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Introducing… the DI Leaders Roundtable

Kevin Murphy, October 7, 2019, Leaders Roundtable

Today, I’m introducing what I hope to be the first of several regular features, the DI Leaders Roundtable.
Every week or two, I’ll be putting a single question to a collection of domain industry and ICANN community leaders and compiling their responses in order to gain some insight into current thoughts on hot topics or broader industry trends from some of the space’s top thinkers.
I’ve tried to reflect a broad cross-section of the industry, with a mix of business, policy and technical expertise from registries, registrars, back-ends, new gTLDs, legacy gTLDs, investors, etc.
The initial line-up for the panel, which will likely evolve as time goes by, is, in alphabetical order.
Ben Crawford, CEO, CentralNic
MugshotCrawford is CEO of CentralNic, a triple-play domain company based in London and listed on the Alternative Investment Market. Initially a vendor of pseudo-gTLDs such as uk.com and gb.com, CentralNic has over the course of the last seven years evolved into a company that sells both its own self-managed TLDs, such as .sk, as well as acting as a back-end for the likes of .xyz, .site and .online. Describing itself as a consolidator, the company nowadays makes most of its money via the registrar side of the house as a result of a series of mergers and acquisitions, particularly the merger with KeyDrive last year.
Jothan Frakes, Executive Director, Domain Name Association
MugshotA long-time industry jack-of-all-trades, Frakes is currently executive director of the Domain Name Association, the prominent industry trade group. Frakes has acted in a number of roles at domain name companies, as well as co-founding the popular NamesCon conference back in 2014. His technical credentials can be exemplified by, among other activities, his participation in Mozilla’s Public Suffix List, while his policy nous could be vouched for by many who have worked with him during his 20 years of ICANN participation.
Richard Kirkendall, CEO, NameCheap
MugshotKirkendall founded leading budget registrar NameCheap in 2000 and has occupied the office of CEO ever since. A long-time Enom reseller, NameCheap’s popularity was for many years shrouded in mystery. It finally transferred the last of its Enom names over to its own accreditation in January 2018, revealing it to have 7.5 million gTLD names under management. It added a further two million over the next 18 months, and says it has over 10 million names in total. NameCheap is known for its low prices and for its occasional support for pro-freedom political causes such as the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Milton Mueller, Professor, Georgia Tech
MugshotMueller is an academic and among the most prominent voices in ICANN’s Non-Commercial Stakeholder Group. Based at the School of Public Policy at the Georgia Institute of Technology, he founded the Internet Governance Project, an independent policy research outfit, in 2004. He’s the author of several books on the topic, and very active in ICANN policy development, including the current effort to balance privacy rights with commercial interests in the Whois system.
Jeff Neuman, Senior VP, Com Laude
MugshotNeuman is senior vice president of brand-protection registrar Com Laude and sister company Valideus, which provides new gTLD consultancy services to brand owners. From 2000 until 2015, he worked in senior policy and registry business roles at Neustar, helping to apply for and launch .biz in 2001. A noted ICANN policy expert, Neuman has sat on various ICANN working groups and currently co-chairs the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process, which is developing the rules for the next round of new gTLDs.
Jon Nevett, CEO, Public Interest Registry
MugshotNevett is CEO of Public Interest Registry, which manages the 10-million-domain-strong legacy gTLD .org and a handful of new gTLDs. Prior to PIR, he was executive vice president of Donuts, and one of its four co-founders. He’s been in the domain business since 2004, when he joined Network Solutions as a senior VP on the policy side of the house. Nevett has also been involved in ICANN policy-making, including a stint as chair of the Registrars Constituency.
Michele Neylon, CEO, Blacknight
MugshotNeylon is CEO and co-founder of Blacknight Internet Solutions, a smaller registrar based in Ireland. Known for his “often outspoken” policy views, he’s a member of several ICANN working groups, sits on the GNSO Council representing registrars, and is a member of stakeholder group committees for various ccTLD registries including .eu, .ie and .us. Blacknight has almost 60,000 gTLD registrations to its name but also specializes in serving its local ccTLD market.
Dave Piscitello, Partner, Interisle Consulting Group
MugshotPiscitello is currently a partner at security consultancy Interisle Consulting Group, having retired from his role as vice president of security and ICT coordination at ICANN last year. With over 40 years in the security business, he’s also a board member of the Coalition Against Unsolicited Commercial Email (CAUCE) and the Anti-Phishing Working Group (APWG). Interisle is an occasional ICANN security contractor.
Sandeep Ramchamdani, CEO, Radix Registry
MugshotRamchandani is CEO of Mumbai-based new gTLD registry Radix, which currently has a portfolio of 10 gTLDs and one ccTLD. It’s known primarily for its low-cost, high-volume, pure-generic business model, which has seen its two best performers, .online and .site, rack up almost three million domains between them. Radix is a unit of Directi Group, which is where Ramchandani cut his teeth for almost a decade before taking the reins of Radix in 2012.
Frank Schilling, CEO, Uniregistry
MugshotSchilling started off as a domain investor at the second level, 19 years ago, eventually managing hundreds of thousands of secondary-market domains with his company Name Administration, before founding Uniregistry in order to invest in new gTLDs in 2012. As a registry, Uniregisty has about a quarter of a million names spread across its 22-TLD portfolio; as a registrar it has over 1.2 million domains under management. Schilling is widely considered one of the most successful domain investment pioneers.
Rick Schwartz, aka the “Domain King”
MugshotSchwartz is viewed by domain investors as one of the most successful domainers of all time, and is known for his forthright, blunt criticisms of both new gTLDs and poor domain investment strategies. He’s been buying and selling domain names since 1995, and has sold several category-killer .com domains for seven-figure sums. Schwartz also founded the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. domainer conference in 2004, and it ran for 10 years.

