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XYZ counting standard sales as “premiums” because its fees are so expensive

Kevin Murphy, November 19, 2021, Domain Registries

Portfolio gTLD registry XYZ appears to be counting regular sales of domains in certain TLDs as “premium” wins, because the base reg fee is so high.

The company said in a recent blog post that it sold over 270 “premium” names in October, but it added the following caveat:

Premium XYZ Registry domains refer to premium domains for extensions with standard and premium domains, and XYZ’s premium namespaces such as .Cars, .Storage, .Tickets, .Security, etc.

So if a name in a .com-equivalent priced TLD such as .xyz had been flagged as a premium by the registry and sold for a few thousands bucks, that counts as a premium sale, but any sale at all in .cars, where all domains cost a few thousand bucks regardless of the second-level string, also counts as a premium.

This reporting practice appears to bring in .security, .storage, .protection, .car, .auto, and .theatre, which all retail for four figures as standard. It also includes .tickets, where you won’t get much change out of a grand. It doesn’t include the fourth member of the cars family, .autos, where domains are priced as .com-equivalent.

I’m not sure how I feel about this.

You can’t accuse the registry of being misleading — it’s disclosing what it’s doing pretty prominently mid-post, not even reducing the font size.

And you can’t reasonably argue that a standard $3,000 .cars domain, which renews at $3,000 a year, for example, has less claim to the adjective “premium” than a domain in .hair that has a premium-tier EPP code selling for $3,000 but renewing at $20.

It just feels weird to see the word used in this way for what appears to be the first time.

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Nominet names Paul Fletcher new CEO

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2021, Domain Registries

Nominet has named Paul Fletcher as its new CEO.

He’ll join the company in February, filling the spot vacated by Russell Haworth, who quit earlier this year a few days before he could be fired by members.

Fletcher is currently CEO at BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT, Nominet said. BCS, formerly the British Computer Society, is also a membership organization, with 60,000 members.

Nominet is currently headed by interim CEO Eleanor Bradley, one of the directors removed from the board at the company’s fractious Emergency General Meeting in March.

Fletcher will join the board at the same time as he joins Nominet, the company said.

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CentralNic takes over a dead dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2021, Domain Registries

CentralNic has become the latest company to pounce on a dot-brand gTLD that was on its way to the dustbin of history.

The ICANN contract for .case was transferred to a London company called Helium TLDs, a CentralNic subsidiary, last week.

That company was previously called FANS TLD, and was the vehicle CentralNic used to acquire .fans from Asiamix Digital in 2018 before later passing it on to Hong Kong-based ZDNS International.

I believe something similar is happening here.

.case was a dot-brand owned, but never used, by CNH Industrial, which Wikipedia tells me is an American-Dutch-British-Italian company that makes about $28 billion a year making and selling agricultural and construction machinery. Diggers and forklifts and such.

CNH also managed .caseih, .newholland, and .iveco for some of its other brands, but these contracts were terminated earlier in the year.

The company had also asked ICANN to cancel its .case agreement, but that seems to have attracted acquisitive registry operators, and the termination request was withdrawn as I noted in September.

While terminating a dot-brand can often be seen as a lack of confidence in the dot-brand concept, selling off the gTLD to a third party rules out reapplying for the same string in future and can be seen as an even deeper disdain.

Now, .case is in CentralNic’s hands. I believe it’s the first dot-brand the company has taken over.

Rival registries including Donuts, XYZ and ShortDot have also swept up unwanted dot-brand gTLDs, stripped them of their restrictions, and repurposed them as general-purpose or niche spaces.

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Delta variant cranks up Aussie domain regs in Q3

Kevin Murphy, November 18, 2021, Domain Registries

Australia’s ccTLD had a growth spurt in the third quarter, driven by pandemic lockdown rules.

Local registry auDA today reported that it took 171,846 new domain creates in Q3, up 22% on Q2. There were over 60,500 new regs in July, making it .au’s second-biggest sales month of all time.

auDA said in its quarterly report (pdf):

This increase took place at a time when COVID-19 restrictions were re-introduced in several states, and followed a levelling out of demand and seasonal dip over Easter in Q2. However, Q3 registrations are only slightly below the same period in 2020, which experienced a historic peak in new domain names created, driven by COVID-19.

Such lockdown bumps were experienced by many registries in 2020, as bricks-and-mortar businesses rushed to get an online presence to continue functioning while stores and venues were closed.

The delta variant of Covid-19 started worrying Australia in June, leading to lockdown rules in major cities that lasted most or all of July. The country has had a relatively low incidence of the virus, but has taken a hard line on restrictions.

At the end of September, .au registrations were up 5% at 3,386,186 names, auDA said. The .com.au level names were up 6% but .net.au was down 1.5%.

