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ICANN launches cash-for-kids scheme

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN will hand over cash to help community members cover their childcare commitments, the organization announced yesterday.
If you show up to an ICANN public meeting with an ankle-biter under 12 years of age, ICANN will give you up to $750 to cover the cost of babysitting.
You’ll have to show receipts, and ICANN will not cover stuff like travel, lodging, tourism or other costs that parents would have during the normal course of owning a kid.
Only volunteer community members will qualify, not staffers. The full list of rules can be found here.
While the announcement may seem unusual, it does not come out of the blue. There have been a number of public calls, from a handful of single parents, for ICANN to lay on some kind of on-site childcare services over the last several years.
It isn’t doing that, however. Good grief, imagine the optics if ICANN accidentally killed a kid…
Instead, it will only give parents a list of nearby childcare providers, which it will not formally vet or recommend, and let them make their own minds up.
The program is a pilot, and will run at the next three meetings in Montreal, Cancun and Kuala Lumpur.

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After $30 million deal, is a .voice gTLD now inevitable?

Do big second-level domain sales translate into new gTLD success, and does the record-breaking $30 million sale of voice.com this week make a .voice gTLD inevitable?
The answers, I believe, are no and maybe.
Before the 2012 new gTLD application round, one way applicants picked their strings was by combing through the .com zone file to find frequently-occurring words that terminated the second level string.
This is where we get the likes of .site and .online from Radix and much of Donuts’ portfolio.
But applicants also looked at lists of high-priced secondary market sales for inspiration.
This is where we get the likes of .vodka, from MMX.
The latter strategy has seen mixed-to-poor results.
Five of the top domain sales, as compiled by Domain Name Journal, were not eligible for gTLD status are they are too short.
Of the remaining 15 strings, “sex” (which occurs twice), “fund”, “porn”, “toys” and “vodka” were all applied for in 2012 and are currently on sale.
The strings “clothes” and “diamond” do not appear as gTLDs, but Donuts runs both .clothing and .diamonds.
Not delegated in any fashion are “porno” (unless you count it as a derivative of “porn”), “slots”, “tesla”, “whisky” and “california”. A company called IntercontinentalExchange runs .ice as a dot-brand.
As well as .clothing and .diamonds, .fund and .toys are both also Donuts TLDs. None of them are doing spectacularly well.
At the lower end, .diamonds currently has fewer than 3,000 domain under management, but has a relatively high price compared to the the higher-volume TLDs in Donuts’ stable.
At the high-volume end, .fund has just shy of 16,000 names and .clothing has about 12,000.
Judging by their retail prices, and the fact that Donuts benefits from the economies of scale of a 240-strong TLD portfolio, I’m going to guess these domains are profitable, but not hugely so.
If we turn our attention to .vodka, with its roughly 1,500 domains, it seems clear that MMX is barely covering the cost of its annual ICANN fees. Yet vodka.com sold for $3 million.
So will anyone be tempted to apply for .voice in the next gTLD application round? I’d say it’s very possible.
First, “voice” is a nice enough string. It could apply to telephony services, but also to general publishing platforms that give their customers a “voice”. I’d say it could gather up enough registrations to fit profitably into a large portfolio, but would not break any records in terms of volume.
But perhaps the existence of voice.com buyer Block.one as a possible applicant will raise some other applicants out of the woodwork.
Block.one, which uses a new gTLD and an alt-ccTLD (.io) for its primary web sites, is certainly not out-of-touch when it come to alternative domain names.
Could it apply for .voice, and if it does how much would it be willing to spend to pay off rival applicants? It still apparently has billions of dollars from its internet coin offering in the bank.
How much of that would it be prepared to pay for .voice at private auction?
That prospect alone might be enough to stir the interest of some would-be applicants, but it has to be said that it’s by no means certain that the highly gameable application process ICANN deployed in 2012 is going to look the same next time around.

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Watch John Oliver take down voice.com’s buyer

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2019, Domain Sales

The blockchain developer that just spaffed $30 million on the domain name voice.com was the subject of a takedown on Last Week Tonight With John Oliver a year ago.
Oliver spent four minutes of a 25-minute rant about cryptocurrency offering some harsh criticisms of Block.one, which made the record-breaking purchase to brand its forthcoming crypto-based social media platform Voice.
He’s primarily concerned with warning viewers that initial coin offerings may be nothing but huge scams, and that a key Block.one backer (who left the company shortly after the show aired) may be a bit shady.
The whole segment’s worth a watch for context, but here’s the part concerning Block.one.