.bond domains could cost a grand each

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2019, Domain Registries

Newish registry ShortDot has announced the release details for its recently acquired .bond gTLD, and they ain’t gonna be cheap.
The TLD is set to go to sunrise in a little under a month, October 17, for 33 days.
General availability begins November 19 with a seven day early access period during which the domains will be more expensive than usual but get cheaper each day.
The regular pricing is likely to see registrars sell .bond names for between $800 and $1,000 a pop, according to ShortDot COO Kevin Kopas.
There won’t be any more-expensive premium tiers, he said.
The gTLD was originally owned by Bond University in Australia, but it was acquired unused by ShortDot earlier this year.
The company hopes it will appeal to bail bondsmen, offerers of financial bonds and James Bond fans.
The business model with .bond is diametrically opposed to .icu, where names sell for under $2 a year (and renew for under $8, if indeed any of them renew).
That zone has inexplicably gone from 0 to 1.8 million names in the last 16 months, and ShortDot says it’s just crossed the two-million mark of registered names.
That second million appears to have been added in just the last three months.

These two ccTLDs drove two thirds of all domain growth in Q2

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2019, Domain Registries

The number of registered domain names in the world increased by 2.9 million in the second quarter, driven by .com and two ccTLDs.
That’s according to the latest Verisign Domain Name Industry Brief, which was published (pdf) overnight, and other data.
The quarter ended with 354.7 million domains. Verisign’s own .com was up 1.5 million over Q1 at 142.5 million names.
ccTLDs across the board grew by 1.9 million names sequentially to 158.7 million. Year-over-year, the increase was 10.5 million domains.
The sequential ccTLD increase can be attributed almost entirely to two TLDs: .tw and .uk. These two ccTLDs appear to account for two thirds of the overall net new domains appearing in Q2.
Taiwan grew by about 600,000 in the quarter, presumably due to an ongoing, unusual pricing-related growth spurt among Chinese domainers that I reported in June.
The UK saw an increase of roughly 1.3 million domains, ending the quarter at 13.3 million.
That’s down to the deadline for registering second-level .uk matches for third-level .co.uk domains, which passed June 25.
Nominet data shows that 2LDs increased by about 1.2 million in the period, even as 3LDs dipped. The difference between this and the Verisign data appears to be rounding.
Factoring out the .uk and .tw anomalies, we have basically flat ccTLD growth, judging by the DNIB data.
Meanwhile, the new gTLD number was 23 million. That’s flat after rounding, but Verisign said that the space was actually up by about 100,000 names.
Growth as a whole was tempered by what I call the “other” category. That comprises the pre-2012 gTLDs such as .net, .org, .info and .biz. That was down by about a half a million names.
.net continued its gradual new gTLD-related decline, down 200,000 names sequentially at 13.6 million, while .org was down by 100,000 names.
The overall growth numbers are subject to the usual DNIB-related disclaimers: Verisign (and most everyone else) doesn’t have good data for some TLDs, including large zones such as .tk and .cn.

