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ICANN Issues to Be Concerned About

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Mike Berkens has written three interesting posts that are important for all domain owners to read and understand. When you have an opportunity today, please read Mike’s posts and the accompanying commentary. The issues that are discussed could potentially impact all domain owners

ICANN Releases New gTLD Guide Book: Still Includes No Price Caps: Your Domains Are At Risk

ICA: Trademark Holders Attempting To Greatly Expand Their Rights Through The New gTLD Process

Thinking About Applying For Your Own gTLD? It Could Cost You A Lot More Than $185K

The Internet Commerce Association is working on some of the issues, but I know they need our support (if you own a domain name, you are part of the collective “our”).   As soon as my tax bills are taken care of in a month and a half, I will be making my annual contribution.

New York City Set to Cash in on .NYC

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With the economic crisis causing a major impact to New York City’s revenue, the city is hoping to cash in on the .nyc extension, which they hope will be approved quickly and available to sell by next summer.

According to an article appearing today in Crain’s, “City Council Speaker Christine Quinn announced during her state-of-the-city address Thursday that the “.nyc” domain will start generating a fresh stream of revenue for the city next summer.” Quinn also said that the .nyc extension will generate millions of dollars per year in licensing fees for allowing the group to create the extension.

With the uncertainty of gTLD approvals, I certainly hope the city isn’t counting on the revenue too soon.   My biggest question related to the .nyc extension… who is going to get RaysPizza.nyc?

My Take on ICANN Issues

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I have largely been quiet on ICANN related issues on my blog and in personal conversations I’ve had with other domain investors. Truth be told, I know about how ICANN works and what their role is as it relates to domain names, but I have very limited knowledge about the internal politics at ICANN and the history of the organization.

Whenever I see photos of ICANN events, I see a group of people who look much different than typical domain investors, and that is because they are much different. This is neither here nor there, but I feel very disconnected with ICANN, much like I am disconnected with my local politicians. Sure, Mayor Bloomberg, Senator Schumer, Governor Patterson and countless other local politicians work to draft and approve legislation that will impact me, but I am not going to spend thousands of dollars lobbying and hundreds of hours becoming active in the community when the threat of any legislation will probably be minimal.

I am 100% in agreement with Mike Bekens that domain investors either don’t know or don’t care enough about ICANN. Sure, some of their policies may impact my bottom line, but honestly, whether I pay $7.60 or $10.00 for a domain registration, it won’t be impactful enough for me to spend a whole lot of time or money thinking about it. For my business, I work 15 hours a day developing my websites, negotiating to buy and sell domains, and contacting small businesses to sell advertising. With my 200+/- domain names, even a 50% increase in registration fee will cost under $1,000 per year. Even if they approve a pricing structure like .tv, it will be impactful, but the 10-15 names of mine that would be impacted aren’t worth the time and effort for me (at least in my opionion).

I also understand the potential impact of the vanity TLDs that may be approved by ICANN. However, I think companies like Verizon and Microsoft have much more to lose if/when this happens. I just don’t see a reason to spend time on this when they are fighting on the same team as me on this battle (and they are fighting). I also don’t think other extensions will have much of an impact on my holdings. If .xyz becomes the prominent extension, I will adapt my business model to make sure I am not falling behind.

Sure, this line of thinking could bite me in the ass, but I have to manage the day to day operations of my business more than outside factors. I think the Internet Commerce Association and its activities are very helpful to the domain investment community, and I will continue to support them.   I happen to think my risk exposure to some current ICANN initiatives are less important than managing my business at this point.

I will continue to listen to people like Mike (who I have the utmost respect for), and when he discusses an issue I will listen and take the time to think about the impact.   Mike is dead-on about most domain-related issues, and I support him 100% of the time.   With ICANN, I feel like the current issues will have minimal impact on my business.   Now I think the potential issue of ICANN changing jurisdiction will be impactful, but again, I think other huge corporations and the US Government will end up locking horns on that issue.

I do urge people to read up on ICANN and determine the impact it will have on their domain investments and on their business.

Use Caution When Updating Whois Information

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Mike Berkens wrote an important post today about keeping your Whois information current and updated. ICANN regulations require that Whois information is accurate, and if the information isn’t accurate, there is a chance that your domain name could possibly be taken. There are also many legal reasons to do so, which Mike outlines in his post. It just makes sense to keep your information updated, and if you are worried about spam emails or privacy, just buy the privacy guard.
In this vein, I think it’s also important to note that some UDRP panels have ruled that a change in registration information can be seen as a brand new registration. One recent case (although it didn’t really impact the decision) was on the BME.com case, which the respondent lost. The respondent had changed his Whois information (between his own entities), and they still cited this changing Whois information.
In addition to this issue, Godaddy also seems to still lock domain names for 60 days when the Whois information is updated.   While this can usually be remedied somewhat quickly if you contact them, it is a nuisance.
Yes, maintaining your valid Whois information is most definitely important – especially if a signficant event has impacted it (ended partnership, bankruptcy, company formation, divorce…etc).   However, keep in mind that changing your Whois information could put your domain name at risk depending on who is monitoring your Whois listing.

