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Microsoft moving its cloud apps from .com to .microsoft

Kevin Murphy, March 15, 2024, Domain Registries

Microsoft is planning to move all of its Microsoft 365 apps off a multitude of .com domains and consolidate them all under .microsoft, its dot-brand gTLD.

The company says it will move Teams, Outlook, and Microsoft 365 web apps to the cloud.microsoft domain. They currently use domains such as outlook.office.com, teams.microsoft.com and microsoft365.com.

It first announced the move in April last year and this week reminded developers of apps that use its cloud platform that they need to support the new domain.

Explaining the move to the dot-brand last year, the company wrote:

Consolidating authenticated user-facing Microsoft 365 experiences onto a single domain will benefit customers in several ways. For end users, it will streamline the overall experience by reducing sign-in prompts, redirects, and delays when navigating across apps. For admins, it will drastically reduce the complexity of the allow-lists required to help your tenant stay secure while enabling users to access the apps and services they need to do their work.

Microsoft plans to launch the teams.cloud.microsoft domain in June but run the two domain schemes in parallel for a while, so as to not unnecessarily break apps in its developer ecosystem.

It’s not going to dump microsoft.com altogether, saying that it plans to use it for “non-product experiences such as marketing, support, and e-commerce.”

The cloud.microsoft domain is already one of the more visible dot-brand names out there, ranking in the top 20 most-visited, according to Majestic rankings.

Hat tip: The Register.

Governments back down on new gTLD next round delay

Kevin Murphy, March 13, 2024, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee has decided not to force the Org to pay for a independent cost/benefit analysis of the new gTLD program, removing the potential for timeline friction ahead of the planned 2026 next-round launch.

In its latest communique, published following the ICANN 79 meeting in Puerto Rico last week, the GAC has essentially told ICANN that it broke its bylaws by not following eight-year-old GAC advice, but meh, whatever, just don’t do it again.

As I reported last week, governments had grown concerned that ICANN had not delivered the “objective and independent analysis of costs and benefits” of the new gTLD program that the GAC had asked for in 2016. Such an analysis was supposed to be a prerequisite for the next round going ahead.

What ICANN had delivered instead was a relatively hastily prepared summary of the next round’s policy recommendations, Org’s analysis of these recommendations, and the community-led review of competition, consumer protection and trust issues, the CCT review.

The Puerto Rico communique says that this response “cannot be considered to constitute a cost-benefit analysis, nor to be objective and independent” but that the GAC does not wish to throw up a road-block to the next round going ahead on schedule. It reads:

The GAC recognizes that the Community (with involvement of the GAC) is taking forward the next round of new gTLDs and has set a corresponding timeline. The GAC, therefore, believes that conducting further analysis at this stage would not serve the intended purpose.

The GAC encourages the Board to ensure that GAC advice, which the Board has accepted, is effectively implemented and its implementation is communicated to the GAC.

GAC chair Nicolas Caballero of Paraguay summarized it as the committee telling the ICANN board “we’re not aiming by no means at stopping the next round or anything like that, but that we want to be taken seriously”.

The original draft of the communique, drafted by Denmark, the US, the UK and Switzerland delegations, also contained text noting that the analysis ICANN provided was written by staff or community stakeholders, who were neither independent nor objective, but this was removed during a drafting session last week after objections from Iran, whose rep said it sounded too critical of the multistakeholder process.

It seems ICANN, and others who stand to make a lot of money from the new gTLD program, have dodged a bullet here, with the GAC essentially backing away and backing down from its potentially delay-causing previous demands.

Private auctions could be banned in new gTLD next round

Kevin Murphy, March 4, 2024, Domain Policy

ICANN is “sympathetic” to the view that private auctions between competing new gTLD applicants are a Bad Thing that should be discouraged in the next application round.

Director Alan Barrett told the GNSO Council at ICANN 79 today that the board of directors, following Governmental Advisory Committee advice, has hired a consultant and is looking at ways to design an ICANN-run “last resort” auction in a way that “disincentivizes” the use of private auctions.

In the 2012 round, many contention sets were settled with private auctions, with tens of millions of dollars changing hands. Losing auctions was a real money-spinner for several portfolio applicants. When ICANN conducted the auctions, ICANN got the money.

Last June, the GAC advised ICANN to “ban or strongly disincentivize private monetary means of resolution of contention sets, including private auctions”, and Barrett said ICANN is considering how to fulfill that advice.

