.XXX Domain Approved: Now Begins The Era Of Meaningless TLDs
After ten years of saying no and vocal opposition by everyone potentially affected from an .XXX top level domain – everyone except .XXX profiteers, that is – last Thursday ICANN officially approved .XXX.
Porn already owns the best .COM real estate it ever needs. Yet now .XXX’s pimp daddies at ICM Registry and its backers have free reign to scoop up all the domain squatting and defensive registrations they can handle.
No one is looking at an .XXX domain and thinking, “That’s where I’ll cash in.” They’re thinking, “I better buy my business name, my daughter’s name, and my own name… just in case.”
ICM claims it will only sell domains to those.” It is unclear how this is determined. Meanwhile, ICM has already pre-sold over a quarter million domains.
Internet porn giant Kink.com knows a protective business decision when it sees one: Kink felt strong-armed to pre-purchase their brand’s domains in the copycat .XXX realm to protect their brands, and have defensively purchased thousands of domains.
Sure, it’s porn’s money to spend as they please. And you don’t have to buy anything, either. But this speaks volumes to the false sense of endorsement that may have contributed to one of ICANN’s most confusing decisions to hand piles of money to a group of relentless entrepreneurs since the creation of .AERO.
ICM is bragging to have sold over a quarter million pre-registrations. At $75 a pop shot for reg, and 268,788 sold (as of this writing), that’s a current total of $20,159,100 in pre-sales.
ICM’s Stuart Lawley bragged to Bloomberg that ICM is set to make at least $200 million a year, and he predicts to snag between 3 and 5 million registrations.
Do you think anyone else is thinking that inventing a TLD compelling people to register primarily out of defense would be a really profitable business model?
If so, you’re in luck. ICANN is about to make it easy to do exactly that: the generic TLD process is set to be finalized by this June.
It’s Not Because We Need More Porn
Lest you forget: I am a pro-porn female. I’m all for more porn. But: with great porn comes great responsibility.
My ZDNet colleague Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols remarked Oh My God! Porn is Officially On The Internet! – and he was wisely pointing out the single most collective WTF most of us have with .XXX: it seems redundant.
He hit the turgid nail on the head while explaining that yes, Virginia, not only is there already lots of XXX online if you look for it – but remarkably, even those who you’d think would stand to gain from creating more adult real estate strongly opposed .XXX.
ICM nee .XXX still claim to have the endorsement of family groups – somewhere – yet family and religious groups came out in droves to oppose .XXX.
On top of all this, .XXX was opposed by groups not nearly as fringey as religious conservatives and porn peeps: even the ACLU begged ICANN to see .XXX as a very bad idea from a human rights perspective.
Meanwhile, ICM’s IFFOR flowchart of “about us” community support for the alleged board of .XXX oversight – IFFOR, for .XXX responsibility management – is still merely a .JPG of “insert name here” empty spaces.
ICANN Issues A License To Print Money
What’s even more confusing than the utility of a TLD no one wanted, makes no sense and whose backers can’t even bother to back up their claims with a single person not on their payroll who thinks this is a good idea – is the very notion that ICANN has the power to make shady businessmen into billionaires overnight.
.XXX’s owners, ICM Registry, are comprised of a former real estate developer, an ex-employee from scandal-ridden domain bidding business SnapNames, and an ex-fax machine salesman turned “internet pornography and child safety consultant.”
But lest you think that ICANN is a bunch of easy pushovers anyone can just pressure and loophole and wheedle into getting them to make a dot-SEX that you happen to already own, think again. It’s not that easy.
Though not impossible, apparently.
.XXX: Pushed Until ICANN Gave In
The first time .XXX was proposed to ICANN was by Canadian real estate developer Jason Hendeles in October 2000. Turning from real estate to technology in the late 1990s, Hendeles started ICM Registry and a company called ATECH, literally short for “A Technology Company.”
(ATECH was also called NameSystem.com and was one of the early second wave of registrars to apply for ICANN accreditation in 1999. ATECH lost their ICANN accreditation on June 25, 2010 due to ATECH’s failure to pay its accreditation fees as far back as at least April 2009.)
ICM Registry first pitched the .XXX TLD to ICANN stating that .XXX would be the solution for managing adult content and protecting children – along with their other proposal .KIDS, which was to be a “green” space for children online.
These domains weren’t going to be cheap: ICM wanted $75 per customer.
The High Cost Of Saving The Children
The high cost of the domains, Hendeles explained, would funnel money into a proposed nonprofit called Child Online Protection Organization (COPO).
