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First metaverse gTLD is announced

Unstoppable Domains has announced plans to apply for the first gTLD devoted to a metaverse.

The company has partnered with Metropolis, a “a 360° curated universe that blends commerce, gaming, and experiences that span both digital & physical worlds” to launch .metropolis names on Unstoppable’s blockchain.

“Metropolis plans to explore future ICANN gTLD applications in order for .Metropolis to become even more integrated in the digital landscape,” Unstoppable said.

In the meantime, Metropolis expects its users to use the blockchain version of the names to address “virtual real estate within the metaverse”.

I checked out the Metropolis web site, clicked on everything, and have to confess I don’t understand any of it. I feel about a thousand years old.

Unstoppable to apply for Women in Tech gTLD

Unstoppable Domains and Women in Tech Global have announced that they plan to apply for a new gTLD when ICANN opens the next application round.

They want .witg, which Unstoppable has already launched on its blockchain-based naming system. They cost $10 a pop.

Unstoppable says the names come with some social networking features, as well as the usual ability to address cryptocurrency wallets.

The company has also recently announced gTLD application partnerships with POG Digital for .pog, Clay Nation for .clay and Pudgy Penguin for .pudgy.

Unstoppable is mainly competing here with D3 Global, which is also recruiting blockchain businesses that want to embrace the DNS when the next round opens.

.austin names launch on blockchain

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2024, Domain Registries

A city gTLD launching exclusively on a blockchain alternative naming system? It’s happened, with the announcement of .austin at the SXSW conference in Austin, Texas.

The extension is already on sale at $10 a name via Unstoppable Domains, in partnership with the Greater Austin Asian Chamber of Commerce.

The organizations said the names will serve 2.4 million residents of the Austin area. The extension appears on the Polygon blockchain.

There are plenty of city name gTLDs in the regular DNS, but .austin is believed to be the first blockchain-exclusive (excluding perhaps Handshake, where there are no doubt a great many).

The GAACC claims, without citation, that .austin is “far more secure than the four US city traditional TLDs that exist so far”, which is probably true — domains that don’t resolve for most people can’t be as easily abused.

There’s no word in the Unstoppable or GAACC announcements whether the plan is to apply to ICANN for .austin in the proper DNS in 2026 and mirror the two namespaces, but GAACC will face some administrative hurdles if it wishes to do so.

Under the current draft of the next round’s Applicant Guidebook, applicants need formal endorsement from the local government when applying for “a city name, where the applicant declares that it intends to use the gTLD for purposes associated with the city name.”

If the City of Austin were to apply to ICANN separately, there would no doubt be friction.

First two proper registrars join Web3 Domain Alliance

Kevin Murphy, February 27, 2023, Domain Policy

Two significant ICANN-accredited registrars have signed up to a body that commits them to, among other things, endorse the position that blockchain-based alt-root TLDs have trademark rights to their strings.

United-Domains and MarkMonitor are among about 50 companies now listed as new members of the Web3 Domain Alliance, the association created late last year by well-financed alt-root registry Unstoppable Domains.

The other companies listed appear to be players in the crypto/blockchain/Web3/NFT space, rather than the traditional domain name industry.

The moves by the two registrars are significant because the Alliance’s platform stands to be a significant thorn in ICANN’s side when it finally opens up the next new gTLD application round, which could happen in the next couple years.

According to the Alliance’s web site, members have to commit not only to promote the market acceptance and interoperability of blockchain alt-root domains, but also:

To 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.

This could be a big problem in the next new gTLD round, as current ICANN policy proposals, developed before the likes of Unstoppable became such a big deal, do not specifically account for claims by alt-root providers.

Trademark owners will be able to challenge gTLD applications if the applied-for string matches their mark, but historically it’s not really been possible for companies to obtain trademarks on TLDs.

Along with the membership announcement, Unstoppable has said that it will not enforce its patents against any Alliance member that implements its standards, provided the member agrees not to enforce its own patents.

United-Domains is part of United-Internet, the same company that runs IONOS, 1&1, Sedo and InternetX.

MarkMonitor, since November, has been part of Newfold Digital, the parent of Network Solutions, Web.com, Register.com, BigRock, SnapNames, and others.

Unstoppable offering free .nft names to Twitter users

Kevin Murphy, January 31, 2023, Domain Services

Unstoppable Domains is enabling Twitter users to claim free “domains” in its alt-root blockchain-based TLD .nft.

The site offers users a domain that matches their Twitter handle. You only need to authorize its app to log in using Twitter credentials, much like other Twitter-connected apps.

Actually using the name seems to require you to have a cryptocurrency wallet. And of course you won’t be able to use the name to address a web site unless all your visitors use a specialist plug-in or certain browsers.

Unstoppable usually sells .nft names for $29, with no renewal fees. It says it currently has 3.1 million names across its portfolio of crypto-themed alt-root TLDs.

