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Domain Roundtable: Highlights From a Landmark Gathering of Industry Leaders in the Pacific Northwest

The organizers of the 2006 Domain Roundtable Conference (held in Bellevue, Washington April 19-21) faced a difficult challenge when they started putting together a sequel to the successful debut show they staged last year in Seattle. In business, it has been said that if you are not growing you are dying. With that in mind, executives from conference host Name Intelligence, Inc. knew they would have to pull out all of the stops to surpass the level of excellence they reached last year.

CEO Jay Westerdal, Show Producer Jothan Frakes (VP for Business Development at N.I.) and Event Manager Kristin Tetuán (N.I. Project Coordinator) put together an ambitious agenda designed to meet that goal. There wouldn’t be a keynote speaker, there would be four keynote speakers. There would be so many seminars running simultaneously throughout the week that Roundtable would essentially become a domain university.

2006 Domain Roundtable Conference
Westin Hotel - Bellevue, Washington

There would be a brand spanking new venue across Lake Washington from Seattle at the Bellevue Westin Hotel, providing fine food and drink and top notch accommodations and, of course, the popular CEO Roundtable would return with a fresh look at today’s domain industry (one that statistics indicate is twice as big as the business last year’s all-star panel dissected). That impressive package attracted registrants like bees to honey. 312 of them arrived from around the world (30% of them from outside the U.S.), nearly doubling the number that turned out last year.

Of course that meant twice as many people would witness anything that went wrong and when you try to put that many balls in the air at once, odds are you’re going to drop a few. If you call or drop by Name Intelligence headquarters today, be sure to say hello to the new world juggling champions. In a performance that would have made Cirque du Soleil proud, the show ran without a hitch, drawing universal praise from the attendees we talked to. 

Oh! There was one big problem…but the problem would be mine. This show has a multi-track format, which means multiple events are often going on at the same time. That left me to ponder how was I going to cover enough of the conference to convey the Roundtable experience to you. For those frequent occasions when four hour-long seminars on different topics were scheduled at once, I briefly considered spending 15 minutes in each, but decided that missing 75% of every seminar would produce coverage that was about as appealing as a rental car with three wheels missing.  

The best way to put you inside the show, would be to describe things from a registrant’s perspective. So we’ll run the course the way they ran it and I’ll show you the kinds of decisions they had to make when they came to intersections where they could go in any of several different directions. 

Things got underway bright and early Wednesday morning when registration opened at 7:15am, followed by the 7:30 start of a breakfast hour in the main ballroom. Everyone stayed together there for the first main event, ICANN CEO and President Paul Twomey’s opening keynote address at 8:30. 

Just before Twomey took the podium, Steve Rossow of eForceMedia.com gave a brief talk about his company’s new lead generation program, a service that Rossow said could produce more revenue for domain owners by allowing them to share in revenue from actual sales generated by their traffic. 

Steve Rossow
eForceMedia.com

Paul Twomey
ICANN CEO & President

Then it was Mr. Twomey’s turn and he gave the audience a thorough understanding of what ICANN’s mandate allowed them do as well what it precluded them from doing. While many would like them to take action against spam, inappropriate content on the web and consumer issues, to name just a few, those things are outside their jurisdiction. 

ICANN is responsible for coordinating the management of the technical elements of the Domain Name System to ensure universal resolvability so that all users of the Internet can find all valid addresses. It does this by overseeing the distribution of unique technical identifiers used in the Internet's operations, and delegation of Top Level Domain names (such as .com, .info, etc.). ICANN also oversees the more than 660 accredited domain registrars that exist today.  

ICANN is also responsible for UDRP, the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy that Twomey said has been used to settle more than 5,000 trademark related domain disputes quickly and inexpensively (compared to what it would cost to settle such issues through the court system). Twomey pointed to UDRP as one the most successful policies ICANN has implemented.  

Twomey touched on the introduction of new TLDs, noting that there were opposing market forces with some of the opinion that no new extensions are necessary, while others want to see many more as they view them as important ways to identify the purpose of a website. Twomey said ICANN’s role was to strike the best balance possible. He also noted that ICANN leaves ccTLD (country code) issues to country administrators, concentrating on generic and global TLDs.

