What is the impact of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) on domain names?

Earlier today WikiLeaks published the draft text from a chapter of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). While I am sure there will be (or maybe naively I hope there will be) dialogue and discussion about what this agreement means for business and consumers alike, I thought it worthwhile to broadcast a few relevant paragraphs about what this document is saying about Domain Names (from pages 20 and 21 of the PDF).

Article QQ.C.12: {Domain Names on the Internet}

1.56 In order to address the problem of trademark [VN/MX propose: geographical indication and trade name] cyber-piracy, each Party shall adopt or maintain a system for the management of its country-code top-level domain (ccTLD) that provides:
(a) an appropriate procedure for the settlement of disputes, based on, or modelled along the same lines as, the principles established in the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy, or that is: (i) designed to resolve disputes expeditiously and at low cost, (ii) fair and equitable, (iii) not overly burdensome, and (iv) does not preclude resort to court litigation;
(b) online public access to a reliable and accurate database of contact information concerning domain-name registrants57; in accordance with each Party's laws regarding protection of privacy58 and personal data. 59
2. [PE/SG/CL/AU/NZ/MY/BN/CA oppose; US/VN/JP/MX propose: Each party shall provide [VN: oppose adequate and effective] [VN propose: appropriate] remedies against the registration trafficking60, or use in any ccTLD, with a bad faith intent to profit, of a domain name that is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark [VN/MX propose: , geographical indication or trade name].]
55 Negotiators' Note: AU supports this article ad referendum.
56 Negotiators' Note: AU supports this paragraph ad referendum.
57 Negotiators' Note: Brunei can accept this provision pending completion of its database.
58 Negotiators' Note: US seeks further clarification on the scope of application of privacy data.
59 Negotiators' Note: AU/CL/MY/NZ/US/SG/JP support contingent on understanding that TPP will include a general provision related to privacy/disclosure of information; issues.
60 Negotiators' Note: JP seeks clarification as to whether “registration” is deemed to be synonymous with “acquiring the right to use” and reserves its position pending clarification of the term “trafficking”.

While there are much smarter minds than mine who can can read between the lines of what is being proposed (hat tip to Paul Keating and Ari Goldberger), I do find it interesting that global bodies are meeting behind closed doors to codify domain rules that would seem to take precedence over the established rules of ICANN. Best I can tell, the TPP would limit the sovereignty that each country has on their ccTLD (.ca, .uk, .se, .de…etc). It is also interesting to see what would come from the equirements for privacy of those rules governing privacy for domain name registrants.

The Big Reveal of new gTLD Applications ... What does it mean for the future of Domain Names?

In just a few hours from now, the international unveiling of the of applied-for domains under ICANN’s New Generic Top Level Domains will be upon us. With coverage and anticipation brewing amongst a lot of the  major media, I can't help but wondering if it is going to be kind of like Ty Pennington yelling "Move that Bus" in the Domaining world's equivalent of Extreme Home Makeover.
Will people squeal in delight? Or will will they simply say... "Oh crap, now how am I supposed to cut the lawn of that size?" No one really knows the reaction. Probably the only thing certain with this whole process is that there is no certainty about what this will all mean. Of course, there are some visionaries within the domain space (see: Frank Schilling) who are betting big that this day is a turning point in the web and domain names in general.
So where does Left of the Dot stand on all of this? Simply put, we are excited about what this means for ourselves, our properties, and our clients.
Last week Donuts Inc. announced that they were applying for 307 new gTLDs, publishing in a media release:

“Finding a usable Internet address is a real problem. There are more than 125 million total names in the top five TLDs, with three fourths of them in .COM alone,” said Donuts CEO Paul Stahura. “The Internet was opened for worldwide use almost 20 years ago, and we’ve had only 22 generic names made available since then. We’re overdue for expansion.”

