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Verisign warns about Chinese .com boom

Kevin Murphy, November 24, 2015, Domain Registries

Verisign has warned investors that the current boom in .com sales is largely coming from Chinese domainers and may not be sustainable.

The company has added an unprecedented 4.1 million domain in .com and .net so far during the fourth quarter.

“While there continues to be demand for domain names globally, the recent increased volume for Verisign’s top level domains, as well as top level domains of other registries, during the fourth quarter is coming largely through registrars in China,” the company said in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing.

It listed several factors that are likely responsible for the sudden uptick, but warned that renewal rates are typically not great.

In the past, Verisign has discussed many factors that affect the demand for domain names, including, but not limited to economic, social, and regulatory conditions, Internet adoption, Internet penetration, and increasing e-commerce. In addition to these factors affecting demand, Verisign is also evaluating additional potential factors unique to China that may also be responsible for the recent increased volume of new registrations in China.

In no particular order, these potential factors, or combination of factors, could include, but may not be limited to, government initiatives in China to develop their online economy such as ‘Internet Plus;’ registry and registrar regulatory requirements; cultural influences such as the popularity of numeric domain names; increasing competition amongst Chinese registrars; potential increases in domain name investment activity; and recent capital markets volatility and access to capital in China.

Verisign cannot predict if or how long this increased pace of gross additions will continue and we cannot at this time predict what the renewal rate for these domain names will be. Verisign has noted in the past that renewal rates for domain names registered in emerging markets, such as China, have historically been lower than those registered in more developed markets.

It’s difficult to imagine that Chinese investors have managed to find four million unregistered domains worth keeping.

There are currently 123,497,852 domains in the .com zone file, according to Verisign’s web site.

Verisign is not the only registry that appears to be benefiting from a deluge of registrations from China.

XYZ.com has seen over 440,000 domains added to its .xyz zone file in the last three weeks, bringing its total to over 1.5 million, which appear to be largely coming through Chinese registrars.

XYZ says it won’t block censored Chinese domains

Kevin Murphy, November 6, 2015, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry XYZ.com has said it will not preemptively censor domain names based on the wishes of the Chinese government.

Over the last couple of days, CEO Daniel Negari has sought to “clarify” its plans to block and suspend domain names based on Chinese government requests.

It follows XYZ’s Registry Services Evaluation Request for a gateway service in the country, first reported by DI and subsequently picked up by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a Wall Street Journal columnist, Fortune magazine and others.

The clarifications offered up by XYZ probably did more to confuse matters.

A blog post on Wednesday said that XYZ will not reserve any .xyz domain names from being registered, except those ICANN makes all new gTLD registries reserve.

Subsequent comments from Negari stated that XYZ will, as the RSEP stated, prevent names that have been banned in China from being registered.

However, there’s one significant difference.

Now, the registry is saying that it will only put those bans in place for domain names that have been specifically banned by the Chinese government when the name had already been registered by a Chinese registrant.

So, if I understand correctly, it would not preemptively ban anyone anywhere from registering [banned term].xyz.

However, if [banned term].xyz was registered to a Chinese resident and the Chinese government told the registry to suspend it, it would be suspended and nobody would be able to re-register it anywhere in the world.

Negari said in a blog comment yesterday:

if we receive a Chinese legal order tomorrow (before the gateway has launched) which requires disabling a domain name registered in China and properly under Chinese jurisdiction, then it will be disabled at the registry level, and not by the gateway. When the gateway launches the name will continue to be unavailable, and the gateway will not implement the action on a localized basis only in China. The normal registry system would continue to be the only system used to resolve the name globally. Again — the specific stability concern ICANN had was that we would use the Chinese gateway to make .xyz names resolve differently, depending on what country you are in. I completely agree that our [RSEP] re-draft to address that concern came out in a way that can be read in a way that we sincerely did not intend.

So there is a list of preemptively banned .xyz, .college, .rent, .security and .protection domains, compiled by XYZ from individual Chinese government requests targeting names registered to Chinese registrants.

Negari said in an email to DI yesterday:

To clarify the statement “XYZ will reserve domains,” we meant that XYZ will takedown domains in order to comply with “applicable law.” Unfortunately, the inaccuracies in your post caused people to believe that we were allowing the Chinese government to control what names could be registered or how they could be used by people outside of China. The idea that XYZ is going to impose Chinese law and prevent people outside of China from registering certain domain names is simply incorrect and not true. To be 100% clear, there is no “banned list.”

That was the first time anyone connected with XYZ had complained about the October 12 post, other than since-deleted tweets that corrected the size of the list from 40,000 domains to 12,000.