ICM registry claimed they’d have a Policy Advisory Board with “leadership of the adult content community” to create and promote a Code of Conduct.
COPO later became IFFOR, which is currently linked from ICM’s website: as mentioned above, IFFOR’s template flowchart of advisors, directors and managers still sits empty of names or endorsements.
It was also at that time ICM found out that the porn industry did not exist as a single unit, nor did any of the organized parts – such as the Free Speech Coalition, who protested the ICANN decision in San Francisco last Thursday – want anything to do with ICM or .XXX. Then, or now.
Carving up T&A’s virtual real estate was not what it seemed. ICANN rejected Hendeles. And ICANN’s then-head-wizard Vint Cerf basically told ICM Registry to come back when Hendeles got a community.
Enter The Fax Man
Hendeles went back to running the now-failed ATECH, putting ICM on the back burner until 2002. That was when Hendeles crossed paths with a Brit who’d found his new spiritual home in sunny Florida, after making a tidy profit selling fax machines in England.
Stuart Lawley had relocated his entrepreneurial spirit to the Sunshine State, and in 2002 met an ICANN board member who mentioned in casual conversation that ICANN was planning a new round of TLD applications.
Lawley looked over the list of ICANN rejects from 2000 and probably didn’t have to do much squinting to see which reject was connected to the most money. He tracked down Jason Hendeles. In 2002, Lawley re-ignited .XXX and took over.
Lawley became Chairman and President of ICM Registry while Hendeles took up role of Vice President. Already at ICM before Lawley took over was former CTO and Vice President of SnapNames.com Len Bayles, whom Lawley still calls their “top techie.”
Shady SnapNames would bag domains as they were dropped by people who didn’t re-register them, and then charge people to “backorder” a domain, whether or not the customer successfully obtained the domain. (In 2009, SnapNames was hit with a class action suit over shill bidding.)
Interestingly, at the same time Lawley restarted .XXX in 2002, Bayles also worked at yet another drop-and-snatch domain company Pool.com, managed by his pal tech gossip blog editor Michael Arrington.
By 2004 ICM Registry was ready to carpetbag .XXX once more: they re-branded COPO into IFFOR and re-filed their .XXX application to ICANN.
This time, despite the lack of community, or support, or proof of an “unmet need” for the TLD, the second proposal got ICANN’s approval.
How Many Ways Can You Say Do Not Want?
Family groups made everyone do a double take by agreeing with Big Porn: the Family Research Council sent over 6,000 protest letters, fearful that .XXX would give pornographers more ways to “distribute smut over the internet.”
The ACLU expressed concerns about making an easy-to-censor red light district for dubiously defined content, especially outside the U.S. where regulation around .XXX would certainly be enforced punitively. Like, Libya?
Tech blogs called .XXX “pointless.” In 2007 ICANN decided they didn’t want the hassle and reversed their decision in a 9-5 vote, telling ICM they still had no community.
ICM resubmitted the .XXX bid yet again in 2009 with the same zero amount of community, but this time ICM pushed the bid back at ICANN by bringing in an independent arbitrator, claiming that ICANN had “acted improperly” and “treated unfairly” when they rejected the proposal in 2007.
In fact, ICANN had finally rejected the proposal because the U.S. Department of Commerce stepped in and requested that ICANN “provide a proper process and adequate additional time” to address concerns raised by critics.
In February 2010, ICANN decided to agree with whatever the independent panel decided, which was to approve .XXX. ICM Registry has been planning for launch ever since.
None of that matters now.
What .XXX will matter for, however, are the problematic bigger questions around spurious and unsupported TLD’s.
Not to mention the impact of ICANN ‘s role in their own rulings that affect civil and human rights, or ICANN’s role in content-based discrimination.
Although the one thing everyone talking about .XXX seems to be able to agree on is that making a porn TLD is not going to do anything to solve any of the real problems surrounding pornography.
In the end, .XXX probably won’t matter much for anyone in Western porn cultures. The new development in .XXX’s approval being that only “official adult entertainment industry” people can register an expensive .XXX domain, the TLD has been rendered effectively impotent.
Think about it: in a culture where no one can agree on a single definition of pornography, how is a “official adult entertainment” – i.e. official pornographer - going to be defined, exactly?
Unless the criteria for being deemed an “official” pornographer is merely registering an .XXX domain.
What do you think – is .XXX good for anything? Does it make ICANN look like the emperor with no clothes? Talk back in the comments and let us know.