“We don’t know the answers yet, but what I can say is that we are looking at it and we are sympathetic to the idea of disincentivizing private auctions,” Barrett said.

He added that ICANN is looking at how it might discourage competing applicants from settling their contention sets using joint ventures “in a bad faith kind of way”.

“There’s the risk that applicants might use a joint venture in a bad faith kind of way, as a way of transferring money from one applicant to another, in much the same way as private actions could have done,” he said. “We want to figure out a way of allowing good-faith joint ventures.”

My sense is that whatever ICANN comes up with will have to have a substantial carrot component, or an equally big stick. The domain industry can be incredibly devious at times, and if there’s a way to make a big chunk of change filing unsuccessful new gTLD applications, somebody will figure it out.

GoDaddy to start selling graphic.design domains

In an unusual diversification into third-level domains, GoDaddy Registry seems to be planning to sell names under .graphic.design.

The company filed a request with the Public Suffix List yesterday, asking for the domain to be included on the list, so it will be recognized around the internet as a space where third-level names are registerable.

“GoDaddy Registry will be opening graphic.design to individual registrations, through a global network of authorised Registrars, similar to a standard open gTLD,” the request states.

“This inclusion in the PSL is to ensure the correct operation of the zone as an open TLD, such that providers including website, email and Certificate Authorities recognise the individual ownership of the registered domains within the graphic.design DNS zone,” it says.

The request goes on to say the company expects “5,000 to 10,000+” domains to be registered there.

The PSL is used widely by software such as browsers to determine ownership of domains for security purposes, allowing them to recognize, for example, that example1.graphic.design and example2.graphic.design are two different sites with potentially two different owners.

Registries launching third-level spaces is unusual but not unheard of. It happens much more often in the ccTLD space, where some countries have a baffling number of third-level options. In the gTLD space, the trend if anything is in the opposite direction, with third-levels being de-emphasized in favor of second-levels.

GoDaddy acquired .design from Top Level Design in 2021, a part of its massive expansion in the registry business. It’s not doing badly as new gTLDs go, with about 119,000 domains under management at the last count.

GAC spinning up new gTLD curveball at ICANN 79?

Kevin Murphy, March 3, 2024, Domain Policy

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee had a habit of throwing delaying curveballs before and during the 2012 new gTLD application round, and it might be planning a repeat performance before the upcoming 2026 round.

The GAC today assembled at ICANN 79 in Puerto Rico to discuss the latest developments in planning for the next round, and a major concern emerged around ICANN’s response to its request for a cost/benefit analysis.

The GAC had first asked for such an analysis at the Helsinki meeting in 2016, but after the ICANN 78 Hamburg meeting last October noted that it had still not received one.

At ICANN 56, the GAC had asked that an “objective and independent analysis of costs and benefits… drawing on experience with and outcomes from the recent round” should be a prerequisite for a next round going ahead.

After its Hamburg reminder, ICANN threw together a summary (pdf) of three existing documents that it presumably hoped would check that box and shush the GAC or give the GAC an excuse to shush itself.

The documents were the report of the Competition and Consumer Trust Review Team, the Subsequent Procedures PDP Working Group Final Report (which created the policy recommendations for the next round) and ICANN’s Operational Design Assessment of SubPro (which talked about how ICANN would implement those recommendations).

It was a pretty flimsy response, and GACers weren’t buying it, pointing out today that the three documents in question were all produced by the ICANN community or ICANN staff and couldn’t really be said to be “objective and independent”. Nor could they be said to amount to an “analysis of costs and benefits”.

“I had the pleasure to read through the report, and see whether it’s a cost/benefit analysis, and whether it’s an objective and independent analysis,” the GAC rep from Denmark said. “And I must say that my answer or reply to those questions would be no, and a big no.”

Other GAC members in Europe and North America seemed to agree that either the cost/benefit analysis they had asked for still hadn’t been delivered and that perhaps it wouldn’t be great for the GAC’s credibility if it didn’t press the issue.

The UK rep, who was chairing the session, observed that GAC members’ higher-uppers in government, such as ministers, sometimes ask what economic impact gTLD expansion might have and that an answer might be useful.

The contrarian opinion came, as it so often does, from Iran, whose rep suggested that a cost/benefit analysis might be pointless and maybe the GAC should just put the issue to bed.

What happens if the analysis shows the costs outweigh the benefits, he asked, should ICANN just scrap the next application round and 13 years of policy work?

