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Extreme Makeover - A New Leader, New Venue and New Format Made the 2010 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas Conference a Pivotal Event  

By Ron Jackson 

The 2010 T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas conference that  ran at the Hard Rock Hotel January 21-23 marked a turning point in the popular series that began with the first large scale domain show in October 2004. This was the first time that conference co-founders Rick Schwartz and Howard Neu were not at the helm of a T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in America. 

Under a new partnership agreement, Schwartz and Neu turned the operation of five of this year's six T.R.A.F.F.I.C. shows to Rick Latona - starting with the Las Vegas event. Schwartz and Neu will not stage another show until they run an October 2010 conference on Miami's South Beach

(Left to right): Rick Schwartz, Rick Latona & Howard Neu 
announced a new T.R.A.F.F.I.C. partnership in June 2009.

Latona and his team got ample preparation for their new role as a T.R.A.F.F.I.C. partner by staging the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. ccTLDs conference that was held in Amsterdam under a one-time licensing arrangement last June. That show went very well and the Latona team's U.S. debut in Las Vegas was also a solid crowd pleaser despite a technical snafu that interrupted the live domain auction - a mishap we will talk more about later in this review.  

 

Rick Latona
Welcoming attendees to 
T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas 2010

Latona introduced several changes with this event, the most readily apparent being the new show venue at the Hard Rock Hotel. All of the previous T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conferences in Las Vegas had been held at the plush Venetian Hotel. I found the Hard Rock to be a very good conference venue. The meeting rooms were much closer to the guest rooms, eliminating the hiking marathons that came with the otherwise comfortable territory at the massive Venetian complex. In another pleasant surprise, the cost of guest rooms at the Hard Rock, initially set at $179 a night, were repeatedly lowered as the show drew closer and finally wound up costing just $69 a night - the best hotel bargain in domain conference history. 

There were also changes in the usual T.R.A.F.F.I.C. format - the most obvious being the absence of the traditional opening night cocktail party. Instead, as is the case with many other conferences, the event immediately got down to business on opening day, Thursday, Jan. 21 when, after a lavish brunch, Latona opened the show at 11:45am with his welcoming comments.  

The opening day crowd listening to Rick Latona's welcoming comments.

After Latona's brief introduction, the first business seminar, a panel discussion about the booming ccTLD market got underway. I sat on that panel along with Lori Anne Wardi (.CO Registry), Daniel Eisenhut (InternetX Registry) and Dan Warner (DomainAdvertising.com). I noted during this session that the total dollar volume of ccTLD sales reported to us in 2009 soared 28% above the total for 2008. This burst happened even though total sales reported for the domain aftermarket as a whole slid 12.5% over the same 12 months (a more detailed breakdown of these stats is available in our January newsletter - a free publication that is emailed monthly to opt-in subscribers). 

Rick Schwartz welcomes Dan Warner 
back to the domain business with a kiss. 

A lot of people were particularly happy to see Dan Warner back on stage. The former COO at Dark Blue Sea, the parent company of Fabulous.com, has been a respected industry thought leader for years. He has been on a sabbatical since leaving Dark Blue Sea last summer after eight years on the upper management team at the Brisbane, Australia based company. His hiatus came to an end in November when Directi named Warner CEO of their new DomainAdvertising.com unit. 

During the ccTLD panel discussion, Warner told the audience that while Google and Yahoo dominate the domain monetization business in the U.S. there are better ways to monetize in many non U.S. markets where the two search engine giants have considerably less clout. Warner said DomainAdvertising.com is incorporating  other monetization methods in addition to PPC, including CPA, CPM and other methods aimed at uncovering "every drop of hidden revenue."

Prior to this conference, Rick Latona conducted a survey asking those planning to attend to name the key reason they attend shows. By an overwhelming margin the answer was "networking". Latona decided if that is what people want, he would give it to them in spades and he did with not one, but two back-to-back 90-minute networking sessions that filled the balance of the opening day schedule.

