Posts tagged ‘new TLDs’

Interview with Antony Van Couvering — Part II

Here’s the second part of my interview with Antony Van Couvering of Mind and Machines focused on the business opportunity of new TLDs. You can read part one here.

Q: Can you talk about your Espresso registry services platform, and the advantages that offers for new TLD operators?

Espresso is the gTLD cousin of CoCCA, which was developed for ccTLDs. At present, Espresso is running .FM, which contains many prominent sites such as ping.fm. Taken together, the platform hosts 30 ccTLDs, making it the most widely deployed TLD registry solution on the planet. Over the last two years, while we’ve been waiting for ICANN to approve the new gTLD program, we haven’t been sitting on our hands. Together with CoCCA, we’ve been implementing all the new features required by ICANN, including the trademark clearinghouse, IPv6, DNSSEC, and other features. We may well be the most advanced of all the registries in this regard.

Espresso has some real advantages over any other solution. First, as a client you have a choice of using our hosted version, where all you need to run your registry is an Internet connection; or you can install it locally on your network, which makes a lot of sense for brands and other clients with particular security needs or IT policies. Second, the platform was developed over the last ten years with particular attention to the needs of a variety of different ccTLD requirements, so it’s very very flexible and accommodates all kinds of business models, from very open to quite restrictive, based on a number of different criteria.

Additionally, the reporting is first-rate, payment systems are fully integrated, and best of all it’s already connected to all the major ICANN-accredited registrars, so our clients won’t have to convince them to do any time-consuming technical integration, which could be a major stumbling block in a landscape with hundreds of new gTLDs. All the registrars will have to do is check a box on the Espresso system to turn on a new gTLD — it’s that simple.

George Bundy of BRS Media runs .FM and is planning to do .RADIO with us. He has had a lot of experience with the platform both as an existing ccTLD and as a prospective new gTLD. George has agreed to be a reference for us, so if anyone wants to know what Espresso is like from the perspective of someone who’s using it, just ask George.

Q: What kind of organizations are looking at new TLDs, based on your conversations to date? Any general trends you can share?

Clearly the brands have come out of the closet. After opposing the new gTLD program for so long, it’s clear that now that’s it’s been approved some brands are starting to look at the positives of new gTLDs for them, in terms of branding, authentication, and a number of other corporate imperatives. I’m hearing about a lot demand from brands.

In general there’s been a significant uptick in interest from all sectors — I’ve certainly been very busy with phone calls and meetings with new clients. I think after Labor Day is when we’ll start to see a real surge, with additional announcements, ICANN’s awareness campaign kicking in, and the deadline looming.

Applicants will have the last three months of the year to get ready, and given the heavyweight application, that might be just enough time.

July 12, 2011 at 7:41 am 3 comments

Talking Domain Names with Antony Van Couvering

Today I’m pleased to publish the first of a two part interview with Antony Van Couvering, of Mind + Machines. As you will read, Antony has been a force in the domain name business since before there way such a thing. The recent approval of new top level domains (TLDs) by ICANN promises to fundamentally change domaining, and Antony is right in the thick of that transformation as well.

So there is no better time to get a true insider’s take on the gTLD process. In the early 2000s Antony and I both worked at VeriSign, for different business units. The  second part of this interview will be published on Tuesday, July 12.

Q: Can you give a background of your long involvement in the domain name registration business?

I began in 1997 with an email to Jon Postel at IANA to find out what these ccTLD things were. Jon and I began talking and it wasn’t long afterwards that I joined up with an English partner, Ivan Pope, to form NetNames. I ran the U.S. branch, NetNames USA. I quickly began defining what is now called the corporate market among domain registrars, the space now dominated by Mark Monitor and a few others, by contacting and working with many of America’s biggest companies and law firms. In those days people were very wary of the idea of domain names, especially ccTLDs, and were struggling to understand what it meant for their brands. It was pretty much the wild west, and I was able to help by bringing the perspective of TLD managers to companies in a way that made sense to them. Eventually Ivan and I sold the company to NetBenefit, now called Group NBT.

During that time I got quite involved with Internet governance issues, working with Jon Postel to create a proposal for revamping the .US domain and then spending a lot time helping to set up ICANN. As part of that work, I helped form the International Association of Top Level Domains (IATLD), which pushed back very forcefully against ICANN’s attempts to rewrite the ground rules for ccTLDs, and in particular to effectively deprecate RFC 1591. Then as now, the major challenge was dealing with governments, whose approach of “sovereignty” and “rights” is very different from the consensus-based, co-operative ethos that characterized the Internet then, and still does to a large extent.

