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UK domain chief awarded OBE

Kevin Murphy, December 31, 2010, Domain Registries

Lesley Cowley, chief executive of .uk registry Nominet, has been awarded the OBE in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List, the company has just announced.

She joins singer Annie Lennox, astronaut Piers Sellers, actor Burt Kwuok and hundreds of others in receiving the award this year.

For non-Brits, the OBE, short for Officer of the Order of the British Empire, is a fairly prestigious award dedicated to recognizing public service.

Cowley’s is “for services to the Internet and e.Commerce”.

Some sort of nod was inevitable, given Nominet’s key role in keeping the UK internet running, but I’m slightly surprised it has come so early in her career.

Don’t worry, you won’t have to call her “ma’am” if you see her at the next ICANN meeting, but she will be able to order new business cards with “OBE” after her name.

The full list of New Years Honours recipients can be downloaded from Direct.gov.uk.

Cops seize 1,800 domains in 2010

Kevin Murphy, December 27, 2010, Domain Policy

Nominet helped the UK’s Metropolitan Police seize 1,800 .uk domains during 2010, many of them just prior to Christmas, according to the Met.

The domains all allegedly hosted “bogus” sites that were “either fraudulent or advertising counterfeit goods which failed to materialise”, the Met said.

While a statement from the Police Central e-Crime Unit said it had worked with “registrars” to shut down the domains, it also credited Nominet a role:

The sites are run by organised criminal networks and thought to generate millions of pounds which can then be used to fund further illicit activity.

The preventative action was carried out in partnership with Nominet – the public body for UK domain name registrations – and involved a concentrated effort around the festive period; a time when we traditionally see an upsurge in this type of crime as fraudsters take advantage of the increased number of online consumers.

It’s not the first time the UK police, with Nominet’s aid, have swooped to shut down such domains.

In December 2009, a similar announcement from the PCeU, which said that 1,219 domains had been turned off, was greeted less than warmly by some.

Web hosting companies reportedly often ask for a court order before shutting down sites. When VeriSign helped US law enforcement seize 80+ domains in November, it did so subject to a court order.

It seems domains in the UK may not be subject to such judicial oversight.

Nominet chief executive Lesley Cowley, discussing the December 2009 seizures in a recent interview, would only tell me that the police had “instructed” Nominet to shut down the domains.

According to The Register’s coverage, Nominet used the lack of authentic Whois data as legal cover for those seizures.

But there is a new Nominet policy development process under way, initiated by the UK Serious and Organised Crime Agency, which seeks to amend the standard .uk registrant agreement to give a stronger contractual basis for seizing domains when they appear to break UK law.

Was this the first-ever .uk domain?

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2010, Domain Registries

Last night I attended a party, held by Nominet at the swanky Somerset House in London, celebrating 25 years of .uk.

During opening remarks, chief executive Lesley Cowley said that Nominet still hasn’t tracked down the first-ever registered .uk domain name. I reported on this for The Register a couple of weeks ago.

After doing a little digging, I think I may have a strong contender.

ucl.ac.uk

This is the domain for University College London. There are a few reasons to believe ucl.ac.uk could lay claim to be the “first” .uk domain.

It’s well known that the .uk namespace predates Nominet by over a decade. Before Nominet was formed, registrations were handled by a Naming Committee.

According to the Milton Mueller book “Ruling The Root“, and various other sources, the .uk top-level domain was originally delegated to UCL’s Andrew McDowell. This probably happened in 1984.

Digging through some old mailing list archives, I’ve found McDowell making references to running ucl.ac.uk and cambridge.ac.uk, albeit on a test basis, as early as June 1985.

The namedroppers mailing list back then was used by academics to test their newfangled domain name system, so it’s a good place to look for firsts. I’ve mentioned it before, in this blog’s inaugural post.

In one message sent to namedroppers on June 24, 1985, McDowell writes about running .uk, ucl.ac.uk and cambridge.ac.uk on his test-only name servers. The email was sent from a .arpa address.