Next March, Australia will follow in the footsteps of some other ccTLDs and make second-level .au domains available for the first time.

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.music goes live, plots 2022 launch

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2021, Domain Registries

.music has become the latest new gTLD to join the internet, but it seems unlikely to hit the market before the 10th anniversary of the 2012 ICANN application period.

The TLD was added to the DNS root at the end of October, with the first domain, the obligatory nic.music, going live a few days later.

The registry, Cyprus-based DotMusic, said in a press release that it plans to launch the gTLD next year.

.music was one of the most heavily contested gTLDs from the 2012 application round, with eight total applicants.

It was one of two Community applications, which promised a more controlled, restricted namespace in exchange for a smoother ride through the ICANN approval and contention resolution processes.

But it failed to win its Community Priority Evaluation, leading to years of appeals and ICANN reviews.

The contention set was finally resolved in 2019, apparently via auction, with DotMusic prevailing against heavy-hitters including Amazon and Google.

But the victorious registry was slow out of the blocks after that, taking almost two years to negotiate its registry agreement with ICANN.

It’s still going to be a restricted-community space when it finally launches, which makes its success anything but assured, regardless of the unquestionable strength of its string.

Sadly, while DotMusic CEO Constantine Roussos looked every bit the part of the hip young rocker when the .music application was first filed, showing up everywhere in a sports car, cool haircut, and designer skinny jeans, today he lives in a senior-care home, drives a mobility scooter, and needs to be changed hourly.

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Three ICANN directors wanted to go to Puerto Rico

Kevin Murphy, November 17, 2021, Domain Policy

The ICANN board of directors’ decision to scrap the in-person component of its next public meeting was not unanimous, it has emerged.

Three directors voted against the November 4 resolution, which said ICANN 73 would be ICANN’s seventh consecutive online-only gathering, according the a preliminary board report.

The plan for months was to have a “hybrid” meeting, with some face-to-face component at the convention center in San Juan, Puerto Rico, as an intermediate step towards post-pandemic normality.

But at the time of the vote travel restrictions in the US were such that getting to Puerto Rico was tough even for fellow Americans, so ICANN’s meetings team had not been able to do on-site preparation.

Nine directors voted to make 73 virtual, with four absent during the vote, the preliminary report states.

Five directors have taken their seats since the coronavirus pandemic began, and have therefore never officially met with their board colleagues in person.

It’s not the first time the board has been split on this matter. Last year, directors Ron Da Silva and Ihab Osman voted to return to face-to-face for the October 2020 Hamburg meeting.

Da Silva is no longer on the board, but there are at least two other directors among the current line-up on the same page.

The voting breakdown will not be revealed until the board approves the November 4 minutes, which could be months if history is any guide.

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Architect of Nominet boardroom bloodbath and Tucows backer win director seats

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2021, Domain Registries

UK registry Nominet has announced the winners of its non-executive director election, with Simon Blackler securing a runaway victory. Ashley La Bolle of Tucows was also elected, with a strong share of the votes.

Blackler is the architect of the PublicBenefit.uk campaign, which was behind a boardroom bloodbath earlier this year, and La Bolle is director of domains at Tucows, the biggest registrar name to support that campaign.

According to Nominet, Blackler secured 1,285,370 of the 2,558,650 votes in the first-preference round of voting, a smidge over 50%. La Bolle got 750,447 votes, 29.3%, at the same stage, picking up the extra she needed after votes were transferred.

The other four candidates all received 7% or less of the votes in the first-preference ballot.

Voting was based on how many domain names members control, capped at 3% to avoid too much capture by the larger registrars.

Nominet said that turnout was 24.3% — 553 of the 2,276 eligible voters actually cast a ballot.

Blackler and La Bolle will join Nominet’s board at its next Annual General Meeting, which happens this Thursday.

They replace domain investor David Thornton, who had stood for reelection but received less than 6% of the first-round votes, and GoDaddy policy veep James Bladel, who did not stand.

Blackler, who runs the registrar Krystal Hosting, started the PublicBenefit.uk campaign earlier this year in protest at what was seen as Nominet’s unresponsiveness and lack of transparency towards its members.

He rallied a crowd of members upset with what they saw as the company’s diversification into non-core businesses, excessive director and executive compensation, and diminishing devotion to supporting public-benefit causes.

The campaign resulted in the forced resignation of the CEO, the ouster of the chair and almost half the directors, and a renewed focus on the .uk registry and charitable causes under a new chair.

Tucows was the biggest-name registrar to back the campaign, with La Bolle repeatedly blogging about how Nominet needed to be more transparent and engage better with its members.

“Humbled by the amount of support and looking forward to improving Nominet for ALL,” Blackler tweeted following the results announcement.