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…

Unstoppable Domains stops over 116,000 domains as alt-root TLD goes dark

Kevin Murphy, October 20, 2022, Domain Registries

Blockchain alt-root provider Unstoppable Domains has taken a huge credibility hit with its decision to essentially turn off one of its TLDs, rendering over 116,000 domains pretty much useless.

Unstoppable said Tuesday that it has stopped selling .coin domains and would immediately stop supporting their resolution. The names would no longer work with the over 500 cryptocurrency wallets, apps and services that integrate with Unstoppable, the company said.

“As of today, we’ve disabled .coin resolution in our libraries and services. Unstoppable domains are self-custodied NFTs, so you still own your .coin domain, but it won’t work with our resolution services or integrations,” Unstoppable said in a blog post.

According to AltRoots.com, there were almost 117,000 .coin domains at the time they were turned off.

That’s about the same size as Identity Digital’s .email gTLD, and the shutdown is the equivalent of ID telling its registrants that they can keep their domains, but it’s deleting the .email zone file.

The decision drew immediate critical reaction on social media, with many users pointing out that the Unstoppable system doesn’t sound particularly “decentralized” or censorship-resistant any more.

“Doesn’t sound too decentralized or empowering. Hopefully this will wake people up,” one Twitter user wrote.

“So many people literally just had to change their identity due to incompetency. Basically like visa saying you can keep the card but it wont work anywhere anymore,” wrote another.

Users also criticized the company’s decision to offer compensation in the form of store credit — three times what they paid for the domains they return — instead of a cash refund.

Unstoppable said the decision was made after it discovered another blockchain project, Emercoin, has been selling .coin domains since 2014, whereas its own .coin was launched in 2021.

“We’re committed to protecting our customers from the risk of functional collision,” Unstoppable said. “The Emercoin team are pioneers in our industry and we regret that we weren’t aware of this naming collision earlier.”

Name collisions are of course a big deal in the regular DNS, but cohesion around a single consensus root allows risk to be managed and mitigated, as we saw in ICANN’s 2012 new gTLD roll-out.

And in the ICANN system, a TLD would not simply be shut off overnight. Rather, it would transition to an emergency back-end operator for three years until it is either taken over by another permanent registry or wound down in an orderly fashion.

As Domain Name Wire notes, Unstoppable is currently trying to get the operator of a competing .wallet blockchain alt-root TLD shut down in court on the basis of the name collision, and it would have been hypocritical to continue offering its own colliding TLD.

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?

Tucows’ domains business stagnates again in Q2

Kevin Murphy, August 10, 2022, Domain Registrars

Tucows’ domain name business has experienced its third consecutive quarter of stagnating growth.

The company yesterday reported third-quarter total domains revenue of $61 million, compared to $62.3 million a year ago and $61.5 million in the second quarter.

Dave Woroch, CEO of Tucows Domains, described this 2% annual decline as “consistency” on a prerecorded address to analysts.

He pointed to Verisign’s recent comments about a decrease in .com registration volumes as evidence of an industry-wide post-pandemic slowdown, but was somewhat bullish on some new gTLDs.

“At the other end of the industry, we do see more robust growth in many of the new gTLDs that are of higher quality and that have little to no speculation or cyber crime opportunity,” he said.

The domains industry is “generally not showing a lot of growth”, he said, adding that “outsized growth would need to come from new areas”, which could include so-called “web3” efforts.

Woroch noted the recent funding of blockchain alt-root project Unstoppable Domains, but said Tucows is not a fan. Unstoppable has, like similar efforts dating back over 20 years, some “fatal flaws” and “a chicken and egg problem” of adoption, he said.

Domains under management at Tucows decreased to 24.8 million from 25 million sequentially and 25.6 million a year ago.

Tucows’ retail domains revenue was down to $8.5 million from $8.9 million a year ago, while the wholesale business, including value-added services, was down to $52.3 million from $53.4 million.

Including non-domains businesses, Tucows’ Q2 revenue was up 11% to $83.1 million and the net loss was $3.1 million compared with net income of $1.8 million a year ago.

GMO to sell Unstoppable’s crypto domains

Kevin Murphy, August 8, 2022, Domain Registrars

Japan’s largest domain seller, GMO, is to sell Unstoppable Domains’s blockchain-based addresses under a new brand.

The company, which owns the registrar Onamae, is launching a site called “CryptoName by GMO” at cryptoname.jp, where Unstoppable’s full portfolio of crytocurrency-themed extensions are on offer.

Unstoppable said it’s first traditional domain name registrar to offer the service.

The CryptoName web site contains an extensive FAQ explaining that the names are primarily designed to address crypto wallets rather than web sites, where they won’t resolve for the vast majority of internet users and won’t be indexed by search engines.