On July 4, 1985, he sent his first email to the list from a ucl.ac.uk email address, which suggests that the domain was up and running at that time.

That’s 20 days before .uk was delegated, according to the official IANA record.

For this reason I think ucl.ac.uk may have a strong claim to be the first .uk domain.

However, it’s possible the reality may be rather less exciting (yes, even less exciting than something already not particularly exciting).

Anonymous Coward comments posted on The Register are perhaps not the most reliable source of information, but this guy seems to know what he’s talking about:

I believe .uk was the third top level domain to be established after .edu and .us. This predated dns and would have been in 1982 or 3.

.uk was run with a hosts.txt file and the first sub-domains being either ucl or mod.

dns came in in 85 or 86 and the first sub-domains in that were copied from the UK NRS from the X.25 world (ac.uk, co.uk and mod.uk) so there probably wasn’t a first dns sub-domain for uk.

This work was done by UCL CS and at least 2 people directly involved are still there.

If that is to be believed, it looks like there may have been a “first batch” of .uk names that were put into the DNS, rather than a single domain name.

However, given that UCL was managing the system at the time, I’d hazard a guess that ucl.ac.uk was probably the first to be used.

Nominet study reveals advertisers’ favorite TLDs

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2010, Domain Registries

Domains ending in .uk are more popular among advertisers in the UK than .com domains, but not massively so, according to research published today by Nominet, the .uk registry.

A study of 10,000 UK ads found that 65% of them contained a URL, and that 55% of those was a .uk, compared to 42% that were .com names.

I find that first number quite surprising – why are 35% of advertisers not doing something so simple and risk-free as including their domains in their ads? It doesn’t seem to make much sense.

The break-down between .uk and .com surprises me less. In my experience on both sides of the Atlantic, fewer Brits than Americans think of .com as a purely US-oriented TLD.

We share a language after all, and the pervasiveness of the phrase “dot-com” in the late 1990s saw many big British online brands, such as LastMinute.com, opt for generic domains.

Interestingly, Nominet also managed to uncover a correlation between how business-focussed a publication was and use of .com domains over .uk.

Computer Weekly, a trade publication, had .uk addresses in only 33% of its ads, while Computer Shopper, a consumer publication, had them 64% of the time.

At the two extremes, news weekly The Economist had .coms in 82% of its ads, while Auto Express ads were 80% .uk addresses. The average across all magazines was 60% in favor of .uk.

It’s the most comprehensive study of .com versus .uk I’ve read, containing far too many statistics to enumerate here, but it’s also a quick read. It can be downloaded here.

One-letter .uk domains coming December 1

Kevin Murphy, November 3, 2010, Domain Registries

Nominet will start taking applications for one and two-letter .co.uk domains next month, starting with a sunrise period for trademark holders.

The registry said 2,831 previously reserved names are being released under its phased process, which also extends to the .org.uk, .net.uk and .me.uk domains.

Nominet’s decision to hold a sunrise – actually it’s planning two – is quite unusual. Other TLDs that have released super-short domains usually carry out an RFP process first.

The first sunrise, for companies with “registered rights” ends January 17. The second sunrise, for those with “unregistered rights” will start at some point after that.

Domains will be auctioned in the event of competing successful applications, with the profits going to the Nominet Trust.

There’s still no firm date on the open-doors landrush phase, in which registrants without trademarks will be able to bid on the domains.

Nominet to release ultra-short .uk domains this year

Kevin Murphy, September 13, 2010, Domain Registries

Nominet, the .uk registry, today outlined its plan to start releasing one and two-character .co.uk domains before the end of 2010.

The launch plan comprises two sunrise periods and a landrush. Contested applications in all three phases will be settled by an auction, with profits going to the Nominet Trust.

The first sunrise is for holders of UK-enforceable trademarks, when the mark was registered and in use in the UK before January 1, 2008. The second will allow holders of unregistered rights to participate.

The landrush will be open to all. Applications will be handled by approved .uk registrars.