The RSEP (pdf) that causes all this kerfuffle has not been amended. It still says:

XYZ will reserve names prohibited for registration by the Chinese government at the registry level internationally, so the Gateway itself will not need to be used to block the registration of of any names. Therefore, a registrant in China will be able to register the same domain names as anyone else in the world.

This fairly unambiguous statement is what XYZ says was “misinterpreted” by DI (and everyone else who read it).

However, it’s not just a couple of sentences taken out of context. The context also suggests preemptive banning of domains.

The very next sentence states:

When the Gateway is initially implemented we will not run into a problem whereby a Chinese registrant has already registered a name prohibited for registration by the Chinese government because Chinese registrars are already enforcing a prohibition on the registration of names that are in violation of Chinese law.

This states that Chinese residents are already being preemptively banned, by Chinese registrars, from registering domains deemed illegal in China.

The next few paragraphs of the RSEP deal with post-registration scenarios of domains being banned, clearly delineated from the paragraph dealing with pre-registration scenarios.

In his blog post, Negari said the RSEP “addressed the proactive abuse mitigation we will take to shut down phishing, pharming, malware, and other abuse in China”.

I can’t believe this is true. The consequence would be that if China sent XYZ a take-down notice about a malware or phishing site registered to a non-Chinese registrant, XYZ would simply ignore it.

Regardless, the takeaway today is that XYZ is now saying that it will not ban a domain before it has been registered, unless that domain has previously been registered by a Chinese resident and subsequently specifically banned by the Chinese government.

The registry says this is no different to how it would treat take-down notices issued by, for example, a US court. It’s part of its contractual obligation to abide by “applicable law”, it says.

Whether this is a policy U-turn or a case of an erroneous RSEP being submitted… frankly I don’t want to get into that debate.

Disclosure: during the course of researching this story, I registered .xyz domains matching (as far as this monoglot can tell) the Chinese words for “democracy”, “human rights”, “porn” and possibly “Tiananmen Square”. I have no idea if they have value and have no plans to develop them into web sites.

.cars domains to start at $45,000, retail for $2,500

Kevin Murphy, October 29, 2015, Domain Registries

Cars Registry has set pricing for .car, .cars and .auto domains at crazy-high levels.

If you want to buy a domain in any of the three gTLDs on day one, it will cost you a whopping $45,000.

If you buy one during regular general availability, it’s likely to set you back $2,500.

The registry, a partnership of Uniregistry and XYZ.com, has set its registry fee at $2,000, according to an email sent to registrars this week.

That’s a buck higher than .sucks, one of the most expensive new gTLDs to launch to date.

The sunrise fee will be $3,000 — made up of the regular $2,000 fee plus an added $1,000. Again, that’s higher than .sucks.

The Early Access Period — which, as reported yesterday, has replaced the more usual landrush — will run for nine days with prices ranging from $45,000 to $5,000.

Compared to the usual models of XYZ.com and Uniregistry, which tend towards the mass-market, these prices are colossal.

I wonder how much the pricing was influenced by the fact that the registry has the car-related gTLD market almost entirely sewn up.

Its only potential competitor is .autos, which has been delegated for almost 18 months but has yet to even reveal its launch plans and probably isn’t going to be available to the mass market anyway.

Sunrise for all three gTLDS is due to start December 9, ending January 12. EAP will begin that day, and GA will start January 20.

Now Uniregistry shifts to Early Access launch model

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2015, Domain Registries

Uniregistry has become the latest registry to adopt the Early Access Period model for some new gTLD launches.

.cars, .car and .auto will all use the EAP, in place of the more typical landrush period, when they launch in January.

Technically, while Uniregistry is running the back-end, the three gTLDS are all being offered by Cars Registry, a partnership between Uniregistry and .xyz registry XYZ.com.

Uniregistry CEO Frank Schilling said it was felt that EAP was needed due to the “stupendous cost” of acquiring the strings.

EAP is a period lasting usually about a week in which the price of registering any domain descends daily from a very high fee on day one — usually above $10,000 at the storefront — to maybe a hundred bucks when the period closes.

The model was pioneered by portfolio registries Donuts and Rightside, but has since been adopted by the likes of Minds + Machines, Radix and XYZ.com.

It’s rapidly becoming the de facto industry standard for new gTLD launches, replacing the auction-based approach to landrush most registries have used in the past.

The driving factor for the industry switch is surely revenue.

Donuts told us late last month that it had sold 48,381 EAP domains across all of its launches to date, where registry prices are believed to start at around the $10,000 mark.

M+M said yesterday that it sold $1.18 million after it chose to use EAP with its recently launched .law gTLD, where registration restrictions suggest many of the sales will have been to legit end users.

