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D3 signs up crypto gTLD client number five

Kevin Murphy, February 15, 2024, Domain Services

New gTLD consultancy D3 Global has signed up its fifth blockchain gTLD client since launching last September.

The company today announced a deal with Core Chain to apply for .core when ICANN next opens a new gTLD application window, currently expected mid-2026.

Core Chain makes a software platform for developers that want to building decentralized applications on blockchains. It says it has over five million connected cryptocurrency wallets.

D3 has recently announced similar partnerships with NEAR Foundation (.near), Gate.io (.gate), Viction (.vic) and Shiba Inu (.shib).

The company says its mission is to help blockchain companies operate on the traditional DNS as well as the blockchain-based alternate naming systems.

GoDaddy offers free Ethereum blockchain integration

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2024, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy has updated its domain management platform to allow users to add their Ethereum blockchain wallet addresses to their domains for free.

The registrar said it has partnered with Ethereum Name Service to offer the service, which will enable mutual customers to transact with ETH cryptocurrency using regular domain names instead of the massive gibberish strings crypto wallets usually use.

It’s free, due to ENS’s release last week of gasless DNSSEC, which links Ethereum to DNS by placing wallet addresses in the TXT records of domain names.

Before this update, ENS said the crypto transaction fees (“gas fees”) involved in validating domain ownership could reach as high as 0.5 ETH, which is over $1,100 at today’s prices.

The GoDaddy integration means the process of adding the TXT records has been simplified and can the accomplished in just a few clicks via the usual domain management interface.

Using ENS with your domain does require turning on DNSSEC, which adds some security benefits but also carries a downtime risk over the long term.

Shiba Inu outs itself as crypto new gTLD applicant

Kevin Murphy, December 19, 2023, Domain Registries

Shib, the developer behind the Shiba Inu cryptocurrency, said today that it plans to apply to ICANN for the .shib top-level domain.

The idea is to have the domain in the consensus DNS root and also in a blockchain and to make the two interoperable.

The company has partnered with D3 Global, the startup launched in September by industry veterans Fred Hsu, Paul Stahura and Shayan Rostam, to work on the application and interoperability platform.

Shib seems to be the second customer for D3. It’s also working with a blockchain company called Viction on .vic.

Perhaps erring on the side of responsibility, D3 is using an asterisk instead of a dot when offering names prior to ICANN approval, so it’s *shib and *vic instead of .shib and .vic.

The next ICANN application round is not expected to open until early-to-mid-2026.

ICANN turns down money from blockchain alt-root

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2023, Domain Policy

It seems ICANN is turning down free money from blockchain alt-root providers, apparently as a matter of principle.

We hear one such alt-root, Freename.io, tried to sponsor the upcoming ICANN 78 meeting in Hamburg, but was rebuffed.

“At this time, ICANN is not interested in having Freename serve as a sponsor and will not be moving forward with a sponsorship agreement,” the Org told the company in an unsigned email.

Freename had offered to be a general sponsor, and not at the cheapest tier, I’m told.

ICANN sponsorship offers typically start in the low thousands but can get up to six figures at the higher tiers. Sponsorship is overall a very small part of ICANN’s revenue.

Org has become increasingly rattled in recent years with the proliferation of alt-roots, which have been gradually gaining market acceptance while ICANN’s own efforts to expand the domain universe languish in interminable policy knots.

ICANN delayed the sale of the UNR portfolio of gTLDs until buyers renounced their ownership rights to blockchain versions of their authoritative root strings.

Clearly, splashing an alt-root’s branding all over an ICANN stage would be seen as problematic.

Freename.io plans to attend the Hamburg meeting anyway.

.art links DNS and alt-root ENS

UK Creative Ideas, the .art gTLD registry, has started offering its registrants the ability to register names on the blockchain-based alt-root Ethereum Name Service that exactly match their DNS names, for a one-time fee.

CMO Jeff Sass said that for $20, paid in Ethereum coin, registrants can secure their exact-match on the ENS, with no renewal fees.

There’s an authentication system using DNS TXT records to make sure only .art DNS registrants can obtain their matching ENS names, he said.

“We’ve married the two together, so there can’t be any confusion or collisions,” he said.

The benefit of this is that registrants will be able use their .art domains to address their cryptocurrency wallets. Web browsers that support ENS obviously already support DNS, so there’s no real benefit in that context.

.ART is also selling ENS .art names without matching DNS names — and these can include ICANN-prohibited characters such as emojis — but these are priced from $5 to $650, based on character count, and have annual renewal fees.

.art current has about 230,000 registered names, a pretty respectable number for a new gTLD, and Sass said about 60% of them are in the form of firstnamelastname.art, suggesting usage by professional and amateur artists.

gTLD registries selling matches in alt-roots has been a cause of concern at ICANN over recent years, due to legal concerns. Uniregistry’s sale of its portfolio was held up for months because of this.

It’s ICANN versus the blockchain in Kuala Lumpur

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2022, Domain Policy

Internet fragmentation and the rise of blockchain-based naming systems were firmly on the agenda at ICANN 75 in Kuala Lumpur today, with two sessions exploring the topic and ICANN’s CTO at one point delivering a brutal gotcha to a lead blockchain developer.

