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.wedding and .green gTLD auctions raise millions

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2014, Domain Registries

Two more new gTLDs — .wedding and .green — have been auctioned off, with proceeds amounting to millions of dollars.

Top Level Domain Holdings said in a press release that it won .wedding and lost .green, which cost it a net $2.23 million.

That’s the amount it paid for .wedding, minus its share of the .green winning bid and its ICANN refund for withdrawing its .green application.

I don’t think we can infer the exact sale price of .wedding from that, other than to say that it was definitely over $2.2 million.

TLDH did not say who won the .green auction. The only other remaining applicants, after Dot Green’s withdrawal last year, were Rightside and Afilias. Neither has withdrawn their applications yet.

In the .wedding auction, conducted by Applicant Auction, it beat rival portfolio applicants Donuts and What Box?

TLDH raises $33.6m to fight new gTLD auctions

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2014, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has raised £21 million with an institutional investor share placement to help it win some new gTLD contention set auctions.

Its total war chest following the $33.6 million-ish placement will be about $63 million, albeit with $15 million of that earmarked for a single, as-yet-unspecified auction.

The company is currently in 43 contention sets, most of which it apparently wants to resolve via private auction. TLDH said in a statement:

The Company believes private auctions provide a significant opportunity for the Company both to increase the number of high-value gTLDs within its portfolio and to generate cash from those gTLDs which it chooses to relinquish. Under the private auction process, the winning bid is divided equally and paid to the losing applicants net of the auctioneer’s fees.

As part of TLDH’s transition from a revenue-free penny stock to a trading company, it’s going to change its name to Minds + Machines Limited, via a reverse takeover of its subsidiary of the same name.

The company said the move will help with “stakeholder communications and branding”.

Finally, TLDH said that founding director Guy Elliott is to leave its board of directors and be replaced by new non-executive director Elliot Noss. Noss is of course CEO of rival registry/registrar Tucows.

TLDH opens up list of 70,000 premium names for all new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2014, Domain Services

Top Level Domain Holdings has ramped up its new gTLD pre-registration effort with a new database service that enables registries to automatically collate and price their premium names.

The new OpenDB.co service builds on the Online Priority Enhanced Names system we reported on during the ICANN meeting in Buenos Aires a couple months ago.

TLDH chairman Fred Krueger told DI today that new gTLD registry operators will be able to automatically generate a list of up to 70,000 premium names — with associated prices — for their TLD(s).

It works using a proprietary taxonomy of strings in 500 categories, put together by about 30 people working for TLDH, and baseline .com pricing estimates calculated by various online tools such as Estibot.

If you’re the registry for .web, for example, you might decide that all premium .web domains are worth 50% of the .com price, and you could create your premium names list accordingly with just a few clicks.

But if you’re the registry for a narrower, niche gTLD, you might want to assign values by category, subcategory or individual name.

If you’re .poker, you might decide that names in the OpenDB “gambling” category are worth 300% of .com, due to the affinity between the TLD and the second level, and that “sports” names are worth 50%, but everything else is worth just 1% of the corresponding .com name.

A possible drawback of the system might be that the algorithmic .com price estimates underlying it are just that — estimates, based on factors such as Google search volume and Adwords cost-per-click.

Online tools that do this kind of price estimation are quite often criticized or mocked for under- or over-pricing names in existing TLDs.

Another drawback might be that while 70,000 is certainly a lot of strings, it might not dive deeply enough into the potential premium pool for very niche gTLDs.

If the service catches on, I expect it will wind up competing with consultancies that offer expertise-based pricing, such as Right Of The Dot, and brokerage platforms such as Sedo.

So far only PeopleBrowsr (.ceo, .best) has openly committed to use the system.

TLDH says that it will start offering any names in OpenDB via its affiliated Minds + Machines registrar, with a 20% markup.

There’s also an OpenDB API that registrars can use to add these premium names to their own storefronts, Krueger said.

Seven registrars sign up to M+M pre-reg platform

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2013, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has signed up 12 registrars to sell its forthcoming gTLDs, seven of which are to also use its recently announced OPEN pre-registration platform.