Registrars also get a bigger slice of the pie. In an auction model they might wind up with just the regular registration fee, but with EAP they can mark up day one domains by thousands of dollars.

Cars Registry says its EAP is targeted at “OEMs, dealerships, vendors”, but it will almost certainly get a healthy chunk of domainer interest too.

Verisign’s silly .xyz lawsuit thrown out

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2015, Domain Registries

Verisign has had its false advertising lawsuit against the .xyz gTLD registry thrown out of court.

XYZ.com this week won a summary judgement, ahead of a trial that was due to start next Monday.

“By granting XYZ a victory on summary judgement, the court found that XYZ won the case as a matter of law because there were no triable issues for a jury,” the company said in a statement.

The judge’s ruling does not go into details about the court’s rationale. XYZ’s motion to dismiss has also not been published.

So it’s difficult to know for sure exactly why the case has been thrown out.

Verisign sued in December, claiming XYZ and CEO Daniel Negari had lied in advertising and media interviews by saying there are no good .com domain names left.

Many of its claims centered on this video:

XYZ said its ads were merely hyperbolic “puffery” rather than lies.

Verisign also claimed that XYZ had massively inflated its purported registration numbers by making a shady $3 million reciprocal domains-for-advertising deal with Network Solutions.

XYZ general counsel Grant Carpenter said in a statement: “These tactics appear to be part of a coordinated anti-competitive scheme by Verisign to stunt competition and maintain its competitive advantage in the industry.”

While Verisign has lost the case, it could be seen to have succeeded in some respects.

XYZ had to pay legal fees in “the seven-figure range”, as well as disclose hundreds of internal company documents — including emails between Negari and me — during the discovery phase.

Through discovery, Verisign has obtained unprecedented insight into how its newest large competitor conducts its business.

While I’ve always thought the lawsuit was silly, I’m now a little disappointed that more details about the XYZ-NetSol deal are now unlikely to emerge in court.

XYZ to put global block on domains banned in China

Kevin Murphy, October 12, 2015, Domain Registries

XYZ.com plans to slap a global ban on domain names censored by the Chinese government.

Chinese words meaning things such as “human rights” and “democracy” are believed to be on the block list, which an industry source says could contain as many as 40,000 words, names and phrases.

(UPDATE: Gavin Brown, CTO of XYZ back-end CentralNic, tweeted that the list is nowhere near 40,000 names long.)

The registry seems to be planning to allow the Chinese government to censor its new gTLDs, which include .xyz, .college, .rent, .protection and .security, in every country of the world.

And it might not be the last non-Chinese registry to implement such a ban.

The surprising revelation came in a fresh Registry Services Evaluation Process request (pdf), filed with ICANN on Friday.

The RSEP asks ICANN to approve the use of a gateway service on the Chinese mainland, which the company says it needs in order to comply with Chinese law.

As previously reported, Chinese citizens are allowed to register domains in non-Chinese registries, but they may not activate them unless the registry complies with the law.

That law requires the registry to be located on the Chinese mainland. XYZ plans to comply by hiring local player ZDNS to proxy its EPP systems and mirror its Whois.

But the Chinese government also bans certain strings — which I gather are mostly but not exclusively in Chinese script — from being registered in domain names.

Rather than block them at the ZDNS proxy, where only Chinese users would be affected, XYZ has decided to ban them internationally.

Registrants in North America or Europe, for example, will not be able to register domains that are banned in China. XYZ said in its RSEP:

XYZ will reserve names prohibited for registration by the Chinese government at the registry level internationally, so the Gateway itself will not need to be used to block the registration of of any names. Therefore, a registrant in China will be able to register the same domain names as anyone else in the world.

It seems that XYZ plans to keep its banned domain list updated as China adds more strings to its own list, which I gather it does regularly.

Customers outside of China who have already registered banned domains will not be affected, XYZ says.

If China subsequently bans more strings, international customers who already own matching domains will also not be affected, it says.

CEO Daniel Negari told DI: “To be clear, we will not be taking action against names registered outside of China based on Chinese government requests.”

But Chinese registrants do face the prospect losing their domains, if China subsequently bans the words and XYZ receives a complaint from Chinese authorities.

“We treat requests from the Chinese government just like we treat requests from the US government or any other government,” Negari said.

“When we receive a valid government or court order to take action against a name and the government has jurisdiction over the registration, we will take action the registration,” he said.

Up to a third of the .xyz zone — about three hundred thousand names — is believed to be owned by Chinese registrants who are currently unable to actually use their names.

The company clearly has compelling business reasons to comply with Chinese law.

