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Verisign says Afilias tried to “rig” $135 million .web auction

Kevin Murphy, December 17, 2018, Domain Services

Verisign has jumped back into the fight for the .web gTLD, all guns blazing, with a claim that Afilias offered millions in an attempt to “rig” a private auction for the string.

The .com behemoth accused Afilias last week of “collusive and anti-competitive efforts to rig the [.web] auction in its favor”.

It claims that Afilias offered rival bidder — and secret Verisign stooge — Nu Dot Co up to $17 million if it would participate in a private auction, and then tried to contact NDC during the auction’s “Blackout Period”.

The claims came in an amicus brief (pdf) filed by Verisign as part of Afilias’ Independent Review Process proceeding against ICANN.

The IRP is Afilias’ attempt to overturn the result of the July 2016 .web auction, in which NDC paid ICANN $135 million of Verisign’s money in exchange for the exclusive rights to .web

While neither Verisign nor NDC are parties to the IRP, they’re both attempting to become amicus curiae — “friends of the court” — giving them the right to provide evidence and arguments to the IRP panel.

Verisign argues that its rights would be seriously impacted by the proceeding — Afilias is looking for an emergency ruling preventing .web being delegated — because it won’t be able to bring .web to market.

But it’s also attempting to have the IRP thrown out altogether, on the basis of claims that Afilias broke the auction rules and has “unclean hands”.

Verisign’s brief states:

Afilias and other bidders proposed that a private auction be performed pursuant to collusive and potentially illegal terms about who could win and who would lose the auction, including guarantees of auction proceeds to certain losers of the auction.

NDC CFO Jose Rasco provides as evidence screenshots (pdf) of a text-message conversation he had with Afilias VP of sales Steve Heflin on June 7, 2016, in which Heflin attempts to persuade NDC to go to a private auction.

Every other member of the contention set at that point had agreed to a private auction, in which the winning bid would be shared out among the losers.

NDC was refusing to play along, because it had long ago secretly agreed to bid on behalf of Verisign, and was forcing a last-resort ICANN auction in which ICANN would receive the full sum of the winning bid. 

In that SMS conversation, Heflin says: “Can’t give up…how about I guarantee you score at least 16 mil if you go to private auction and lose?” followed by three money-bag emojis that I refuse to quote here on general principle.

Rasco responds with an offer to sell Afilias the .health gTLD, then just weeks away from launch, for $25 million.

Heflin ignores the offer and ups his .web offer to $17.02 million.

Given that it was a contention set of seven applicants, that suggests Afilias reckoned .web was going to sell for at least $100 million.

Verisign claims: “Afilias’s offers to ‘guarantee’ the amount of a payment to NDC as a losing bidder are an explicit offer to pay off NDC to not compete with Afilias in bidding on .web.”

Rasco also provides evidence that Schlund, another .web applicant, attempted to persuade NDC to join what it called an “Alternative Private Auction”.

This process would have divided bidders into “strong” and “weak” categories, with “strong” losing bidders walking away with a greater portion of the winning bid than the “weak” ones.

Verisign and NDC also claims that Afilias broke ICANN’s auction rules when VP John Kane texted Rasco to say: “If ICANN delays the auction next week would you again consider a private auction?”

That text was received July 22, four days before the auction and one day into the so-called “Blackout Period”, during which ICANN auction rules (pdf)  prohibit bidders from “cooperating or collaborating” with each other.

At that time, .web applicants Schlund and Radix already suspected Verisign was bankrolling NDC, and they were trying to get the auction delayed.

According to Verisign, Kane’s text means Afilias violated the Blackout rules and therefore it should lose its .web application entirely.  

The fact that these rules proscribe “collaborating” during the Blackout suggests that collaborating at other times was actually envisaged, which in turn suggests that Heflin’s texts may not be as naughty as Verisign claims.

Anyway, I think it’s fair to say the gloves, were they ever on, have come off.

Weighing in at over 1,000 pages, the combined amicus briefs and attached exhibits reveal some interesting additional facts that I don’t believe were in the public domain before now and may be worth noting here.

The Verisign filing reveals, I believe for the first time, that the final Verisign bid for .web was $142 million. It only paid $135 million because that was runner-up Afilias’ final bid.

It also reveals that Verisign and NDC signed their “executory agreement” — basically, NDC’s promise to sign over .web if Verisign bankrolled its bid — in August 2015, nearly a year before the auction took place. NDC evidently kept its secret for a long time before rivals got suspicious.

The IRP panelist is scheduled to rule on Afilias’ request for a “stay of all ICANN actions that further the delegation of the .WEB gTLD” on January 28.

Ramchandani promoted to Radix CEO

Kevin Murphy, January 15, 2018, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry Radix has appointed long-time business head Sandeep Ramchandani as CEO.

He’s replacing Bhavin Turakhia, who is CEO of parent company Directi and executive chairman of Radix.