Among the many other topics Twomey discussed was the emergence of International Domain Names (IDNs) that will allow internet users around the world to surf the web in their native languages. Twomey said a stable implementation of IDNs is a high ICANN priority and that significant staff resources are being allocated to it.  

After Mr. Twomey’s speech, we came to the first of those intersections we talked about earlier. The crowd went off in four different directions with each registrant able to choose from among seminars that included a DNS technical workshop, a session on managing a large portfolio of domains, one for corporate domain managers and still another devoted to the Wall Street perspective on acquiring domain portfolios.

Roundtable organizers feel that offering this kind of variety allows each registrant to tailor their show experience to meet their needs. Their analysis of the attendee demographics showed that most fell in one of four categories; Domain Entrepreneurs (primarily portfolio holders), Industry Insiders (like registrars and resellers), Intellectual Property experts and Search Engine specialists. The seminar schedule was designed to serve people from all of those areas at once.  

As DNJournal is primarily focused on domain name investment, sales and monetization, I narrowed my choices for the opening seminar down to two; one on large portfolio management and the other on the Wall Street view of portfolio acquisition. A coin toss sent me to the Lake Coeur d'Alene room to hear Richard Lau (DomainManager.com), Bob Martin (Internet REIT), attorney Paul Keating (Renova Ltd) and Victor Pitts (Moniker.com) dispense advice on managing a large domain portfolio (photo above is from that session).

After a brief coffee break, another tough choice loomed at 11am when I had to choose from seminars on the .eu rollout, industry predictions for 2006, monetizing traffic or an intellectual property workshop. Those attractive options were enough to make me revert to my original seminar hopping strategy, but I decided to stay the course and make a hard choice. Traffic monetization is at the heart of today’s domain business so I took door number three.  

Scene from Traffic Monetization seminar

That wound up being a popular choice with many people as the session drew a standing room only crowd. The all-star nine-member panel had a lot to do that with that. 

Google's Eytan Elbaz (left) fields a question during monetization seminar as Dan Warner (Fabulous.com) and moderator Jothan Frakes look on.

A table on the left side of the dais featured Brian Benko (NoParking.com), Eric Harrington (Moniker.com), Ron Sheridan (DomainSponsor.com), Howard Hoffman (PPCIncome.com) and Robert Hoult (InterSearch Group). The table on the right had Ulrich Priesner (Sedo.com), Steven Rossow (eForce Media), Eytan Elbaz (Google.com) and Dan Warner (Fabulous.com). This was like a baseball fan getting to see the 1927 Yankees!  

A good part of this seminar was devoted to whether domain parking or development would yield the most revenue. The consensus seemed to be both, depending on the specific domain. Some may do better simply parked with a good PPC provider, while others would benefit greatly from rolling up your sleeves (or hiring a developer to roll up their sleeves) and putting a full blown commerce site online.  

Everyone regrouped in the main ballroom for lunch then settled in for a keynote address on The Domain Marketplace, delivered by Sedo.com Chief Strategy Officer Matt Bentley

Bentley did an exhaustive analysis of more than 25,000 domain sales from the past 2 ˝ years to estimate the size of the market, what kinds of domains are doing especially well and what trends are developing. That data showed a substantial run up in domain values. As just one example, reported sales of one-word .coms domains averaged $48,997 each.  

For those with stars in their eyes after seeing big domain sales week in and week out, Bentley noted that success requires very intelligent name selection and HARD WORK. He pointed out that today’s newcomers are a bit late to the game and now face competitors who are very well financed with cutting edge technology on their side. He suggested the best way to overcome that is to focus on new areas and niches in which you have special expertise. He also advised diversification, mixing keyword (traffic) domains with some brandables and new extensions.  

Matt Bentley
Chief Strategy Officer, Sedo.com

Next up was a new special event, a power networking session that ran for nearly two hours. Registrants were given numbered tickets that directed them to one of dozens of 8-person tables around the ballroom. Once at their table, everyone introduced themselves, then paired off for one-on-one discussions (again determined by numbers on the tickets). Once the time for that round ran out, everyone rotated to another table, with three stops made during the course of the event.  