I then started NameEngine, which addressed the same market and clients as NetNames, and did very well until I sold NameEngine to VeriSign. As part of the deal I worked for them for a couple of years. It was a pretty strange place to me back then; Mark McLaughlin and his team have done a great job to make VeriSign the company it is today.

Having launched several ccTLDs during my time at NetNames and having helped several others, I’ve always been very interested in new gTLDs. When ICANN first approved the development of the program a few years ago, I decided to get involved, and began blogging and consulting under the umbrella of Names@Work.

Then in January 2009 I started Minds + Machines with Elaine Pruis. We got an exclusive license from CoCCA to use their platform for gTLDs, which we rechristened Espresso, and with Garth Miller of CoCCA began developing the platform to meet the evolving requirement of ICANN for new gTLD registries — as everyone else in the industry had to do as well. Soon afterwards, our investor company Top Level Domain Holdings, Ltd., which is a public company listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange, acquired 100% of Minds + Machines, and I’m now the CEO of both Minds + Machines and Top Level Domain Holdings. We’ve raised quite a bit of money and we’re looking forward to participating in the opening of the new gTLD space.

Q: ICANN just approved the introduction of new TLDs, and applications are expected by January 2012. How would you characterize the opportunity this represents, for operators and users?

The opportunity is truly historic. ICANN was set up to make new gTLDs a reality, and it’s taken 12 years of shouting to get it done, after a couple of false starts. While subsequent rounds are sure to happen someday, it’s anyone’s guess as to when: this round took six years to accomplish. For applicants, there’s suddenly a rush to get things done: applications to ICANN have to be submitted during the window that lasts from January 12 to April 12, 2012. That means that applicants have just a few months to put together a pretty complicated and serious application, and to round up the money they need. For users, it’s a great time to get a short, memorable domain name that matches their brand or their name or represents the business they’re in. Right now under .com it’s tremendously expensive, since good names have to be purchased in the secondary market.

Overall, the major benefit from new gTLDs will be to re-introduce semantic meaning into the characters that follow the dot in a domain name. While most country-code top-level domain names have a meaning, either in a geographic sense or as a repurposed gTLD (e.g., .tv), the most popular gTLDs are essentially meaningless at this point: anyone can register anything in .com, .net, and .org, and they do — those three characters after the dot no longer mean “commercial,” or “network,” or “organization.”

One commonly voiced criticism of new top-level domains goes something like, “No-one needs them, everyone just uses search anyway.” Even if you ignore the data that about 15% of all traffic is from typing in a URL or using a bookmark, new TLDs will actually work very well with search. I just wrote about this in a recent blog post. This is just another way that new TLDs will benefit users.

Q: Recently your company announced it was working together with Neustar for certain TLD opportunities. How will you be working together?

We have a two-way exclusive agreement with Neustar for geographical names, with some exceptions for projects we undertook before joining announcing our partnership. The deal is that we agree to use their registry platform for geographical TLDs, and they agree to refer all relevant clients to us as the front-end partner. I think it’s a great deal for both of us: we’ve been busy over the last two years making a lot of contacts with cities, while Neustar has a back-end that is very solid, and a recent success doing the back-end for .CO.

Does this mean we don’t like Espresso anymore? No, it doesn’t — we love Espresso. But as everyone who has been following the progress of the new gTLD program knows, governments are extremely risk averse, and governments are the decision-makers when it comes to geographical gTLDs. To a government, Neustar’s profile as a big public company on the New York Stock Exchange, with a $2B market cap, makes a lot of the queasy what-ifs go away. We are interested in participating to the fullest extent in the new gTLD space, and we’ll do what it takes to make that happen. In this case, we thought the partnership with Neustar made a lot of sense, and we still do.

July 8, 2011 at 7:35 am Leave a comment

A Conversation with Ali Farshchian, Founder of CircleID

If you are serious about issues involving Internet infrastructure, then you’re probably a member of CircleID. It’s the online community where the “big brains” of the Internet go to debate Internet technology and policy.

I’d never claim to be one of those big brains, but I’ve been a member since 2005. And during that time I’ve gotten to know Ali Farshchian, the founder of CircleID. He has put together an online community that now receives more than 60,000 uniques per month and over 1 million pageviews annually, without compromising on the quality or the focus on the content.

With so much change swirling around Internet technology these days — DNSSEC, IPv6, new TLDs, BGP hijacks you name it — I thought it was high time I caught with Ali for his take. I spoke with him earlier this week, when he was just back from ICANN San Francisco.

Q:  Can you talk about how you started CircleID, and how it grew to be so influential?