Nominet said it plans to publish the launch timeline in more detail on November 1, but that the first sunrise will open before the end of the year.

The list of names to be released is published here (pdf). It includes all 10 digits and all 26 letters of the alphabet under .co.uk, .net.uk, .org.uk and .me.uk, with the exception of u.net.uk, which is already registered.

The vast majority of two-character combinations will also be released under all four of these 2LDs, with the exception of a handful of old registrations such as bt.co.uk and existing 3LD namespaces such as ac.net.uk.

Domains matching existing two-letter country-code TLDs do not appear to be exempt.

Free entry to the .uk iPad prize giveaway

Kevin Murphy, August 2, 2010, Domain Registries

Nominet is giving away eight iPads and dozens of iTunes vouchers to new .uk domain name registrants, but you can enter the prize draw for free if you know where to look.

The promotion starts today and runs until September 27. Every week, the company will give away one iPad. Every day, a £25 iTunes voucher will be up for grabs.

The promotion is being offered via participating .uk registrars, as well as by Nominet itself.

Without delving into the terms and conditions, you’d be forgiven for thinking you have to register a domain name to enter the draw.

Not so. Under UK law, companies have to offer no-purchase-necessary alternatives when they run competitions like this, and Nominet is no exception.

If you live in the UK, you can enter here for free.

It looks like you’ll have to enter every week to be eligible for all eight prize draws.

UK domains get government oversight

With the passing of the Digital Economy Bill last night, the UK government has created powers to oversee Nominet, the .uk registry manager, as well as any new gTLD that is “UK-related”.

The Bill would allow the government to replace a registry if, in its opinion, the registry’s activities tarnish the reputation or availability of UK internet services.

It also allows the minister to apply to a court to alter the constitution of a registry such as Nominet.

The legislation was created in response to concerns that the registry could be captured by domainers, following a turbulent few years within Nominet’s leadership.

Nominet has since modified its constitution to make this unlikely, and is now of the position that the government will have no need to exercise its new powers.

The Bill does not name Nominet specifically, but rather any domain registry that is “UK-related”.

An internet domain is “UK-related” if, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, the last element of its name is likely to cause users of the internet, or a class of such users, to believe that the domain and its sub-domains are connected with the United Kingdom or a part of the United Kingdom.”

This almost certainly captures the proposed .eng, .scot and .cym gTLDs, which want to represent the English, Scots and Welsh in ICANN’s next new gTLD round.

Nominet seeks new chair

Kevin Murphy, March 30, 2010, Domain Registries

Bob Gilbert has stepped aside as chairman of .uk registry Nominet, to be replaced temporarily by deputy chair Gordon Dick.

The news comes as Nominet seeks to draw a line under a tumultuous few years that have seen the non-profit company attempt to fight off domainers on the one hand and a power grab by the UK government on the other.

These efforts have been hit and miss.

While Nominet has successfully reformed its corporate governance to make it less vulnerable to capture by special interests, the government will still shortly enact the Digital Economy Bill, which gives the business secretary unprecedented reserve powers to appoint a new .uk registry manager.

“Having successfully updated Nominet’s constitution, a time consuming exercise for all involved, it is now time for the company to move into its next phase of development under new leadership,” Gilbert, who joined Nominet in 2005, said in a statement.

UDRP claim pits .me against .me.uk

Kevin Murphy, March 29, 2010, Domain Policy

The owner of GuestList.me.uk has filed a UDRP claim against the registrant of GuestList.me.

As far as I can tell, this is the first UDRP case to directly pit a company built on a .me.uk brand against the registrant of the .me equivalent.

GuestList.me.uk is a London, UK-based nightclub promotions site that has been using its domain since 2003.

GuestList.me, which does not currently resolve, was registered through LCM.com’s privacy service on July 18, 2008, during the first 24 hours of .me general availability.

Given that LCM is a UK-based registrar, it seems plausible that GuestList.me’s registrant is also British.

It will be interesting to see which way this decision goes. There’s plenty of opportunity for precedent.