But is giving the Chinese government the ongoing right to ban tens of thousands of domain names internationally a step too far?

ICANN allows anyone to file public comments on RSEP requests. I expect we’ll see a few this time.

XYZ to rethink China gateway plans

Kevin Murphy, September 16, 2015, Domain Registries

XYZ.com has withdrawn its request to start selling .xyz and .college domains into China via a local gateway service provider.

The company has said it will amend and resubmit its plan to ICANN, which had told it the idea “might raise significant Stability or Security issues”.

The registry wants to be one of the first non-Chinese registries to be able to comply with government regulations, which require all domain firms to have an official license.

As we reported last week, it had signed up with local registrar ZDNS, which would proxy for registrations made by Chinese registrants.

However, it has now withdrawn its Registry Services Evaluation Process request after ICANN said it would have to refer it up the chain to a special technical committee for review.

XYZ said in a letter to ICANN:

We are withdrawing this request because our gateway model is changed since the submission of the registry request and so the request is no longer accurate. We will shortly submit a new registry request to cover the updated gateway model.

It’s not clear what the specific “security and stability” concerns were.

Did XYZ.com pay NetSol $3m to bloat .xyz?

Kevin Murphy, August 25, 2015, Domain Registries

Evidence of a possibly dodgy deal between XYZ.com and Network Solutions has emerged.

Court documents filed last week by Verisign suggest that the .xyz registry may have purchased $3 million in advertising in exchange for $3 million of .xyz domain names.

Verisign, which is suing .xyz and CEO Daniel Negari over its allegedly “false” advertising, submitted to the court a list of hundreds of exhibits (pdf) that it proposes to use at trial.

Among them are these two:

  • Email from Negari to Andrew Gorrin re EPP Feed and billing directly for $3,000,000 in domains
  • Credit Memo to Andrew from Negari “We have elected to pay for our $3MM Q2 advertising insertion order, which was dated May 20th with a credit…….” (5/31/14)

Gorrin is Web.com’s senior VP of marketing and Negari is Daniel Negari, XYZ.com’s CEO.

The documents these headings refer to are not public information, and are not likely to be any time soon, but they appear to refer to on the one hand XYZ billing NetSol for $3 million in domain names and on the other NetSol billing XYZ for $3 million in advertising.

Only one of the two document headings is dated, so we don’t know how closely they coincided.

Other headings, among the 446 documents Verisign wants to use at trial, suggest that they happened at pretty much the same time:

  • Email from Andrew Gorrin to Ashley Henning (web.com) re Bulk Purchase of .xyz domains (5/29/14)
  • Email from Andrew Gorrin to Negari re XYZ.Com Advertising IO and Marketing Agreement attaching signed agreements (5/20/14)
  • Email string Ashley Henning to Christine Nagey, Andrew Gorrin, Edward Angstadt re Bulk Purchase of .XYZ Domains (5/30/14)

The emails Verisign cites were dated May 2014, shortly before .xyz went into general availability June 2.

What we seem to be looking at here — and I’m getting into speculative territory here — are references to two more or less simultaneous transactions, both valued at exactly $3 million, between the two parties.

Both companies have consistently refused to address the nature of their deal, citing NDAs.

As you recall, the vast majority of .xyz’s early registrations were provided by NetSol, which pushed hundreds of thousands of free .xyz domains into its customers’ accounts without their explicit consent.

The number of freebies is believed to be about 350,000, based on comments Negari recently made to The Telegraph, in which he stated that .xyz, which had about 850,000 domains in its zone at the time, would have 500,000 registrations if the freebies were excluded.

With a registry fee roughly equivalent to .com’s (.xyz’s is believed to be a little lower), 350,000 names would work out to roughly $3 million.

Negari has stated previously that every .xyz registration was revenue-generating, even the freebies.

Is it possible that NetSol paid XYZ’s registry fees using money XYZ paid it for advertising? Is it possible no money changed hands at all?

I’m not saying either company has done anything illegal, and it’s completely possible I’m completely misunderstanding the situation, but it does rather put me in mind of the old “round-trip” deals that tech firms used to dishonestly prop up their tumbling revenue at the turn of the century.

Back in 2000, the dot-com bubble was on the verge of popping, taking the US economy with it, and companies facing the decline of their businesses came up with “creative” ways to show investors that they were still growing.

AOL Time Warner, for example, “effectively funded its own online advertising revenue by giving the counterparties the means to pay for advertising that they would not otherwise have purchased”.

Regulators exercised their legal options in these cases only where there appeared to be dishonest accounting, and I’ve seen no evidence to suggest that XYZ or Web.com unit NetSol have failed to adhere to anything but the highest accounting standards.