Adapting to the Changing Internet Landscape

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Back from a short trip to the beach. I’ve been reading quite a bit on the new vanity TLDs, and the best conclusion I can come to is that nobody really knows for certain how things will play out. Neither the people who are vociferously stating that .com will always be king (myself included), nor those who are saying that new extensions will cause major sweeping changes to the Internet, really know for sure whether their opinions will be accurate.
What is for sure is that some people will take a big financial risk with these new extensions and some people will remain on the sidelines. In five years, there will be some obvious winners and there will be some obvious losers, but the answers will not be seen over night. I am eagerly observing from the sidelines for now, observing what my friends are doing, getting ready to make changes to my business model if they are necessary. Change is essential to growth, and being able to adapt to industry changes is fundamental.
The domain industry has changed quite a bit, even in the five years that I’ve been involved in the industry. The one constant thing is that the people who are able to adapt to the changes and work within the new parameters are those who are successful. While my thinking about .com may be inaccurate, I (and others) will still manage to do well if we are able to notice changes quickly, and are able to adapt to these changes rapidly. Just because I didn’t buy my first domain names in 1995 doesn’t mean that I wasn’t able to be successful. I found the industry later than many, but I learned as much as I could, took some risks and the rest is history.
It is great to see all the dialog about the new extensions on domain forums, blogs, and other news outlets. We are at a time of major change in the domain industry and in the history of the Internet. If you are reading this blog and other domain resources, it is likely that you realize how important this time is for all of us. Pay attention to the things going on in the industry, watch the industry veterans and media companies to learn about their plans, and invest wisely. You don’t have to be a trendsetter to make money, but you have to be able to adapt to the changes to avoid becoming obsolete.

Vanity TLDs (vTLD) Approved

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Much talk has been had about the new ‘top level’ domains that were approved by ICANN today in Paris. This ruling will allow companies, groups, and individuals to petition ICANN to create new “Vanity TLDs,” (term coined by David Castello) which in my opinion will end up creating considerable confusion among consumers and huge costs to companies who need to protect their trademarks. This is good news for people who have been working to pass this in an effort to launch new extensions (renewal fees), and it is also good news for .com owners, as the more extensions are created, the more consumers will navigate back to the familiar .com.

Over the past few years, many new extensions have been created – some of which I hadn’t heard of until reading up on this. Included in the list of “newer” but obviously less-used include .pro, .biz, .travel, .mobi, .asia, .jobs, .museum…etc. The entire list of current TLD can be found on ICANN’s website. In terms of usage by consumers, I don’t think there are any websites with these extensions currently in the top 20,000 websites according to Alexa (correct me if I am wrong).

With all the .com branding that’s been done by companies telling consumers to visit their .com website, I highly doubt many will jump at the opportunity to spend upwards of $100,000 to apply for a corporate Vanity TLD (vTLD), and then spend millions of dollars convincing consumers to use it. Sure, some will try it, but if nothing else, it will probably end up watering down their brand and confuse consumers.

Although ICANN is supposedly prohibiting TM-related extensions except for companies that own the TM, companies like Amazon and Apple are almost forced to spend the $100,000 application fee since one could argue that their company name is generic and not protected. Since ICANN plans to auction Vanity TLDs that have multiple bidders, Apple could conceivable pay much more to get .apple so Apple Bank or an apple grower can’t take it.

Here is an example of why using Vanity TLD will pose a problem for companies and even non-trademark related uses. Let’s use Ebay for a second. Sure, it would be cool if they had Art.Ebay, Autographs.Ebay, SportsMemorabilia.Ebay…etc. Great, right? Well, what happens when consumers confusingly type in SportsMemorabiliaEbay.com by mistake? This is going to create hundreds of thousands of additional typos, which will most certainly be grabbed by cybersquatters. While this sucks for Ebay, they are going to have to spend millions of dollars going after these cybersquatters to avoid the traffic run-off. Same thing with any other Vanity TLD. People will assume its .com.

The .com has worked for many years, and it won’t be negatively impacted. These new Vanity TLD will give people the opportunity to buy strong keywords in various extensions, but it won’t likely change web browsing habits. Companies who want to be serious will still use .com, and the values will increase as more people come online.

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