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Google wins .map and .search

Kevin Murphy, April 21, 2015, Domain Registries

Google has secured two gTLDs representing two of its core services.

The company has won .search and .map, fighting off competition from Amazon, Donuts, Famous Four Media for .search and Rightside and Amazon for .map.

All the losing bidders have now withdrawn their applications.

Both strings were due to head to ICANN auction April 29, but appear to have been settled privately instead.

That means the winning bids will not be disclosed.

Google plans to operate .map as an open gTLD in which anyone can register.

It had originally planned to keep .search domains limited to itself, until ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee and others complained about so-called “closed generics”.

Its updated .search application talks about restricting .search to sites that offer search functionality that adheres to a certain technical standard.

Specifically, domains in .search will have to follow a certain URL format (example.search/?q=query, the format used by Google itself) for queries.

It’s going to be very interesting how Google goes about implementing the plans in its application. We could be looking at some innovative or possibly controversial services.

Google eliminating domains from search results

Kevin Murphy, April 17, 2015, Domain Tech

Google has made another move to make domain names less relevant to internet users.

The company will no longer display URLs in search results pages for any web site that adopts a certain technical standard.

Instead, the name of the web site will be given. So instead of a DI post showing up with “domainincite.com” in results, it would be “Domain Incite”.

Google explained the change in a blog post incorrectly titled “Better presentation of URLs in search results”.

Webmasters wishing to present a company name or brand instead of a domain name need to publish metadata on their home pages. It’s just a few lines of code.

Google will make a determination whether to make the change based on whether the name meets these criteria:

Be reasonbly [sic] similar to your domain name

Be a natural name used to refer to the site, such as “Google,” rather than “Google, Inc.”

Be unique to your site—not used by some other site

Not be a misleading description of your site

Code samples and the rules are published here.

It strikes me that Google, by demanding naming uniqueness, is opening itself up for a world of hurt.

Could there be a landrush among non-unique brands? How will disputes be handled?

Right now the change has been made only to mobile search results and only in the US, but Google hinted that it could roll out elsewhere too.

Dotless domains are dead

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2013, Domain Policy

ICANN has banned dotless gTLDs, putting a halt to Google’s plans to run .search as a dotless search service and confounding the hopes of some portfolio applicants.

ICANN’s New gTLD Program Committee, acting with the powers of its board of directors passed the resolution on Tuesday. It was published this morning. Here’s the important bit (links added):

Resolved (2013.08.13.NG02), in light of the current security and stability risks identified in SAC053, the IAB statement and the Carve Report, and the impracticality of mitigating these risks, the NGPC affirms that the use of dotless domains is prohibited.

The current version of the Applicant Guidebook bans dotless domains (technically, it bans apex A, AAAA and MX records) but leaves the door open for registries to request an exception via Extended Evaluation.

This new decision closes that door.

The decision comes a week after the publication of Carve Systems’ study of the dotless domain issue, which concluded that the idea was potentially “dangerous” and that if ICANN intended to allow them it should do substantial outreach to hardware and software makers, essentially asking them to change their products.

The Internet Architecture Board said earlier that “dotless domains are inherently harmful to Internet security.”

Microsoft, no doubt motivated in part at least by competitive concerns in the search market, had repeatedly implored ICANN to implement a ban on security grounds.

Google had planned to run .search as a browser service that would allow users to specify preferred search engines. I doubt the dotless ban will impact its application’s chances of approval.

Donuts and Uniregistry, which together have applied for almost 400 gTLDs, had also pushed for ICANN to allow dotless domains, although I do not believe their applications explicitly mentioned such services.

Microsoft objects to Google’s dotless domains plan

Kevin Murphy, June 11, 2013, Domain Tech

Microsoft has strongly urged ICANN to reject Google’s plan for a “dotless” .search gTLD.

In a letter sent a couple of weeks ago and published last night, the company says that Google risks putting the security and stability of the internet at risk if its .search idea goes ahead.

David Tennenhouse, corporate vice president of technology policy, wrote:

Dotless domains are currently used as intranet addresses controlled by private networks for internal use. Google’s proposed amendment would interfere with that private space, creating security vulnerabilities and impacting enterprise network and systems infrastructure around the globe.

