Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

I let ChatGPT cover GoDaddy’s Q4 earnings for me

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2023, Domain Registrars

Living and working in the UK, it’s always a bit irritating that the major, public, US-based domain name companies report their earnings after New York market close, which is usually 2130 UTC, 9.30pm my time.

GoDaddy is one such company, and GoDaddy reported its fourth-quarter and full-year results about an hour ago, so it seemed like a great opportunity to test out ChatGPT’s ability to write a news story for me when I’m too tired and emotional to do so myself.

I primed the tool by asking: “Could you write a news story in the style of Domain Incite if I provide you with some source material?”.

It responded: “Certainly! Please provide me with the source material and I will create a news story in the style of Domain Incite.”

I then pasted the almost entire GoDaddy earnings release, everything from the beginning of the headline to the beginning of the paragraph that begins “GoDaddy’s consolidated financial statements…”

It produced:

Sure! Here’s a news story in the style of Domain Incite based on the provided source material:

GoDaddy reported 7.2% YoY revenue growth in 2022, amounting to $4.1 billion, and normalized EBITDA of $1 billion, up 16.1% YoY, representing 25% margin. This was despite macroeconomic challenges. CEO Aman Bhutani credited GoDaddy’s innovative product roadmap for the success. “As we enter 2023, we are excited about the full launch of our commerce offerings empowering customers to transact everywhere seamlessly,” he said. CFO Mark McCaffrey said GoDaddy had taken steps to align priorities and cost structure to maintain the strong financial results, while investing in long-term initiatives. Net cash provided by operating activities rose by 18.1% YoY to $979.7 million, and free cash flow by 13.2% YoY to $968.6 million. Unlevered free cash flow increased 14.2% YoY to $1.1 billion.

In Q4 2022, GoDaddy signed a significant partnership agreement with merchant services provider FIS Worldpay to sell its OmniCommerce solutions for US-based small business customers and bank partners. GoDaddy also launched Managed WooCommerce Stores solution, which allows entrepreneurs to sell in-person and across marketplaces and social channels through a single unified dashboard. GoDaddy’s premier payments platform is now automatically attached to its domains and website building plans, enabling customers to transact seamlessly. In Q4 2022, gross merchandise volume in GoDaddy’s Commerce offerings reached $28 billion, up 10% YoY, while gross payments volume was $760 million. ARR for the Create and Grow group of products, including Websites + Marketing, Managed WordPress, Sellbrite, and GoDaddy Studios, surpassed $445 million, growing 8% YoY in Q4 2022. Overall, annualized recurring revenue (ARR) for applications & commerce grew 9% YoY to $1.3 billion in Q4 2022, while ARR from GoDaddy’s Core Platform grew 1% YoY to $2.3 billion.

Since the launch of its current share buyback authorization in 2022, GoDaddy’s share count has reduced by 10%. The company aims to participate in its customers’ success and drive long-term value for shareholders.

I have not read the ChatGPT story pasted above. I don’t know how accurate it is. I don’t know whether it follows DI’s house style (though I can tell from the length of the paragraphs that it’s got at least one thing wrong).

Based on my previous experience with this tool, I assume it’s a load of bollocks.

What do you think? Should I use ChatGPT to help write articles in future?

GoDaddy to lay off hundreds

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2023, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy has become the latest big tech firm to announce huge layoffs, with hundreds of employees set to be let go.

The company said last week it is laying off 8% of its staff. This equates to more than 500 job losses, based on 6,800+ the company’s web site reports.

Employees at three brands are most-affected — Media Temple, Main Street Hub and 123 Reg — with the former two also set to disappear as independent brands.

Main Street Hub is social media marketing firm from Texas that GoDaddy acquired in 2018. Media Temple is a hosting provider from California that GoDaddy acquired in 2013.

123 Reg is a UK-based registrar brand that was part of Host Europe Group until GoDaddy bought it in 2017. GoDaddy says the brand will remain, but some roles will be terminated. Staff will find out who’s staying and who’s going before the end of the month.

GoDaddy CEO Aman Bhutani blamed growth hindered by the “uncertain macroeconomic environment” for the moves.

The company, which reported revenue up 7.2% at $1.03 billion and a $100 million profit in the third quarter, is due to report its fourth quarter and full-year earnings this evening.

GoDaddy could lose out as NIXI brings .in in-house

Kevin Murphy, February 6, 2023, Domain Registries

Indian ccTLD registry NIXI wants to become a back-end registry services provider for its own .in and other TLDs, and seems set to push GoDaddy out of its current role as it looks for a company to build its new infrastructure.

The company is looking to expand its current role as .in overseer and take over day-to-day operational management of the EPP registry, DNS, Whois, etc, from its current back-end. That’s been Neustar, now GoDaddy Registry, since 2019.

