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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 accused of power grab over $271 million auction fund

Kevin Murphy, November 28, 2023, Domain Policy

ICANN has acted outside of its powers by ignoring community policy recommendations and leaving its $271 million gTLD auction windfall open to being frittered away on lawyers, according to community members.

The Intellectual Property Constituency of the GNSO has filed a formal Request for Reconsideration over a board resolution passed at ICANN 78 last month in Hamburg, and other constituencies may add their names to it shortly.

The row concerns the huge cash pile ICANN was left sitting on following the auction of 17 new gTLD contracts between 2014 and 2016, which raised $240 million (as of July, around $271 million after investment returns and ICANN helping itself to a portion to fund its operations reserve).

It was decided that the money should be used to fund a grant program for worthy causes, with organizations able to apply for up to $500,000 during discrete rounds, the first of which is due to open next year with a $10 million pot. Around $220 million is believed to be earmarked for the grant program over its lifetime.

But the Cross Community Working Group for Auction Proceeds (CCWG-AP) that came up with the rules of the program was concerned that unsuccessful applicants, or others chagrined by ICANN’s grant allocations, might challenge decisions using ICANN’s accountability mechanisms.

This would cause money earmarked for worthy causes to be spaffed away on lawyers, which the CCWG-AP wanted to avoid, so it recommended that ICANN modify its fundamental bylaws to exclude the grant program from mechanisms such as the Independent Review Process, which usually incurs high six-figure or seven-figure legal fees.

ICANN seemed to accept this recommendation — formally approving it in June last year — until ICANN 78, when the board approved a surprise U-turn on this so-called Recommendation 7.

The board said it was changing its mind because it had found “alternative ways” to achieve the same objective, “including ways that do not require modification to ICANN’s core Bylaws on accountability”. The resolution stated:

As a result, the Board is updating its action on Recommendation 7 to reflect that ICANN org should implement this Recommendation 7 directly through the use of applicant terms and conditions rather than through a change to ICANN’s Fundamental Bylaws.

This left some community members — and at least one ICANN director — scratching their heads. Sure, you might be able to ban grant applicants from using the IRP in the program’s terms and conditions, but that wouldn’t stop third parties such as an applicant’s competitors from filing an IRP and causing legal spaffery.

The board was well aware of these concerns when it passed the resolution last month. Directors pointed out in Hamburg that ICANN is still pursuing the bylaws amendment route, but has removed it as a dependency for the first grant round going ahead.

This left some community members nonplussed — it wasn’t clear whether ICANN planned to go ahead with the program ignoring community recommendations, or not. The reassuring words of directors didn’t seem to tally with the language of the resolution.

So the IPC took the initiative and unironically invoked an accountability mechanism — the RfR — to get ICANN to change its mind again. I gather the request was filed as a precaution within the 30-day filing window due to the lack of clarity on ICANN’s direction.

The RfR states:

the impetus behind the Bylaws change was to prevent anyone from challenging grant decisions, including challenges from parties not in contractual privity with ICANN. The Board’s hasty solution would only prevent contracting grant applicants from challenging decisions; it would not in any way affect challenges by anyone else – including anyone who wished to challenge the award of a grant. The grant program could be tied in knots by disgruntled parties, competitive organizations or anyone else who wished to delay or prevent ICANN from carrying out any decision to grant funds. This is exactly what the CCWG-AP sought to prevent

The IPC says that by bypassing the bylaws amendment process, which involves community consent, the ICANN board is basically giving itself the unilateral right to turn off its bylaws-mandated accountability mechanisms when it sees fit. A power grab.

It wants the Hamburg resolution reversed.

Discussing the RfR a few days before it was filed, other members of the GNSO Council suggested that their constituencies might sign on as fellow complainants if and when it is amended.

RfRs are handled by ICANN’s Board Accountability Mechanisms Committee, which does not currently have a publicly scheduled upcoming meeting.

Google sells five-figure AI domain and six-figure .ing hack

Kevin Murphy, November 27, 2023, Domain Sales

A single-letter domain, an AI-related name, and a category-killer domain hack appear to have been sold by Google Registry during the latest week of its ongoing Early Access Period for the new .ing gTLD.

Judging by the .ing zone file, at least three domains have been registered in .ing since I last posted about the apparent seven-figure sale of host.ing a couple weeks ago.

The new names are w.ing, shipp.ing and tur.ing. I assume tur.ing refers to war hero Alan Turing, one of the fathers of computing and namesake of the Turing Test, used to judge AI intelligence.

w.ing was registered first, on November 13, when it would have incurred a six-figure price tag, according to published registrar retail prices. The registrant is listed as Google via the registrar Markmonitor.

Unlike w.ing and host.ing, the other two were registered via GoDaddy (albeit with redacted registrant names) so we can be more confident they are actually sales to third-party registrants.

