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McCarthy wins Nominet director election

Kevin Murphy, October 5, 2022, Domain Registries

Kieren McCarthy, the former reporter who has spent much of his career bashing .uk registry Nominet in the pages of The Register, has been elected to its board of directors following a sometimes fractious campaign.

He won despite placing second to lawyer Jim Davies in the first round of voting, which saw CentralNic lawyer Volker Greimann eliminated. The vast majority of Greimann’s votes transferred to McCarthy in the second round. The results can be found here (pdf).

Turnout was a miserable 15.1%, almost 10 percentage points lower than it was in last year’s non-executive director election.

McCarthy is executive director of the International Foundation For Online Responsibility, the non-profit set up by .xxx registry ICM to hack around ICANN’s rules and give the illusion of legitimacy in the 2003 “sponsored” gTLD application round.

As such, he’s paid indirectly by GoDaddy, ICM’s current owner, which can’t have hurt his prospects in the election but GoDaddy says it did not vote in the election. Under Nominet’s controversial voting system, larger registrars get more votes, capped at 3% of the total.

With McCarthy standing on a platform of increased transparency, some Nominet members had pointed out the irony that IFFOR hadn’t published any board minutes in several years. He also faced criticism for using Nominet’s logo, apparently without permission, in his election mailshots.

McCarthy replaces Anne Taylor, whose three-year term is up.

GoCompare makes a big bet on a new gTLD

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2022, Domain Registries

GoCompare, one of the most recognizable online brands in the UK, is rebranding to Go.Compare, with a corresponding switch to the new gTLD domain name go.compare.

The insurance price-comparison site announced the move, which is being backed up by a three-month prime-time TV advertising campaign, during the series premiere of talent show The Voice UK, which it now sponsors, on Saturday night.

The brand may be unfamiliar to readers outside of the UK, but here it’s pretty well-known due in no small part to its relentless TV ads, which feature a fictional Italian opera singer. There can’t be many Brits who don’t recognize the jingle, once described as the “most irritating” on TV.

And that jingle now has an extra syllable in it — the word “dot”. The company described the sponsorship like this:

As part of the sponsorship, Go.Compare’s operatic tenor Gio Compario and the actor who plays him, Wynne Evans, are both in the judging chairs, auditioning to find a new voice to help them sing the new brand jingle and play the ‘dot’ in the new website URL. The series will follow Gio and Wynne on their journey to find the best ‘dot.’

This is the first ad:

The company said the rebranding, in phrasing likely to irk many in the domain industry, “means that anyone now looking to use the comparison service will be able search on any device using ‘Go.Compare’, and they will be taken directly to the website.”

It’s inviting customers to direct-navigate, but calling it “search”.

Paul Rogers, director of brand and campaigns, said in a press release:

Behind this, the decision to bring the “dot” into the mix now means that our website is easier to find – regardless of browser or device, all you need to know now is Go.Compare and you’re there. It’s basically taking out the middleman and making it easier for people to find us directly

Go.Compare has been using gocompare.com since it launched in 2006, and that domain is still live, not redirecting, and showing up as the top search result for the company. The domain go.compare does not redirect to the .com, however.

The company’s social media handles now all use the new brand.

The .compare gTLD is a pretty obscure one, that truthfully even I had forgotten exists.

It started off owned by Australian insurance provider iSelect, originally intended as a dot-brand, but sold off alongside .select to Neustar, then its back-end provider, in 2019.

GoDaddy acquired Neustar’s registry business the following year and has since then sold just a few hundred .compare domains, very few of which actually appear to be in use.

I’m not suggesting .compare is suddenly going to explode, but the rebranding and accompanying high-profile marketing effort is surely useful to the new gTLD industry in general, raising awareness that not every web site has to end in .com or .uk.

GoDaddy shutters Twitter accounts after MMX deal

Kevin Murphy, August 18, 2022, Domain Registries

GoDaddy is closing down a bunch of Twitter accounts it acquired when it bought MMX last year.

The company this morning notified followers of 13 TLD-specific feeds that it will no longer post updates and that they should subscribe to @GoDaddyRegistry instead.

Accounts such as @GetDotFishing, @JoinDotYoga and @DotWorkDomains were affected. They hadn’t posted much in a couple of years.

GoDaddy last year acquired MMX’s portfolio of .law, .abogado (“lawyer” in Spanish), .beer, .casa (“home” in Spanish), .cooking, .dds (“dentists” in American), .fashion, .fishing, .fit, .garden, .horse, .luxe, .rodeo, .surf, .vip, .vodka, .wedding, .work, .yoga, .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex gTLDs.

Not ever gTLD had its own Twitter account.

The deal was worth about $120 million and led to MMX winding down earlier this year.

At $15 million, nfts.com becomes second-biggest domain sale ever

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2022, Domain Sales

The domain nfts.com has sold for $15 million according to Escrow.com, which facilitated the sale.