Ramchandani had a lot of autonomy as business head and VP of the company and, in my view, has been basically CEO in all but name for years. I’ve accidentally called him CEO in the pages of DI more than once.

In a press release, he said: “Just as the first few years of Radix were about demonstrating proof of concept, the next few will be about growing awareness and delivering accelerated growth. We are also actively looking to acquire more TLD assets to reach newer segments of the market while leveraging economies of scale.”

The company has a portfolio of nine gTLDs, including .website, .store and .online, and recently announced that its 2017 revenue topped $12 million.

Radix says it’s profitable after making $12 million this year

Kevin Murphy, December 13, 2017, Domain Registries

New gTLD stable Radix said today that it expects to top $12 million in revenue this year.

The company also told DI that it is currently profitable.

Radix, which counts the likes of .site and .store among its portfolio of nine active gTLDs, said revenue so far for the calendar year has been tallied at $11.7 million.

The company said that more than half of revenue came from “non-premium domain renewals”, an important metric when considering the long-term health of a domain business.

Recurring revenue of non-premiums was almost twice as much as new registrations, Radix said. Only $1.76 million of revenue came from premium sales (14%) and renewals (86%).

The US accounted for just under half of revenue, with Germany at 14.4% and China, where .site was fully active for the whole year and four other TLDs were approved in October, coming in at 7.7%.

Radix is a private company, part of the Directi Group, and has not previously disclosed its financials.

Assuming apples-to-apples comparisons are valid (which may not be the case), its figures compare favorably to public competitors such as MMX, which expects to report 2017 in the same ball-park despite having more than twice as many gTLDs under management.

Radix claims 77% renewal rates after two years

Kevin Murphy, November 14, 2017, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry Radix says that three of its larger TLDs have seen a 77% renewal rate two years after launch.

The company said today that .online had 75% renewals, with .tech at 78% and .site at 81%.

It appears to have carved out these three from its portfolio for attention, ignoring the rest of its portfolio, because they all went to general availability in the same two-month period July and August 2015.

The renewal rates are for the first month of GA. In other words, 77% of the domains registered in the TLDs’ respective first month have been renewed for a third year.

Radix, in a press release, compared the numbers favorably to .com and .net, which had a combined renewal rate of 74% in the second quarter according to Verisign’s published numbers.

It’s probably not a fully fair apples-to-apples comparison. Domains registered in the first month of GA are likely higher-quality names registered by in-the-know early adopters, and therefore less likely to be dropped, whereas .com and .net have decades of renewal cycles behind them.

Radix also said that 86% of domains registered during the three TLDs’ sunrise periods and Early Access Periods are still being renewed, with .tech at 92% and .site at 88%.

Eight more gTLDs get Chinese licenses

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2017, Domain Registries

Radix and MMX have had four new gTLDs each approved for use in China.

MMX has had .work, .law, .beer and .购物 (Chinese for “shopping”) approved by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology.

Radix gained approval for .fun, .online, .store and .tech.

The approvals mean that Chinese customers of Chinese registrars will be able to actually use domains in these TLDs rather than just registering them and leaving them barren.

It also means the respective registries have to apply more stringent controls on Chinese registrants.

They’re the first new gTLDs to get the nod from MIIT since April.

Only a couple dozen Latin-script new gTLDs have been given regulatory approval to operate fully in China.

MMX’s biggest success story to date, .vip, is almost entirely beholden to the Chinese market. Before today, it was also the only gTLD in its portfolio to pass the MIIT test.

The company said in a statement it has another four strings going through the approval process.

Radix already had .site on sale in China with government approval.

Google shifts 400,000 .site domains

Kevin Murphy, August 22, 2017, Domain Registries

Google has given away what is believed to be roughly 400,000 subdomains in Radix’s .site gTLD as part of a small business web site service.

Since its launch a couple of months ago, the Google My Business web site builder offering has been offering small businesses a free one-page site with a free third-level domain under business.site.

Google My Business also offers users the ability to upgrade to a paid-for second-level domain via its Google Domains in-house registrar.

Google the search engine indexes 403,000 business.site pages currently. Because each subdomain is limited to a single page, it is possible that the number of subdomains is not too far behind that number, Radix believes.

This means that business.site is likely almost as large as the .site gTLD itself, which currently has about 450,000 names in its zone file.

Given the rapid growth rate, it seems likely the subdomain will overtake the TLD in a matter of weeks.

According to Radix, business.site was purchased off of its registry reserved premium list. The sale price has not been disclosed.

It’s good publicity for the TLD, and merely the latest endorsement by Google of the new gTLD concept.

As well as being the registry for many new gTLDs, Google parent Alphabet uses a .xyz domain and its registrar uses a .google domain.

EFF recommends against new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, July 28, 2017, Domain Policy

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has recommended that domain registrants concerned about intellectual property “bullies” steer clear of new gTLDs.

