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ICANN expects to lose 750 registrars in the next year

ICANN is predicting that about 750 accredited registrars will close over the next 12 months due to the over-saturation of the drop-catching market.

ICANN VP Cyrus Namazi made the estimate while explaining ICANN’s fiscal 2018 budget, which is where the projection originated, at the organization’s public meeting in South Africa last week.

He said that ICANN ended its fiscal 2017 last week with 2,989 accredited registrars, but that ICANN expects to lose about 250 per quarter starting from October until this time next year.

These almost 3,000 registrars belong to about 400 registrar families, he said.

By my estimate, roughly two thirds of the registrars are shell accreditations under the ownership of just three companies — Web.com (Namejet and SnapNames), Pheenix, and TurnCommerce (DropCatch.com).

These companies lay out millions of dollars on accreditation fees in order to game ICANN rules and get more connections to registries — mainly Verisign’s .com.

More connections gives them a greater chance of quickly registering potentially valuable domains milliseconds after they are deleted. Drop-catching, in other words.

But Namazi indicated that ICANN’s cautious “best estimate” is that there’s not enough good stuff dropping to justify the number of accreditations these three companies own.

“With the model we have, I believe at the moment the total available market for these sought-after domains that these multifamily registrars are after is not able to withstand the thousands of accreditations that are there,” he said. “Each accreditation costs quite a bit of money.”

Having a registrar accreditation costs $4,000 a year, not including ICANN’s variable and transaction fees.

“We think the market has probably gone beyond what the available market is,” he said.

He cautioned that the situation was “fluid” and that ICANN was keeping an eye on it because these accreditations fees have become material to its budget in the last few years.

If the three drop-catchers do start dumping registrars, it would reveal an extremely short shelf life for their accreditations.

Pheenix upped its registrar count by 300 and DropCatch added 500 to its already huge stable as recently as December 2016.

Web.com in takeover talks – report

Web.com is in talks to be acquired by private equity firms, according to a report.

Reuters reported last night that the registrar said the talks were “early stage” and that there was no guarantee of a deal.

Web.com is of course home to Network Solutions, Register.com and is involved in secondary market plays SnapNames and NameJet.

The company had 2016 revenue of $710 million and a market capitalization prior to the report of $1.1 billion. Its shares surged on the news.

Nigger.com returned to NAACP after expiration prompts $10,000 auction

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2017, Gossip

US civil rights group the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has reclaimed the domain name nigger.com after it expired and went to auction.

The names nigger.org and nigger.net were also affected, but according to Whois records the NAACP restored all three yesterday.

The names had been in pending renewal/delete status for three weeks, during which time the registrant was listed as Perfect Privacy, Web.com’s proxy/privacy provider.

While expired, the .com had been placed (presumably automatically) in a NameJet auction, as first reported by Raymond Hackney at The Domains.

At time of writing, the auction had attracted 72 bids and a high offer of $10,000.

It was a “Wish List Auction”, indicating that the domain’s prior registrant had not yet exhausted all options to have the name restored.

As Hackney noted, if these domains fell into the wrong hands it could have a negative impact on race relations in the US.

But the NAACP, which first got hold of the domains almost 20 years ago, seems to have had a remarkably lackadaisical attitude to them over the last few years.

Not only did it accidentally allow the names to expire, but DomainTools and Archive.org captures show that the associated web sites had been compromised repeatedly since late 2014.

Every capture since late 2014 shows taunting, racist messages from the hackers, at least one of which associated himself with troll group the “Gay Nigger Association of America”.

Web.com policy exec moves to ICANN

Kevin Murphy, July 14, 2016, Domain Policy

Domain industry veteran Jennifer Gore is to become ICANN’s new director of registrar relations.

She takes over the role from Mike Zupke, who I gather is leaving ICANN, from next Monday. She will report to Cyrus Namazi in ICANN’s Global Domains Division.

Gore was most recently senior director of policy at Web.com, a role she held for over five years. Much of her earlier career was spent at Network Solutions and Verisign.

Her move from industry to ICANN means she has had to resign her position on the GNSO Council, where she represented the Registrars Stakeholder Group.

The RrSG will now have to hold an election to find her replacement.

Web.com acquires dozens of registrars from Rightside

Kevin Murphy, May 11, 2016, Domain Services

Web.com has acquired dozens of registrars from rival/partner Rightside, seemingly to boost the success rate of its SnapNames domain drop-catching business.

I’ve established that at least 44 registrars once managed by Rightside/eNom have moved to the Web.com stable in recent weeks, and that might not even be the half of it.

All of the registrars in question are shell companies used exclusively to register pre-ordered names as they are deleted by registries, usually Verisign.

The more registrars you have, the more EPP connections you have to the Verisign registry and the better your chance at catching a domain.

Web.com runs SnapNames, and is in a 50-50 partnership with Rightside on rival drop-catcher NameJet.

The two compete primarily with NameBright’s DropCatch.com, which obtained hundreds of fresh ICANN accreditations last year, bringing its total pool to over 750.

