That’s all I can really say.
Who would have ever believed that .XXX would finally be approved AND launched, total domains registrations would continue to grow at 10% year over year, ICANN would be in the process of preparing for the launch of new gTLDs in the face of harsh criticism, and that both Go Daddy and Group NBT would be acquired by private equity firms.
As we look back over the past year, here are the top 10 biggest domain stories of 2011:
#10. To Mark Cyber-Monday, US Government Continues Practice of Domain Seizures
On November 28, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE), Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), the National Intellectual Property Rights Coordination Center (IPR Center), the Department of Justice and the FBI Washington Field Office seized 150 domain names that were illegally selling and distributing counterfeit merchandise. The 150 seized domains are in the custody of the federal government. Visitors to these websites will now find a seizure banner that notifies them that the domain name has been seized by federal authorities and educates them that willful copyright infringement is a federal crime.
#9. Total Number of Worldwide Registrations Reach 220 Million
With a base of close to 220 million registrations worldwide, 2011 saw close to 10% increase in total registrations over 2010 as reported by Verisign.
#8. Secondary Domain Market Remains Strong
Even with the launch of hundreds of new extensions expected in 2013, the secondary market for domain names remained healthy. Top reported domain sales in 2011 included Social.com for $2.6 million, DomainName.com for $1 million and Aktien.de (Stocks in German) for $725,000.
#7. ICANN CEO Leaves ICANN after Single Term
After just one 3-year term, ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom announced that he will be leaving the agency in July 2012. According to his list of accomplishments, Beckstrom helped coordinate system of unique identifiers and global, interoperable Internet, with excellence; executed on every single major ICANN strategic initiative (100%); and helped evolve ICANN into a world-class institution.
#6. An Unprecedented Number of Registrar Acquisitions Occur
On July 1, Go Daddy announced that it agreed to be bought by private-equity firms KKR & Co., Silver Lake Partners and Technology Crossover Ventures for $2.25 billion. Then in August, Web.com announced their acquisition of Network Solutions for $560 million in cash and stock. Finally, on November 25, it was announced that Group NBT (parent of NetNames, Ascio, Speednames, Envisional, Easily.co.uk and Indom) was acquired by HG Capital for $236 million.
#5. ccTLD Registries Make Efforts to Improve Online Security
As predicted in 2010, a number of ccTLD Registries (including .AF, .CX, .GS, .GY, .KI, .NF, .NL, .PR and .TL.) adopted Registry Locking programs in 2011. Previously, only .COM, .NET and .BIZ had offered Registry Locking programs. A domain that is set to a Registry Lock status cannot be updated using automated commands and an offline security protocol must be completed before the domain can be modified in any way. Registry Locked domains are impervious to hijackings, erroneous name server updates and social engineering attacks.
#4. SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) Faces Strong Opposition
The bill would allow the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as copyright holders, to seek court orders against websites accused of enabling or facilitating copyright infringement. Proponents of the bill which include media conglomerates and pharmaceutical companies claim that it protects intellectual property, while opponents which include some of the world’s largest Internet properties, coalitions of law professors, and groups of engineers claim that it threatens First Amendment rights and could cripple the Internet. Go Daddy, initially an proponent of the bill, quickly changed their tune when backlash to their support became apparent.
#3. Registrar Security Breaches Abound
In 2011, a number of domain registrars suffered breaches and outages resulting in redirected websites, possible malware infections, non-responsive websites and compromised usernames.
The first attack occurred on September 4 when hackers were able to update nameservers for domains managed by NetNames, a corporate-focused, UK-based registrar. High-profile domains were redirected to a page that stated, "4 Sept. We Turkguvenligi declare this day as World Hackers Day - Have fun ;) h4ck y0u."
Not ten days later on September 14, hundreds of websites hosted by Go Daddy were compromised when logins and passwords were used to access accounts. Visitors to affected sites (originating from search engines) were redirected to a site that attempted to download malware to their respective computers.
At the end of September, NetRegistry, an Australian-based registrar, suffered a DDoS (Distributed Denial of Service) attack. Customers using NetRegistry’s web-hosting services reported intermittent access to their websites.
Finally, on December 23 as part of an ICANN requirement, Melbourne IT erroneously sent WDRP (Whois Data Reminder Policy) notices to the wrong accounts resulting in thousands of breached usernames. Melbourne IT stated that no passwords were sent, and that access to an account could only be gained with both the username and password.
#2. .XXX Is Approved and Launched
After years of back and forth, the ICM Registry finally received approval from ICANN to operate .XXX. On September 7, the ICM Registry began accepting Sunrise Registrations which offered trademark owners the ability to purchase a block of the trademarked string for a period of 10 years. The ICM Registry has made concerted efforts to protect the rights of brand owners in other ways too. The .XXX zone file currently contains ~106,000 registrations.
#1. Despite Harsh Criticism ICANN Remains Committed to Launching New gTLD Program
ICANN’s new gTLD Program will open up the top level of the Internet’s namespace (to the right of the “dot”) to purportedly “foster diversity, encourage competition, and enhance the utility of the DNS.” Currently there are only 22 gTLDs (.com, .net, .org) and 250+ ccTLDs (.fr, .de, .cn).
Despite the benefits espoused by ICANN, the Program has received harsh criticism from the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) and the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO). The FTC also expressed their concerns to ICANN regarding the new gTLD program.
Both the US House and Senate also held hearings in 2011 on the topic of new gTLDs.
Regardless of the recent criticisms, ICANN is moving full steam ahead with the new gTLD Program. Applications for new gTLDs will be accepted from January 12, 2012 to April 12, 2012. Experts believe that there will likely be hundreds of applications for new gTLDs submitted during this first round.
So What Will 2012 Bring?
I believe that ICANN will open the new gTLD application period without any glitches, and that many will be surprised at the actual number of applications submitted. However, as new gTLD registries will not become operable until 2013, the real heartburn for brand owners will not be felt until next year.
Also, I am sure that we will continue to see security breaches at both the Registry and Registrar levels and that the sophistication of these attacks will continue to increase.
But whatever the new year brings, I’m certain that it won’t be business as usual. In the domain industry – it never is.