Donuts slashes prices on a million domains

Kevin Murphy, August 28, 2019, Domain Registries

Donuts is to overhaul the pricing on 1.1 million registry-reserved “premium” domain names, taking hundreds of thousands out of premium status altogether.
The company said today that it has decided to reduce the registration cost of 250,000 domains across its 242 new gTLDs. Discounts as deep as 90% are possible, judging by the company’s pricing page.
A further 850,000 will have their premium tag removed and return to regular pricing.
Part of the overhaul relates to the Rightside acquisition, which closed in 2017. While Rightside’s portfolio of TLDs was substantially smaller than Donuts’, it had been much more aggressive on its premium pricing.
For the domains being moved to standard pricing, Donuts will give it one last shot at squeezing a premium price out of them, however.
The company said that from September 5 to November 1 there will be a “pre-sales” event, during which registrants can pay the current premium fee for the first year on the understanding that they will renew at the standard pricing.
For example, drunk.games currently commands a roughly $130-a-year registration fee at registrars. If you buy it during the pre-sales event you’ll pay $130 for the first year but only about $20 upon renewal.
Donuts says this unusual landrush-style event is designed to make the names more attractive to investors who want to get in before prices fall.
The full effect of the price changes takes effect November 5.
It’s worth noting that standard pricing at Donuts is actually going up across most TLDs, by as much as 9%, on October 1, so you may want to check what your actual renewal fee is before buying.
A searchable database of the newly priced inventory can be found here.

Porn-block retail prices revealed. Wow.

Kevin Murphy, August 20, 2019, Domain Registrars

The first retail prices for MMX’s porn-blocking AdultBlock services have been revealed, and they ain’t cheap.
The registrar 101domain yesterday announced that it has started offering AdultBlock and sister service AdultBlock+, and published its pricing.
Trademark owners wanting to block a single string across .sex, .porn, .adult and .xxx will pay $349 per year with the vanilla, renew-annually service.
If they want the AdultBlock+ service, which also blocks homographs, they’ll pay $799 a year or $7,495 for the maximum 10-year term.
Compare this to the Sunrise B offer that ICM Registry made to trademark owners in 2011, where a string in .xxx cost roughly $200 to $300 for a 10-year block.
The two services are not directly comparable, of course. AdultBlock covers three additional TLDs and the AdultBlock+ service covers confusingly similar variants.
But trademark owners are buying peace of mind that their brands won’t be registered as porn sites, and the cost of that peace of mind just increased tenfold.
AdultBlock domains don’t resolve, and are a lot cheaper than domain registrations.
Renewing a single string in all four gTLDs at 101domain prices would cost around $480 a year, so customers will pay about 27% less buying a block instead.
The cost of the first year for those four domains would be $360, just $11 more than the AdultBlock price, according to 101domain’s price list.
MMX, which acquired the gTLD portfolio from ICM last year, is offering a discount on the AdultBlock+ service for customers buying before the end of 2019.
101domain is offering 10 years of AdultBlock+ for $3,999, a saving of $3,500.
101domain is not known as a particularly expensive registrar, so prices elsewhere in the industry could go higher.

CentralNic to pay $3.4 million for iwantmyname

Kevin Murphy, August 7, 2019, Domain Registrars

CentralNic has made yet another registrar acquisition, picking up New Zealand-based Ideegeo Group for the equivalent of $3.4 million.
The company said it will pay NZD 5.2 million, of which 10% is being deferred until May 2021.
Ideegeo runs the registrar iwantmyname.com. It’s not ICANN-accredited in its own right, rather it’s a reseller of Hexonet, which CentralNic has also acquired.
With 180,000 names under management, Ideegeo accounted for a little under 5% of Hexonet’s business in terms of domain names.
Ideegeo had revenue last year of NZD 6.2 million ($4.2 million) and EBITDA of NZD 0.9 million ($600,000), CentralNic said.
CentralNic indicated that the acquisition has enabled it to lock in that revenue, preventing iwantmyname switching to a different reseller network.
But it’s not just the DUM CentralNic is interested in. It also said it wants its user-friendly interface, which it intends to roll out across its other retail registrar web sites.
There are also up-sell opportunities, as iwantmyname currently sells only domain names and none of the usually associated accoutrements.
It’s CentralNic’s fifth acquisition in the last 12 months.
It still has plenty of money left over from a recent €50 million ($56 million) bond issue, so don’t expect it to be the last.