Scene from Power Networking session

The only problem I saw was that people were so engaged in conversations that a din was created that prevented moderator Jothan Frakes from being heard when he cued people to move on to another discussion or table. As a result the ticketed itinerary often went unfinished but there was still great value in the contacts that were made and it was a very satisfactory session that could become a great one at future conferences with just a little bit of tweaking.

Opening day continued with two late afternoon seminar sessions. At 3:45 I again faced four excellent options but had to choose the IDN Update as I felt this was an area I needed to learn more about as it seems destined to have a major impact on the internet and our business in the years ahead. The panelists for this breakout included Hirofumi Hotta (Japan Registry Service), Ram Mohan (Afilias), Tina Dam (ICANN) and Michael Suignard (Microsoft)

Mr. Mohan said the biggest problem for IDNs is “too many choices and too little comprehension.”  While there are many issues still to be resolved, Mohan noted that it is only common sense that people will want to surf the web in their own languages. 

According to Mr. Mohan’s presentation, some of the hurdles that still have to be cleared are whether someone who owns an ascii.ascii or an idn.ascii domain would get prior rights to an ascii.idn or idn.idn name. What kinds of dispute resolution policies will be required? Do packages of names have to be created or should the same name in different scripts be allowed to go to different places?  

Mohan also noted that IDN solutions do not work the same way for gTLDs and ccTLDs and that ccTLDs may have a tougher task ahead of them. 

Ram Mohan
Afilias.com

He added that country-based complexity combined with legal and political issues are going to make life interesting. He used India as a case in point, noting that the country has 18 official languages, schools teach in 58 languages and newspapers print in 71 languages! Mohan went on to detail possible solutions to some of the outstanding issues and said the benefits of IDN implementation will outweigh the work needed to get it done.  

ICANN's Tina Dam and Microsoft's Michael Suignard 
at IDN Update seminar

Mr. Suignard has been closely involved with the development of Microsoft’s upcoming IDN-enabled Internet Explorer 7 browser (currently in beta and scheduled for final release in the second half of the year). He discussed the technical issues that have been solved and those that are still being worked on so that IDNs will work seamlessly around the globe. Like all of the panelists, he believes IDNs are here to stay.  

Wednesday’s final session offered a pair of seminars on legal issues, one on the art of sales negotiations and another on ccTLDs. I’ll have to buy the conference DVD so I can pick up on those much needed negotiating tips, but I just had to be at the ccTLD seminar. Hearing about the public rollout of .us in 2002 is what brought me into the domain business in the first place and with the constantly increasing emphasis on localization on the web I have always been a big believer in country codes in general.

This session featured eight expert panelists including Roland Laplante of registry services provider Afilias.com. In addition to running .info and providing back end services for .org, Afilias provides the technical under pinnings for 9 ccTLDs. LaPlante noted that ccTLDs have advantages for both investors and registrars. For investors he cited revenue diversification (less dependence on .com), high growth rates (especially in India and China) and intellectual property protection. Registrars benefit from higher profitability (ccTLDs usually cost more than gTLDs) and from being seen by their customers as a one stop shop.  

Options at Roundtable don’t end when the sun starts going down. At 6:15, Roger Collins (Afternic.com), Eric Harrington (Moniker.com) and Tim Schumacher (Sedo.com) hosted a social mixer that included information on buying and selling domains. 

Roland LaPlante
Afilias VP & Chief Marketing Officer

The new .mobi extension (a TLD for mobile devices that many speakers predicted will have great success) held a well-received reception in the main ballroom at 6:30 and DomainSponsor.com chartered a luxury bus to take a group of domainers to a Seattle Mariners-Texas Rangers baseball game at Safeco Field

I went with the latter group and am still trying to figure out how DomainSponsor’s Ron Sheridan managed to script such a great evening. Sheridan is a big baseball fan but even he would have had a hard time dreaming up the outcome on this particular night.

The home team was trailing 6-1 in the 7th inning and most of the crowd had already headed for home. They missed a great comeback as Seattle rallied to tie it 6-all, then won the game in the bottom of the 9th on a 3-run homer by Carl Everett. Hanging out at the ballpark with good friends and seeing such a dramatic finish made for a truly memorable event.  

DomainSponsor took us out to the ballgame.

  Continue to Page 2 - Day Two at Domain Roundtable


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