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TLDH expects gTLD auctions in second half of 2013

Kevin Murphy, November 2, 2012, Domain Registries

While some new gTLD portfolio applicants are trying to get their contention sets resolved as quickly as possible, Top Level Domain Holdings reckons auctions won’t happen until the second half of 2013.

In a trading update this week, the company also said that it expects to start seeing revenue from its first successful new gTLD applications next year, with contested bids producing revenue in 2014.

TLDH said in a statement:

Provided that the ICANN proposed timetable is broadly adhered to, the Board of TLDH believes that a number of the Group’s 17 uncontested gTLD applications on its own behalf and the 5 uncontested client gTLD applications are likely to be revenue producing in 2013, with the balance becoming so in the first half of 2014. TLDH has commenced discussions with the leading worldwide registrars, premium name specialists, and secondary market platforms for distribution of these gTLD names.

TLDH is also working with other gTLD applicant groups to define formats for private auctions and other name resolution arrangements in respect of the contested names that TLDH has applied for. The Board expects that these auctions are likely to happen in the second half of 2013.

As we reported last week, fellow portfolio applicant Donuts approached competing applicants at the Toronto ICANN meeting last month with a proposal for running private auctions in early 2013.

The idea was not warmly received by many, we hear, and TLDH evidently does not agree.

The company also revealed this week that it plans to move its headquarters to Dublin, Ireland, and expects to start hiring more staff and directors in the near future.

Clark Landry, who has been a non-executive director of TLDH for several years, has left the board, TLDH announced.

Caspar von Veltheim, who has been managing some of TLDH’s geographic gTLD bids in Europe, has joined the board as an executive director, the company added.

New gTLD hopefuls set aggressive targets for ICANN

Kevin Murphy, August 22, 2012, Domain Registries

ICANN should start delegating new gTLDs in the first quarter of next year as previously planned and the Governmental Advisory Committee should work faster.

That’s according to many new gTLD applicants dropping their ideas into ICANN’s apparently semi-official comment box on application “metering” over the last week or so.

ICANN wanted to know how it should queue up applications for eventual delegation, in the wake of the death of batching and digital archery.

According to information released over the past couple of weeks, it currently plans to release the results of Initial Evaluation on all 1,924 still-active applications around June or July next year, leading to the first new gTLDs going live in perhaps August.

But that’s not good enough for many applicants. Having successfully killed off batching, their goal now is to compress the single remaining batch into as short a span as possible.

The New TLD Applicant Group, a new observer group recognized by ICANN’s Registry Stakeholder Group, submitted lengthy comments.

NTAG wants Initial Evaluation on all applications done by January 2013, and for ICANN to publish the results as they trickle in rather than in one batch at the end.

The suggested deadline is based on ICANN’s recent statement that its evaluators’ processing powers could eventually ramp up to 300 applications per month. NTAG said in its comments:

Notwithstanding ICANN’s statements to the contrary, there is not a consensus within the group that initial evaluation results should be held back until all evaluations are complete; in fact, many applicants believe that initial evaluation results should be released as they become available.

That view is not universally supported. Brand-centric consultancy Fairwinds and a couple of its clients submitted comments expressing support for the publication of all Initial Evaluation results at once.

January 2013 is an extremely aggressive deadline.

Under the batching-based schedule laid out in the Applicant Guidebook, 1,924 applications would take more like 20 months, not seven, to pass through Initial Evaluation.

NTAG could not find consensus on methods for sequencing applications among its members. Separate submissions from big portfolio applicants including Donuts, Uniregistry, TLDH and Google and smaller, single-bid applicants gave some ideas, however.

Donuts, for example, hasn’t given up on a game-based solution to the sequencing problem – including, really, Rock Paper Scissors – though it seems to favor a system based on timestamping.

The company is among a few to suggest that applications could be prioritized using the least-significant digits of the timestamp they received when they were submitted to ICANN.

An application filed at 15:01:01 would therefore beat an application submitted at 14:02:02, for example.

This idea has been out there for a while, though little discussed. I have to wonder if any applicants timed their submissions accordingly, just in case.

Comments submitted by TLDH, Google and others offer a selection of methods for sequencing bids which includes timestamping as well alphabetical sorting based on the hash value of the applications.

This proposal also supports a “bucketing” approach that would give more or less equal weight to five different types of application – brand, geographic, portfolio, etc.