Web.com has fewer than 400 accreditations right now. Rightside has even fewer.

It’s usually quicker to buy a registrar than to obtain a new accreditation from ICANN.

If Web.com finds itself in need of more accreditations in order to compete, and Rightside is happy to let them go, it could be possible to infer that SnapNames is doing rather better in terms of customer acquisition than NameJet.

But the two services recently announced a partnership under which names grabbed by either network would be placed in an auction in which customers of either site could participate.

This would have the effect of increasing the number of caught names going to auction due to there being multiple bidders, and thus the eventual sales prices.

Web.com just gave itself another reason to bid high for .web gTLD

Kevin Murphy, November 9, 2015, Domain Registrars

Registrar group Web.com is changing its stock market ticker symbol to WEB tomorrow, in another sign that it really, really wants to be identified with the string.

The switch from WWWW may indicate that the NASDAQ-listed company’s six rivals for the new gTLD .web have a fight — and a possible big payday — on their hands when .web finally goes to auction.

Web.com is competing with Nu Dot Co, Radix, Google, Donuts, Afilias and Schlund for the gTLD.

The company has already fiercely defended its “right” to .web, filing successful String Confusion Objections against .webs applicant Vistaprint.

Vistaprint subsequently filed an ICANN Independent Review Process complaint to appeal its SCO loss.

Last month, the IRP was won by ICANN, but the panel left the door open for ICANN to reconsider its decision.

The .web auction is not likely to go ahead until the Vistaprint issue is resolved.

If ICANN decides the two strings can be delegated separately, what I think is the last barrier to the .web auction going ahead disappears.

If not, then Vistaprint finds itself as the seventh contender in the auction, which may give it the impetus to carry on challenging the ruling.

ICANN’s board plans to discuss the issue at its next meeting, December 10.

Which way it leans will give an indication of how long it will be before .web goes to auction.

Credit card hack cost Web.com millions

Kevin Murphy, October 30, 2015, Domain Registrars

Web.com is taking a $1 million per-quarter hit to its revenue as a result of August’s hacking attack.

It also incurred $400,000 in consulting, legal and credit monitoring fees in the third quarter as a result of the breach, CEO David Brown told analysts last night.

Some 93,000 credit card numbers were stolen during the attack, a small portion of its 3.3 million customers.

A number of customers jumped ship as a result of the attack, moving their domains elsewhere, which increased Web.com’s churn rate.

“Due to the subscription nature of our business, in the fourth and subsequent quarters we expect the breach will have about a $1 million negative impact on revenue per quarter due to the shortfall from Q3,” Brown said.

It added 15,000 customers in the quarter, lower than the 21,000 it added in Q2.

Net income for the quarter was $6.1 million, reversing a $3.4 million loss in the year-ago period, on revenue that was basically flat at $136.8 million, compared to $137.4 million a year ago.

In response to an analyst question, Brown also commented on the success, or lack thereof, of the company’s new gTLD business. He said:

That continues to be positive, but we’re not doing back-flips here. It’s not that positive. We think it’s good for the market, good for consumers and businesses to have more choices. But they’re not flying off the table. .com and .net and the original extensions still are the force in the marketplace. But as we see more gTLDs and as the market understands them and see the opportunity, we continue to believe that this will be a positive trend. But at this point, it’s not moving the needle in our business or likely in anyone’s business.

Web.com owns registrars including Network Solutions and Register.com.

ICANN win leaves door open for plural gTLD rethink

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2015, Domain Policy

ICANN has fought off an appeal by .webs gTLD applicant Vistaprint, in a case that considered the coexistence of singular and plural gTLDs.

While ICANN definitively won the Independent Review Process case, the IRP panel nevertheless invited its board of directors to consider whether Vistaprint should be given a chance to appeal a decision that ruled .webs too similar to .web.

Vistaprint runs a web site building service called Webs.com. It filed two applications for .webs — one “community” flavored, one vanilla — but then found itself on the losing end of a String Confusion Objection filed by rival Web.com, one of the many .web applicants.

It was one of the few instances where a SCO panel decided that a plural string was too confusingly similar to its singular for the two to coexist.

In many other cases, such as .auto(s), .fan(s) and .gift(s), the two strings have been allowed to be delegated.

Not wanting to have to fight for .webs at auction against eight .web applicants — which would likely cost eight figures to win — Vistaprint filed a Request for Reconsideration (which failed), followed by an last-ditch IRP complaint.

But its three-person IRP panel ruled on Friday (pdf) that ICANN did not violate its bylaws by accepting the SCO decision and subsequently rejecting the RfR.

However, the panel handed Vistaprint a silver lining that may eventually give the company what it wants. Even though ICANN won, Vistaprint may not necessarily have lost.

