Michele Neylon Talks .IE, GDPR, European Commission’s .EU Failure, New gTLD Thoughts And More

In today’s Domain Pulse Q&A we talk to Blacknight Solutions’ Michele Neylon who discusses how the simplification of .ie policies was a 2018 highlight, while “a big negative has been how the European Commission has been dealing, or rather refusing to deal with, the implications of Brexit on .eu.” But he says “GDPR and its implementation has probably been the biggest single issue for 2018.” GDPR has been painful, but Michele says, “but overall it’s very positive”.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2019, some of the hopes are to spend less time on GDPR, but there will also be challenges: privacy, costs, security, to name a few. He’d also like the work done with ICANN to be more beneficial to end-users. Michele says new gTLDs ‘aren’t as much of a ‘game changer’ as we might have expected but there have been really interesting uses of domains and it’s a long game.’

Michele is the founder and CEO of Ireland’s leading domain name registrar, Blacknight Solutions. Michele is also a long-term industry participant, particularly in ICANN circles, and these days is actively involved in internet policy development including in several working groups within the ICANN GNSO.

Domain Pulse: What were the highlights, lowlights and challenges of 2018 in the domain name industry for you?

Michele Neylon: Close to home the .ie ccTLD simplifying their policies was a positive change. They’ve finally modernised the registration policies to be more business friendly and registrant centric. There’s still work to be done, but the statistics show that simpler registration policies coupled with aggressive pricing will lead to increased volumes of .ie domain names.

A big negative has been how the European Commission has been dealing, or rather refusing to deal with, the implications of Brexit on .eu. It’s not simply a case of how it impacts UK based registrants of .eu domain names, but how the entire namespace is managed by the Commission. They’ve put forward some very bold changes to .eu policy, but have conducted very little consultation with industry about how the proposals will be implemented. For example, if all EU citizens will be entitled to hold .eu domains then I assume we’ll need to validate that entitlement. How? And, more importantly, in light of GDPR and heightened concerns around privacy and security how can we do that securely without increasing our exposure or putting our clients’ data at risk?

GDPR and its implementation has probably been the biggest single issue for 2018.

Another low point for me was how the alt-right and other right-wing groups have been trying to conflate hate speech and freedom of expression. The Internet community can and should thrive, but for that to happen companies and other organisations need to be able to shutdown toxic behaviour. If we do not self-regulate, we will be regulated and conflating the toxic culture of some online communities with freedom of speech does not do the internet industry any favours.

DP: GDPR – good, bad and/or indifferent to you and the wider industry and why?

MN: GDPR might have been painful to deal with over the past couple of years, but overall it’s very positive. Companies across the entire internet ecosystem and well beyond are now having to take privacy and security of data much more seriously and that should be welcomed. Is it a pain at times? Yes, but so are many of the better things in life.

The internet is built on trust. Over the past 20 years many companies have realised that abusing that trust to a greater or lesser extent was a good way of making money.

DP: What are you looking forward to in 2019?

MN: Hopefully spending less time on GDPR and other policy related work. I’d like to be able to focus on improving the overall experience for the average punter.

A lot of the work within ICANN circles is very much navel gazing and very far from the end user. Internet policy work and internet governance in general is important, but it needs to serve end users and businesses. It can’t become a self-serving system that is so caught up in itself that it overlooks its very raison d’être.

DP: What challenges and opportunities do you see for the year ahead?

MN: Challenges:

  • Increased commoditisation of domains and related services. Some big companies that have other revenue streams are undermining the business models of the rest of us.
  • Increased consolidation in the market with fewer and fewer independent companies at any serious scale. That will also mean that the lines will become more blurred about who is a competitor or a partner.
  • Increasing costs of business due to increased regulation
  • Security issues
  • Privacy issues. GDPR might have been the focus for many over the past 18 months, but it’s just one of many privacy regimes being adopted across the globe

Some of the challenges are also opportunities. Brexit, for example, is going to cause us headaches, as we are an Irish company. We have clients on both sides of the border as well as dealing with a lot of companies in the UK.

There are, however, opportunities as well. Ireland will be the only English-speaking country in the EU post-Brexit.

DP: 2019 will mark 5 years since the first new gTLDs came online. How do you view them now?

MN: Several years ago new TLDs were just an idea. They were a concept. More than 5 years later they’re “real”. They aren’t as much of a “game changer” as we might have expected. We’ve seen some really interesting uses of domains, but it’s a long game. I think people’s expectations have evolved. When the first few new TLDs were launching there were expectations of large volumes of registration and the focus for many of the registries (and registrars) was on pushing the numbers. Now things have settled down more and registrars are going to focus on the domain extensions that are a good fit for their clients. My own company, for example, offers a very broad range of new TLDs, but we won’t offer ones that are in our view overly complicated to register.

DP: Are domain names as relevant now for consumers – business, government and individuals – as they have been in the past?

MN: Yes and no.

Over the years the way Google, Facebook and other big technology companies mould our internet experience has evolved. 5 or 6 years ago you still had to switch to a desktop computer (or laptop) to conduct a lot of your daily business, whereas now it’s possible to live most of your business and personal life via mobile. The internet speeds have improved vastly and the technologies that underpin the user experience online have evolved. Gone are the days of “responsive” sites being an extra to being the norm.

What that means for domain names is that in many ways both the domains and the actual web addresses and URLs in general have become less important for reaching specific content, but more important to reach a corporate or personal brand.

So while companies are still going to market their products and services and they will definitely use domain names in there, maybe the “how” has changed a bit. At CES in Vegas this year, for example, all the exhibitors had an online presence, but the prominence of their domain name in their material varied quite a bit.

In some ways we’ve probably almost come full circle with people being trained to look for $brandname or $productname a bit like they would have used AOL keywords 20 years ago.

Previous Q&As in this series were with:

If you’d like to participate in this Domain Pulse series with industry figures, please contact David Goldstein at Domain Pulse by email to david[at]goldsteinreport.com.