The sale means the domain is the second most-expensive ever sold that we know about, beating the 2010 $13 million sex.com deal and trailing 2019’s sale of voice.com.

NFTs are of course “non-fungible tokens”, which something something crypto something something blockchain something something monkeys something something.

The deal was brokered by Domainer.com and GoDaddy, according to an Escrow.com press release.

The buyer has not been named, though he or she apparently has an association with NFT marketplace DigitalArtists.com, and no plans for developing the domain have been revealed.

Voice.com, which was acquired with $30 million of cryptocurrency profits, is currently being used to sell NFTs, though that was not the original plan.

As GoDaddy shutters URL shortener, could x.co come back on the market?

GoDaddy has turned off its URL shortener service, freeing up the likely six-plus-figure domain x.co for another use or possible resale.

The company told users of the service last week that their redirects would no longer work as of June 4. Instead, they’re being asked to set up a redirect using any of the domains in their GoDaddy accounts.

It has not been possible to create new links for a few years, the company said.

GoDaddy acquired x.co from then .co registry .CO Internet in 2010 as part of the Colombian ccTLD’s global relaunch.

The price was never disclosed, but I suspect it was part of a broad partnership package that saw GoDaddy market .co hard, rather than a domain-only sale.

Around the same time, Twitter bought t.co for its own URL shortener and Overstock.com bought o.co for $350,000 as the cornerstone of an ultimately disastrous rebranding campaign.

It’s difficult to imagine x.co being worth less than that, particularly when the matching .com is owned by the richest person in the world.

In the time since x.co launched, .CO Internet was acquired by Neustar, which was then in turn acquired by GoDaddy.

Following a renegotiation of its relationship with the Colombian government in 2020, GoDaddy is now merely the back-end provider, rather than the ccTLD’s official sponsor.

GoDaddy acquires two education-themed gTLDs

GoDaddy seems to have added another two new gTLDs to its portfolio under a deal with Open Universities Australia.

ICANN records published today show that the contracts for .study and .courses were both reassigned in March and GoDaddy Registry is already running both registries’ web sites.

Neither TLD is a big seller. They have a few thousand names under management each and currently retail for $30 to $50 a year.

GoDaddy was already the back-end provider for both, so the amount of disruption is likely to be minimal.

Neustar now linked to scandal in the Catholic church

Neustar is having a bummer of a year for getting involved in major political scandals.

First, its execs were linked to allegations of an attempt to show Donald Trump was involved in “collusion” with Russia, and now it’s found itself in the middle of a corruption slash child sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

There don’t appear to be any concrete allegations of wrongdoing by Neustar in the latest case, which involves a lot of mud-slinging between two elderly, bickering, controversy-wracked priests.

Rather, a senior church figure previously convicted and jailed and then cleared of child sex abuse is accusing an old rival currently standing trial on corruption charges of failing to explain money transfers that were said to be destined for Neustar.

George Pell is an Australian cardinal, the country’s most senior Catholic authority figure, who was very publicly convicted of child sex abuse offenses in 2018. His convictions were later overturned on appeal by the High Court of Australia.

Angelo Becciu is an Italian cardinal who, according to the religious press, served as the Pope’s de facto “chief of staff” until he was accused by the Vatican of embezzlement and corruption related to real estate investments last year.

Claims by Pell’s supporters have reportedly circulated in the Italian press for years that Becciu had sent church money to Australia in order to negatively influence Pell’s trial. The two men apparently don’t get on.

The reports even triggered a probe, which found nothing, by Australian regulators into a then-unnamed tech company.

But Becciu testified before a Vatican court last week that the AUD 2.3 million ($1.6 million) Pell has raised questions over was in fact used to pay Neustar Australia for operation of the .catholic gTLD in 2017 and 2018.

He said that Pell himself had authorized the payments, in a 2015 letter.

The Vatican had originally hired ARI/AusRegistry to be its registry partner for .catholic — which has never actually been used — but it had been acquired by Neustar by the time of the contested payments. Neustar’s registry is now owned by GoDaddy, which manages .catholic.

Following Becciu’s testimony, Pell issued a statement calling his story “incomplete” and saying:

My interest is focussed on four payments with a value of AUD 2.3 million made by the Secretariat of State in 2017 and 2018 to Neustar Australia, two of which with a value of AUD 1.236 million were authorised by Monsignor Becciu on 17/5/2017 and 6/6/2018. Obviously, these are different payments from those of 11/9/2015 which I allegedly authorised. What was the purpose? Where did the money go after Neustar?

The word “after” in that final sentence is certainly suggestive, but Pell did not elaborate.

Secondary market fluffs GoDaddy amid slowdown concerns

Secondary market domain sales continued to drive growth in the first quarter, GoDaddy reported this week, amid fears of slowing growth in new primary market sales.

It’s difficult to gauge exactly how well domains are selling, because the company has stopped breaking out domains as a separate revenue segment in its quarterly earnings releases.

