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NetNames puts gTLD.com domain to good use

Kevin Murphy, August 31, 2011, Domain Services

European registrar Group NBT has a pretty great domain for its new generic top-level domains consulting business: gTLD.com.

Under its NetNames corporate registrar brand, the company is targeting the “.brand” market, like so many others, judging by its recently relaunched web site.

Its services include pre-application consulting, help with applications, and ongoing management services, provided through its relationships with registry infrastructure partners.

It will also keep track of other ICANN gTLD applications and alert clients about potential cases of trademark infringement.

One thing’s for sure, new gTLD applicants in general are spoiled for choice now when it comes to selecting a consultant.

Domainer Jan Barta invests in dotFree

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2011, Domain Registries

The Czech company hoping to apply to ICANN for the .free top-level domain next year has secured an undisclosed investment from local domainer Jan Barta.

Jeremie Godreche from dotFree described the deal as “an active and long term relationship”.

Barta is the founder of Elephant Orchestra, a domain investment and lead generation company based in Prague. You can read a recent interview with him in the Prague Post here.

DotFree appears to have recently overhauled its web site also.

It now has a planned launch schedule that would see a .free founders program open in January 2012 and its sunrise period begin a year later.

Now there’s confidence.

I expect .free to be a contested gTLD, and we won’t find out until April at the earliest how many other applicants are also chasing it.

The company plans to monetize .free by charging for 200,000 premium names and imposing an annual upgrade fee on registrants with more than one non-premium domain.

It has had 97,000 pre-registrations since last November.

Now you can outsource your whole gTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2011, Domain Services

It’s already common practice for domain name registries to outsource their technical operations to a back-end provider such as VeriSign or Afilias, but a new company hopes that new gTLD registries will want to go one step further.

Sedari, which appears to have soft-launched at the .nxt conference today, wants successful new gTLD applicants to outsource their back-office functions too.

The company, headed by former ICANN policy advisor Liz Williams, “helps string owners outsource the risk and responsibility of running a registry in compliance with ICANN’s contracts”, according to its site.

I understand this means functions such as billing, support, compliance, and liaising with the back-end registry and the front-end registrars.

I guess it’s going to be possible for a successful gTLD applicant to sign a registry contract with ICANN and then do very little to actually manage its day-to-day operation.

A registry that outsources its technical infrastructure to the likes of Neustar and its back office to Sedari will presumably be free to focus on nothing but marketing.

Sedari is staffed by a number of familiar faces.

Its CFO is Kevin Wilson, who had the same role at ICANN until January, and former ICANN director Dennis Jennings is on the board.

Its CTO is Wayne MacLaurin, who was previously CTO of Momentous. Jothan Frakes, formerly with Minds + Machines, is senior VP of channel management.

Direct marketers join anti-gTLD bandwagon

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2011, Domain Policy

The UK Direct Marketing Association has added its voice to the collection of advertising trade groups that oppose ICANN’s new generic top-level domains program.

DMA executive director Chris Combemale said in a statement:

Creating a tranche of new internet domain names will be extremely costly to businesses. As well as the associated costs of registering new domain names and spending money to attract customers to multiple domains, businesses face the legal and financial headache of having to contend with cybersquatters grabbing specific domains.

Customised domain names won’t offer brands any enhanced marketing possibilities because consumers can easily search for specific information with the current domain name system.

Companies are already hard pressed to find cost savings in these tough trading times; adding a further financial burden that won’t reap any commercial benefits cannot be justified.

The organization said it plans to formally ask ICANN to withdraw or revise the program.

The Association of National Advertisers, the Interactive Advertising Bureau and the American Association of Advertising Agencies have already made similar calls.

The DMA UK has over 800 members, according to its web site.

M+M surprised by .mumbai snub

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2011, Domain Registries

One of Minds + Machines’ key top-level domain applications has been thrown into confusion after government support for its .mumbai bid was apparently revoked.

In a letter that surfaced on the ICANN web site this week, Y.S. Mahangade, deputy director of IT at the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai, wrote (pdf):

Honorable Deputy Mayor of MCGM inadvertently issued a letter to one organization which has been revoked later by Honorable Deputy Major of MCGM. It may please be noted that the official position of the City of Mumbai is communicated by Municipal Commissioner.

Under ICANN’s rules, all applications for geographical gTLDs must be backed officially by the local government, otherwise they get rejected.

According to Wikipedia, the Mayor of Mumbai (and presumably the deputy) has a “largely ceremonial” function, “as the real powers are vested in the Municipal Commissioner”.

Wikipedia does not say what kind of power the deputy director of IT wields. I’m guessing it’s not much.