“I’m truly honoured to be appointed to Nominet’s Board as an NED and am grateful for the support and trust from my peers,” La Bolle said via email. “As well-stated throughout my campaign, I am committed to helping Nominet refocus on its core mandate and re-engage its members to better serve our entire community.”

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Virgin territory as GoDaddy pushes $30 million porn domain renewals

Kevin Murphy, November 16, 2021, Domain Registries

Brand owners big and small are in for a potential surprise December 1, as their 10-year-old .xxx domain blocks expire and registrars bill their customers to convert them into a new annually-renewing GoDaddy service.

GoDaddy confirmed to DI today that it will “auto-convert” the old Sunrise B blocks, first sold by ICM Registry in 2011, to its new AdultBlock service, which provides essentially the same functionality but across four TLDs rather than one.

Tony Kirsch, head of professional services at GoDaddy Registry, said:

Registrars have been contacting all the Sunrise B owners and advising them that as of December 1 they will be grandfathered and automatically converted into an AdultBlock service, but they have a choice to expire that or stop that happening prior to December 1.

And if it is that they don’t do that before December 1, we’ll still give them a grace period of at least 45 days. If that happens they can then, as you’d normally do, just turn around to the registrar and say “We don’t want that” and we will of course refund the money.

This means that GoDaddy, which acquired .xxx and ICM from MMX earlier this year, is billing its .xxx registrar partners to convert and renew what could be as many as 81,000 Sunrise B blocks.

While the registry fee for AdultBlock has not been published, retail registrars I checked have priced the service at $370 to $400 per year, which we can probably assume is low-end pricing. Most .xxx domains are sold via the specialist brand-protection registrars like CSC and Markmonitor, which sometimes have more complex pricing.

So that’s something in the ballpark of $30 million worth of renewal invoices being sent out in the coming weeks, for something in many cases brand owners may have institutionally forgot about.

Kirsch said that AdultBlock was introduced by MMX about 18 months ago and that registrars have been preparing their customers for the Sunrise B expiration for some time.

Sunrise B was a program, unprecedented in the industry at the time, whereby trademark owners could pay a one-off fee — ICM charged its registrars about $160 wholesale — to have their brands removed from the available pool.

The domains exist in the .xxx zone file and resolve to a black page bearing the words “This domain has been reserved from registration”, but they’re not registered and usable like normal defensive or sunrise registrations would be.

Companies got to avoid not only the potential embarrassment of being porn-squatted, but also the hassle of having to explain to a tabloid reporter why they “owned” the .xxx domain in question.

The term of the Sunrise B block was 10 years. ICM told me at the time that this was because the company’s initial registry contract with ICANN only lasted for 10 years, so it was legally unable to sell longer-term blocks, but I’ve never been sure how much I buy that explanation.

Regardless, that 10 year period comes to an end in two weeks.

Because Sunrise B was unprecedented, this first renewal phase is also unprecedented. We’re in virgin territory (pun, of course, very much intended) here.

Will we see the industry’s first public “block junk drop”?

There are a number of reasons to believe trademark owners, assuming they don’t just blindly pay their registrar’s invoices, would choose to allow their blocks to expire or to ask for a refund after the fact.

First, the price has gone up — a lot.

While ICM charged $160 for a 10-year Sunrise B block (maybe marked up by registrars to a few hundred bucks) brand owners can expect to pay something like $3,000 retail for a single string blocked for 10 years.

But buyers do get a bit more bang for their buck. Unlike Sunrise B, AdultBlock also blocks the trademark in three additional GoDaddy-owned TLDs — .porn, .sex and .adult — as standard.

Kirsch said he expects buyers to see a 40% to 50% saving compared to the cost of defensively registering each domain individually.

Second, the appetite for defensive registrations has waned over the past 10 years, with trademark owners employing more nuanced approaches to brand protection, largely due to the flood of new gTLDs since 2013.

When .adult, .sex and .porn launched, without the possibility of Sunrise B blocks, they got about 2,000 regular sunrise registrations each. And that’s extraordinarily high — for most new gTLDs a couple hundred was a good turnout.

Third, the .xxx launch attracted a whole lot of controversy and overreaction, and the .xxx zone file today contains a lot of Sunrise B crap.

When I scrolled a little through the zone, cherry-picking silly-looking blocks in 2019, I found these examples:

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

Is it worth $400 a year to block the trademark “100 Percent Whole Wheat That Kids Love To Eat”? Is there any real danger of a cybersquatter going after that particular brand (apart from the fact that I’ve now written about it twice)?

Kirsch said a “small percentage” of Sunrise B owners have already said they don’t want to convert, but given that the rest will auto-convert, and that the registrars are doing all the customer-facing stuff, the company has limited visibility into likely uptake.

