This is my first domain-related post since October 2009 and no, I'm not going to regularly blog about domain names again in future. However, this particular issue is quite interesting in that it illustrates how domain investors are taking on a technological risk when buying domain names.
ICANN is asking for comments from the public on its post-expiration domain name recovery practices. These policies regulate to what extent and how it should be possible for domain owners to recover their domain names after the expiration date. The public comment period was opened August 20 and ends September 10, 2009. Make sure to submit your comments before that date if you want to participate in the discussion. Comments may be submitted by sending an email to email@example.com. All comments received will be listed on this page.
Specifically, ICANN seeks input on the following questions, as quoted from its website:
- Whether adequate opportunity exists for registrants to redeem their expired domain names;
- Whether expiration-related provisions in typical registration agreements are clear and conspicuous enough;
- Whether adequate notice exists to alert registrants of upcoming expirations;
- Whether additional measures need to be implemented to indicate that once a domain name enters the Auto-Renew Grace Period, it has expired (e.g., hold status, a notice on the site with a link to information on how to renew, or other options to be determined);
- Whether to allow the transfer of a domain name during the Redemption Grace Period (RGP).
I think a lot of this depends not only on ICANN but also on the registrars where the domains are registered at. It is obviously important to have standardized agreements that are binding to all domain registrars, and which regulate the post-expiration recovery of domain names in a way that will benefit domain owners.
Speaking of questions 1 and 3, I would say that the mechanisms in place at good domain registrars today are absolutely sufficient and fair. For example, Moniker sends out several expiration notices via email well in advance of the expiration date, and on top of that it also prominently lists soon-to-expire domains on the dashboard within the customers' accounts. I can't speak for all domain registrar companies, but those I've been using have done a good job of letting me know of domains that were about to expire, so that I had ample time to renew them. It's also important that registrars mark expired domains as being in redemption period and also provide a link to further information to avoid confusion on part of inexperienced domain owners.
The idea formulated in question 4, to put a notice directly on the site of expired domains with a link to information on how to renew or redeem expired domains, would perhaps function as an effective alert to domain holders, especially those who do not fully understand the whole expiration and renewal process. We can observe every day that domain owners do not understand why they have lost a domain name they failed to renew. Providing more detailed information and explaining the domain expiration and redemption process even to the most inexperienced people could benefit not only affected domain owners but also ICANN and the domain community in general, because it would prevent legal conflicts and save money in the long run.
In answer to question 2, this again depends on the individual domain name registrars. Most registrars use transparent terms of service which also inform customers about the concept of domain expirations. But legal agreements are never an easy read, so formulating the agreements as simple as possible would certainly make it easier for customers new to domain names. On the other hand, it is most important that the agreements cover all possible legal aspects of registering, renewing and recovering domain names, and to allow for bilateral legal protection should remain the primary purpose of the agreements between domain registrars and registrants.
Regarding question 5, I strongly dissent the idea of allowing the transfer of a domain away from its owner during the redemption grace period. At the very least, the current domain owner should receive a note by phone and email upon a request to change ownership to the new owner, which he is then allowed to veto within a given time frame. Allowing the transfer of a domain during the RGP would be the same as doing away with the grace period altogether. This may not happen, because the redemption grace period is an important part of the recovery process and resembles the last chance for domain registrants to regain ownership of domain names they let accidentally expire.
Kevin Wilson, ICANN's Chief Financial Officer, made a post on ICANN's blog yesterday saying the organization would provide more thorough financial information from now on. This is something that has long been asked for by the domain community, considering that ICANN is a not-for-profit organization that should protect the interests of domain name owners. In the past, it was often unclear or difficult to find out what ICANN was spending its money on and where that money came from. To supply the wants of the domain community, ICANN has now made more additions to its website.
First of all, it has added a Dashboard not too long ago, where you can see summarizing graphics of financial data and expense reports. Displayed on the dashboard are unaudited financial information. The graphics do not provide lots of detailed information, but they're a good first stop for a summary of the organization's revenue and expenses.
More detailed information on ICANN's finances can be found on its Financial Information page, including general financial information, current year financial information and historical information for each year from 1999 up to the current fiscal year. In the first section you will find, for example, ICANN's disbursement policy, its investment policy and travel support guidelines. The second section provides documents about the organization's current fiscal year, such as its strategic plan, operating plan and budget. The historical information are basically structured in the same way.
In his blog post, Mr. Wilson points out that the operating plan and budget are put out to public comment. Furthermore, it is possible to raise questions about both the plan and the budget during all ICANN meetings.