    Last Week Tonight, in case you somehow don’t know, its a weekly topical comedy show that airs on HBO in North America, Sky Atlantic in the UK and Ireland, and The Comedy Channel in Australia. It’s one of the best things on the telly, and I consider John Oliver the de facto UK ambassador to the US.

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Record-breaking $30 million domain sale was financed by cryptocurrency

Kevin Murphy, June 19, 2019, Domain Sales

Records were broken yesterday when voice.com became the most-expensive domain name ever sold.
Handed over for a cool $30 million cash, it more than doubled the previous record for a domain-only transaction, 2010’s $13 million sale of sex.com.
The seller was MicroStrategy, an analytics software provider that just happens to have a stash of high-end, one-word .com domains among its assets.
The new owner is Block.one, a blockchain software developer that has raised a staggering amount of money despite not yet having any products.
The voice.com domain will be used for Voice, its first service, a social media platform based on the EOSIO blockchain platform that Block.one develops.
How Voice specifically differs from existing social media offerings is currently a little vague. It’s currently just a press release and a beta-signup form.
But the company says it will be more transparent than competitors such as Facebook or Instagram, with revenue generated feeding its content-creating users rather than the platform owner.
Not even the blogs covering crypto on a daily basis seem to understand the Voice business model yet.
A crucial step in the early stages appears to be enticing so-called “influencers” — social media personalities with large followings — over from the current dominant platforms with the promise of huge financial rewards (presumably paid in cryptocurrency) if they bring their fans with them.
Key differences include the fact that users will need a government-issued ID to sign up (mitigating the problem of anonymous trolling and bots), and that every post will be recorded for eternity in the blockchain.
Is this what social media users are crying out for? More friction and less privacy? I don’t get it, personally. But then I didn’t get Twitter at first either.
The product was announced at a flashy news event in Washington, DV a few weeks ago. An executive discusses the value proposition briefly at around the 20-minute mark in this video recording.
Block.one itself is an equally odd fish.
It has amassed oodles of cash despite having no obvious business model. It may be the only company with a billion-dollar-plus valuation that doesn’t even have its own Wikipedia page.
It reportedly raised over $4 billion through an initial coin offering — where speculators buy a basically unused cryptocurrency in the hope that it will be adopted and its value will rise — over the space of a year.
The ICO’s success appears to be partly based on the personal branding of its founders, backers and executives, who have made names for themselves in the burgeoning crypto space.
Since the ICO ended about a year ago, the company has been pumping tens of millions of dollars into third-party projects that use its EOS blockchain, in an attempt to spur adoption.
It also reportedly expects to spend $150 million developing Voice.
So, $30 million is pretty much pocket change to these guys, who’ve rewarded MicroStrategy’s speculation in domain names with the fruits of their own investors’ speculation in another type of essentially worthless digital record.
In many ways, I guess cryptocurrency really is turning out to be to this decade what domain investment was to the last.
Ten years from now, perhaps voice.com will be sold for a trillion dollars, paid for in telepathic tulips or something.

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.gay not coming out this year after all

We won’t be seeing .gay on the internet this year.
Top Level Design has postponed the release of its hard-won gTLD until the second quarter of 2020, having recently said it was planning an October 2019 launch.
The company told registrars yesterday that it wants “to move forward on a timeline that will allow us to create greater impact in a more measured manner”.
The October date was meant to coincide with National Coming Out Day, which I said was “absolutely perfect”.
The 2020 date will instead coincide with one of the Pride events, the registry said.
The story is that Top Level Design wants to spend more time building up support from gay community groups, before it comes to market.
But CEO Ray King denied that it’s facing resistance from groups that supported the rival community-based application from dotgay LLC, which lost the chance to run .gay when it was auctioned.
“It’s really just about having enough time to do a thoughtful launch,” King told DI.
The company recently blogged about one of its .gay marketing brainstorming sessions.