Both shipp.ing and tur.ing were registered shortly after Google’s EAP rolled over into week three pricing ($35,000 at 101Domain‘s low-end prices, as a guide) on November 21 at 1600 UTC.

If Whois can be relied upon, the shipp.ing registrant is based in Texas and the tur.ing registrant in Arizona.

tur.ing is the only one trying to resolve currently, from where I’m sitting, but it fails due to a cert error.

Google’s EAP enters week four tomorrow at 1600 UTC, at which point prices fall daily until they settle at general availability pricing on December 5.

.blackfriday is still a bit rubbish

Kevin Murphy, November 27, 2023, Domain Registries

It’s Cyber Monday, so this post is 100% OFF the usual price!

A decade ago, Black Friday — the day after Thanks Giving, on which retailers in the US deeply discount products to drum up sales — wasn’t really a thing here in the UK, but now it’s everywhere.

Largely as a result of pressure from US-based online retailers, the concept of Black Friday has been gradually seeping into the public consciousness here, and elsewhere in the world, since the early 2010s, and as such, you might expect sales of .blackfriday domains to have grown in tandem.

But they haven’t. In fact, the .blackfriday gTLD, which has been available since mid-2014, still languishes unloved and untended.

The latest registry transaction report shows just 1,084 .blackfriday domains under management at the end of July, down from 1,127 a year earlier and 1,580 five years ago.

The TLD peaked in 2016 at 12,000 names at a time when the original registry, Uniregistry, held approximately 10,000 domains for itself that it subsequently dropped.

The most-recent zone files show under 1,000 .blackfriday domains with name servers.

Being owned by GoDaddy Registry since March 2022, after Uniregistry shuttered and sold off all its gTLD contracts, hasn’t helped matters.

Remarkably, you still can’t buy .blackfriday domains via GoDaddy — the retail registrar arm of the company has precisely zero .blackfriday domains under management and godaddy.blackfriday redirects to a godaddy.com storefront where .blackfriday domains are not available.

If Google juice is any indication of popularity, some of the highest-profile companies actually using .blackfriday domains appear to be losing their enthusiasm.

Just clicking on the first few dozen .blackfriday domains in a Google results page reveals several web sites that have not been updated for this year’s Black Friday, some not for years. One of them, holidays.blackfriday, is listed as a flagship tenant on GoDaddy’s registry web site, yet is still flogging deals for the European summer 2023 season.

The first four new gTLDs have been unmitigated disasters

Kevin Murphy, October 16, 2023, Domain Registries

“Arabic ‘Dot Shabaka’ goes online, ‘Dot Com’ era nearing end”.

That was a headline from a Turkish news site in February 2014 when the first Arabic gTLD — شبكة. — went to general availability, having been delegated to the DNS root October 23, 2013, 10 years ago next week.

It was one of the first four gTLDs to go live from ICANN’s 2012 new gTLD application round. At the time, the registry very kindly documented its launch on the pages of this very blog.

A decade on, شبكة. — which transliterates as “dot shabaka” — has just 670 registered domains, a 2015 peak of 2,093 names, and barely any active web sites of note. The registrar arm of the registry that runs it, GoDaddy, doesn’t even support it.

شبكة. is the Arabic for “.web”. The dot goes to the right because Arabic is read right-to-left. A full domain looks like this فيمأمنمنالألغام.شبك in your address bar but in the DNS, the TLD is represented by the Punycode .xn--ngbc5azd.

Given the Latin-script version of .web auctioned off for $135 million, and that there are 274 million Arabic speakers in the world, you might expect there to be a thirsty market for dot shabaka domains.

Nope.

It added about 2,000 domains in its first three months, crept up to 2,093 over the next two years, and has been on the decline pretty much consistently ever since. It has 40 accredited registrars, but only 21 of those have any domains under management.

Notably, GoDaddy has zero dot shabaka names under management, despite GoDaddy Registry being the official registry due to a string of consolidation ending with its acquisition of Neustar’s registry business over three years ago.

Its largest registrar is Dynadot, which seems to have a pretty responsive, intuitive storefront for non-Latin domain names.

Doing a site search on Google reveals the registry’s NIC site as the top hit — never a good sign — and a first page dominated by broken, misconfigured, and junk sites. An anti-landmine organization and a reputation management service are among the legit sites that show up.

One of the first-page results is actually in Japanese, a page declaring “ドメイン「المهوس.شبكة」は、日本語では、「オタク.ネット」という意味です。” or “The domain ‘المهوس.شبكة’ means ‘otaku.net’ in Japanese.” (per Google Translate).

