said a small number of “disruptive” new registries could help the industry.

We then launched into a discussion of registries’ premium name strategies – how to balance the allocation of premiums between founders programs, landrush auctions and registry reservations.

Unsurprisingly, you couldn’t slide a cigarette paper between Cahn and Berkens, but I think there was probably some disagreement on the panel about the relative importance of the role of domain investors in promoting a new gTLD.

Berkens said that high-profile domainers are “market-makers”, helping set the valuation expectations, whereas Schumacher (and to a lesser extent some of my questions) put a greater emphasis on the need for end user adoption and development.

It’s difficult to judge the success of a panel you’re sitting on, but I will admit that we shamefully overlooked the issue of IDNs until the closing moments, which was entirely my fault.

I finished the day at the “Ask the Experts” session in the newbie channel, on the basis that I’ve listened to enough panels on new gTLDs in the last two years to know that the value, for me, is in the questions.

Sadly, possibly due to attendees flagging at the end of the day, there weren’t many questions from the floor, leaving professional moderator Melinda Crane to pick up the slack.

One session unlikely to have that problem tomorrow is a two-man panel on the Applicant Guidebook comprising ICANN’s Kurt Pritz and Olof Nordling.

Today, these two ICANN experts been sitting on the front row of many sessions, enabling panelists to deflect tricky audience questions about the application process to them.

I don’t think there will be any shortage of questions during their session tomorrow.