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That mystery $1 million .sucks fee explained, and it’s probably not what you thought

Vox Populi has agreed to pay ICANN up to $1 million in extra fees in order to pay off the debts of affiliated deadbeat registrars, I can reveal.

The formerly mysterious fees, which comprise a $100,000 start-up payment and $1 for each of its first 900,000 .sucks transactions, were discovered by ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency, as I reported Friday.

I speculated that the payments may have related to ICANN padding out its legal defense fund, rather like it did with .xxx a few years ago, but it turns out that guess was dead wrong.

ICANN has told DI:

Some affiliates of Momentous, the majority owners of Vox Populi Registry, had previously defaulted on substantial payments to ICANN. Given this previous experience, ICANN negotiated special contract provisions in the Vox Populi Registry Agreement to provide additional financial assurances. Those provisions were added solely for that reason and were not related to the nature of this specific TLD.

I gather that the affiliated companies in question were shell registrars that went out of business a while ago.

Momentous company Pool.com used large numbers of empty registrar accreditations in order to drop-catch expiring domain names. Fairly standard practice in the drop-catching game.

But many of these entities were shut down, owing ICANN a whole bunch of cash in unpaid registrar fees.

ICANN has now chosen to recoup the money by extracting it from the .sucks registry, which according to its new gTLD application is majority-owned by Momentous.

The .sucks contract calls the $100,000 a “registry access fee” and the $1-a-name charge as “registry administration fee”.

For avoidance of doubt, this post is not an April Fool joke.

Over 180,000 blocked new gTLD names to drop next week

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2014, Domain Registries

Several new gTLD registries will release hundreds of thousands of currently blocked domain names — some of them quite nice-looking — next Wednesday.

It’s one of the first big batches of name collisions to be released to market.

The companies behind .xyz, .website, .press, .host, .ink, .wiki, .rest and .bar will release most of their blocked names at 1400 UTC on November 26. These registries all use CentralNic as their back-end.

The gTLD with the biggest “drop” is .host, with over 100,000 names. .wiki, .website and .xyz all have 10,000 to 20,000 releasing names apiece.

According to Radix business head Sandeep Ramchamdani, A smallish number — measured in the hundreds — of the .host, .press and .website names are on the company’s premium domain lists and will carry a higher price.

He gave the following sample of .website domains that will become available at the baseline, non-premium, registry fee:

analyze.website, anti.website, april.website, bookmark.website, challenge.website, classics.website, consumer.website, definitions.website, ginger.website, graffiti.website, inspired.website, jobportal.website, lenders.website, malibu.website, marvelous.website, ola.website, clients.website, commercial.website, comparison.website

Drop-catching services such as Pool.com are taking pre-orders on names set to be released.

Other registries have already released their name collisions domains.

I gather that .archi, .bio, .wien and .quebec have already unblocked their collisions this week.

Donuts tells us it has no current plan for its first drops. Rightside, which runs Donuts’ back-end, is reportedly planning to drop names in a couple dozen gTLDs on the same date in January.

As we reported earlier this week, millions of names are due to be released over the coming months, due to the expiration of the 90-day “controlled interruption” phase that ICANN forced all new gTLD registries to implement.

By definition, name collision names already have seen traffic in the past and may do so again.

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.

Registrars sought as Pool.com shuts down drop-catching business

Kevin Murphy, January 7, 2013, Domain Registrars

ICANN is looking for new homes for approximately 67,000 domain names, after a decision by Momentous to dump 85 of its domain name registrar accreditations.

The accreditations were used primarily for drop-catching, according to an email sent to registrars last Friday, and each has between 200 and 3,000 gTLD domains under management.

While most affected domains are recently caught drops, there may be some regular registrants scattered throughout the customer base, according to ICANN.

Momentous, owner of Pool.com, announced that it was getting rid of its drop-catching registrars in an email to customers late last year, as several domainer blogs reported at the time.

Pool plans to “refocus its business away from an emphasis on the secondary market”, the email said.