Luc van Kampen, head of developer relations at Ethereum Name Service, joined a panel entitled Emerging Identifier Technologies, to talk up the benefits of ENS.

He did a pretty good job, I thought, delivering one of the clearest and most concise explanations of ENS I’ve heard to date.

He used as an example ICANN’s various handles across various social media platforms — which are generally different depending on the platform, because ICANN was late to the party registering its name — to demonstrate the value of having a single ENS name, associated with a cryptographic key, that can be used to securely identify a user across the internet.

Passive aggressive? Maybe. But it got his point across.

“We at ENS envisage a world where everyone can use their domain as a universal identifier,” he said. Currently, 600,000 users have registered 2.4 million .eth domains, and over 1,000 web sites support it, he said.

He described how ENS allows decentralized web sites, is managed by a decentralized autonomous organization (DAO) and funded by the $5 annual fee for each .eth name that is sold.

Van Kampen had ready responses to questions about how it would be feasible for ENS to apply to ICANN to run .eth in the consensus root in the next new gTLD application round, suggesting that it’s something ENS is thinking about in detail.

While not confirming that ENS will apply, he described how a gateway or bridge between the Ethereum blockchain and the ICANN root would be required to allow ENS to meet contractual requirements such as zone file escrow.

What did not come up is the fact the the string “eth” is likely to be reserved as the three-character code for Ethiopia. If the next round has the same terms as the 2012 round, .eth will not even enter full evaluation.

But the real gotcha came when ICANN CTO John Crain, after acknowledging the technology is “really cool”, came to ask a question.

“What kind of safeguards and norms are you putting in place regarding misbehavior and harm with these names?” Crain asked.

Van Kampen replied: “Under the current implementation of the Ethereum Name Service and the extensions that implement us and the integrations we have, domains are unable to be revoked under any circumstances.”

“So if I understand correctly, under the current solution, if I’m a criminal and I register a name in your space, I’m pretty secure today,” Crain asked. “I’m not going to lose my name?”

Van Kampen replied: “Under the current system, everything under the Ethereum Name Service and everything registered via us with the .eth TLD are completely censorship resistant.”

Herein lies one of the biggest barriers to mainstream adoption of blockchain-based alt-roots. Who’s going to want to be associated with a system that permits malware, phishing, dangerous fake pharma and child sexual abuse material? Who wants to be known as the maker of the “kiddy porn browser”?

If I were Crain I’d be feeling pretty smug after that exchange.

That’s not to say that ICANN put in a wholly reassuring performance today.

Technologist Alain Durand preceded van Kampen with a presentation pointing out the substantial problems with name collisions that could be caused by blockchain-based alt-roots, not only between the alt-root and the ICANN root, but also between different alt-roots.

It’s a position he outlined in a paper earlier this year, but this time it was supplemented with slides outlining a hypothetical conversation between two internet users slowly coming to the realization that different namespaces are not compatible, and that the ex-boyfriend of “Sally” has registered a name that collides with current boyfriend “John”.

It’s meant to be cute, but some of the terminology used made me cringe, particularly when one of the slides was tweeted out of context by ICANN’s official Twitter account.

Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but it strikes me as poor optics for ICANN, an organization lest we forget specifically created to introduce competition to the domain name market, to say stuff like “Market, you are a monster!”.

I’m also wondering whether “icannTLD” is terminology that plays into the alt-root narrative that ICANN is the Evil Overlord of internet naming. It does not, after all, actually run any TLDs (except .int).

The language used to discuss alt-roots came under focus earlier in the day in a session titled Internet Fragmentation, the DNS, and ICANN, which touched on blockchain alt-roots while not being wholly focused on it.

Ram Mohan, chief strategy officer of Identity Digital and member of ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee, while warning against ICANN taking a reflexively us-versus-them stance on new naming systems, wondered whether phrases such as “domain name” and “TLD” are “terms of art” that should be only used to refer to names that use the consensus ICANN-overseen DNS.

We ought to have a conversation about “What is a TLD”? Is a TLD something that is in the IANA root? Is a domain name an identifier that is a part of that root system? i think we ought to have that conversation because the place where I worry about is you have other technologies in other areas that come and appropriate the syntax, the nomenclature, the context that all of us have worked very hard to build credibility in… What happens if that terminology gets taken over, diluted, and there are failures in that system? … The end user doesn’t really care whether [a domain] is part of the DNS or not part of the DNS, they just say “My domain name stopped working”, when it may not actually be a quote-unquote “domain name”.

Food for thought.

Alt-root .eth is getting very big, very fast

Kevin Murphy, September 2, 2022, Domain Registries

If .eth was a real domain, it would be the second-largest new gTLD and have more registrations than ccTLDs from nations as large as Spain and Japan, according to the blockchain-based registry.

Ethereum-based alt-root registry ENS Domains today tweeted that it added 301,000 new .eth domains in August, to end the month with a total of 2.17 million names. It said it now has 540,000 registrants.