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New gTLD registry is latest billion-dollar unicorn

A new gTLD registry that used a different new gTLD for its original web site has merged to form a new company valued at a billion dollars using a new brand in a third new gTLD.
Combell Group announced this week that it has merged with TransIP Group, and that its combined valuation is over $1 billion.
They’re both European hosting companies. Together, they say that have 1.2 million customers and 600 employees.
The newly merged entity is called team.blue — that’s its brand and, using an Afilias-operated gTLD, its new primary domain.
As a privately held company with a billion-dollar valuation, it joins a list of companies called “unicorns”. For some reason.
Combell and TransIP both have domain registrar businesses and play primarily into the Scandinavian and Benelux regions of Europe.
Combell, which has its corporate site at combell.group, owns Danish registrar DanDomain, which was ICANN-accredited with about 20,000 domains under management until it allowed its accreditation to lapse at the start of the year.
TransIP, which was using a .eu domain, is ICANN-accredited, but has no gTLD domains to its name.
Curiously, the two registrars have sequential IANA IDs — 1603 and 1604.
Combell is also the registry for .gent, the new gTLD for the Belgian city of Ghent.

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PwC wants to be your Whois gatekeeper

Kevin Murphy, June 11, 2019, Domain Services

PricewaterhouseCoopers has built a Whois access system that may help domain name companies and intellectual property interests call a truce in their ongoing battle over access to private Whois data.
Its new TieredAccess Platform will enable registries and registrars to “outsource the entire process of providing access to non-public domain registration data”.
That’s according to IP lawyer Bart Lieben, partner at the Belgian law firm ARTES, who devised the system and is working with PwC to develop it.
The offering is designed to give trademark lawyers access to the data they lust after, while also reducing costs and mitigating domain name industry liability under the General Data Protection Regulation.
TieredAccess would make PwC essentially the gatekeeper for all requests for private Whois data (at least, in the registries plugged into the platform) coming from the likes of trademark owners, security researchers, lawyers and law enforcement agencies.
At one end, these requestors would be pre-vetted by PwC, after which they’d be able to ask for unredacted Whois records using PwC as an intermediary.
They’d have to pick from one of 43 pre-written request scenarios (such as cybersquatting investigation, criminal probe or spam prevention) and assert that they will only use the data they obtain for the stated purposes.
At the other end, registries and registrars will have adopted a set of rules that specify how such requests should be responded to.
A ruleset could say that cops get more access to data than security researchers, for example, or that a criminal investigation is more important than a UDRP complaint.
PwC has created a bunch of templates, but registrars and registries would be able to adapt these policies to their own tastes.
Once the rules are put in place, and the up-front implementation work has been done to plug PwC into their Whois servers, they wouldn’t have to worry about dealing with Whois requests manually as most are today. The whole lot would be automated.
Not even PwC would have human eyes on the requests. The private data would only be stored temporarily.
One could argue that there’s the potential for abusive or non-compliant requests making it through, which may give liability-nervous companies pause.
But the requests and response metadata would be logged for audit and compliance, so abusive users could be fingered after the act.
Lieben says the whole system has been checked for GDPR compliance, assuming its prefabricated baseline scenarios and templates are adopted unadulterated.
He said that the PwC brand should give clients on both sides “peace of mind” that they’re not breaking privacy law.
If a registrar requires an affidavit before releasing data, the assertions requestors make to PwC should tick that box, he said.
Given that this is probably a harder sell to the domain name industry side of the equation, it’s perhaps not surprising that it’s the requestors that are likely to shoulder most of the cost burden of using the service.
Lieben said a pricing model has not yet been set, but that it could see fees paid by registrars subsidized by the fees paid by requestors.
There’s a chance registries could wind up paying nothing, he said.
The project has been in the works since September and is currently in the testing phase, with PwC trying to entice registries and registrars onto the platform.
Lieben said some companies have already agreed to test the service, but he could not name them yet.
The service was developed against the backdrop of ongoing community discussions within ICANN in the Expedited Policy Development Working group, which is trying to create a GDPR-compliant policy for access to private Whois records.
ICANN Org has also made it known that it is considering making itself the clearinghouse for Whois queries, to allow its contracted parties to offload some liability.
It’s quite possible that once the policies are in place, ICANN may well decide to outsource the gatekeeper function to the likes of PwC.
That appears to be what Lieben has in mind. After all, it’s what he did with the Trademark Clearinghouse almost a decade ago — building it independently with Deloitte while the new gTLD rules were still being written and then selling the service to ICANN when the time came.
The TieredAccess service is described in some detail here.