The company wanted to consolidate all of the domains in its NameScout registrar with the transfer fees waived, but ICANN declined its request, according to the email.

Some customers are not happy with how Pool has handled the situation.

The domainer “Acro” is currently pursuing a complaint with the Better Business Bureau in Momentous’ native Canada, according to a recent blog post.

The 85 accreditations are due to expire January 10. Registrars wishing to take over the portfolios had a deadline of this afternoon to express an interest with ICANN.

Key-Systems has 31 gTLD clients, offers digital archery services

Key-Systems has become the third company to announce it is providing new gTLD applicants with a chance to possibly increase their chances of success with digital archery.

The service costs €15,000 ($18,800) if the company gets your application into ICANN’s first evaluation batch.

Almost as an aside, the company also revealed in a press release today that its KSRegistry back-end service is the named registry services provider for 31 gTLD applications.

Digital archery services are also being offered by Pool.com and Digital Archery Experts.

Today, Digital Archery Experts announced that it will split the cost of its service between clients if it winds up shooting arrows on behalf of multiple applicants in the same contention set.

Brands are Pool.com’s surprise digital archery clients

Kevin Murphy, May 17, 2012, Domain Services

Companies applying to ICANN for “dot-brand” top-level domains are among those signing up for Pool.com’s new digital archery service, according to Rob Hall, CEO of parent Momentous.

The company launched its Digital Archery Engine last month, not too long after ICANN confirmed its controversial method of batching new gTLD applications for processing.

Now, Pool is receiving interest from not only mass-market generic string applicants, but also dot-brands.

“It’s a wider swath of TLDs that I thought originally,” said Hall. “At first I thought for sure the generics and the domains that might be in competition.”

“It’s amazing to me that a lot of people out there are saying the brands don’t care, the brands are doing this just defensively, the brands couldn’t care less about going first… but a lot of them do,” he said.

“A lot of them are saying ‘I want to be in that first batch’, which I wouldn’t have necessarily expected,” he added.

He said he had no idea what the motivations are for these brands.

“Our job is to get them in the first batch, not to ask them why they want to be there,” he said.

Hall said it wasn’t clear how many clients Pool would eventually sign up to the service, but said he expects it to be definitely much more than 50.

ICANN’s digital archery system – which will batch applicants according to which can most accurately send a message over the internet to a target time – was poorly received by most people.

Unsurprisingly, Hall is not one of those people.

Pool is one of several companies that have been competing to register expiring domain names for the better part of a decade, so its systems have been fine-tuned for sending messages over the internet quickly.

While the big registries such as .com use the EPP protocol, some of the registries Pool interacts with use HTTP, which seems to be ICANN’s preferred option for digital archery.

Hall said Pool aims for latency of less than 6 milliseconds. Its servers are positioned topologically close to registries – typically one or two hops – and the software measures monitors network conditions.

“The key is being able to detect what is the latency and to predict it, then factor that into the engine to say ‘When do I fire?’,” he said.

He does not anticipate the CAPTCHAs or other Turing tests presenting a problem – Pool would simply bring a human into the equation.

The Digital Archery Engine is not cheap. If Pool gets you into the first batch, you’re $25,000 out of pocket. If you’re in the top half of batches (batch three of five counts as top half) it’s $10,000.

The company was singled out recently by ICANN’s Intellectual Property Constituency as an “insider” exploiting the digital archery system as a “revenue extraction opportunity”.

A letter highly critical of the system from IPC chair Steve Metallitz said:

This arcane and seemingly arbitrary batching method will also reinforce the widespread impression that all ICANN procedures are dominated by “insiders” with contractual relationships to ICANN, who will surely know best how to manipulate this initiative to their own benefit, or that of their paying customers. It is difficult to reconcile such an outcome with ICANN’s obligation to act in the public interest.

Hall said was happy for the free advertising. “I’d like to thank them,” he said.

But he said Pool isn’t “manipulating” anything.