Again, I’m not saying we’re looking at a “round-trip” deal here, and there’s not a great deal of evidence to go on, but it sure smells familiar.

Certainly, questions have been raised that Verisign did not raise in its initial complaint.

Anyway.

On a personal note, I’d like to disclose that among the documents Verisign demanded from XYZ are dozens of pages of previously confidential emails exchanged between myself and Negari.

I’ve read them, and they’re mostly heated arguments about a) his refusal to give details about the NetSol deal and b) my purported lack of journalistic integrity whenever I published a post about .xyz with an even slightly negative angle.

XYZ had no choice but to supply these emails. I can’t blame it for complying with its legal requirements.

I wasn’t the only affected blogger. Mike Berkens, Konstantinos Zournas, Rick Schwartz and Morgan Linton also had their private correspondence compromised by Verisign.

I don’t know how they feel about this violation, but in my view this shows Verisign’s contempt for the media and its disregard for the sanctity of off-the-record conversations between reporters and their sources.

And that’s what I have to say about that.

After abc.xyz, will Google now switch to .google?

Kevin Murphy, August 12, 2015, Domain Registries

Google provided the new gTLD industry with one of its most prominent endorsements to date when it revealed this week that its new parent company, Alphabet, will use a .xyz domain name.

But it could just be the first move away from traditional TLDs such as .com — its new gTLD .google entered its “general availability” phase today.

Alphabet will be the holding company for Google the search engine provider, as well as many other subsidiaries focused on non-core areas of its business, and will replace Google as the publicly traded entity.

The new company will use abc.xyz as its primary domain.

XYZ.com CEO Daniel Negari told Wired that the move is “the ultimate validation”, and it’s hard to disagree.

Despite this, almost all the coverage in the tech and mainstream media over the last 24 hours has been about the fact that it does not own alphabet.com.

A Google News search for “alphabet.com” today returns over 67,000 results. Refine the search to include “abc.xyz” and you’re left with fewer than 2,700.

This is perhaps to be expected; BMW owns alphabet.com and has told the New York Times it does not intend to sell it. Journalists naturally gravitate towards conflict, or potential conflict.

Some reporters even suggested, with mind-boggling naivety, that Google hadn’t even done the most cursory research into its new brand before embarking on the biggest restructuring in its history as a public company.

But perhaps the reality is a little simpler: owning a .com that exactly matches your brand just isn’t that important any more.

If any company has insight into the truth of that hypothesis, it’s Google.

It should hardly be surprising that Google digs the possibilities offered by new gTLDs — remember, it applied for 101 strings and has 42 of them already delegated.

Its senior engineers have also blogged repeatedly that all gTLDs, including .com, are treated equally by its search algorithms.

Now that it has made the decision to brand its holding company on a new gTLD domain, could we expect it be similarly nonchalant about a switch to .google?

The dot-brand today came out of its pre-launch phase and entered “general availability”, meaning that the gTLD is now free for it to use.

The .google zone file only has a few domains in it at present, so we’re probably not going to see anything deployed there overnight, but I’d be surprised if we have to wait a long time before .google is put to use in one way or another.

The company set up a fleeting April Fool’s Day website at com.google earlier this year.

Google’s application for .google states:

The mission of the proposed gTLD, .google is to make the worldʹs information universally accessible and useful through the streamlined provision of Google services. The purpose of the proposed gTLD is to provide a dedicated Internet space in which Google can continue to innovate on its Internet offerings. The proposed gTLD will augment Googleʹs online presence in other registries, provide Google with greater ability to categorize its present online locations around the world, and in turn, deliver a more recognizable, branded, trusted web space to both the general Internet population and Google employees. It will also generate efficiencies and increase security by reducing Google’s current dependence on third-party infrastructure.

The company has also stated on its Google Registry web site that it intends to use .google, .youtube and .plus “for Google products”.

XYZ buys .security and .protection from Symantec

XYZ.com has added .security and .protection to its portfolio of new gTLDs under a private deal with security software maker Symantec.

Symantec originally applied for both as closed generics, but changed its plans when ICANN changed its tune about exclusive access gTLDs.

The company won .security in an auction against Donuts and Defender Security late last year; .protection was uncontested. It lost auctions for .cloud and .antivirus.

Symantec’s .symantec and .norton, both dot-brands, are currently in pre-delegation testing.

XYZ already owns .college, .rent and of course .xyz.

In other news, Afilias has acquired .promo, which was in PDT with applicant Play.Promo Oy, in a private auction.

UPDATE: A couple of hours after this post was published, XYZ announced it has also acquired .theatre, which will compete with Donuts’ .theater, from KBE gTLD Holding Inc.