Uniregistry, uniquely I think, reckons it’s time to get back to random selection, which ICANN abandoned due to California lottery laws. The company said in its comments:

Random selection of applications for review should not present legal issues now, after the application window has closed. While the window was still open, random selection for batches would have given applicants an incentive to file multiple redundant applications, withdrawing all but the application that placed earliest in the random queue and creating a kind of lottery for early slots. Now that no one can file an additional application, that lottery problem is gone.

Given that the comment was drafted by a California lawyer, I can’t help but wonder whether Uniregistry might be onto something.

Many applicants are also asking the GAC to pull its socks up and work on its objections faster.

The GAC currently thinks it can file its official GAC Advice on New gTLDs in about April next year, which doesn’t fit nicely with the January 2013 evaluation deadline some are now demanding.

ICANN should urge the GAC to hold a special inter-sessional meeting to square away its objections some time between Toronto in October and Beijing in April, some commenters say.

ICANN received dozens of responses to its call for comments, and this post only touches on a few themes. A more comprehensive review will be posted on DI PRO tomorrow.

DotGreen lobbies the GAC for support in .green fight

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2012, Domain Registries

The DotGreen Community has asked ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee for backing in the four-way fight for the .green generic top-level domain.

In a letter to the GAC, copied to ICANN’s board and published today, DotGreen does everything but ask outright for the GAC to object to its three competitors’ .green applications.

In it, Annalisa Roger, CEO of the not-for-profit company, makes a passionate case that .green should be operated by a company that has a genuine connection to and affinity with the environmental movement.

She heavily implies that the GAC should object to the other applicants.

Without deliberate decision or intervention, the .green TLD may be won at ICANN Auction to join enmass with a slew of portfolio TLDs, blending into one of the many industry portfolios, a common business model ICANN’s new gTLD program has spawned.

Those like you who are in a position to object, evaluate, or delegate should consider the obvious relationship of .GREEN with the Green Community, and the global Green Movement which represents net social benefits to include all people, their natural and synthetic environments, the economic systems they construct (such as Green Business Models), and conditions for future generations of life who stand to be affected by the choices we make, the policies we implement, and the projects we fund and allow to be born today.

The other .green applicants are Top Level Domain Holdings, Afilias, and a Demand Media subsidiary. Unlike DotGreen, they’re all portfolio gTLD applicants.

Roger says these companies are basically out to sell as many domains as possible and don’t have the same commitment to the environmental movement as DotGreen.

Despite the name and a great deal of support from green organizations, DotGreen did not file a “community” application, so the only way it can avoid auction is by persuading the other applicants to drop their bids, or by having them all eliminated by objections.

Asking the GAC to object is probably the cheapest way to do this.

While the GAC has made its interest in gTLDs with obvious regulatory implications — such as .bank — abundantly clear, I understand conversations have also started about strings with more tangential relationships to public policy, such as .food.

It’s not inconceivable that .green could fall into that category, though I don’t think it’s an easy sell.

TLDH posts six-month loss

Top Level Domain Holdings has posted a loss of $2.2 million in its latest interim financial report.

The company, which is one of the largest new gTLD applicants, saw a loss of £1.4 million ($2.2m) for the six months ended April 30, on revenue that was up from £26,000 to £136,000 ($213,000).

Given that TLDH’s game plan is to make money selling domain names in many of the 92 new gTLDs it hopes to have an interest in, its profitability runway is still dependent to a large extent on ICANN’s schedule.

The revenue in its latest period came mostly from consulting services.

On the up side, the company’s balance sheet is looking much better; it had an extra £10.7 million ($16.8m) in receivables on its books as of April 30 (which appears to be its “investment” in ICANN application fees), as well as £4.3 million ($6.7m) cash.

Its interim report can be read in PDF format here.

Is digital archery bugged too?

Kevin Murphy, June 11, 2012, Domain Tech

ICANN’s digital archery system, which will be used to decide the fates of many new gTLD applicants, may have a bug, according to one applicant.

In a must-read post over on CircleID, Top Level Domain Holdings CEO Antony Van Couvering presents some intriguing evidence that ICANN’s system may be mis-recording timestamps.

Van Couvering hypothesizes that that when applicants’ clicks are recorded before their target time, the software records “the wrong seconds value, but with the right milliseconds value”.

