The .blog Bait & Switch

The .blog registry backtracked on its promise to send popular domains to auction.


In May, co-founder and CEO of Automattic (WordPress) Matt Mullenweg announced that his company had won the auction to become the registry for the new .blog TLD:

I’m excited we won and think that it will be both an amazing business going forward and give lots of folks an opportunity to have a fantastic domain name in a new namespace and with an easy-to-say TLD. You can sign up to be first in line to reserve a domain here.

At the time the link led to a WordPress.com page where you could sign up for updates (the full get.blog website was not up yet). Thinking that chris.blog had a nice to ring to it, I signed up immediately.

Accepting Applications

On August 18th, I received this email:

get.blog

Ok, let's do this! The site listed chris.blog for $30/year. But when you clicked through you discovered that they require a $220 application fee (plus the $30 for the first year; a total of $250). I was ok with this price point as long as it would be refunded if I didn't get the domain.

The site made no mention of whether the application fee was refundable, so I emailed the support team and they confirmed that it was indeed refundable. The next day I completed my application for chris.blog.

application

The Auction Process

Prior to this point, it wasn't clear how the process worked (first-come, first-served, etc.), but at checkout it was explained:  you get the domain if no one else applies; if there are multiple applications then the domain will go to auction. I didn't take a screenshot, but the language very closely matched what is found here:

How does the auction process work?

If someone else wants the same domain name that you’ve requested, you’ll get invited to participate in an auction for the domain name, taking place between November 14 and November 17. If you lose the auction, you’ll get your application fee back.

Alright, I guess that's fair. If multiple Chrises (or Chris's? whatever) apply then it goes to auction. I'd still have a chance to secure it, and Automattic maximizes their revenue by auctioning it off. Win-win.

Knowing this, I was prepared to bid in an auction come November. On November 11th I hadn't received any information regarding the upcoming November 14th auction, so I emailed support again:

explanation

This explanation was confusing to the say the least. I asked for clarification regarding the upcoming auctions and Ran said "I'm afraid I don't have all the answers yet... We will both have to wait for the final results." Ok...

Your Refund

November 14th came and went. Then on November 15th I received this email:

refund

Wait, what? What happened to the auction?

Obviously I had questions, so I contacted support again. First I received a vague response stating that "the domain was no longer available when early applications were processed". Then I pried some more and got the real answer:

unavailable

My interpretation is this:  we yanked your domain and aren't going to let you have it or bid on it until we find a way to make more money from it. After all, we have to recoup the $19M we spent to buy the TLD.

Warning Signs

A few weeks back, before I had inquired about the auctions, I thought to check get.blog to see if anything had changed. chris.blog was still $30/year, but christopher.blog was $2,000/year! I tried some other common first names and many had annual fees in the thousands, while a few were still pegged at $30/year. My guess is that the cheap ones already had applications, then Automattic panicked and raised the prices on the rest.

Not Cool, Man

I had no problem with the $250 fee. I also had no problem with the likely scenario of paying more at auction (I appreciate a good name and might have gone as high as $1,000). But telling your customers one thing and then doing another is a dick move.

Perhaps it's not fair to call this bait & switch. Really it was bait & refund, and certainly the situation would be far worse had they chosen to not make the application fee refundable.

But still, I thought I had chance at securing the domain. That was the logical conclusion given the terms they outlined (via successful application or winning an auction). Even Matt himself said this was the case:

The namespace is wide open, and if you’re interested in reserving or bidding on your favorite name you can go to get.blog.

Well, now I know this isn't the case.

I suspect that Automattic had planned to do it this way but got greedy. Had they been greedy from the start and charged, say, $2,000 for every remotely popular name then I wouldn't have had a problem with it. I respect the right of a company to set their prices how they see fit.

But you don't change the rules in the middle of the game.


p.s.chris.blog might have been set aside for an Automattic employee or friend of the company. This possibility occurred to me early on, and they did this with matt.blog, dave.blog, and others before opening up applications. But chris.blog was available at that time. They took my money and told me I'd have a shot at it.


Alas, this will never be chris.blog.

But chris.lol has a pretty nice ring to it as well, don't you think? I just bought it and will probably redirect here soon.

Laugh on loudly.
(And tweet at me @cschidle.)


UPDATE 11/17 5pm PST:  Knock Knock Whois There LLC, the subsidiary of Automattic behind the .blog TLD, has responded with this post regarding reserved domains.

We do realise that some users were disappointed when they discovered that the domain names they had applied for were in fact attributed as part of the Founder’s program, or reserved, and wouldn’t be possible to register or auction at the end of Landrush.

We would like to apologise to these users, but as the lists of Founder domains and Reserved ones weren’t final until just before Landrush, we couldn’t communicate them to registrars in advance (there is nothing registrars hate more than ever-changing lists of reserved domains).

It's unfortunate that their reserved domain list wasn't finalized prior to accepting applications, and that affected applicants like myself weren't notified sooner (auctions were scheduled to begin on November 14th). But I think they realize their mistake in handling that communication and their apology is appreciated.