While TLDH is operating vertically integrated registrar/registrar business, Minds + Machines it’s also built a pre-registration service that it wants other, higher-profile registrars to access.

OPEN, for Online Priority Enhanced Names, allows pre-registrations to be purchased on a more-or-less buy-it-now basis. Names blocked or claimed in Sunrise will be refunded.

The company also said in a market update today that 12 registrars have signed Registry-Registrar Agreements, and that it expects it first new gTLDs to launch in the first quarter 2014.

TLDH ditches .roma bid after GAC trouble

Kevin Murphy, December 6, 2013, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings has withdrawn its bid for the .roma gTLD, after apparently running afoul of the Italian government.

The gTLD was to represent the city of Rome, but Italy issued the company with an Early Warning (pdf) a year ago saying the company had “No involvement or support from the local authorities” and should withdraw.

TLDH disputed this, saying in November 2012:

In fact the Company had engaged extensively with the relevant local authority and will provide supporting documentation to the Italian GAC member. Once this evidence has been submitted, the Directors believe that the objection will be withdrawn.

The warning did not escalate to full-blown Governmental Advisory Committee advice, but .roma nevertheless failed Initial Evaluation (pdf) due to the lack of documented government support with its application.

The bid was eligible for Extended Evaluation, but it seems that TLDH was unable to get the required level of support or non-objection from Italy to allow the bid to pass.

It’s the second of TLDH’s applications to get killed off by a GAC member. It withdrew its non-geo application for .spa as soon as Belgium started making noises about its own city of Spa.

The company also ditched plans to apply for .mumbai in 2011 due to confusion about whether the city’s government actually supported it or not.

TLDH reveals new gTLD launch strategy

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2013, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings will announce its go-to-market strategy — including .tv-style premium names pricing and its launch as a registrar — at an event at ICANN 48 in Buenos Aires this evening.

The company, which is involved in 60 new gTLD applications as applicant and 75 as a back-end provider, is also revealing a novel pre-registration clearinghouse that will be open to almost all applicants.

First off, it’s launching Minds + Machines Registrar, an affiliated registrar through which it will sell domain names in its own and third-party TLDs.

Instead of a regular name suggestion tool, it’s got a browsable directory of available names, something that I don’t recall seeing at a registrar before.

Searching “murphy.casa”, I was offered lots of other available domains in the “English Surnames” category, for example.

Until TLDH actually has some live gTLDs, the site will be used to take paid-for pre-registrations, or “Priority Reservations” using a new service that TLDH is calling the Online Priority Enhanced Names database, which painfully forces the acronym “OPEN”.

Pre-registrations in .casa, .horse and .cooking will cost €29.95 ($40), the same as the expected regular annual reg fee. It’s first-come first-served — no auctions — and the fee covers the first year of registration.

If the name they pay for is claimed by a trademark holder during the mandatory Sunrise period, or is on the gTLD’s collisions block-list, registrants get a full refund, TLDH CEO Antony Van Couvering said.

He added that any applicant for a new gTLD that is uncontested and has an open registration policy will be able to plug their gTLDs into the OPEN system.

PeopleBrowsr is already on the system with its uncontested .ceo and .best gTLDs, priced at $99.95.

No other registrars are signed up yet but Van Couvering reckons it might be attractive to registrars that have already taken large amounts of no-fee expressions of interest.

TLDH plans to charge registries and registrars a €1 processing fee (each, so TLDH gets €2) for each pre-registration that is sold through the system.

For “premium” names, the company has decided to adopt the old .tv model of charging high annual fees instead of a high initial fee followed by the standard renewal rate.

Van Couvering said a domain that might have been priced at $100,000 to buy outright might instead be sold for $10,000 a year.

“Because we want to encourage usage, we don’t want to charge a huge upfront fee,” he said. “We’d really like to make premium names available to people who will actually use them.”

Looking at the aforementioned English Surnames category on the new M+M site, I see that jackson.casa will cost somebody €5,179.95 a year, whereas nicholson.casa will cost the basic €29.95.

Two other new gTLDs, .menu and .build, have already revealed variable pricing strategies, albeit slightly different.