AF:  I studied computer science, and really just wanted to understand better how the Internet worked. Exploring that question I stumbled into domain names and DNS, really. This was pre social media days, so the main sources of information were email lists and online forums.

I learned so much from these sources, I decided there should be a central repository of these conversations. So I started CircleID to fit that need. I reached out to the leaders of these groups — people like Vint Cerf and Paul Mockapetris — and personally asked for their participation. The site launched in September of 2002.

It was tough sledding for around six months, and then the site just took off. The growth has continued totally organically since, I’ve never advertised.

Q:  You’re just back from ICANN San Francisco — what were your impressions of the meeting?

AF: The first immediate impression was pure size and attendance. I helped ICANN organize its 2005 show in Vancouver, and this one was just so much larger. And now so many organizations and governments are focusing their attention on ICANN decisions. Former President Clinton speaking at the event was an example of this — and I thought he was quite inspirational talking about the centrality of the Internet in our lives today.

The other main impression was the dominance of business and political issues, not technical issues. Those are the areas of contention today.

Q:  What in your opinion are the biggest issues/trends affecting the Internet today?

AF: I’d turn that question around — it’s not what’s affecting the Internet, it’s the way the Internet is affecting everything. The biggest trend I see is the way that the Internet is fused into almost everything we do today — business, life, everything. Much as President Clinton said in his speech.

What’s needed in my view is seeing the Internet as a sector, not just as communications technology or delivery channel. The Internet is now like the financial sector or the political sector in scope. It’s that significant. I think CircleID does a good job of covering a lot of Internet related news, but the sector really needs its own Economist, its own Wall Street Journal.

The other trend I’d note is the way the Internet has totally remade B2B communication. The Internet powers a “communities” approach, of which CircleID is an example. We’re totally open platform, profitable and totally scalable.

Communities are not easy to build, you need to earn the credibility and trust, and police the interactions to an extent. But once you reach a critical point in audience participation, you see people valuing the content they’ve contributed, and it almost becomes like a “nesting” phenomenon. This then builds on itself, and can be a barrier to entry for competitors.

Q:  There are so many significant changes being debated right now — what’s your 12-18 month view for Internet infrastructure?

AF: First, let me say that the expertise on CircleID doesn’t come from me or my staff, but from the contributions of the community.

Having said that, I’d say that new TLDs will happen. There has been too much work and debate for them not to. Brand TLDs in particular are going to have a huge effect on how online marketing is done. Brands will now have total control of their domain, and this will help address some current problems like cyber-squatting.

Generics will be similarly powerful, and in that case one company or organization could potentially brand an entire vertical. So deciding on those names promises to be contentious.

The focus on improving the security of key Internet protocols will continue. IPv6 is an example of this, and will continue to grow in importance. Scarcity of IPv4 addresses is becoming a real concern — witness the purchase by Microsoft of IPv4 IP blocks from Nortel.

March 25, 2011 at 5:32 pm Leave a comment

Fun with Xtranormal – the gTLD Debate

A few weeks ago I published a post about xtranormal, a free online text to video tool. It’s a fun way to create animated videos and inject a bit of humor into your communications.

I’ve been around the domain name space for over a decade, and I’ve been following the new TLD story closely. Seems like every time ICANN comes close to finalizing the plan, there is a new delay. Apparently some Internet constituencies  just don’t want new TLDs to happen, no matter what  changes or provisions are made.

I didn’t always feel this way about new TLDs, but I last wrote about this topic in 2008. A lot has changed, and now I say freedom for the right side of the dot! (This is my view and does not necessarily reflect the views of my agency or any of my clients.)

So I thought it would be fun to do a quick video on the topic. If you’re in support of new TLDs, hopefully you’ll find it amusing. If you are against them, I encourage you to make your own xtranormal video — it’s easy!

March 4, 2011 at 9:25 am 2 comments

Domainers — Natural Born Killers of New TLDs?

Let's get them TLDs, baby doll

I truly started utilizing LinkedIn only about three years ago. I had created my account years before, but it was in 2008 that I spent a little time and discovered the value LinkedIn can deliver.

One of the best things about LinkedIn is how self-identified audiences form around specific topics to share information, network and debate. These groups can be great forums for the promotion of content, provided of course the content fits the group. This is true for my own content and often that of my clients as well.

I was in a LinkedIn group last week focused on domain name issues and got into a very interesting comment thread. I had posted news of a recent industry show, and another member weighed in forcefully on the topic of new top level domains (TLDs), a very hot topic in the space right now:

I think it is important to keep an eye on “domaining”: After all “them domainers” (I am one myself) are the natural enemies of new TLD’s.