He’s asked ICANN to look into the issue, and has added his voice to those clamoring for gTLD batching to be scrapped entirely.

With so many applicants using custom software to fire their arrows, millisecond differences will be hugely important.

However, as Van Couvering notes, ICANN does not plan to reveal applicants’ scores until July 11, so it’s impossible to tell if this alleged “bug” in the test suite is replicated in the live firing range.

The digital archery system uses the now-notoriously flawed TLD Application System.

JUNE 12 UPDATE:

In a follow-up post, Van Couvering reports, based on a conversation with ICANN, that the “bug” was indeed present, but that it was in the presentation layer, rather than the underlying database.

In other words, it was cosmetic and unlikely to influence the outcome of the batching process.

Schilling applies for “scores” of new gTLDs

Domaining icon Frank Schilling’s new venture, Uniregistry, has applied for “scores” of new generic top-level domains, “most” of which he expects to be contested.

Schilling won’t say exactly how many or which strings Uniregistry is pursuing, but he did reveal that while he is not going for .web, he will be in contention with Google for .lol.

“It’s closer to TLDH than Donuts,” Schilling told DI in an interview this evening, referring to the announcements of Top Level Domain Holdings’ 68 and Donuts’ 307 applications.

I’m guessing it’s around the 40 to 50 mark.

Despite the portfolio and Schilling’s history in domain investing, Uniregistry isn’t what you might call a “domainer” play.

The company doesn’t plan on keeping whole swathes of premium real estate for itself or for auction, Schilling said. Nor does it intend to rip off trademark owners.

“We’ve seen good TLDs fail with bad business plans,” he said, pointing to premium-priced .tv as an example. “You need to allow other people to profit, to evangelize your space.”

“I’m not going to get as rich from this as some of our registrants,” he said.

Uniregistry only plans to hold back a “handful” of premium names, Schilling said. The rest will be available on a first-come, first-served basis.

To avoid creating wastelands of parked domains, the company plans to deploy technical countermeasures to prevent too many domains falling into too few hands.

“The way we’re going stage the landrush it will be very difficult to game it,” he said. “There’ll be significant rate limiting, so you can’t come and take 500 domains in ten milliseconds.”

“What we want to avoid is someone going in and getting 100,000 of the best ones on day one. It’s not fair, and it’s unhealthy for the space.”

Schilling is one of the industry’s most successful domainers. His company, Name Administration, is one of the largest single owners of second-level domain names.

Now Schilling says he’s brought his considerable experience as a domain name registrant Uniregistry’s business model and policies.

The company’s message is that it’s “registrant-centered”.

While that sounds like an easy, glib marketing statement, Schilling is backing it up with some interesting policies.

He’s thinking about a much closer relationship between the registry and the registrant that you’d see in the .com space.

When a second-level domain in a Uniregistry gTLD expires, registrants will get 180 days to claim it back from the registry, possibly even circumventing the registrar.

Uniregistry will even directly alert the registrant that their name is going to expire, a policy that Schilling said has been modeled in part on what Nominet does in the .uk space.

“Registrants have the ability to go to the registry to manage their .co.uk, to transfer the domain, to change certain pieces of information,” he said.

The 180-day policy is designed in part to prevent registrars harvesting their customers most valuable domains when they forget to renew them.

Rogue registrars and registrars competing against their own customers are things that evidently irk Schilling.

“I prefer a system that protects registrants,” he said.

But existing registrars are still the company’s proposed primary channel to market, he said. Uniregistry plans to price its domains in such a way as to give registrars a 50% margin.

“I think there’s enough margin in these strings for registrars to make a great living,” Schilling said.

Schilling hasn’t ruled out an in-house pocket registrar, but said it wouldn’t be created to undercut the regular channel.

The company has hired Internet Systems Consortium, maker of BIND and operator of the F-Root, as its back-end registry provider.

Judging by Uniregistry’s web site, which carries photos of many ISC staff, it’s an unusually close relationship.

I’ll have more on Uniregistry’s plans for Whois and trademark protection in a post later.

Third .app gTLD applicant revealed

A Ukrainian software developer has become the third company to publicly reveal that it has applied for the .app top-level domain.

MacPaw’s main business is developing software for Apple platforms, as the name suggests. It’s formed a new company, Dot App Inc, based in California, to manage the gTLD bid.

The application imagines a very pro-developer space. Domainers, it appears, will not be welcome.