The panel wrote:

the Panel recommends that ICANN’s Board exercise its judgment on the question of whether an additional review mechanism is appropriate to re-evaluate the Third Expert’s determination in the Vistaprint SCO, in view of ICANN’s Bylaws concerning core values and non-discriminatory treatment, and based on the particular circumstances and developments noted in this Declaration, including (i) the Vistaprint SCO determination involving Vistaprint’s .WEBS applications, (ii) the Board’s (and NGPC’s) resolutions on singular and plural gTLDs, and (iii) the Board’s decisions to delegate numerous other singular/plural versions of the same gTLD strings.

In other words, ICANN has been invited to consider whether Vistaprint should be able to appeal, using a similar mechanism perhaps to that which was offered to other applicants that suffered from inconsistent, adverse SCO decisions.

At time when ICANN’s accountability is under international scrutiny, it’s highly likely that the board will give this recommendation some thought.

The IRP declaration does not reflect well on ICANN’s current level of accountability.

As usual, ICANN tried to wriggle out of accountability by attempting to castrate the panel from the outset, arguing again that IRP panels must be “deferential” to the board — that is, assume that its actions were correct by default — and that its declarations are “advisory” rather than “binding”.

And, as usual, the panel disagreed, saying previous IRP cases show this is now “settled” law. It said that it would evaluate the case “objectively and independently”, not deferentially.

But while it said its declaration was binding “in the sense that ICANN’s Board cannot overrule the Panel’s declaration” it agreed with ICANN that it only had the power to “recommend”, rather than order, remedies.

Acknowledging Vistaprint raised important public interest questions, the panel ordered ICANN to pay 40% of IRP costs.

The Vistaprint IRP was one of the things holding up the .web contention set, so Friday’s declaration moves the fabled gTLD one step closer to reality.

If the company gets the ability to appeal its SCO loss, it would add months to the .web runway. If it does not, it will have to remain in the .web contention set, which would head to auction.

Web.com hacked, 93,000 cards stolen

Kevin Murphy, August 19, 2015, Domain Registrars

The credit card details of 93,000 Web.com customers have been stolen by hackers.

The name, address and credit card number of the affected customers were accessed. The verification numbers (from the back of the cards) were not stolen.

Web.com said the attack was discovered August 13 and has been reported to the proper authorities.

Network Solutions and Register.com, its leading registrar businesses, were not affected, the company said.

It has 3.3 million customers. Those whose details were stolen have been emailed and will receive a letter in the mail.

The company said it will provide affected customers with a year of free credit monitoring.

NetSol’s free .xyz bundle renews at $57

Kevin Murphy, April 13, 2015, Domain Registrars

Network Solutions is charging a total of $57.17 for renewing the .xyz domain names and associated services it gave away for free as part of .xyz’s controversial launch last year.

A little over a year ago, NetSol found controversy when it pushed hundreds of thousands of .xyz domain names into its customers’ accounts without their explicit consent.

The offer, which required customers to opt out if they didn’t want it, included a year of private registration and a year of email.

The move allowed XYZ.com, the .xyz registry, to report itself as the largest new gTLD registry.

It’s been the subject of some speculation how renewals would be treated by NetSol, but now we know.

Customers, at least in cases reported by DI readers, are being sent renewal notices for their .xyz bundles in the same mailshots as for their .com domains.

Clicking the “Renew” button in these emails takes registrants to a NetSol page on which they can select which of their products they would like to renew.

All, including the .xyz products, are pre-selected for renewal but may be deselected.

Pricing is set at $15.99 for the .xyz domain, $15.99 for the private registration and $25.19 for the email service. That’s a total of $57.17.

Here’s a screenshot of the shopping cart with the pricing (I’ve redacted the domain). Click to enlarge.

The original email sent by NetSol to customers last June, said:

We want to show you how much we appreciate your loyalty by rewarding you with complimentary access to a 1-year registration of a .XYZ domain, one of the hottest new domain extensions. .XYZ domains are proving to have broad appeal and also be extremely memorable. In addition to your complimentary domain, you’ll also receive Professional Email and Private Registration for your .XYZ domain – free of charge.

If you choose not to keep this domain no action is needed and you will not be charged any fees in the future. Should you decide to keep the domain after your complementary first year, simply renew it like any other domain in your account.

The fine print read:

Offer applies to first year of new registrations only. The offer is not transferable and is only available to the recipient. After the complimentary first year the .XYZ domain name and its related services shall expire unless you actively renew the .XYZ domain name and its related services at the then-current rates.

Please note that your use of this .XYZ domain name and/or your refusal to decline the domain shall indicate acceptance of the domain into your account, your continued acceptance of our Service Agreement located online at http://www.networksolutions.com/legal/static-service-agreement.jsp, and its application to the domain.

There’s concern from some registrants that customers may renew their .xyz services without really understanding how they ended up in their account in the first place.

.xyz currently has over 857,000 domains in its zone file.

XYZ.com CEO Daniel Negari was recently quoted as saying that roughly 500,000 of those were not freebies.

The company is being sued by .com registry Verisign for using its reg numbers in “false advertising” that seeks to compare .xyz to .com.