It’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the demand for Arabic script names. If a reasonably priced, .com-competitive, god-tier gTLD such as “.web” is a backwater neglected even by its own registry, what does that say about any long-tail internationalized domain name gTLDs that might be applied for in the next ICANN application round?

We don’t have to wait until then to get a sense, however. Dot shabaka was one of four gTLDs delegated on the same October 2013 day, and the others haven’t fared much better. The other three were:

  • .xn--unup4y (.游戏) — means “.games” in Chinese. Operated by Identity Digital (formerly Donuts).
  • .xn--80aswg (.сайт) — means “.site” in several Cyrillic languages, including Russian. Operated by CORE Association.
  • .xn--80asehdb (.онлайн) — means “.online” in several Cyrillic languages, including Russian. Also operated by CORE Association.

You might expect .游戏 to do quite well. There are over a billion Chinese speakers in the world and gaming is a popular pastime in the country, but this TLD is doing even worse than dot shabaka.

While it was a day-one delegation, Identity Digital didn’t actually start selling .游戏 domains until early 2017, so it’s had a shorter amount of time to build up to the pitiful 318 domains recorded in the last registry transaction report. While its DUM number is lumpy over time, there’s an overall upward trend.

Compare to Latin-script .games (also Identity Digital) which had over 48,000 domains at the last count. Even comparing to premium-priced and XYZ-operated .game (Chinese isn’t big on plurals), which had 4,227 names, is unfavorable.

The two decade-old Cyrillic gTLDs aren’t doing much better, despite there being 255 million Russian-speakers in the world.

While .онлайн (“.online”) has a relatively decent 2,340 domains, the English version, run by Radix, has 2,732,653 domains. The Russian “.site” (.сайт) has just 829 domains, compared to Radix’s English version, which has 1,501,721.

The major Russia-based registrars, while they are understandably the biggest sellers of Cyrillic gTLD domains, are actually selling far more of their Latin-script, English-language equivalents.

Reg.ru, for example, has 99,716 .site domains under management, but just 249 in .сайт. It has 188,125 .online domains — where it is the fourth-largest registrar — but just 918 in .онлайн.

While there are certainly supply-side problems, such as the problem of Universal Acceptance, I suspect the abject failures of these four IDN gTLDs to gain traction over the last decade, despite their first-mover advantages, is based at least equally on a lack of demand.

ICANN has made UA — particularly with regards IDNs — one of its top priorities for the next new gTLD application round. Supporting a multilingual internet is one of the CEO’s goals for the current fiscal year.

But it had the same goals in the 2012 round too. The reason the first four to be delegated were IDNs was because IDN applicants, in act of what we’d probably call “virtue signalling” nowadays, were given priority in the lottery that decided the order in which they were processed.

Second time lucky?

XYZ adds 35th gTLD to its stable

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2023, Domain Registries

XYZ has acquired .ceo, making its portfolio of new gTLDs now 35-strong.

XYZ, judging by a blog post and press release, seems to the sticking to the original use case of yourname.ceo, highlighting a couple of CEOs that are using .ceo as their primary domain. But it seems that many of the .ceo domains with Google juice are generics.

The former registry was CEOTLD of Australia, originally affiliated with social media wannabe PeopleBrowsr.

When the gTLD launched a decade ago the plan was to issue registrants with their own template calling card style web sites, but the idea never really caught on.

.ceo had 3,789 domains at the end of June, according to the latest registry reports. GoDaddy and Namecheap were its largest registrars.

Wood company scraps its dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2023, Domain Registries

A Swedish wood-products company has become the latest company to ask ICANN to terminate its dot-brand gTLD registry agreement.

Svenska Cellulosa AB, which Wikipedia tells me makes almost $2 billion a year selling paper and wood pulp, is dumping .sca, which it has never used.

While ICANN will not transition the gTLD to another operator, there are plenty of other organizations in the world using the same abbreviation, so the string itself could show up in the root again in future.

The TLD was managed by Valideus on a Verisign back-end. Verisign is getting out of the dot-brand back-end business.

Assuming SCA’s request is not withdrawn, it will become the 120th dot-brand to self-terminate.

ICANN is starting to auto-renew new gTLD contracts

Kevin Murphy, September 21, 2023, Domain Registries

Almost 10 years have passed since ICANN delegated its first 2012-round new gTLDs and the Org has started to auto-renew their contracts.

As far as I can tell, the first delegated gTLD, شبكة. (Arabic “.web”, .xn--ngbc5azd) got its Registry Agreement renewed on July 13. The registry, dotShabaka, was informed all the way back in April.

That gTLD eventually made it to the DNS root in late October.

ICANN has this week informed Identity Digital’s subsidiaries that dozens of their RAs — the first Latin-script gTLDs from the round to go live — will auto-renew starting this month.