M+M CEO Antony Van Couvering said in a statement:

This is the first we have heard about this and we are looking into the matter with our client, India TL Domain Pvt Ltd, to whom the original letter of appointment was issued by the Deputy Mayor of Mumbai. Once we understand what the situation is viz-a-viz India TL Domain Pvt Ltd and the City of Mumbai, we will provide an update.

You can view the letter of support from the deputy mayor here.

M+M announced its deal with the .mumbai applicant, India TL Domain, in June. As I noted at the time, not much is known about the company.

But according to official records, the company’s managing director is Ashok Hiremath, who’s also chairman of Mumbai-based fungicide manufacturer Astec Lifesciences.

His brother Suresh, now apparently a British citizen living in London, appears to be the only one of the company’s three directors to have engaged, albeit lightly, in ICANN policy development.

The third director is also Astec’s corporate secretary. The company shares its address with Astec.

In June, M+M’s parent company, Top Level Domain Holdings, issued two million new shares to an unnamed consultant as a result of the .mumbai deal, raising £160,000 ($260,000).

This is not the first time a geographic gTLD applicant that apparently raised support from the necessary governmental entity has had its plans thrown into doubt.

The same happened to DotConnectAfrica, a potential .africa bidder, in May, after the African Union apparently did an about-face.

Mumbai is India’s largest city, with over 20 million citizens. It’s also the richest (although the poverty there is enough to make you weep) making .mumbai a potentially lucrative gTLD.

MelbourneIT talks to 270 .brand applicants

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2011, Domain Registrars

The Australian domain registrar MelbourneIT said it has talked to 270 companies and signed contracts with 17 that want to apply for “.brand” top-level domains.

The news came in the company’s “disappointing” first-half financial results announcement yesterday.

According to its official report (pdf), MelbourneIT has received 230 expressions of interest and has inked deals with 14, but managing director Theo Hnarkis reportedly told analysts the higher numbers.

The company is charging clients between AUD 45,000 ($47,000) and AUD 75,000 ($79,000) to handle the ICANN application process.

MelbourneIT’s preferred partner for back-end registry services is VeriSign, so the clients it signs are likely to become recurring revenue streams for VeriSign if their applications are successful.

Watch the .nxt conference live online

Kevin Murphy, August 24, 2011, Domain Policy

The .nxt conference on new top-level domains kicks off in San Francisco later today, but fear not if you were unable to make it in person – much of the content will be streamed live online.

Roughly half of the three-day meeting’s sessions will be made available live, and it appears that the whole lot will be available on demand for the next three months.

If the conference is as informative as the first one, which took place in February, the $95 fee .nxt is charging to access the streams seems like a pretty good deal.

It’s no substitute for being there in person – much of the value in these things lies in the networking opportunities – but if new gTLDs are likely to effect your business you’d be crazy not to check it out.

More details here.

Want Beyonce.xxx? JustinBieber.xxx? Forget it

Kevin Murphy, August 22, 2011, Domain Registries

ICM Registry has banned a whole bunch of celebrity names from the new .xxx top-level domain, in order to scupper cybersquatters and opportunistic porn webmasters.

Want to register Beyonce.xxx, AngelinaJolie.xxx, OlsenTwins.xxx, Madonna.xxx, BritneySpears.xxx, KimKardashian.xxx, HalleBerry.xxx or WinonaRyder.xxx?

How about JustinBieber.xxx, BradPitt.xxx, CharlieSheen.xxx, SimonCowell.xxx, GeorgeMichael.xxx, EltonJohn.xxx, VerneTroyer.xxx, DonaldTrump.xxx or OsamaBinLaden.xxx?

Forget it. According to Whois records, you’re out of luck on all counts. They’ve all been reserved by the registry.

These are all among what I’m guessing is at least hundreds – maybe more – of celebrity names that ICM has blocked from ever being registered.

The company won’t say how many celebrities have been afforded this privilege, or how it came up with the list, but it has said in the past that a total of about 15,000 domains have been registry-reserved.

That also includes the names of the world’s capital cities, culturally sensitive strings put forward by a handful of governments, and the “premium” names that ICM plans to auction.

I’m wondering what the cut-off point is for celebrities. How famous do you have to be to get your .xxx blocked by default by the registry? B-List minimum? D-List? What database is ICM using?

American Pie actor Tara Reid just entered Celebrity Big Brother here in the UK, which pretty much means her career is over, and she’s managed to make it to ICM’s reserved list.

While ICM has always said it would help protect personal names from abuse, it’s never been entirely clear about how it would go about it.

Its registry agreement with ICANN has for some time said that “unauthorized registration of personal names” would be forbidden, but there were no real details to speak of.

As I reported last week, its souped-up cybersquatting policy, Rapid Evaluation Service, has a special provision for personal names.