By the time the transition takes place, it could be the largest TLD migration in history.

NIXI currently says it has over three million domains under management. The previous biggest move was .au from Neustar to Afilias in 2018, at 3.1 million names. The .org migration from Verisign to PIR in 2003 was for 2.7 million names.

NIXI basically wants a company to come in to design and build a registry system, run it for a year, and then hand over operations, and maybe staff, to NIXI before retreating into a maintenance role for seven years.

The selected provider must be established in India and preference will be given to “companies whose parent / holding company is registered in India having subsidiaries in other developing countries.”

If NIXI already has a preferred provider in mind, it certainly isn’t GoDaddy, judging by this criterion.

“This is as part of future expansion plan / business plan of NIXI,” the tender (pdf), which says several times that NIXI wants to become the back-end for ccTLDs in other developing countries, notes.

After a number of extensions, NIXI’s tender is due to expire next Monday.

IRP panel tells ICANN to stop being so secretive, again

Kevin Murphy, January 9, 2023, Domain Policy

ICANN’s dismal record of adverse Independent Review Process decisions continued last week, with a panel of arbitrators telling the Org to shape up its transparency and decision-making processes.

The panel has essentially ruled that ICANN did everything it could to be a secretive as possible when it decided to remove price controls from its .org and .info registry contracts in 2019.

This violated its bylaws commitments to transparency, the IRP panel found, at the end of a legal campaign by Namecheap commenced over three years ago.

Namecheap wanted the agreements with the two registries “annulled”, but the panel did not go that far, instead merely recommending that ICANN review its decision and possibly enter talks to put the price caps back.

But the decision contains some scathing criticisms of ICANN’s practice of operating without sufficient public scrutiny.

Namecheap had argued that ICANN broke its bylaws by not only not applying its policies in a non-discriminatory manner, but also by failing to adequately consult with the community and explain its decision-making.

The registrar failed on the first count, with the IRP panel ruling that ICANN had treated registry contract renegotiations consistently over the last 10 years — basically trying to push legacy gTLDs onto the 2012-round base Registry Agreement.

But Namecheap succeeded on the second count.

The panel ruled that ICANN overused attorney-client privilege to avoid scrutiny, failed to explain why it ignored thousands of negative public comments, and let the Org make the price cap decision to avoid the transparency obligations of a board vote.

Notably, the panel unanimously found that: “ICANN appears to be overusing the attorney-client privilege to shield its internal communications and deliberations.”

As one example, senior staffers would copy in the legal team on internal communications about the price cap decision in order to trigger privilege, meaning the messages could not be disclosed in future, the decision says.

ICANN created “numerous documents” about the thinking that went in to the price cap decision, but disclosed “almost none” of them to the IRP due to its “overly aggressive” assertion of privilege, the panel says.

As another example, staffers discussed cutting back ICANN’s explanation of price caps when it opened the subject to public comment, in order to not give too much attention to what they feared was a “hot” and “sensitive” topic.

ICANN’s failure to provide an open and transparent explanation of its reasons for rejecting public comments opposing the removal of price controls was exacerbated by ICANN’s assertion of attorney-client privilege with respect to most of the documents evidencing ICANN’s deliberations…

ICANN provided a fairly detailed summary of the key concerns about removing price caps, but then failed to explain why ICANN decided to remove price caps despite those concerns. Instead, ICANN essentially repeated the explanation it gave before receiving the public comments.

The panel, which found similar criticisms in the earlier IRP of Dot Registry v ICANN, nevertheless decided against instructing ICANN to check its privilege (to coin a phrase) in future, so the Org will presumably be free to carry on being as secretive as normal in future.

Namecheap also claimed that ICANN deliberately avoided scrutiny by allowing Org to remove the price caps without a formal board of directors resolution, and the panel agreed.

The Panel finds that of the removal of price controls for .ORG, .INFO, and .BIZ was not a routine matter of “day-to-day operations,” as ICANN has asserted. The Price Cap Decision was a policy matter that required Board action.

The panel notes that prior to the renewal of .org, .info and .biz in 2019, all other legacy gTLD contracts that had been renewed — including .pro, which also removed price caps — had been subject to a board vote.

“ICANN’s action transitioning a legacy gTLD, especially one of the three original gTLDs (.ORG), pursuant to staff action without a Board resolution was unprecedented,” the panel writes.

Quite why the board never made a formal resolution on the .org contract is a bit of a mystery, even to the IRP panel, which cites lots of evidence that ICANN Org was expecting the deal to go before the board as late as May 13, 2019, a month before the anticipated board vote.

The .org contract was ultimately signed June 30, without a formal board resolution.