It seems a request for ICANN to pay for an independent cost/benefit analysis of the new gTLD program could make its way into the GAC’s formal advice-delivering communique later in the week, potentially throwing friction into the roll-out of the next round.

In my opinion, there is no real answer to the question of whether the new gTLD program is a net benefit.

Beyond the billions of dollars of economic activity that will be created, whether it’s beneficial is purely a subjective opinion, and paying a bunch of overpriced consultants to wave their hands in the air for a year before spitting out the 300-page PDF equivalent of a Gallic Shrug probably won’t provide any meaningful clarity.

Twitter “completely unresponsive” on clickable domains

Kevin Murphy, February 21, 2024, Domain Tech

Elon Musk’s Twitter is “completely unresponsive” to outreach about Universal Acceptance of domain names, including problems such as the lack of linkification of new gTLD domains, according to an ICANN technologist.

Speaking at an ICANN 79 Prep Week session yesterday, senior UA technology manager Arnt Gulbrandsen said the Org has been attempting to work with major platforms such as Google’s Gmail and WordPress to encourage support for newer, longer gTLDs and internationalized domain names, but with mixed results.

“What we are doing is identifying the most important, the biggest actors… testing, reaching out or contributing changes,” he said. “We don’t work equally with all. If someone’s unresponsive, then we more or less stop talking to them and hope that they grow less important as time passes.”

“This means Twitter,” he said. “Twitter is completely unresponsive.”

Twitter and other platforms such as WhatsApp have been criticized recently by the people behind gTLDs including .music and .tube for failing to “linkify” their domains. When you tweet a .music domain without the http:// prefix it will not automatically become clickable, for example.

Twitter’s cut-off point for recognizing TLDs appears to be mid-2020. The three gTLDs delegated after that — .spa, .music and .kids — do not currently linkify.

Gulbrandsen said ICANN has been getting a more encouraging response from developers within the WordPress ecosystem, where ICANN discovered that UA support relies a great deal on just three software components maintained by volunteer developers — linkify-it, phpautolink and phpmailer.

“I’m really happy about the responses from some of these obscure, open-source maintainers,” he said. “They really want to do the best for the world, and they are volunteers mostly.”

Two of the identified components currently support UA and ICANN is working with phpmailer, he said. ICANN has also been contributing UA code even further down the stack, to programming languages such as Java, Python and Ruby, he said.

Gulbrandsen’s presentation came during the ICANN 79 Prep Week session on UA, which included contributions from members of various UA working groups and focused largely on IDN and email problems. You can listen to the session in full here.

New gTLD lottery to return in 2026

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2024, Domain Policy

Remember The Draw? It was the mechanism ICANN used to figure out which new gTLDs from the 2012 application round would get a first-mover advantage, and it’s coming back in 2026.

The Org is currently considering draft Applicant Guidebook language setting out the rules for how to pick which order to process applications in the next round.

There’s no mention of Digital Archery this time. ICANN is sticking to the tried-and-tested Prioritization Draw, a lottery method in which applicants buy a paper ticket for a nominal sum ($100 last time) and ICANN pulls them out of a big bucket to see who goes first.

Applicants for internationalized domain names will have an advantage again, but it’s arguably not as strong as in the 2012 round, when all the IDN applicants that had bought tickets were processed first.

This time, the draw will take place in batches of 500 applications, according to the latest version of the draft AGB language.

The first batch will contain at least 125 IDN applications — assuming there are 125 — and they will be drawn first, before any Latin-script strings get a look. In subsequent batches, the first 10% of tickets drawn will belong exclusively to IDN applicants.

In the 2012 round, the first 108 applications selected were IDNs. The Vatican won the lucky #1 spot with .天主教, the Chinese term for the Catholic Church, while Amazon was the first Latin-script application with .play (which Google eventually won but still hasn’t launched, over 11 years later).

Due to California’s gambling laws, applicants will have to show up to buy a ticket in person. If they can’t make it, they can select an Angeleno proxy from a list provided by ICANN to pick it up on their behalf.

Last time around, The Draw took over nine hours to sort all 1,930 applications and was the social highlight of the community’s calendar. Santa Claus even showed up.

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.

How to qualify for a $40,000 gTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 13, 2024, Domain Policy

Organizations from most of the countries of the world, including some very wealthy economies, could find themselves eligible for a discount of up to 85% on ICANN new gTLD application fees, according to draft rules published for public comment today.

By my count, small businesses from 177 of the world’s countries and territories could qualify for cheap applications in the next round, expected in 2026, assuming they meet the new Applicant Support Program’s other criteria.