For context, that’s about 10% of what .com does in a month, and about 75% of monthly registration volume for .xyz, the largest new gTLD.

The total of 2.17 million domains would make .eth bigger than .online, the current second-largest new gTLD, and would put it in the top 10 ccTLDs (of those tracked by DI).

Not bad for a niche product that won’t resolve in most browsers and is chiefly useful for addressing cryptocurrency wallets.

Group crowdfunding crypto to apply to ICANN for blockchain gTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 11, 2022, Domain Registries

Do we have our first confirmed blockchain-themed new gTLD application? Looks like it.

A group of pseudonymous individuals have announced plans to apply to ICANN for .dao in the next round, and are currently crowdfunding the project by asking for donations in the Ethereum cryptocurrency.

Going by the name DomainDAO, they say they’ve raised 230 ETH so far, which appears to be worth over $430,000 at today’s rates, already probably enough for a bare-bones new gTLD application.

They want to apply for .dao, an acronym for “decentralized autonomous organization”, a type of entity where token-owning participants set the direction of the DAO via rules laid down in software and votes encoded into a blockchain.

DomainDAO’s web site takes a few pops at the likes of Verisign and Identity Digital owner Ethos Capital for alleged unethical practices and says the goal is for .dao to one day “supersede” .com.

The concept differs from other blockchain-based TLD projects, such as Unstoppable Domains, in that it’s not alt-root. The plan is to apply to ICANN to get into the authoritative, consensus DNS root, so that .dao domains can be used by all.

Unstoppable already runs .dao in its own alt-root, selling domains for $20, and has recently proven litigious when it smells a collision from a competing project.

But the main roadblock to the root may well be ICANN itself.

While the rules governing the next round of gTLD applications are not yet set in stone, it strikes me as incredibly unlikely that ICANN will entertain a bid from an applicant that is not a recognized legal entity with a named board of directors that can be subjected to background screening.

DomainDAO is itself a DAO, and the DAO concept is reportedly prone to corruption and hacking, which could make ICANN nervous.

In addition, people funding DomainDAO today are offered crypto tokens that can be redeemed for second-level domains if the TLD eventually goes live — it’s essentially already selling pre-registrations — which could interfere with rights protection mechanisms, depending on implementation.

But DomainDAO claims to have an industry Greybeard on the payroll, a senior advisor going by the handle “Speech-less”, an “Executive with 20+ years experience in domain and ICANN”.

If that’s you, we probably already know each other. Why not get in touch to tell me why this thing is going to work?

Unstoppable valued at over $1 billion after huge new investment

Unstoppable Domains has received a huge new funding round that the company says means it now has a valuation in excess of $1 billion.

The $65 million Series A round was led by Pantera Capital, with a whopping 17 other venture capital firms taking part, according to the company.

Unstoppable is an alt-root player, offering blockchain-based domains in nine TLDs such as .nft, .blockchain, .crypto and .wallet.

Much of its work to date has been on persuading crypto currency users to use Unstoppable domains to replace the otherwise cumbersome and confusing addresses of their crypto wallets, but the names can also be used to address web sites if you use the right browser software.

Unlike the regular domain name industry, where much of the investment attractiveness comes from the possibility of high-margin recurring renewal revenue, Unstoppable sells its names for a one-time fee. It presumably has other revenue sources in mind for long-term growth.

The traditional domain name industry, ICANN, and potential new gTLD applicants should pay attention.

If, as seems likely, some of the TLD strings Unstoppable is using in its alt-root are applied for in the next new gTLD round, a well-funded competitor that has already proven itself litigious when it comes to name collisions could prove a formidable opponent.

Of course, some potential applicants might see a well-funded alt-root player as an invitation to apply for colliding strings in the hope of a quick pay-off at private auction.

Unstoppable targets another city gTLD with free domains

Kevin Murphy, June 21, 2022, Domain Tech

Alt-root provider Unstoppable Domains has inked another partnership with a city that already has its own gTLD in the authoritative root.

The blockchain domains company said it has linked up with the City of Miami’s Venture Miami project, which encourages tech investment in Miami, to offer $50 in Unstoppable’s alternative domains to anyone attending Miami Dade College or showing up at an event there over the weekend.

For nine out of 10 of Unstoppable’s extensions, that’s enough to buy at least one domain. The company does not charge renewal fees.

It’s the second city recently that Unstoppable has partnered with, following its offer of free domains to all female residents of Abu Dhabi a couple of weeks ago.

In both of these cases, the cities in question already have their own gTLD in the authoritative, functioning, ICANN root. Unstoppable’s extensions, which are largely themed around crytopcurrency, mostly do not function without browser plug-ins.

While .abudhabi has only about a thousand registered domains, .miami, which was acquired from MMX by GoDaddy last year and has the city as a partner, has been more popular, with close to 16,000 names in its zone file currently.

Whether this can be dismissed as more “web3” hype or alt-root snake oil or not, Unstoppable seems to have secured a couple of pretty interesting marketing coups, and it will be interesting to see which city gets targeted next.