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Pro-.com analyst “sponsored” by Verisign. Is this a big deal?

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2015, Domain Registries

Verisign has admitted it “sponsors” an analyst who has written more than a dozen articles singing the praises of .com and questioning the value of new gTLDs over the last few years.

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst at ZK Research. He writes a regular column for Network World called Network Intelligence.

Last week, domain industry eyebrows were raised by the latest in a series of pro-.com articles — all of which seem to have been removed by Network World in the last 24 hours — to appear in the column.

The latest article was entitled “Why more companies are ditching new domain names and reverting to .com“.

Kerravala basically mined domain industry blogs, including this one, for examples of companies preferring .com over ccTLDs and new gTLDS, to support a view that .com is awesome and other TLDs are not.

He could have quite easily have used the same method to reach the opposite conclusion, in my view.

The Halloween-themed article concluded:

The good news is that .com will be here now and into the future, just like it has been for the past 30 years to provide treats to businesses after they have been “tricked” by other TLDs.

The article, and 12 more before it dating back to August 2012, looked to some like Verisign spin.

Other headlines include “Why .com is still the domain of choice for businesses” and “New generic top-level domain names do more harm than good” and “Companies are movin’ on up to .com domain names”.

They’re all basically opinion pieces with a strongly pro-.com slant.

The opinion that .com is better than the alternatives is not uncommon, especially among domainers who have lots of money tied up in .com investments.

The fact that Kerravala, who doesn’t usually touch the domain industry in his column, has written a dozen stories saying essentially the same thing about .com over the last couple of years looked a bit odd to some in the domain industry.

And it turns out that he is actually on the Verisign payroll.

A Verisign spokesperson told DI: “ZK Research is a sponsored industry analyst and blogger.”

The company declined to answer a follow-up question asking whether this meant he was paid to blog.

Kerravala told DI that Verisign is one of his clients, but denied blogging on its behalf. He said in an email:

they are a client like many of the other large technology firms. Although I blog, like many analysts, I am first an foremost an analyst. I have paid relationships with tech vendors, service providers, end user firms, resellers and the financial community.

Verisign pays me for inquiry time and to have access to my research. Verisign has many relationships like this with many analyst firms and I have this type of relationship with many other technology firms.

In no way do vendors pay me to write blogs nor do they influence my research or my opinions. Sometimes, I may choose to interview a vendor on a certain topic and include them in the article.

Kerravala had not disclosed in his Network World articles or boilerplate biography that Verisign is one of his clients.

In a January 2014 article published on SeekingAlpha, “New Generic Top Level Domain Names Pose No Threat To VeriSign“, contains a disclosure that reads in part “I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.”

Kerravala said in an email that although his relationship with Verisign started in 2013, the company was not a client at the time the SeekingAlpha article appeared.

The relationship came to light after new gTLD registry Donuts emailed Kerravala via a third party — and Kerravala says under false pretenses — claiming to have liked his most recent article and asking for a contact name at Verisign.

He would have responded honestly to just being asked directly by Donuts, he said.

In a telephone conversation yesterday, he said that his articles about .com represent his genuinely held beliefs which, as we agree, are not particularly unusual.

He observed that DI has a generally pro-TLD-competition point of view, and that many of my advertisers are drawn from the new gTLD industry, and said that his relationship with Verisign is not dissimilar to DI’s relationship to its advertisers.