The view is expressed in a new EFF report today that is particularly critical of policies in place at new gTLD portfolio registries Donuts and Radix.

The report (pdf) also expresses strong support for .onion, the pseudo-TLD available only to users of the Tor browser and routing network, which the EFF is a long-term supporter of.

The report makes TLD recommendations for “security against trademark bullies”, “security against identity theft and marketing”, “security against overseas speech regulators” and “security against copyright bullies”.

It notes that no one TLD is “best” on all counts, so presents a table explaining which TLD registries — a broad mix of the most popular gTLD and ccTLD registries — have which relevant policies.

For those afraid of trademark “bullies”, the EFF recommends against 2012-round new gTLDs on the basis that they all have the Uniform Rapid Suspension service. It singles out Donuts for special concern due to its Domain Protected Marks List, which adds an extra layer of protection for trademark owners.

On copyright, the report singles out Donuts and Radix for their respective “trusted notifier” schemes, which give the movie and music industries a hotline to report large-scale piracy web sites.

These are both well-known EFF positions that the organization has expressed in previous publications.

On the other two issues, the report recommends examining ccTLDs for those which don’t have to kowtow to local government speech regulations or publicly accessible Whois policies.

In each of the four areas of concern, the report suggests taking a look at .onion, while acknowledging that the pseudo-gTLD would be a poor choice if you actually want people to be able to easily access your web site.

While the opinions expressed in the report may not be surprising, the research that has gone into comparing the policies of 40-odd TLD registries covering hundreds of TLDs appears on the face of it to be solid and possibly the report’s biggest draw.

You can read it here (pdf).

GMO and Radix secure Chinese gTLD approval

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2017, Domain Registries

GMO Registry and Radix have won Chinese government approval for their respective new gTLDs .shop and .site.

It’s the second batch of foreign new gTLDs to get the nod from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, following .vip, .club and .xyz in early December.

They’re also the first two Asian registries from outside China to get the right to flog their domains in China — GMO is Japanese and Radix is UAE-based with Indian roots.

Their new Chinese government licenses mean Chinese registrars will now be able to allow their customers to actually use .shop and .site domains to host web sites.

The registries in turn have had to agree to enforce China’s rather arbitrary and Draconian censorship policies on their Chinese customers.

The approvals were announced by MIIT December 29.

.site currently has about 570,000 domains in its zone file, making it a top-10 new gTLD by volume, while .shop, which launched much more recently, has over 100,000.

The ability for Chinese customers to develop their domains is no doubt good for the long-term health of TLDs, but it’s not necessarily a harbinger of shorter-term growth in a market where domains are often treated little more than meaningless baseball cards to be traded rather than commodities with intrinsic value.

Spot all the Easter eggs in this Radix mannequin viral [NSFW]

Kevin Murphy, December 7, 2016, Domain Registries

Domain registry Radix has shamelessly jumped on the “mannequin challenge” meme bandwagon, with the release of video plugging its forthcoming .fun gTLD.

It’s quite slickly produced, on the face of it shot in a single unbroken take (though I suspect there are a few edits hidden in the motion blur), but the real fun for me, as someone who’s obviously been working alone from his mother’s basement for the last decade, is having a nosey around the office of a modern tech company.

Radix, it seems, names its meeting rooms after Harry Potter characters and festoons its walls with inspirational quotes from self-help books.

There are a few visual gags too. One employee has hit the bottom of a bottle of Jack Daniels, presumably celebrating the wish-fulfilling sales figures we see on another’s monitor.

Another seems to be trying to offload a stack of banned Rs 500 and Rs 1000 notes on a colleague. Topical satire, kids!

Did you spot anything else amusing?

NB: If you’re wondering why a respectable company would produce a video backed with profane, sexist and sexually explicit lyrics, a young person I know assures me that using Rae Sremmurd’s chart-topper “Black Beatles” as the soundtrack is a standard component of the mannequin challenge meme.

UPDATE: Seems Key-Systems has done one too.

Radix acquires .fun gTLD from Warren Buffett

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2016, Domain Registries

New gTLD portfolio player Radix has acquired the pre-launch TLD .fun from its original owner.

The company took over the .fun Registry Agreement from Oriental Trading Company on October 4, according to ICANN records.

Oriental is a party supplies company owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

It won .fun in a private auction in April last year, beating off Google and .buzz operator DotStrategy.

It had planned to run it as a “closed generic” — keeping all the domains in .fun for itself — but those plans appeared to have been shelved by the time it signed its RA in January this year.

Evidently Oriental’s heart was not in it, and Radix made an offer for the string it found more attractive.

Radix business head Sandeep Ramchandani confirmed to DI today that .fun will be operated in a completely unrestricted manner, the same as its other gTLDs.

It will be Radix’s first three-letter gTLD, Ramchandani said. It already runs zones such as .online, .site and .space.

.fun is not yet delegated, but Radix is hoping for a December sunrise period, he said.