Stahura's rationale for pursuing  $50M + worth of gTLDs is the same as we stated in our AllICanAffordIsThisShittyDomain.com message from late last year. There is an ever-increasing appetite for online identities and there is not enough virtual real estate to go around.
The Left of the Dot approach has been to build virtual high-rises on these virtual properties (we're focussing on the waterfront lots at the moment). Or another way to put it, our virtual properties are being converted from 3 bedroom bungalows on large tracts of farm land into strata developments. Meanwhile, the new gTLDs are terraforming new planets and building new waterfronts.
We believe that these new gTLDs are solving the same problem of giving consumers a choice and an alternative. We also believe that with the amount of money being put into these new extensions, the general public will start seeing alternative domain constructs in their daily lives. And once they start accepting  alternate domain extensions, it can only mean good things for our sub-domain model.
In our AllICanAfford... video we asked those watching whether they wanted to turn the clock back 15 years when the first domain names were first being conceived ... "IMPOSSIBLE!" we claimed. Who knows, maybe in another 15 years, we will be kicking ourselves once more wishing we could turn back the clock again to right now. Only time will tell

Do Category Killer Domain Names Give you an Unfair Advantage?

We saw this quick rambling by Shane Cultra of DomainShane that we wanted to share. Shane is an offline businessman first and foremost, but owns a good collection of domains mostly in areas that he knows well (i.e., plant and garden-related). He asserts...

"When you own a category killer domain, a person that enters that site is making an assumption that the owner must be one of the leaders in that category. They haven’t a clue that many of the owners are clueless about their products or the industry in general. In my opinion, new customers won’t feel as comfortable going to Jones’ Mattress Factory as they would Mattress.com. Jones’ may have been around for 80 years and Mattress.com only 3 years (made up numbers) but Mattress.com gets a big head start. This doesn’t mean that Jones can’t become the largest seller on the net, but the road will be longer and actually could be more expensive than the mattress.com road with the advertising budget needed. The Internet is still young but major keyword domains feel older, more experienced. People feel like they’ve been to the site even though it was most likely some other generic type site. That familiarity helps them sell..."

Will the name make you an overnight success? Hardly. If you fail to deliver on customer expectations within the business itself (e.g., if Importers.com could not gain the trust of its users through its actions), then the name doesn't matter.
The impact that "Trust" has with customers, and the ability for a domain to influence this trust, is directly attributable to the brand positioning that we've established for Importers.com. This category killer and brand is all about "Trusted Global Trade." We've been working since the brand's launch to reflect this intrinsic trust of the domain name, back out in any of our marketing messages.
Launching and running a business is hard. There are bumps, twists, headaches all along the route. One second things are going well, then the next you are scrambling to reconfigure a merchant account so as to not miss out on any online orders. But when things are running properly and all things are equal:  in our opinion (and Shane's too) the ability for your customers to trust you over your competitor does give you an unfair advantage.
Part of what we do at Left of the Dot is allow small businesses as represented by the category killer domain name is to leverage this trust bestowed on the domain as sub-domains. In a way, having a marketing name is kind of like a celebrity endorsement from someone you trust. Everyone trusts Tom Hanks, so if you have your product next to Tom, some of that trust rubs off on your products too.
What do you think ... do category killer domain names give you an unfair advantage?


Growth of Small Business and Domain Names

Someone asked me about the stats quoted in our "Look Left: AllICanAffordIsThisShittyDomain" video (click here to watch). The stats used were:

Stat #1 - "6.7 Million Small Businesses Started Last Year"

The question was phrased in the manner that this number is much higher than the oft quoted SBA number of 627,200 new employer firms, as reported by DomainSherpa here (and others).
Our stats were from the Kauffman Foundation and the Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity (2010). "In 2010, 565,000 new businesses were started per month by new and repeat entrepreneurs, the same rate as in 2009.  The 340 out of 100,000 adults who started businesses each month during 2010 represents a 4 percent increase over 2008."
There is a lot of great information in that data set, including:

Entrepreneurship rates by race show that Latinos experienced the largest entrepreneurial activity increase between 2009 and 2010. The Latino business-creation rate rose from 0.46 percent in 2009 to 0.56 percent in 2010, the highest rate over the 15 years of Index data. The Asian entrepreneurial activity rate increased from 0.31 percent in 2009 to 0.37 percent in 2010, also the highest rate in the past decade and a half. Both African-Americans and non-Latino whites, on the other hand, experienced declines in entrepreneurial activity rates.
Entrepreneurship growth was highest among 35- to 44-year-olds, rising from 0.35 in 2008 to 0.40 in 2009. The oldest age group in the study (55-64 years) also experienced a large increase in business-creation rates from 2008 to 2009, contributing to a two-year upward trend to 0.40.