TLDH raises $5 million from gTLD auctions

Kevin Murphy, October 25, 2013, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings made almost $5 million by losing auctions for the .lawyer and .website gTLDs this week, according to the company.

The London-listed company told the markets today that it has added £2.97 million ($4.81 million) to its coffers as a result of the auctions, in which Radix won .website and Donuts won .lawyer.

The number is net of the 4% cut taken by Innovative, which conducted the auctions, and the two $65,000 refunds TLDH will receive from ICANN when it withdraws the applications.

Some portion of the $4.8 million TLDH will have received from Donuts, where .lawyer was a two-horse race.

Radix’s winning bid for .website will have been split evenly between TLDH and Donuts.

At least one of these TLDs seems to have sold for significantly more than the average private auction selling price, which was $1.33 million after the first 14 Innovative auctions.

Innovative has managed auctions for 18 strings, but we don’t know the total price of the latest four.

The .website and .lawyer deals means TLDH now has £10.1 million ($16.3 million) in cash reserves, according to a company press release.

It still has 43 contested applications, however. On a $16 million budget — quite a lot less than some of its portfolio rivals — the company is going to have to make some smart tactical moves to maximize its gTLD portfolio.

“Our strategy remains to best monetise those applications where we see least value so that we can maximise our ability to acquire those names in which we see greatest value,” chairman Fred Krueger said in the press release.

It still has stakes in 25 uncontested gTLDs.

NOTE: An earlier version of this story contained inaccurate statements — failing to take into account that .website was a three-way contest — about the average selling price of new gTLDs at auction.

Reconsideration is not an appeals process: ICANN delivers another blow to Amazon’s gTLD hopes

Kevin Murphy, October 15, 2013, Domain Policy

Amazon has lost its appeal of a ruling that says its applied-for new gTLD .通販 is “confusingly similar” to .shop, with ICANN ruling that its Reconsideration mechanism is not an appeals process.

The e-commerce giant lost a String Confusion Objection filed by .shop applicant Commercial Connect in August, with panelist Robert Nau ruling that the two strings were too confusing to co-exist.

That’s despite one of the strings being written in Latin script and the other Japanese. The ruling was based on the similarity of meaning: 通販 means “online shopping”.

Amazon immediately filed a Reconsideration Request with ICANN.

Days earlier, Akram Atallah, president of ICANN’s Generic Domains Division, had described this process as one of the “avenues for asking for reconsidering the decision”.

Atallah was less clear on whether Reconsideration was applicable to decisions made by third-party panels — the new gTLD program’s Applicant Guidebook contains conflicting guidance.

ICANN’s Board Governance Committee, which handles Reconsideration Requests, has now answered that question: you can ask for Reconsideration of a new gTLD objection ruling, but you’ll only win if you can prove that there was a process violation by the panel.

In its decision, the BGC stated:

Although Commercial Connect’s Objection was determined by a third-party DRSP, ICANN has determined that the Reconsideration process can properly be invoked for challenges of the third-party DRSP’s decisions where it can be stated that either the DRSP failed to follow the established policies or processes in reaching the decision, or that ICANN staff failed to follow its policies or processes in accepting that decision.

That’s moderately good news as a precedent for applicants wronged by objections, in theory. In practice, it’s likely to be of little use, and it was of no use to Amazon. The BGC said:

In the context of the New gTLD Program, the Reconsideration process does not call for the BGC to perform a substantive review of DRSP Panel decisions; Reconsideration is for the consideration of process- or policy-related complaints.

As there is no indication that either the ICDR or the Panel violated any policy or process in accepting and sustaining Commercial Connect’s Objection, this Request should not proceed. If Amazon thinks that it has somehow been treated unfairly in the process, and the Board (through the NGPC) adopts this Recommendation, Amazon is free to ask the Ombudsman to review this matter.

While the BGC declined to revisit the substance of the SCO, it did decide that it’s just fine for a panelist to focus purely on the meaning of the allegedly confusing strings, even if they’re wholly visually dissimilar.