Instead, it’s bundled domains, hosting and basic security together into a new “core platform” segment, frustrating those of us who like to see domain performance to track broader industry trends.

This “core platform” grew by 9% year-over-year in Q1, to $699.6 million, and CFO Mark McCaffrey told analysts that 40% of this growth was driven by secondary market domain sales.

“Core Platform bookings grew 5% year-over-year,” McCaffrey added. Bookings give a better indication of new sales.

A week earlier, .com registry Verisign had said that its registrars were seeing primary sales volumes growth slowing due to the easing of coronavirus restrictions that had pumped growth and general post-pandemic economic malaise.

If that is happening, GoDaddy’s secondary market sales, where it has blurred the lines between retail storefront and aftermarket sales platform in recent years, provides some insulation.

Overall, in Q1 the company saw revenue of up 11.3% at $1 billion and net income up from $10.8 million to $68.6 million.

GoDaddy and XYZ sign away rights after UNR’s crypto gambit

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2022, Domain Registries

ICANN has started asking registries to formally sign away ownership rights to their gTLDs when they acquire them from other registries.

GoDaddy and XYZ.com both had to agree that they don’t “own” their newly acquired strings before ICANN would agree to transfer them from portfolio UNR, which auctioned off its 23 gTLD contracts a year ago.

GoDaddy bought .photo and .blackfriday for undisclosed sums in the auction, it emerged last week. XYZ bought 10 others and newcomer Dot Hip Hop bought .hiphop.

All three transfers were signed off March 10 (though GoDaddy’s were inexplicably not published by ICANN until last Thursday, when much of Christendom was winding down for a long weekend) and all three contain this new language:

The Parties hereby acknowledge that, notwithstanding anything to the contrary in any marketing or auction materials, documentation or communications issued by Assignor or any other agreements between the Parties or otherwise, nothing in the Registry Agreement(s) or in any other agreements between Assignor and Assignee have established or granted to Assignor any property or ownership rights or interest in or to the TLDs or the letters, words, symbols or other characters making up the TLDs’ strings and that Assignee is not being granted any property or ownership rights or interest in or to the TLDs or the letters, words, symbols or other characters making up the TLDs’ strings.

The Parties represent that they understand the scope of ICANN’s Consent, which: (A) does not grant Assignee any actual or purported property or ownership rights or interest in or two the TLDs or the letters, words, symbols or other characters making up the TLDs’s strings; (B) is solely binding and applicable to the assignment of rights and obligations pursuant to the Registry Agreement(s); (C) solely relates to the operation of the TLDs in the Domain Name System as specified in the applicable Registry Agreement(s); and (D) does not convey any rights to the letters, words or symbols making up the TLD string for use outside the Domain Name System.

The TL;DR of this? Registries don’t “own” their gTLDs, ICANN just allows them to use the strings.

The new language is in there because UNR’s auction had offered, as a bonus, ownership of matching non-fungible token “domains” on the blockchain-based alt-root Ethereum Name Service.

Alt-roots arguably present an existential threat to ICANN and a risk to the interoperability of the internet, so ICANN delayed authorization of its approvals for many months while it tried to figure out the legalities.

Dot Hip Hop, for one, has said it couldn’t care less about the Ethereum NFT, and has had it deleted.

Separately, the .ruhr contract has been transferred from regiodot to fellow German geo-TLD operator DotSaarland, a subsidiary of London-based CentralNic, which announced the acquisition in February.

This assignment agreement was signed March 31 — after GoDaddy’s and XYZ’s — and does not include the new ownership waiver language, suggesting that it’s unique to UNR’s auction winners.

However, the friction between blockchain alt-roots is likely to be an issue when the next new gTLD application round opens.

It’s being said that a great many “TLDs” are being registered on various blockchains specifically in order to interfere with matching ICANN applications, and that blockchain fans are attempting to delay the next round to give their own projects more time to take root.

GoDaddy’s two acquisitions bring the total known outcomes of UNR’s auctions to 13 out of 23 gTLDs. At least four more are being processed by ICANN, according to a now month-old statement.

GoDaddy formally signs .tv registry contract

GoDaddy has formally taken on the contract to run .tv, the ccTLD for the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu, according to the company.

GoDaddy Registry said that the deal was signed with the Tuvalu government at the Dubai Expo 2020 trade show on March 30.

The company won a tender process last December in which incumbent Versigin, which has been running .tv for 20 years, did not participate.

Tuvalu is expected to get a much bigger share of the revenue than it did under Verisign, which paid $5 million a year, but terms have not been disclosed.

GoDaddy senior director of business development George Pongas said in a press release that the parties are “convinced that together we can position the .tv ccTLD for significant worldwide growth and a new era of brand awareness and community engagement”.

GoDaddy is substantially more customer-facing than Verisign, and controls the registration path, so it’s not difficult to see how this could boost .tv’s sales.

The deal comes at an opportune time, as user-created video content is experiencing something of a boom.