Porn blocks could be worth millions to MMX

Minds + Machines could find itself making millions of dollars a year out of non-resolving defensive registrations in its recently acquired portfolio of porn-themed gTLDs.
The company recently announced the launch of AdultBlock and AdultBlock Plus, which will enable trademark owners to prevent anyone else registering their marks, and variants thereof, for up to 10 years.
Running the numbers, and taking into account MMX’s already substantial established client base for such services, AdultBlock could bring in as much as $11 million a year. But it’s almost certainly going to be much less than that.
The company won’t disclose it’s exact pricing for AdultBlock, or its revenue estimates, but it’s possible to do some back-of-the-envelope calculations and come to some ball-park guesses.
MMX has said that it’s pricing the service such that customers should be able to see a 35% saving compared to the cost of registering a single string across all four of its porn TLDs
The company acquired .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex when it bought ICM Registry last year.
The wholesale fee for each of the four is believed to be about $68 a year. From this, we can calculate that the wholesale price of AdultBlock may well be around the $175-a-year mark.
There’s some room for error here, as MMX hasn’t revealed precisely how it came to its 35% number, but I think we can safely say we’re looking at $150 to $200 a year. For the purposes of this envelope, let’s split the difference and assume it’s $175.
It’s quite a high number, a bit like a recurring sunrise fee for a domain that you don’t even get to use.
But how many domains can MMX expect to be blocked?
A low-ball estimate could be modeled on the .porn/.adult/.sex sunrise periods.
.porn launched in 2015 and gathered 2,091 sunrise registrations, according to ICANN records, making it one of the largest new gTLD sunrise periods. The other two TLDs weren’t far behind.
If that’s a good guide for AdultBlock uptake, we’re talking about a piddling $360,000-a-year business.
But MMX has a secret weapon that it inherited from .xxx.
When .xxx launched back in 2011, it kicked off with two sunrise periods. Sunrise A was for trademark owners in the porn business who wanted to use their .xxx names. Sunrise B was for everyone else, who didn’t.
In Sunrise B, brand owners paid $162 (plus their registrar’s markup) to block their domains for a flat period of 10 years.
Customers couldn’t use their domains. They were registered to ICM and used specially designated ICM name servers to resolve to a standard, non-monetized placeholder page stating “This domain has been reserved from registration.”
There are over 80,000 domains using these name servers, but about 15,000 of those represent names of celebrities, cities, and religiously and culturally sensitive terms that ICM culled from Wikipedia and unilaterally reserved to help avoid a tabloid crucifixion if mileycyrus.xxx ever started bouncing children to something pornographic, such as one of her music videos.
(As an aside, I think it’s worth mentioning that the .xxx zone file only has 93,000 names in it. These means about nine out of 10 live .xxx domains are reserved by the registry.)
So we’ve got 65,000 trademarks that are currently blocked in .xxx, and they’re all going to expire in 2021 because ICM only sold blocks for the duration of its original 10-year ICANN contract.
If all 65,000 domains are upgraded to AdultBlock, the service would be worth over $11 million a year, to a company currently reporting annual revenue around $15 million.
But they won’t.
You don’t have to scroll too far down the .xxx zone file (and I didn’t) to discover some absolute garbage, no doubt the result of scaremongering around the 2011 .xxx launch.
I mean, seriously, look at some of this Sunrise B guff:

100percentwholewheatthatkidslovetoeat.xxx, 101waystoleaveagameshow.xxx, 1firstnationalmergersandacquisitions.xxx, 1stchoiceliquorsuperstore.xxx, 2bupushingalltherightbuttons.xxx, 247claimsservicethesupportyouneed30minutesguaranteed.xxx, 3pathpowerdeliverysystembypioneermagneticsinc.xxx

I think we’re going to be looking at a significant junk drop of blocked domains come 2021.
That said, I think MMX may have a psychological advantage here, when it comes to persuading Sunrise B users to “renew”.
Who hasn’t renewed a domain name they strongly suspect they will never use or sell, simply because they couldn’t bear the thought of somebody else owning “their” domain?
An additional consideration for brand owners is that these Sunrise B names are going to show up on drop-lists when they are eventually deleted from the .xxx zone file, perhaps giving inspiration to cybersquatters.
This is a fantastic opportunity for MMX and brand protection registrars to put the hard sell on its Sunrise B customers to “renew” their blocks by upgrading to the new and improved AdultBlock service, which could cost literally 10 times more than what they originally signed up for.
AdultBlock is of course more comprehensive than Sunrise B. It covers three additional TLDs, for starters, and customers can pay a little more for potentially thousands of potential homographs (non-Latin-script domains that look almost identical to the original) to also be blocked.
MMX isn’t waiting until 2021, however. It’s currently offering companies that buy a 10-year-block before the end of 2019 the AdultBlock+ service for the price of the vanilla, no-variants offering.
Existing Sunrise B customers have until the same deadline to purchase the new service without having to have their trademarks re-verified, which carries an additional fee.
For those that miss this early-bird offer, come December 2021, the holders of up 65,000 trademarks are going to face a stark choice: sign up to pay a couple hundred bucks a year, or risk their brands being snapped up by pornsquatters.