Stat #2 - "215 Million Website Addresses are Registered Around the World Right Now"

This stat came from the Verisign Domain Name Industry Report from August 2011.

The second quarter of 2011 closed with a base of more than 215 million domain name registrations across all Top Level Domains (TLDs), an increase of 5.2 million domain names, or 2.5 percent over the first quarter. registrations have grown by more than 16.9 million, or 8.6 percent, since the second quarter of 2010.

As with the Kauffman dataset, the Verisign report is full of interesting facts. The one that jumped to me is that one third of all .com or .net domains presently resolve as either a parked page, a 1-page under construction site, or don't resolve at all. It is no wonder then that small businesses can't find a domain name around which to build their business.

Verisign Domain Name Report (Aug 2011)

Re-post: "The role of ‘Trust’ in the Re-launching of the Importers.com B2B Marketplace"

The following is an excerpt from a Guest Blog post that I wrote for Elliot Silver at Elliot's Blog. Click here to read the full post.
- John

First off, thank you Elliot for giving Left of the Dot the opportunity to tell you a bit more about our re-branding and our re-launching of Importers.com.
Whenever we take on a brand, we look at several factors before we begin development: what is the natural business model implied by the name, what is happening within the name’s specific vertical, and who are the big players within the domain’s market category.
With Importers.com, we discovered a market that was filled with fraud and uncertainty. Trading partners did not trust trading partners. Scandals were plaguing the incumbent market leaders (See: The EconomistAlibaba and the 2,236 Thieves”). And the brand perception among potential consumers was that they “all look the same and seem sketchy”.
For us, this spelled opportunity, and it was clear that if we were going to differentiate Importers.com in this market (and resurrect what should have been a dominant global brand before being abandoned by its previous owners), we needed to emphasize the concept of ‘Trust’ first and foremost.
Many Domainers already know that a good generic carries with it a certain amount of implied trust. If you have a category-owning concept – be it Importers.com, DogWalker.com, or Villa.com – your name provides you with multiple benefits, each of which stems from this implied trust:

  1. You get better click thru rates on your paid search advertising. This increases your quality score and lowers your cost of new customer acquisition. And if it costs me less to get a customer on Importers.com than it does for an upstart brand that nobody has ever heard of… I win.
  2. You get ranked higher in search engines. Initially, this was entirely dependent on keyword match, but with the Panda release, how customers or peers perceive your site has become much more of a factor (think of the +1 as a trust endorsement).
  3. Customers (and strategic partners) are more willing to listen to you and give you the benefit of the doubt.

With this knowledge in our back pocket, we decided to play to our strength. The name “Importers.com” conveys a trusted brand in a market that is screaming for somebody to trust...
Click here for the full post.

Left of the Dot Gives New Life to Importers.com B2B Marketplace

After a full year of research and development, the once-abandoned Importers.com has been successfully restored into a thriving business community
MAPLE RIDGE, BC, CANADA – August 23, 2011 – Left of the Dot Media Inc. has announced that it has re-launched Importers.com, as an online B2B marketplace for businesses looking to trade with G20 partners. The project was started in 2003 but day-to-day growth and management of the business was ceased by its previous owners in 2007. Despite a lack of leadership and support, the community continued to expand to over 400,000 members. In cooperation with the new owners, Left of the Dot has created an attractive, well-organized and safe new trading environment and the international business community is responding by signing up at the rate of over 800 per week for the import export marketplace. The site is now able to offer a realistic, North American-centric alternative to online B2B behemoths Alibaba.com and TradeKey.com.
International trade is now hugely dependent on web-based services and Importers.com was one of the first sites that allowed Small Medium Businesses (SMBs) to find international partners. Over the past 9 years the internet has changed dramatically and importers and exporters need a modern service that allows them to promote themselves online, find trade partners and know that they can trust the person they are dealing with. After considerable consultation with SMBs the new Importers.com allows businesses to get online via Marketing Names (e.g., HardWood.Importers.com), get found via search engines (hundreds of this domain’s existing Marketing Names rank in the Top 3 results on Google, Yahoo, and Bing), find customers via Trade Leads, and establish credibility via rigorous Trust Certification.
The domain name Importers.com was purchased in 2010 by an investor strictly for the inherent value of the name itself. The original intent was to switch off the business and replace it with a parked page showing advertising. Perceiving the risk of a missed opportunity, Left of the Dot partnered with the new owner and took the initiative to restore and rebuild the business.
“A memorable generic name like “Importers.com” is equivalent to quality real estate, the Park Places and Boardwalks of the domain industry”, says John Lyotier, Co-Founder at Left of the Dot, “Importers.com represented the virtual equivalent of renovating an entire city centre and giving businesses all the tools they need to grow and prosper – it’s good for each business and good for the community. The key for us is enabling importers and exporters to lease their very own sub-domains (Marketing Names) off the Importers.com brand so that they can become a valuable part of the community.”
“With Alibaba.com currently valued at an estimated $10.8B and TradeKey.com at more than $2B, the market opportunity is huge and Left of the Dot will compete by allowing the SMB community to create its own success stories on the Importers.com brand.”
Left of the Dot provides an alternative to domain parking and changes the way domains are monetized. The company enables leasing of sub-domains off a premium domain name to substantially increase the traffic, search engine relevance (SEO), and inherent value to the overall site—resulting in sustainable income for its clients.
Not only does the company focus on client satisfaction, the end-results of Left of the Dot’s many projects also benefit the end-consumer. The company creates online industry go-to destinations, aggregates quality content, and allows SMEs to get online, get found, and conduct business online.
- 30 -