Brian King, director of policy at MarkMonitor, told us: “We generally encourage our clients to consider blocks. They can be cost effective and a lot of times clients would rather have their brand be unavailable without having to register in TLDs where they don’t want to own domain registrations for any number of reasons.”

One reason brand owners may want to consider converting to AdultBlock — it’s rumored that GoDaddy will be relaxing its eligibility criteria for .xxx next year, removing the requirement for registrants to have a nexus to the porn industry.

It’s always been kind of a bullshit rule, basically a hack to allow ICM to run a “sponsored” TLD under ICANN’s rules from the 2003 application round, but doing away with it would potentially make it easier for cybersquatters to get their hands on .xxx domains.

CSC told customers in a recent webinar that the rules are likely to be changed next year, increasing the risk of cybersquatting.

There’s some circumstantial evidence to suggest that CSC might be on to something — pretty much every “sponsored” gTLD from the same 2003 application round as .xxx has relaxed their reg rules to some extent, sometimes when their contracts come up for renewal and ICANN tries to normalize them with the text of the standard 2012-round agreement.

And GoDaddy’s .xxx contract with ICANN is being renegotiated right now. It was due to expire in March, but it was extended in February until December 15, a little under a month from now. We may soon see ICANN open up the new text for public comment.

Kirsch, who’s not part of the negotiations, could not confirm that the eligibility relaxation is going to happen or that it’s something GoDaddy is pushing for.

If it were to happen, it wouldn’t be for some time, and it wouldn’t necessarily impact on the December 1 deadline for Sunrise B conversions, which is going to be interesting to watch in its own right.

“There are registrations that are protecting people’s trademarks that are expiring and our primary objective here is to ensure that that protection continues, and that’s what we’ll do,” GoDaddy’s Kirsch said.

“If we just let them expire, it would create a lot of opportunity for brand infringement. Faced with that choice, our primary objective is to protect trademark owners,” he said.

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ICANN abandons face-to-face plan for Puerto Rico

Kevin Murphy, November 5, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has canceled its plans for a “hybrid” ICANN 73, saying this morning that the meeting will go ahead as an online-only virtual meeting.

Its board of directors yesterday voted to abandon efforts to have a face-to-face component in Puerto Rico as originally planned, as I predicted a few days ago.

ICANN of course said it’s because of the coronavirus pandemic, and more particularly the associated travel restrictions and the lack of access to vaccines in some parts of the world from which its community members hail.

The US Centers for Disease Control currently rates Puerto Rico as its second-highest risk level, meaning ICANN’s meetings staff have been unable to travel there to do on-site planning. ICANN said:

While there has been progress that might make it feasible to plan for and convene a meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico in March 2022, the current risks and uncertainties remain too high to proceed with an in-person meeting or with an in-person component.

Its board resolution stated:

Between the global inequity in vaccine availability across the world, continuing restrictions on persons from many countries or territories being allowed to enter the U.S., and backlogs in visa processing for those who are able to enter the U.S., ICANN org cannot estimate with any confidence the ability for attendees outside of the U.S. to attend ICANN73.

So 73 will be Zoom again. The time zone will remain UTC-4, Puerto Rico local time, which should make it less problematic for Europeans to attend.

The dates are still slated for March 5 to March 10 next year, but it seems likely that we’ll be looking at a March 7 kick-off, as March 5 is a Saturday and people don’t like working weekends if not somewhere they can also work on their tans.

ICANN said it “affirmed its intent” to attempt the hybrid model again for the mid-year ICANN 74 meeting, which is due to take place in The Hague, Netherlands, next June.

It’s bad news for ICANN participation, which has been declining in the new era of virtual meetings, but good news for its bank account. Virtual meetings cost a few million dollars less than in-person ones.

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ICANN teases prices for private Whois lookups

Kevin Murphy, November 4, 2021, Domain Policy

ICANN has started to put some flesh on the bones of the forthcoming (?) SSAD system for accessing private Whois records, including teasing some baseline pricing.

During a session at ICANN 72 last week, staffers said responses to recent requests for information put the cost of having an identity verified as an SSAD user at about $10 to $20.

Those are vendor wholesale prices, however, covering the cost of looking at a government-issue ID and making sure it’s legit, and do not include the extra administration and cost-recovery charges that ICANN plans to place on top.

The verification fee would have to be renewed every two years under ICANN’s proposal, though the verification vendors are apparently pushing for annual renewals.

The fee also would not include the likely per-query charge that users will have to pay to request the true personal data behind a redacted Whois record.

It’s not currently anticipated that any money would flow to registrars, CEO Göran Marby said.

SSAD, the Standardized System for Access and Disclosure, is currently undergoing Operational Design Phase work in ICANN, with monthly webinar updates for the community.

ICANN expects to reveal more pricing details on the December webinar, staffers said.

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