But presumptively blocking a subset of the world’s famous people from .xxx is bound to raise questions in the wider context of the ICANN new gTLD program, however.

As far as I can tell, no corporate trademarks have been given the same rights in .xxx as, say, David Cameron or Barack Obama.

If ICM can protect Piers Morgan’s “brand”, why can it not also protect CNN? Or Microsoft or Coke or Google? None of these brands are registry-reserved, according to Whois.

The trademark lobby will raise this question, no doubt. ICM has its own celebrity Globally Protected Marks List for .xxx, which only applies to individuals, they could argue.

There are some differences, of course.

Celebrities sometimes find they have a harder time winning cybersquatting complaints using UDRP if they have not registered their names as trademarks, which can be quite hard to come by, for example.

(UPDATE: And, of course, they may not qualify for ICM’s sunrise period if they don’t have trademarks, as EnCirca’s Tom Barrett points out in the comments below).

In addition, celebrity skin is a popular search topic on the web, which may give cybersquatters a greater impetus to register their names as domains, despite the high price of .xxx.

Also, if a registry were to reserve the brand names of, say, the Fortune 1000, it would wind up blocking many dictionary or otherwise multi-purpose strings, which is obviously not usually the case with personal names.

Breaking: Ad industry piles on ICANN

Kevin Murphy, August 15, 2011, Domain Policy

The Interactive Advertising Bureau, which represents over 500 companies including Facebook, Google, eBay and Microsoft, has told ICANN to put a stop to its new top-level domains program.

The cry calls just a couple of weeks after the Association of National Advertisers said it would lobby Congress and may take ICANN to court over the controversial program.

Randall Rothenberg, CEO of the IAB, said in a press release:

ICANN’s potentially momentous change seems to have been made in a top-down star chamber. There appears to have been no economic impact research, no full and open stakeholder discussions, and little concern for the delicate balance of the Internet ecosystem.

This could be disastrous for the media brand owners we represent and the brand owners with which they work. We hope that ICANN will reconsider both this ill-considered decision and the process by which it was reached.

The IAB’s membership is a Who’s Who of leading online media companies, purportedly responsible for selling 86% of online advertising in the US.

It counts AOL, Digg, Amazon, the BBC, Bebo, CNN, Ziff Davis, LinkedIn, Time Warner, Slate, Thomson-Reuters, IDG, the Huffington Post and many other well-known names as members.

Demand Media, too.

If the ANA represents advertisers themselves, the IAB represents the places they spend their advertising money.

It looks like a large portion of corporate America is not happy about new gTLDs. ICANN may have found itself a new, extremely well-funded enemy.

ANA’s response to the Beckstrom letter in full

Kevin Murphy, August 11, 2011, Domain Policy

The Association of National Advertisers has issued statements in response to ICANN president Rod Beckstrom’s admonishment of its attempt to hold up the new top-level domains program.

ANA appeared out of nowhere last week, vaguely threatening to sue ICANN unless it suspended the program, which it believes will cost brand owners billions of dollars.

But yesterday Beckstrom replied, saying the program was developed through a “multi-stakeholder” policy-making process over several years in which ANA had ample opportunity to participate.

He also pointed out that ANA appears to have made faulty assumptions about how the program is supposed to work, particularly with regards “.brand” gTLDs.

This the official response to Beckstrom’s letter from Bob Liodice, ANA’s president and CEO:

We are not surprised by ICANN’s response although disappointed that ICANN chose to defend its process and deny any doubt as to consensus. Rather, ICANN needs to respond to the real concern from the brand owner community.

There is no question that this Program will increase brand owners’ costs by billions of dollars. We should not be debating if 40 or 45 comment periods were held; instead, ICANN should be justifying its economic analysis regarding the Program against the staggering costs to brands.

ANA welcomes further discussions and an opportunity for further economic study to quantify the need for more TLDs and what it will mean for industry and other stakeholders, such as the public interest community who will face the same brand dilution concerns.

ANA general counsel Doug Wood, from the law firm Reed Smith, stated:

Now is not the time for either side to ‘dig in its heels’ much less defend the process, especially in a depressed economy. ANA has raised real concerns regarding economic losses, brand dilution and resultant privacy/cyber-security harms.

In light of our shared goals of a safe and stable global Internet, ICANN should return to the negotiating table and work with all concerned parties, including the ANA and its members, to resolve brand owners’ legitimate concerns in a manner consistent with ICANN’s consensus obligations.

These are of course concerns that have been debated to death for several years in the ICANN community, lately without ANA’s participation.

The organization submitted a couple of comments more than two years ago and then seemed to disappear from the process.

One could argue that’s very odd behavior for an apparently well-funded outfit now loudly claiming that it’s “horrified” by new gTLDs.