SEO and Sub-domains

The impact of sub-domains and SEO took an interesting turn in recent weeks with coverage in the Wall Street Journal about how HubPages has had a material improvement in their organic rankings by leveraging a sub-domain strategy. Of course, they had been hit hard by the Panda search algorithm update, so any sign of improvement must have been welcome news to them and their shareholders.
It has been interesting to read some of the comments and thoughts of those in the SEO space about what this means, but I think that Aaron Wall of SEO Book wrote is probably the most accurate: we will soon see millions of people pour into sub-domains as a way to get ahead of Google (Read: Google Says "Let a TRILLION Subdomains Bloom").
But we believe the reality is that Google hasn't changed their position: sub-domains are still treated as separate websites, each being able to rank independently with good or bad content. Ian Lurie over at Conversation Marketing has described this well...

Panda considers the quality of all content on a subdomain when making ranking decisions. If you’re, say, HubPages, and 50% of the content on www.hubpages.com is basically brain snot, that hurts the ability of every page on your site to rank. So the other 50% of content—the arguably decent stuff—gets zapped out of the rankings. The bad content becomes an anchor, dragging everything down.
That’s why subdomains helped HubPages. They used subdomains to separate the crappy stuff from the good stuff: crappy.hubpages.com versus good.hubpages.com. I made those up, by the way. But you get the idea. With subdomains, HubPages was able to move the bad content ‘anchor’ to a whole other site. That helped the good stuff move back up, because Google doesn’t let subdomains directly pass ranking factors back-and-forth.

This is not a change

What HubPages describes is exactly how Google has always treated subdomains. It’s not a change in their algorithm. It’s why I’ve always said putting your blog on a subdomain is a bad idea: Subdomain authority and relevance doesn’t directly transfer to other subdomains.
Apparently, the same holds true for quality.

What it comes down to is that you have to have good content on your website. Will the other factors like having the exact match concept influence your ranking? We believe so... but not if your website has nothing original or relevant on it to attract Google's eyes in the meantime.

What does HomeAway's IPO mean for Villa.com?

Villa.comLast week, HomeAway the parent company to VRBO.com (and the key player in the Villa rental space) filed for their IPO. At the time of writing this post, their valuation had increased from its IPO price of $27 to $37.74, giving it a valuation of more than a $3 billion in market capitalization.
What does this mean for Villa.com and the brand that it can become? This can only be positive.
HomeAway's filings indicated that it produced revenues of $167.9 million in 2010, and that at present, it has approximately 500,000 listings across all of its properties. For those scoring at home, this equates to an average annual revenue of $335 per listing and a $6,000 per listing contribution to their overall valuation.
Key to their growth is targeting the 6,000,000 villas and vacation properties that exist right now. And it appears that a key part of their growth strategy is to use some of their raised funds to grow through acquisition.
As we build out Villa.com properly, turning it into a real business, we will definitely have to introduce ourselves.
It looks like iStopOver has acquired Vacapedia. Terms are not disclosed, but it shows more M&A activity in the space.