“They’ve called this ‘digital archery’,” he said. “It’s a game to see who’s best at it. That’s what they’ve designed. We’re not gaming anything. And we’re not offering this to insiders, we’re offering this to everyone.”

Pool.com offers $25k gTLD digital archery service

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2012, Domain Registrars

Domain name drop-catcher Pool.com hopes to make a quick buck out of ICANN’s new generic top-level domain application batching process.

The company has announced a Digital Archery Engine service, which it says could help new gTLD applicants get their applications near the top of the evaluation queue.

It’s based on Pool’s experience catching expiring names to auction, and ICANN’s controversial “digital archery” method of allocating applications into batches for processing.

Getting into the first batch of 500 applications is expected to knock at least five months off the wait time for new gTLD approval, delegation and launch. For many applicants, this time-to-market advantage is important.

But it’s not cheap. If Pool gets your application into the first batch it will set you back $25,000. If you’re in the top 50% of applications, the price tag is $10,000. Anything slower is free.

Zip.ca lets zip.tv expire then files UDRP to get it back

Kevin Murphy, November 30, 2011, Domain Registrars

The Canadian movie rental site Zip.ca, a sister company of Pool.com, has filed a cybersquatting complaint with WIPO over the domain name zip.tv.

A UDRP filed over a dictionary word would often scream reverse domain name hijacking, but it appears that in this case Zip.ca owned the matching .tv but accidentally let it expire.

According to historical Whois records, Zip.ca owned zip.tv until July 6 this year, when the registration expired and it went into its registrar’s “Reactivation Pending” status.

It was then acquired by a Chinese registrant, Mai Lifang, in October. The domain is currently parked.

It’s embarrassing for Zip.ca, given that its parent, Momentous, is primarily a domain name company, owning DomainsAtCost.com, Pool.com, Internic.ca, Rebel.com and NameScout.

Zip.tv was not just a defensive registration, either. It was previously promoted as a community-focused YouTube-style companion site for Zip.ca back in 2007.

The company also owns a trademark on the domain.

Open .co landrush re-auctions — the full list

Kevin Murphy, October 4, 2011, Domain Sales

.CO Internet is putting 100 .co domain names that failed to auction during its landrush last year up for “re-auction”, and it looks like there are a few possible gems on the list.

The company said last week that the 100 names are the last of the domains that went to auction but failed to change hands due to a lack of bidders or non-payment by the winner.

While the first auctions were restricted to only those who had paid the landrush fee, this time around anybody can participate. Pool.com will again handle the auction.

There are some potentially nice names, such as accidentlawyers.co, injurylawyers.co, seoul.co, comicbooks.co and businessintelligence.co.

Click here for the full list of names.

Who owns Osama Bin Laden domains?

Kevin Murphy, May 2, 2011, Domain Sales

With the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death reverberating throughout the world today, I wonder if the price of domain names matching his name just went up or down?

Doubtless, traffic to such domains will go up in the near term.

In terms of resale, I expect the domains may become slightly less “untouchable” now the guy’s been put out of business.

Before too long, he could be a figure of mainly historical interest, a Big Bad from the past, like Adolf Hitler or Pol Pot.

On the other hand, how many people really want to risk raising the ire of terrorists (or risk encouraging them) by buying and developing a web site at a Bin Laden-related domain name?

It’s too early to say for sure, but it’s quite possible Bin Laden’s name may acquire some kind of legend/martyr status in certain parts of the world, making it even more untouchable.

osamabinladen.com was originally registered in 2000 and belongs to a Karachi, Pakistan-based company called Computer Reflexes International. It resolves to a “for sale” notice.

usamabinladen.com and usamabinladin.com, alternate spellings used by some in the media and US government, are parked and have been registered to Frank Schilling’s Name Administration since 2003.

binladen.com is also parked, owned by “Pool.com In Trust”, apparently one of a bunch of domains it was awarded in a lawsuit against a former partner registrar.

osama.com belongs to an Italian pen company actually called Osama.

Schilling also owns polpot.com, incidentally, while adolfhitler.com belongs to Rick Latona.

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