Under the base RA, registries get to run their TLDs for a decade and, unless they seriously screw up, there’s a presumptive right of renewal.

Single/plural gTLD combos to be UNBANNED

Kevin Murphy, September 14, 2023, Domain Policy

It’s looking like ICANN won’t ban companies from applying for plural versions of existing singular gTLDs, and vice-versa, after all.

Among the pieces of the GNSO’s new gTLD policy advice ICANN’s board of directors rejected at the weekend was a proposal to essentially ban potentially confusing singular/plural combos coexisting in the DNS.

The board threw out the advice because it reckons ICANN would be put in a position where it would have to police internet content, which is outside its mission and something it is very averse to.

The recommendations would have prevented two strings existing in the DNS if one was the plural of the other, but only if they were in the same language and had the same intended usage.

The example the GNSO gave was applications for .spring and .springs — if both were intended for English-language sites related to bouncy metal coils, they would be deemed confusingly similar and only one would be allowed to exist. But if .spring was intended to relate to the season, both would be permitted to coexist.

But ICANN is uncomfortable with this because no matter what an applicant says in its application about intended language and intended use, without some post-delegation policing actual use may vary.

“Though a gTLD applicant can arbitrarily set the language of a TLD during an application round, a registrant and end-user can only see
the script of the TLD string in its practical usage. So the singular/plural determination by the gTLD applicant does not carry
onward to the registrant and end user,” the board wrote.

“Restricting the use and potentially the content of strings registered in TLDs based on the intended use therefore raises concerns for the Board in light of ICANN’s Bylaws Section 1.1 (c),” it said, referring to the part of its bylaws that says it is not allowed to regulate internet content.

So it seems likely that plural/singular clashes are probably going to be permitted in future new gTLD round after all.

This, of course, reopens the business model of a lazy applicant going after the singular/plural of an existing registry’s string and piggybacking on its installed user base or marketing budget.

ICANN rejects a whole bunch of new gTLD policy stuff

Kevin Murphy, September 14, 2023, Domain Policy

ICANN has delivered some bad news for dot-brands, applicants from poorer countries, and others, at the weekend rejecting several items of new gTLD policy advice that the community spent years cooking up.

The board of directors on Sunday approved a scorecard of determinations, including the rejection (or non-adoption) of seven GNSO recommendations that it deems “would not be in the best interests of the ICANN community or ICANN”.

In reality, it’s the latter that seems to have been foremost in the board’s mind; most of the rejections appear to be geared toward reducing ICANN Org’s legal or financial exposure.

Notably, dot-brands are denied some of the relief from cumbersome or expensive requirements that the GNSO had wanted rid of.

The board rejected a recommendation that would exempt them from the Continued Operations Instrument — a financial bond used to pay an Emergency Back-End Registry Operator should the applicant go out of business.

“[T]he Board is concerned that an exemption from an COI for Spec 9 applications would have financial impact on ICANN since there would be no fund to draw from if such a registry went into EBERO,” the board wrote.

It also rejected a request to exempt dot-brands from rules requiring them to contractually ban and monitor abuse in their TLDs. The GNSO had argued that single-registrant TLDs do not suffer abuse, but the board said this could lead to abuse from compromised domains going unaddressed.

“The Board concludes that Recommendation 9.2, if implemented, could lead to DNS abuse for second-level registrations in a single-registrant TLD going unaddressed, unobserved, and unmitigated,” it said.

Applicants hoping to benefit from the Applicant Support Program — which in 2012 offered heavily discounted application fees to poorer applicants — also got some bad news.

The GNSO wants the support to extend to other costs such as application-writing services and lawyers, which naturally enough put the frighteners on the board, which noted “such expansion of support could raise the possibility of inappropriate use of resources (e.g. inflated expenses, private benefit concerns, and other legal or regulatory concerns)”.

The board also rejected a couple of recommendations that could be seen as weakening its role as ultimate authority over all things gTLD.

It rejected a proposal to remove the controversial covenant not to sue (CNTS) from the application process unless other recommendations related to appeals processes are implemented.

ICANN said that because it has not yet approved these other recommendations, it has rejected this recommendation.

The board also rejected a recommendation that would have limited its ability to reject a gTLD application to only when permitted to do so by the rules set out in the Applicant Guidebook.

The idea was to prevent applications being arbitrarily rejected, but the board said this “may unduly limit ICANN’s discretion to reject an application in yet-to-be-identified future circumstance(s)”.

The rejections invoke part of the ICANN bylaws that now requires the GNSO Council to convene and either affirm or amend its recommendations before discussing them with the board. Presumably this could happen at ICANN 78 next month.

The bylaws process essentially gives the board the ultimately authority to throw out the GNSO recommendations if it can muster up a two-thirds supermajority vote, something it rarely has a problem achieving.