The Panel’s focus on the meanings of the strings is consistent with the standard for evaluating string confusion objections. A likelihood of confusion can be established with any type of similarity, including similarity of meaning.

In other words, Nau’s over-cautious decision stands: .通販 and .shop will have to enter the same contention set.

That’s not great news for Amazon, which will probably have to pay Commercial Connect to go away at auction, but it’s also bad news for increasingly unhinged Commercial Connect, whose already slim chances of winning .shop are now even thinner.

Commercial Connect had also filed a Reconsideration Request around the same time as Amazon’s, using the .通販 precedent to challenge a much more sensible SCO decision, which ruled that .shop is not confusingly similar to .购物, Top Level Domain Holdings’ application for “.shopping” in Chinese.

The BGC ruled that the company had failed to adequately state a case for Reconsideration, meaning that this objection ruling also stands.

The big takeaway appears to be that the BGC reckons it’s okay for objection panels to deliver decisions that directly conflict with one another.

This raises, again, questions that have yet to be answered, such as: how do you form contention sets when one string has been ruled confusingly similar and also not confusingly similar to another?

TLDH has the end in sight, but no revenue

Kevin Murphy, September 30, 2013, Domain Registries

Top Level Domain Holdings made less than $12,000 in the first half of the year, but says its new gTLD business may start generating revenue in the fourth quarter.

In its interim financial results, published this morning, the company also revealed that it plans to launch its own domain name registrar and, via a partnership, web site building tools.

Revenue for the six months to June 30, which was almost all due to monetization of its second-level domains portfolio, was £7,000 ($11,295), compared to £346,000 ($558,000) a year earlier.

TLDH’s loss for the period grew to £1.8 million ($2.9 million) from £1.5 million ($2.4 million).

But in a lengthy statement chairman Fred Krueger assured investors that he is “confident” that the long process of getting TLDH’s applied-for gTLDs to market is drawing to a close.

Looking forward, I am confident that ICANN will broadly continue to sign contracts in line with the timelines we announced in July 2013, allowing .LONDON potentially to begin its launch and initial marketing as early as the first half of 2014. Given the recent signing of contract between .KIWI and ICANN, we may see our first revenues as a back-end registry operator as early as Q4 2013, and revenue from the sale of domain names from our first wholly-owned new gTLD by Q1 2014.

The company currently has interests in 25 uncontested gTLDs and has applied for 48 more, according to Krueger.

With more private and ICANN new gTLD auctions coming soon, TLDH has cash on hand of £7.4 million ($12 million).

Given the average selling price of a new gTLD is currently $1.3 million, there’s seems to be little chance of TLDH securing its entire portfolio of applied-for strings without additional funding.

Losing private auctions could be a way to generate cash to win more than the nine auctions that its $12 million implies, however.

Krueger also revealed TLDH’s revenue plans beyond its Minds + Machines registry services business.

As we enter into this final phase, we are pursuing other potential revenue-producing ventures by developing our own registrar, and, in cooperation with the website-building company Needly, providing a clean path for users to get a complete online solution – a web presence and email, as well as a domain name.

Krueger is also CEO of Needly, which makes a web content management platform.

Uniregistry wins .gift and AOL yanks .patch bid

Kevin Murphy, August 16, 2013, Domain Registries

Three more new gTLD applications were withdrawn today, only one of which was related to this week’s previously reported batch of private auctions.

First, Famous Four Media has pulled out of the .gift race with Uniregistry, presumably after some kind of deal. They were the only two applicants, meaning Uniregistry wins the contention set.

Potentially complicating matters, there are also two applicants for .gifts — if the plural/singular debate is reopened, which seems possible after today’s events, it might not be over yet.

Second, AOL withdrew its application for .patch, which was to be a single-registrant space for its Patch-branded network of local web sites.

This seems to be connected to cost-cutting at AOL.

Last week, the company fired Patch’s creative director in front of 1,000 colleagues and announced it was cutting the number of sites in the network.

Today, it started laying off almost half of Patch’s 1,100 employees, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Third, Top Level Domain Holdings withdrew from the .guide contention set, leaving Donuts the winner — a formality following this week’s Innovative Auctions auction, which it lost.