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The .web gTLD could go live in 2016

Kevin Murphy, April 27, 2016, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .web could be coming to the internet sooner than expected after two of the remaining barriers to delegation disappeared.

Following the withdrawal last week of an application for the plural .webs, an auction for .web could happen in the next couple of months, enabling a go-live date possibly in 2016.

.web, often considered the most desirable truly generic gTLD, has had a rough time of it in the 2012 ICANN new gTLD program.

There were seven applications for the string. Google, Web.com, Donuts, Radix, Afilias, Schlund Technologies, Nu Dot Co all applied.

The registrar Web.com (owner of Network Solutions, Register.com, et al) appears to be especially keen to get the domain, given that the string more or less matches its brand.

It perhaps should have been a straightforward auction shoot-out.

But, complicating matters, bespoke printing firm Vistaprint had filed two applications — one vanilla, one “community” based — for the plural version of the string, “.webs”.

Vistaprint runs a website development service called Webs.com. It’s the plural of the Web.com brand.

Web.com wasn’t happy about Vistaprint’s .webs applications, so it filed String Confusion Objections against both, arguing that .web and .webs were too confusingly similar to co-exist on the internet.

While there are now many examples of plurals and singulars living together (see .auto/s, .fan/s and .gift/s), the registrar won both of its SCO complaints, meaning Vistaprint’s two applications and the seven .web applicants were lumped together into the same contention set.

If two strings are in the same contention set, only one can survive to be ultimately delegated to the DNS.

Vistaprint appealed the SCO decisions, first with a Request for Reconsideration to the ICANN board (predictably unsuccessful) and then with an Independent Review Process complaint.

While the IRP was being mulled over, .web was in limbo.

The IRP was unsuccessful. The IRP panel ruled in October that ICANN had not violated its bylaws in accepting the SCO panel’s decision.

But it gave ICANN a nudge, suggesting that perhaps it could give Vistaprint leave to appeal the original SCO determinations via another mechanism.

In early March, the ICANN board proper decided that:

the Vistaprint SCO Expert Determination is not sufficiently “inconsistent” or “unreasonable” such that the underlying objection proceedings resulting in the Expert Determination warrants re-evaluation.

The board said that the .web/.webs contention set should be processed as normal; in other words: go to auction.

That removed the first barrier to the .web/.webs auction going ahead.

The second barrier was the fact that Visaprint had file two applications for .webs — one regular, one “community”.

By self-identifying as a “community”, Vistaprint qualified for the Community Priority Evaluation. A winning CPE means all competing applications — including the .web applications in this case — would be eliminated.

While the CPE process is far from perfect, I think the chances of Vistaprint winning would be pretty slim.

Perhaps Vistaprint agreed with me. Whatever the thought process, the company has withdrawn its “community” application. The withdrawal was reflected on the ICANN web site at the weekend, according to the little birds at DI PRO.

What this means is that the seven .web applications and Vistaprint’s remaining, non-community .webs application will be going to auction together.

It could be a private auction, where the proceeds are divvied up between the losers, or an ICANN “last resort” auction, where ICANN gets all the money.

Either way, the winning bidder is likely to pay a LOT of cash for their chosen string.

GMO Registry paid $41 million for .shop back in January. I’d be flabbergasted if .web wasn’t eight figures too.

If Vistaprint offers to pay more money for .webs than Web.com wants to pay for .web, Web.com will be eliminated from the race and Vistaprint will get .webs.

In that scenario, the remaining six .web applicants fight it out for control of the gTLD.

However, if Vistaprint loses against Web.com then all of the seven .web applicants fight it out at auction.

Depending on the identity of the winner and the timing of auctions and pre-delegation testing, it could slip into the root and possibly even become available before the end of the year.

That’s assuming no more surprises, of course.

UPDATE: This post originally incorrectly described the rules of the .web/.webs auction. It was updated with a correct explanation at 2120 UTC.