Luxembourg tops 100,000 .lu domains

Luxembourgish ccTLD .lu has grown to more than 100,000 domain names for the first time.
ccTLD operator Restena said last week that the domain crossed the threshold June 21. At the end of the month, it had 100,056 domains under management.
While it’s certainly not a lot for a ccTLD, it is when compared to the size of the country it represents.
Luxembourg has a population of under 600,000, so in theory 1 in 6 Luxembourgish people own a .lu domain.
That’s close to the ratio as you’d see in the UK, with its 66 million inhabitants and 12 million .uk domains, though it trails Germany’s 1:5 and the Netherlands’ 1:3.
The per capita numbers are probably not all that useful, however. Restena said that 75% of its domains are in corporate hands.
Many companies are “based” in Luxembourg for tax reasons, which may have some impact on reg numbers.
Restena said that about 3,000 names of the 100,000 are “reserved” and not actively used.
The growth of .lu has not been particularly fast. My records show it has only grown by about 3,000 names over the last year.

Foreigners mostly speak foreign, ccTLD study finds

English may be the lingua franca of the internet, but most foreigners still stubbornly stick to their own tongues, a study has found.
The research, carried out by Oxford Information Labs for CENTR, covered 10 ccTLDs and geo-gTLDs and found that “on average, 76% of web content associated with each TLD reflects the languages spoken in the relevant country or territory.”
English was used in 19% of cases, with other languages coming in at 4%.
The Latin-script ccTLDs in question were .ch (Switzerland), .nl (Netherlands), .pt (Portugal), .ru (Russia), .se (Sweden) and .sk (Slovakia).
Also surveyed was the Cyrillic-script Russian ccTLD .рф and .nu, which is designated to English-speaking Niue but marketed primarily in Swedish-speaking Sweden (it also helpfully makes its zone files available for this kind of research).
The research also covered .cat, a gTLD specifically targeted at the Catalonia region of Spain.
In total, 16.4 million domains, culled from zone files, were looked at. The results were supplemented by research carried out in .nl by local registry SIDN.
Oxford Information Labs said that it was hired “to test the hypothesis that ccTLDs support local languages”
In each TLD, the minimum amount of content in the TLD-appropriate language (after parked pages and spam had been weeded out) was 64% of domains. That appears to be the score for .sk, the Slovakian TLD run by a British registry.
The highest concentration of local language occurred, as you might expect, in the IDN .рф.
Surprisingly, .cat, which I believe is the only TLD in the survey to contractually require “substantial” local-language content in its registrants’ web sites, appears to be about 30% non-Catalan.
The average across all the surveyed TLD was 76% local-language content. The researchers concluded:

This study’s findings indicate that country and regional TLDs boost the presence of local languages online and show lower levels of English language than is found in the domain name sector worldwide.

It is estimated that 54% of all web content is in English.

.icu joins the million-domains club in one year, but spam triples

Another new gTLD has joined the exclusive list of those to enter seven figures in terms of domains under management.
.icu, managed by ShortDot, topped one million names this week, according to COO Kevin Kopas.
It’s taken about a month for DUM to increase from 900,000 names, and if zone files are any guide half of that growth seems to have happened in the last week.
.icu domains currently sell for between $1 and $2 for the first year at the cheap end of the market, where most regs are concentrated, with renewals closer to the $10 mark.
The gTLD joins the likes of .club, .xyz, .site and .online to cross the seven-figure threshold.
When we reported on the 900,000-reg mark at the end of May, we noted that .icu had a SpamHaus “badness” rating of 6.4%, meaning that 6.4% of all the emails coming from .icu addresses that SpamHaus saw were classified as spam.
That score was roughly the same as .com, so therefore pretty respectable.
But in the meantime, .icu’s badness score has almost tripled, to 17.4%, while .com’s has stayed about the same.
Picking through the Google search results and Alexa list for .icu domains, it appears that high-quality legit web sites are few and far between.
Whether that’s a fixable symptom of .icu’s rapid growth — it’s only about 13 months post-launch — or a predictor of poor long-term potential remains to be seen.