(Probably just a coincidence, but Ethos Capital — which went on unsuccessfully to try to acquire .org registry Public Interest Registry from ISOC later that year — was formed May 14, 2019.)

The IRP panel notes that by avoiding a formal board vote, ICANN avoided the associated transparency requirements such as a published rationale and meeting minutes.

The panel in conclusion issued a series of “recommendations” to ICANN.

It says the ICANN board should “analyze and discuss what steps to take to remedy both the specific violations found by the Panel, and to improve its overall decisionmaking process to ensure that similar violations do not occur in the future”.

The board “should consider creating and implementing a process to conduct further analysis of whether including price caps in the Registry Agreements for .ORG and .INFO is in the global public interest”

Part of that process should involve an independent expert report into whether price caps are appropriate in .info and especially .org.

If it concludes that price controls are good, ICANN should try to amend the two registry agreements to restore the caps. If it does not conduct the study, it should ask the two registries if they want to voluntarily restore them.

Finally, the panel wrote:

the Panel recommends that the Board consider revisions to ICANN’s decision-making process to reduce the risk of similar procedural violations in the future. For example, the Board could adopt guidelines for determining what decisions involve policy matters for the Board to decide, or what are the issues on which public comments should be obtained.

ICANN is on the hook to pay the panel’s fees of $841,894.76.

ICANN said in a statement that it is “is in the process of reviewing and evaluating” the decision and that the board “will consider the final declaration as soon as feasible”.

Domainers grumble as GoDaddy cranks up commission fees

Kevin Murphy, January 5, 2023, Domain Registrars

GoDaddy has “simplified” its commission structure across three secondary-market acquisitions, leading in many cases to domainers making less money in future from their sales.

The company said there will now be a standard 25% commission across its Afternic, Uniregistry and Dan aftermarkets, which will be reduced to 15% if domainers use GoDaddy’s name servers (and therefore landing pages).

The move prompted online grumbles from customers of Dan, which GoDaddy acquired last year. They’d been paying 9% commission on their sales, so they’re losing out no matter what name servers they use.

The low commissions had proven a draw for domainers prior to the acquisition, and the increase was widely expected following the acquisition last June.

It’s better news for Afternic customers, who were paying 20%. GoDaddy cherry-picked some data to suggest domainers could come out slightly ahead, depending on their mix of sales marketplaces.

The changes are effective February 1.

New new gTLD registry in town as Rostam buys UNR

Kevin Murphy, December 1, 2022, Domain Registries

UNR, the former Uniregistry, has emerged under new ownership, new leadership, and with another new name, apparently finalizing Frank Schilling’s piecemeal exit from the domain name industry.

The nine gTLD contracts remaining with UNR following its fire-sale auction 18 months ago are now owned by Internet Naming Company, which like UNR is based in Grand Cayman.

The new company, which appears to be a continuation of UNR yet promising a “clean slate”, is owned and run by Shayan Rostam, who was UNR’s chief growth officer and previously worked for XYZ.com and Intercap.

INC’s portfolio comprises .click, .country, .help, .forum, .hiv, .love, .property, .sexy, and the unlaunched .trust, which together have over 350,000 registered domains.

Registry-recommended retail pricing varies wildly between TLDs, from the .com-competitive, such as .click at $9.99, to the wallet-busting, such as .sexy at $2,999 and .forum at $1,199.

INC is also offering consulting, auction and management services for other TLDs, including dot-brands.

The emergence of INC means we now know where all 23 of the gTLDs UNR auctioned off last year ended up. XYZ.com wound up with 10, with GoDaddy, Top Level Design, Nova Registry and Dot Hip Hop all grabbing one or two each.

UNR sold its registrar business to GoDaddy and its registry back-end business to Tucows (which is supporting INC’s portfolio) last year, giving INC the ability to talk about going “back to basics”, unencumbered by any conflicts of interest.

The new company is using inaming.co for its web site. The individual TLDs’ sites still use UNR landing pages.

Stop me if you’ve heard this…

Kevin Murphy, November 30, 2022, Domain Services

The collective noun for wildebeest is “an implausibility”.

In the incredibly unlikely event that you’re ever confronted by a large group of these majestic bovine quadrupeds, that’s how you should describe what you see.

An implausibility of wildebeest.

I tell you this not because it’s relevant to anything else that appears in this article, but because a series of unfortunate and unavoidable circumstances have kept me offline for the last few weeks, and you may find this round-up piece tells you lots of things you already know.

If that’s the case for you, I can only apologize, with the caveat that you probably didn’t know about the wildebeest thing, so at least this post has provided some value.

Let’s start with ICANN, shall we?

My ICANN announcements feed contains 20 unread articles this morning, and as far as I can tell from a cursory glance over the headlines, the Org has done almost nothing of consequence recently.