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.wang cut off with Chinese red tape

The registry behind .wang and several Chinese-language gTLDs has seen its official registry web site blocked due to Chinese regulations.
Zodiac Registry, which also runs .商城, .八卦 and .网店 (“mail”, “gossip” and “shop”), has seen zodiacregistry.com intercepted by its web host and replaced with a placeholder message explaining that the site lacks the proper government license.
Wang blocked
It seems to have happened relatively recently. Google’s cache shows results from the page resolving normally in late May.
Ironically, its host is Alibaba, which also happens to be its largest registrar partner.
There’s no suggestion that registry operations or registrants have been affected. Domain availability checks at registrars for Zodiac TLDs appear to be working as normal.
The downtime appears to be a configuration problem. Alibaba requires customers to submit their Internet Content Provider license number before it will allow their sites to resolve properly.
ICP licenses are part of China’s censorship regime, issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. They must be obtained by any Chinese web site that wants to operate in China.
Zodiac does in fact have such a license, which according to the MIIT web site is active on at least six other domains.
While zodiacregistry.com is the domain officially listed with IANA for the company, it also operates TLD-specific sites such as bagua.wang for the “gossip” registry. None of these have been affected by the licensing issue.
UPDATE June 12: The site is now back online as normal.

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This latest Chinese bubble could deflate ccTLD growth

With many ccTLD operators recently reporting stagnant growth or shrinkage, one registry has performed stunningly well over the last year. Sadly, it bears the hallmarks of another speculative bubble originating in China.
Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief reported that ccTLDs, excluding the never-shrinking anomaly that is .tk, increased by 1.4 million domains in the first quarter of the year.
But it turns out about 1.2 million of those net new domains came from just one TLD: Taiwan’s .tw, operated by TWNIC.
Looking at the annual growth numbers, the DNIB reports that ccTLDs globally grew by 7.8 million names between the ends of March 2018 and March 2019.
But it also turns out that quite a lot of that — over five million names — also came from .tw.
Since August 2018, .tw has netted 5.8 million new registrations, ending May with 6.5 million names.
It’s come from basically nowhere to become the fifth-largest ccTLD by volume, or fourth if you exclude .tk, per the DNIB.
History tells us that when TLDs experience such huge, unprecedented growth spurts, it’s usually due to lowering prices or liberalizing registration policies.
In this case, it’s a bit of both. But mostly pricing.
TWNIC has made it much easier to get approved to sell .tw names if you’re already an ICANN-accredited registrar.
But it’s primarily a steep price cut that TWNIC briefly introduced last August that is behind huge uptick in sales.
Registry CEO Kenny Huang confirmed to DI that the pricing promo is behind the growth.
For about a month, registrants could obtain a one-year Latin or Chinese IDN .tw name for NTD 50 (about $1.50), a whopping 95% discount on its usual annual fee (about $30).
As a result, TWNIC added four million names in August and September, according to registry stats. The vast majority were Latin-script names.
According to China domain market experts Allegravita, and confirmed by Archive.org, one Taiwanese registrar was offering free .tw domains for a day whenever a Chinese Taipei athlete won a gold medal during the Asian Games, which ran over August and September. They wound up winning 17 golds.
Huang said that the majority of the regs came from mainland Chinese registrants.
History shows that big growth spurts like this inevitably lead to big declines a year or two later, in the “junk drop”. It’s not unusual for a registry to lose 90%+ of its free or cheap domains after the promotional first year is over.
Huang confirmed that he’s expecting .tw registrations to drop in the fourth quarter.
It seems likely that later this year we’re very likely going to see the impact of the .tw junk drop on ccTLD volumes overall, which are already perilously close to flat.
Speculative bubbles from China have in recent years contributed to wobbly performance from the new gTLD sector and even to .com itself.

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Dodgy registrars could be banned from .org promotions

The worse a registrar is at tackling abuse, the more likely it is to be excluded from promotions in the .org space, according to a new policy from Public Interest Registry.
The .org registry said today that it is introducing a new “Quality Performance Index” to rate its registrars according to the quality of their registrations.
They’ll be ranked according to three criteria: abuse takedown, renewal rates, and domain usage.
Those that score above a certain threshold will be pre-qualified for promotions. The others will be encouraged to talk to their PIR rep about things they could do to get their scores up.
This kind of mechanism should in theory make it relatively easy to separate registrars into conscientious corporate citizens on the one hand and fly-by-night spam-friendly jerks on the other.
Keeping the bad guys away from the discounts could go a long way to keeping .org a relatively healthy zone.
But I expect there may be concern from the middle-ground of the registrar space, where we have well-meaning but under-resourced registrars that may find their scores wanting.
An additional concern may be that PIR said it intends to change the score threshold depending on the promotion, which appears to give it the ability to exclude registrars more or less at will.
The QPI initiative also extends to PIR’s newer, lesser-used gTLDs.

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