On a first glimpse domainers constitute something like a “secondary sales channel” for your new TLD. Very, very short thought. Here is what dominers really do to your new TLD (and have done to ALL newly introduced or liberated TLD’s like .us or .co): They take away all the relevant land in a massive landgrab and then they leave it blank or even worse they park it. Instead of passing the land on to enduers they usually choose to wait until the TLD “matures”.

Thats the main reason why all new TLD’s where dead on arrival. In consequence there is no land on which someone would build the beacons that showcast your TLD brand: Your TLD gets no awareness and ends up with only defensive and speculative regs but only 10% of the max potential.

This viewpoint was somewhat surprising to me. I’ve never been a domainer, but I’ve been around the domain name industry for over a decade. For sure it’s a quirky industry with opaque and (some would say) questionable business practices. But I did not think of domainers as “killers” of new TLDs.

Plus, I’m aware of procedures that are designed to mitigate what this member was describing. Things like the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) that provides a process for re-claiming a domain name registered in bad faith. And a sunrise registration period, during which trademark holders are given first dibs at a new TLD or secondary level domain.

So I mentioned these in a reply comment. My LinkedIn friend was having none of it:

Christopher: If you say “Sunrise” domainers hear “Trojan Horse” and not “Trademark Protection”. ALL sunrise periods have been gamed.

There is a little more to a successfull TLD introduction then shutting out domainers. However, Without shutting them out there will be NO successfull TLD introduction.

Some guys try to sell the following scenario:
“Domainers are good because their actions constitute a secondary sales channel. Domainers buy domains, resell them to endusers and then buy more domains. The result is high numbers of registered domains and many domains owned by endusers.”.

Dreams can be so sweet. Reality instead is brutal: Domainers NEVER sell any of their loot within the forst 3 to 5 years. They want to see the TLD “mature”. Take a top 100 keywordlist and check with .us, .eu and .info: The majority of the domains will be parked and owned by domainers. Sad. I call it “The Collective Monkey Trap”.

To those in this industry –what do you think? I certainly can understand that if you are comfortable with the current system and feel good about your portfolio of .com   names, you may not be enthusiastic about change.

But personally I hope the situation isn’t as dire as laid out above. New TLDs are an innovative concept that could shake up the industry, and why shouldn’t brands and communities control their identities to the right,  as well as to the left, of the dot? Here’s Vint Cerf’s take on the issue (aka the father of the Internet) from CircleID.

It would be ironic if the community that understands the domain name market the best prevents new TLDs from being successful.

February 22, 2011 at 8:41 am 3 comments

What the Heck is ICANN Doing with Domain Names?

Last week stories broke about a significant change in the way Internet addressing will be managed. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has opened up the process of assigning new top level domains (TLD’s), such as .com and .net. Potentially any string of letters could be a TLD — maybe we’ll see http://www.products.walmart? However there appears to be lots of procedures to iron out before any prospective new TLDs hit the market.

Here’s some coverage:

Ars Technica:

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080626-confusion-icann-opens-up-pandoras-box-of-new-tlds.html

NY Times:

http://tinyurl.com/5a35kn

Here’s a very detailed read from John Levine at CircleID:

http://www.circleid.com/posts/86299_icann_new_top_level_domains/

Clearly nothing is going to happen right away, and the devil(s) will be in the details. Plus there are already at last count 162 million registered domain names, so a lot will be required to produce a new TLD that actually makes a difference. Here’s my early list:

  • User adoption — the old chicken and the egg. An organization with a lot of money and influence will have to invest both to change user perceptions of Internet addressing. It’s a steep hill to climb. Combined, .com and .net total around 85 million domains (with .com about 74M of that) and will be the TLD leaders for a long time to come. (Granted both China’s .cn and Germany’s .de are now bigger than .net)
  • You’ll need a solid sales channel. The successful TLD operator will need good connections to the existing base of registars, and a compelling value proposition for registrars to sell the new extension over other, more established ones.
  • Global resolution is a big responsibility. The new extension will have to always work, anywhere on the globe. That means servers and data centers in multiple locations, load balancing, maintenance, etc. etc.
  • Domain names in foreign languages sound very interesting. But as Levine notes these could get hopelessly bogged down in litigation, and many countries particularly in Asia have been forging ahead with their own fully native language solutions while ICANN has dithered over this question for years.

No doubt this will be a very interesting story to follow. If I had to bet my lunch money today, I’d say that the established players in the registry market who already know how to operate and support TLDs will be the main beneficiaries of ICANN’s decision. They’ve made the technology investments and mastered ICANN esoterica. Any newcomer will have to partner with one of them if a new TLD hopes to attract wide spread adoption.

July 3, 2008 at 8:37 pm Leave a comment


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