It’s mostly outreach-this, engagement-that, review-the-other. If official announcements were any guide, ICANN would look like an entity far more concerned with promoting and promulgating its own increasingly debatable legitimacy, rather than doing the stuff it was originally set up to do.

Like new gTLDs, for example…

While ICANN continues to fart around with its working groups and consultations and Dantean layers of bureaucracy, the blockchain/crypto/web3 crowd are continuing to bolster their efforts to eat the Org’s breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Most notably, blockchain-based alt-root naming services including Unstoppable have launched the Web3 Domain Alliance, which, even if it misses its goals, promises to make the next new gTLD round an even bigger litigation clusterfunge than the last.

The alliance intends to among other things “advocate for the policy position that NFT domain registry owner-operators create trademark rights in their web3 TLDs through first commercial use with market penetration.”

In other words, if some well-financed crypto bro creates .example on some obscure blockchain root and gets a little bit of traction, ICANN shouldn’t be allowed to create .example on the authoritative consensus root.

This has the potential to make Jarndyce and Jarndyce look like a parking ticket hearing and I take some comfort from the fact that I’ll most likely be long dead before the lawsuits from the next new gTLD round have all played out.

The Web3 Domain Alliance is promising imminent pledges of support from “web2” companies, and it will be interesting to see if any company in the conventional domain name industry is ready to break ranks with ICANN and sign up.

In actual gTLDs…

Another thing that will likely post-date my death is the launch of the last gTLD from the 2012 application round. Many still lie dormant, but they do still continue to trickle out of the gates.

While I’ve been offline, we’ve witnessed the general availability launch of Google’s .boo and .rsvp — the former criminally missing the increasingly lengthy and bewildering Halloween season and the latter probably a little late for the Christmas party season — while non-profit .kids went GA a couple of days ago.

In the world of ccTLDs…

GoDaddy is formally relaunching .tv, the rights to operate it won in a bidding process earlier this year after incumbent registry Verisign declined to compete.

It’s talking about a “a complete rebrand and marketing makeover”, with a new, very colorful, destination site at TurnOn.tv.

Many years ago, a senior Verisign exec described .tv to me as “better than .com”, and in a world where any shouty teenage pillock can essentially launch their own TV show for the price of an iPhone and broadband connection, that’s probably never been truer.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian ccTLD registry Hostmaster isn’t going to let the little matter of an ongoing Russian invasion interfere with its 30th birthday celebrations and the 12th annual UADOM conference.

It’s being held remotely for obvious reasons. It starts tomorrow, runs for two days, and more details can be found here and here.

In other conference news, NamesCon has also announced dates for its 2023 NamesCon Global conference. According to Domain Name Journal, it will return to Austin, Texas, from May 31 to June 3 next year.

DomainPulse, the conference serving the Germanophone region of Europe (albeit in English), has set its 2023 event for February 6 and 7 in Winterthur, Switzerland.

Scoop of the month…

By far the most interesting article I’ve read from the last month came from NameBio’s Michael Sumner, a reverse-exposé of the successful .xyz domain investor who goes by the name “Swetha”.

This area of the industry is not something I spend a lot of time tracking, but I’ll admit whenever I’ve read about this mononymed India-based domainer’s extensive, expensive .xyz sales, I’ve had a degree of skepticism.

It turns out that skepticism was shared by some fellow industry dinosaurs, so Sumner did the legwork, amazingly and ballsily obtaining Swetha’s Afternic login credentials (with her consent) and hand-verifying years of sales data.

He concluded that the sales she’s been reporting on Twitter are legit, and that she’s a pretty damn good domainer, but understandably could not fully disprove the hypothesis that some of her buyers are .xyz registry shills.

Elliot Silver later got a comment from the registry in which it denied any kind of collusion and implied skepticism was the result of sexism and/or racism, rather than the sketchiness sometimes displayed by anonymous Twitter accounts and the registry itself.

Earnings, M&A, IPOs…

  • The otherwise-consolidating industry is getting its first IPO in some time, with United-Internet pitching a public markets spin-off of its IONOS group, which includes brands such as Sedo and InternetX, to potential investors. DNW pulled out some of the more interesting facts from its presentation.
  • Industry consolidator CentralNic reported a strong Q3, though its growth is no longer dependent on its domain name business.
  • Tucows reported modest growth (pdf) for Q3, hindered by flat-to-down results in its domain name business.
  • GoDaddy, which no longer breaks out numbers for its domains business, reported a billion-dollar quarter.
  • Smaller, faster-growing registrar NameSilo reported turning a loss into a profit in the quarter.
  • In M&A, Namespace, owner of EuroDNS, announced it has acquired fellow German registrar Moving Internet.

And finally…

The DNS turned 35. So that’s nice.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have 600 unread emails to deal with…

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.