Some policies from its web site:

– Only application developers or publishers will be able to register domain names in this zone

– Misused domains will be analyzed and repurposed if found to violate the Registration policy

– No need to pay a small fortune for a great but squatted .com or .net domain.

– The rights of app creators will be protected in the same way trademark rights are

Top Level Domain Holdings and Directi both last week announced plays for .app among their large portfolios of gTLD applications.

More applicants will no doubt be revealed next week.

TLDH applies for 92 gTLDs, 68 for itself

Top Level Domain Holdings is involved in a grand total of 92 new generic top-level domain applications, many of them already known to be contested.

Sixty-eight applications are being filed on its own behalf, six have been submitted via joint ventures, and 18 more have been submitted on behalf of Minds + Machines clients.

Here’s the list of its own applications:

.abogado (Spanish for .lawyer), .app, .art, .baby, .beauty, .beer, .blog, .book, .casa (Spanish for .home), .cloud, .cooking, .country, .coupon, .cpa, .cricket, .data, .dds, .deals, .design, .dog, .eco, .fashion, .fishing, .fit, .flowers, .free, .garden, .gay, .green, .guide, .home, .horse, .hotel, .immo, .inc, .latino, .law, .lawyer, .llc, .love, .luxe, .pizza, .property, .realestate, .restaurant, .review, .rodeo, .roma, .sale, .school, .science, .site, .soccer, .spa, .store, .style, .surf, .tech, .video, .vip, .vodka, .website, .wedding, .work, .yoga, .zulu, 网址 (.site in Chinese), 购物 (.shopping in Chinese).

There’s a lot to note in that list.

First, it’s interesting to see that TLDH is hedging its bets on the environmental front, applying for both .eco (which we’ve known about for years) and .green.

This puts it into contention with the longstanding Neustar-backed DotGreen bid, and possibly others we don’t yet know about, which should make for some interesting negotiations.

Also, both of TLDH’s previously announced Indian city gTLDs, .mumbai and .bangaluru, seem to have fallen through, as suspected.

Other contention sets TLDH is now confirmed to be involved in include: .blog, .site, .immo, .hotel, .home, .casa, .love, .law, .cloud, .baby, .art, .gay, .style and .store.

The company said in a statement:

During the next six months, TLDH will focus its efforts on marketing and operations for geographic names such as dot London and dot Bayern where it has the exclusive support of the relevant governing authority, as well as any other gTLDs that TLDH has filed for that are confirmed to be uncontested on the Reveal Date. Discussions with other applicants regarding contested names will be handled on a case-by-case basis.

TLDH signs another city gTLD – .budapest

Top Level Domain Holdings has been backed by the city of Budapest as the official applicant for the .budapest generic top-level domain.

If the application is approved, TLDH subsidiary Minds + Machines will run the back-end registry and the city will receive a share of the revenue.

TLDH has previously announced deals with local governments for .london, .bayern (Bavaria), .miami and .nrw (North-Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state).

The company does not list its two announced Indian city gTLD bids – .mumbai (for which city approval may have been withdrawn) and .bangaluru (which appears to be a typo) — on its web site, but a spokesperson indicated that they’re both still active applications.

TLDH also seems to be confirming on its web site that it is in fact applying for .horse, an application I’d long suspected was nothing more than a red herring. Guess I was wrong.

Budapest is of course Hungary’s capital city. Wikipedia says it has about 1.74 million inhabitants, making it Europe’s seventh-largest city.

Rugby board tries for .rugby with TLDH

Kevin Murphy, April 23, 2012, Domain Registries

The International Rugby Board has applied to ICANN for the generic top-level domain .rugby with Top Level Domain Holdings, the IRB announced today.

It appears to be a defensive as well as offensive move, judging by the press release.

It’s about “protecting and promoting Rugby’s values and ethos” and ensuring .rugby “resides within the sport”, according to IRB chairman Bernard Lapasset.

The application will be filed in partnership with TLDH, as well as a new company called ROAR Domains, which appears to be a part of a Kiwi sports marketing agency.

If the bid is successful, TLDH subsidiary Minds + Machines will provide the registry back-end.

The IRB is the international body for rugby associations which organizes the Rugby World Cup.

There are already a few .sport bids, and the Australian Football League has applied for a .afl dot-brand, but I think .rugby may be the first sport-specific gTLD application to be announced.