Pool.Com Launches a Free-Market Domain Name Back-End

Jeff Berg
CYBERSPACE — Web domain name backorderer Pool.com announced a new service today that will allow registrars to buy and sell names in a competitive, open-market environment.

“We are moving from solely being a customer-facing backordering services company to one providing an open, back-end technology platform,” said Taryn Naidu, general manager of Pool.com.

The new back-end system, called the Open Listing System, will allow registrars and consumers a centralized location to list, auction and buy domain names. Registrars will also be allowed to create their own interface with the system.

Pool.com’s announcement comes less than a month after Network Solutions, a subsidiary of ICANN-appointed .com registry owner VeriSign, announced their own controversial backordering system that allows preferred access to expiring domain names.

Public debate on Network Solutions’ new system raged from Internet newsgroups to an ICANN meeting in Rome and even in U.S. courtrooms last month as registrars argued about whether giving preferred access to the .com registry inhibited the free market and VeriSign filed another lawsuit against ICANN, claiming that the international regulatory agency is trying to hinder their profit.

“The market for expired names is changing,” wrote Elliot Noss, CEO of domain registrar Tucows, on his blog. “The old [framework] wasn't working. Not for everyday registrants and that is who we should all be thinking about. Not for VeriSign and not for ICANN. Those who say that either of them like the status quo really do not have a clue.”

Support for Verisign was met with fiery retorts from critics, though, who believe giving the giant registrar even more power undermines the basic philosophy of the Internet.

“[D]omain names that expire do not belong to the registrant, or to [a registrar], or to anyone else. They belong to the public,” wrote Robert L. Mathews of Tiger Technologies on a discussion thread. “Anything a registrar does to interfere with the domain name’s reversion to a completely unregistered state is taking unfair advantage of that registrar’s market power in a way that is clearly not the intent of ICANN.”

Naidu, whose company helped created the $60 million-a-year secondary domain name market, stands to suffer greatly if the company that owns the .com registry begins to limit access to it.

“When Network Solutions announced a month ago that it would retain expired domain names and not release them into the open market, it sought to impose a system that will unfairly extend the value of the near-monopoly it enjoys over .com addresses,” said Naidu.

According to Naidu, the new Open Listing Service system will use consumer protections afforded by trademark laws that Network Solutions’ backorder system might violate. Pool.com hopes that, as more registrars joint the OLS, it will generate “the kind of productive network effect seen on the Internet itself.”

“A monopoly position cannot withstand the power of innovation,” Naidu said.