I think it is good to see ICANN making it easier for the domain community to learn about ICANN's finances and to comment on ICANN's budgets and plans. I've only had a chance to go through the information rather quickly, so I can not yet say whether the information are sufficient. If you think ICANN should be more open in its communication of finances and business strategies, I suggest that you post a comment on this issue on ICANN's website, including the comment section below Mr. Wilson's blog post.
You may recall that ICANN has been heavily criticized for having put several million dollars in risky investments which later depreciated by more than $4 million. ICANN still makes it difficult for outsiders to learn more about this specific investment decision, at least from my point of view, so this is something where I see room for improvement. If this loss is only on paper and hasn't been realized yet, what are the chances that the invested sum will be recovered? What exactly are the stocks and bonds ICANN invested the money in? These are just two questions I would like to be answered. So far, I haven't found any information on this on ICANN's website. If they are there, it will be much appreciated if you can provide a link or tell me more about it.
In an attempt to find out more about the practice of domain name front running, Internet security expert Benjamin Edelman conducted a domain front running study on behalf of ICANN. Front running is a term that was first coined in the world of finance, where it is used to refer to an illegal practice of brokers trading on their own account after having gotten insider information based on orders of their clients.
I have written about domain name front running on this blog a while back. In late 2007, ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) was investigating front running already after discussions about such practices in the domain industry. The SSAC did not find any evidence for the existence of domain front running. Shortly thereafter, in January 2008, domain registrar Network Solutions was accused of domain front running. The evidence was overwhelming in that case and Network Solutions quickly reacted to it, albeit it suffered a severe loss of reputation.
Now, ICANN has issued another study, but the result is the same: Benjamin Edelman, the security expert, did not find any evidence for the existence of front running in the domain industry. In three rounds of running tests at popular domain registrars and domain lookup sites over ten months, with a total of 600 tests made, no evidence could be found.
Luckily, front running is no common practice you can observe every day, but my feeling tells me that it does exist and is practiced occasionally. If you want to play it safe, I recommend only using domain registrars and whois tools you trust. This way you will at least minimize the chances of becoming a victim of domain front running.
It is possible that front running was more common in 2007, which is why it is too bad that the SSAC did not find any evidence back then. Today, front running is less of a problem, in my opinion, because ICANN got rid of domain tasting. This means that it would be too expensive for front runners to register great masses of domain names. Taking this into account, front running does not seem like a profitable strategy anymore. As a result, the abolishment of domain tasting might also have done away with front running.
The full report from ICANN can be found as a PDF on ICANN's website.
The much-anticipated TRAFFIC Down Under domain name conference will be held on Australia's Gold Coast November 18-20, as I've been told by Dan Warner of Fabulous.com. This will be the first time that there is a TRAFFIC show outside the United States. Dan, Michael Robertson and others from Fabulous.com have been working hard to make this industry conference unforgettable for all of its attendees, and there will be much to be seen at TRAFFIC Down Under 2008:
Although the conference officially begins on Tuesday, November 18, Monday kicks things off with three pre-conference activities, including paintball and go-kart racing.
On Tuesday morning, there will be the official welcome speech that is quickly followed by that day's first session which is to be about Domain Strategy. The other sessions scheduled for Tuesday discuss Industry Development, Law and Regulation, and Australian Domains. After lunch, ICANN CEO Paul Twomey will deliver a keynote speech. In the evening, there will be a beach barbecue with cold beers and delicious food to help you relax after the four sessions and discussions.
Wednesday night has magical moments to offer: During the night's gala dinner you will be entertained by comedy magician Matt Hollywood. Wednesday night is also auction night because Fabulous will hold the ICA Charity Auction - all proceeds from that auction will be donated to the Internet Commerce Association (ICA).
Thursday's highlights include the premier live auction by Aftermarket.com in the morning. The auction house of Thought Convergence already had a live domain auction at the TRAFFIC New York 2008 show in October where Aftermarket.com did just under $150,000 in sales. That wasn't a lot compared to the other auctions' results, but Aftermarket.com had a different strategy and was only auctioning off domains in the lower price segment. I haven't seen the new auction inventory, yet. I'm sure they're going to put more valuable domains on the auction block this time, so it'll be interesting to see how the auction will be going.
Paralleled by a buffet lunch, there will be another live domain auction running 12-2pm: Rick Latona will be back selling domains, too. His auction house sold $700,100 worth of domains at the New York show.
Other activities you will have a chance to enjoy on Thursday are, for example, an island cruise and a tropical island beach party.
Friday is a post event day also packed with fun activities. It wraps up the event with surfing lessons in the morning and a visit to an animal sanctuary.
If you'd like to read more about TRAFFIC Down Under or if you'd like to book your ticket, head to the show's official website at TrafficDownUnder.com. Ron Jackson also has a must-read preview of the show and an interview with Dan Warner and Michael Robertson over at DN Journal.