The list of qualifying nations includes the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), oil-rich nations such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, wealthy Asian territories such as Hong Kong and South Korea, and some European nations, such as Serbia and Montenegro.

The draft ASP rules propose to subsidize applications from non-profits, intergovernmental organizations, indigenous/tribal groups, and small businesses that provide a “social impact or public benefit” from anywhere in the world.

It also promises subsidies to small businesses located in and owned by people based in several UN-designated economic regions: Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries, Economies in Transition, and Developing Economies.

Lists of these countries can be found in this UN document. China, Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong are among dozens on the “developing economies” list. Russia counts as an “economy in transition” along with a handful of other east European and west Asian nations.

There’s no requirement to have a public benefit or charitable mission to qualify as a “Micro or small sized business from a less-developed economy”, you just need to have fewer than 50 employees, less than $5 million in the bank, and less than $5 million of annual sales (or meet two of those three criteria).

According to my tally, there are 177 distinct territories on the applicable UN lists. The same UN document lists just 36 nations that qualify as “developed” economies.

Because the application fees for the next round are not yet fixed, the discount eligible applicants can get isn’t either. The placeholder text in the current draft says the discount will be in the range of 50% to 85%.

ICANN has previously said that the base fee could be as much as $270,000, so an 85% discount would be worth almost $230,000, reducing the fee to about $40,000. Each applicant would be limited to one gTLD.

Support applicants under any category also have to pass various background screening checks — they can’t be affiliated with another registry, for example — and have to show that paying the full base gTLD application fee would be a “financial hardship”.

This is defined as: “Cost of the subsidized base gTLD application fee ([X%] of the [$X] USD fee) is greater than 20 percent of the organization’s annual revenue”. So, if we assume a discounted fee of $40,000, only companies with revenue under $200,000 would qualify.

The 2012 round’s Applicant Support Program worked a little differently. Applicants could be from anywhere in the world, but they could earn points under the score-based rules by being from a developing nation.

There were only three applicants using the ASP in 2012, and only one — DotKids Foundation, based in Hong Kong and founded by the same businessman who founded DotAsia and currently sits on the ICANN board of directors — ended up qualifying for the cheaper application fee.

For the next round, ICANN has penciled in a Q4 2024 date to start accepting applications for the discount. The application window is expected to close a year later, at least six months before the new gTLD application window opens.

Anyone thinking about trying to game the system should note that ICANN promises that anyone “found to have abused the intent of the program” will be banned from the new gTLD program forever.

The proposed ASP rules are open for comment for 50 days here.

Registry service provider evaluation handbook published

Kevin Murphy, February 12, 2024, Domain Registries

ICANN has released the first draft of its RSP Handbook, the guidelines and questionnaire for registry service providers that want to get pre-approved by the Org ahead of the next new gTLD application round.

The Handbook is aimed at the few dozen companies that offer back-end services to gTLD registries — companies such as GoDaddy, Identity Digital and CentralNic — to guide them through the process of getting approved under the new Registry Service Provider Evaluation Program.

The program was called for by the GNSO community in order to minimize the amount of time-consuming, expensive evaluation work required for each new gTLD application. If a gTLD applicant’s selected RSP has been pre-approved by ICANN, it’s an automatic pass on the technical part of the application.

The new Handbook 1.0 envisages four types of RSP. A “Main RSP” is a full-service provider that looks after all technical aspects of a registry back-end. There are also categories for companies that provide DNS resolution only and DNSSEC services.

A fourth type, the “Proxy RSP”, is aimed primarily at companies that provide secondary registry services in countries that have very restrictive domain licensing rules. That basically means China, and proxies such as ZDNS.

Incumbent gTLD RSPs have a distinct advantage in the Handbook process. If they’re in good standing with ICANN and have complied with their service level agreements for the last six months, they can skip the second, technical part of the evaluation.

Incumbents also get a streamlined process for additional registry services — stuff like name-blocking and registry locks — they wish to offer. If they already offer them in an existing gTLD, they get to skip the full Registry Services Evaluation Process.

The Handbook is a first draft and does not currently include things like fees and dates. It’s not yet open for public comment but you can read the 108-page PDF here.

ICANN expects to launch the pre-evaluation program 18 months before it starts accepting new gTLD applications, so applicants have a list of approved RSPs to choose from. With a Q2 2026 target date for the next application window, that means the RSP program could launch later this year.