It’s a parallel argument to the one going on between Verisign and everyone else with regards to gTLD strings that may conflict with naming schemes on internal corporate networks.

While they’re subtly different problems, ICANN recently commissioned a security study into dotless domains (announced 11 days after Microsoft’s letter was sent) that links the two.

As Tennenhouse says in his letter, ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee, which has Google employees on it, has already warned about the dotless name problem in SAC053 (pdf).

He also claims that Google had submitted follow-up comments to SAC053 saying dotless domains would be “actively harmful”, but this is slightly misleading.

One Google engineer did submit such a comment, but it limited itself to talking about clashes with internal name certificates, a slightly different issue, and it’s not clear it was an official Google Inc comment.

The new gTLD Applicant Guidebook currently outlaws dotless domains through its ban on “apex A records”, but that ban can be circumvented if applicants can convince a registry services evaluation panel that their dotless domain plans don’t pose a stability risk.

While Google’s original .search application envisaged a single-registrant “closed generic”, it later amended the proposal to make it “open” and include the dotless domain proposal.

This is the relevant bit of the amended application:

Charleston Road Registry will operate a service that allows users to easily perform searches using the search functionality of their choice. This service will operate on the “dotless” search domain name (http://search/) and provide a simple web interface. This interface operates in two modes:

1) When the user has not set a preference for a search engine, they will be prompted to select one. The user will be provided with a simple web form that will allow them to designate a search engine by entering the second level label for any second level domain registered with in the TLD (e.g., if “foo.search” was a valid second level domain name, the user could indicated that their preferred search engine was “foo”). The user can also elect to save this preference, in which case a cookie will be set in the userʹs browser. This cookie will be used in the second mode, as described below. If the user enters an invalid name, they will be prompted again to provide a valid response.

2) If the user has already set a preferred search engine, the redirect service will redirect the initial query to the second level domain name indicated by the userʹs preference, including any query string provided by the user. For example, if the user had previously selected the “foo” search engine and had issued a query for http://search/?q=bar, the server would issue a redirect to http://foo.search/?q=bar. In this manner, the userʹs query will be consistently redirected to the search engine of their choice.

While Google seems to have preempted some concerns about monopolistic practices in the search engine market, approval of its dotless search feature would nevertheless have huge implications.

Make no mistake, dotless domains are a Big Deal and it would be a huge mistake for ICANN to treat them only as a security and stability issue.

What’s weird about Google’s proposal is that by asking ICANN to open up the floodgates for dotless domains, it risks inviting the domain name industry to eat its breakfast, lunch and dinner.

If ICANN lets registries offer TLDs domains without dots, the new gTLD program will no longer be about delegating domain names, it will be about auctioning exclusive rights to search terms.

Today, if you type “beer” into your browser’s address bar (which in all the cases I’m aware of are also search bars) you’ll be directed to a page of search results for the term “beer”.

In future, if “beer” is a domain name, what happens? Do you get search or do you get a web page, owned by the .beer registry? Would that page have value, or would it be little better than a parking page?

If browser makers decided to implement dotless domains — and of course there are plenty of reasons why they wouldn’t — every borderline useful dictionary word gTLD would be sold off in a single round.

Would that be good for the internet? I’d lean toward “no”.

Demand Media says Google change no big deal, yet

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2011, Domain Registrars

Demand Media has said that recent changes to Google’s search engine algorithm does not appear to have had a material impact on its business.

Google said yesterday that it has changed its code to demote “sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful”.

This was widely interpreted as being designed to hit “content farms”, which make up one of Demand’s major revenue streams. The company also owns number two domain registrar eNom.

In a blog post, published less than four hours after Google announced the change, Demand executive vice president Larry Fitzgibbon wrote:

As might be expected, a content library as diverse as ours saw some content go up and some go down in Google search results… It’s impossible to speculate how these or any changes made by Google impact any online business in the long term – but at this point in time, we haven’t seen a material net impact on our Content & Media business.

It remains to be seen if the changes will have any impact on traffic and revenue at Demand, which recently executed an IPO, but Fitzgibbon played down the company’s focus on search traffic.

Demand also measures success based on metrics such as direct navigation, repeat visits and traffic from social media, he wrote.