The show's new moderator, Rick Silver of N49 Interactive, conducted the twin sessions with a different format used for each one.  In the first session, the podium and microphone were opened to anyone in the audience who wanted to take the stage for 60 seconds to introduce themselves and tell others about their business. Silver had no shortage of takers as a steady stream of attendees seized the opportunity. 

Moderator Rick Silver (left) looks on as Neustar's Ken Hansen introduces himself to the 
audience during an "open mike" networking session Thursday afternoon (Jan. 21).

For the second networking session, attendees moved to an adjacent room where they sat face to face with other show goers in a circular formation with those sitting in the outer ring rotating over one seat every two minutes, a system that allowing participants to meet dozens of people in the  course of the event. 

Above: Scene from the 2nd networking session on opening day at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas.

Below: Louise Munck (Parklings.com) makes a new contact during this session.

With the first day's business done, it was time for the first major social event of the show, a special Opening Night Party sponsored by  Latonas.com that was held in the Hard Rock Hotel's Wasted Space Night Club

Above: Part of the wall-to-wall crowd at the Opening Night Party at the Hard Rock Hotel

Below: Jodi Chamberlain (Latonas.com) introduces domainer/drummer David Castello 
(CCIN.com) who provided the highlight of the night - a tour de force drum solo.

Knowing that people visiting Las Vegas like to stay out late and sleep in even later, T.R.A.F.F.I.C. organizers wisely waited until 12 Noon to start the day two business schedule on Friday, Jan. 22. (those who got out of bed a little earlier were rewarded with a terrific brunch sponsored by Rowbothan & Company). 

The opening session Friday was a discussion of ICANN's plans to start rolling out an unlimited number of new gTLDs later this year. ICANN had a representative on the three-person panel - their Senior Director for IDNs, Tina Dam. Those in the domain community who don't think the plan is a good idea were represented by PPX International's Gregg McNair while CentralNIC's Joe Alagna took the pro side, pointing out new opportunities that he believes new gTLDs will open up for domain investors and registry operators. 

Above: New gTLD panelists (left to right): Gregg McNair, Tina Dam and Joe Alagna

Alagna said that the decision to roll out new gTLDs has already been made so domain investors should make the best of it by looking into how they can benefit from the introduction of new extensions. Though he is firmly opposed to the plan, McNair said he also believes they are coming but he said they will be a mistake. "In business we usually learn for our mistakes, but ICANN hasn't learned anything from their past TLD mistakes," McNair said, a reference to the fact that previous new gTLDs, some close to a decade old now, are still struggling to gain widespread acceptance. Ms. Dam said the decision to release new gTLDs was made in response to requests from the Internet communty.

Next up was a discussion of some of the worst UDRP cases sent to arbitration panels in recent months featuring attorney Zak Muscovitch, Andrew Allemann (DomainNameWire.com), Michael Berkens (TheDomains.com), attorney Howard Neu and attorney Eli Pearlman.  Each reviewed a case they thought was the most baseless brought against a domain owner and the audience then picked the worst of the worst - one involving LomaLinda.net and LomaLinda.org that was nominated by Muscovitch. You can learn more about some of these unconscionable cases here: UDRPWallofShame.com.

With fellow panelists Howard Neu and Eli Pearlman looking on, Zak Muscovitch (standing)
 tells the audience why a LomaLinda.net/.org UDRP case was the worst one filed in 2009.

The uDRP panel was followed by a keynote speech from highly regarded peak performance coach   Joseph McClendon III whose resume includes serving as the Senior Head Trainer and Instructor at Robbins Research's Mastery University that has been attended by business entrepreneurs and CEOs from 46 nations. McClendon said the crux of everything is fear management. He preached that "it is the interruption of fear and the rehearsal of courage that makes forward motion automatic."

Keynote speaker Joseph McClendon III had people jumping up and down. 

His was certainly a considerable departure from past T.R.A.F.F.I.C. keynotes. McClendon had the audience doing a fear management exercise that involved repeatedly jumping up and down from their chairs and screaming at the top of their lungs! Sorry I don't have a photo of that - I was too busy jumping up and down myself.

After the keynote it was time for the Latonas.com Live Domain Auction. Regrettably this highly anticipated event suffered the one major mishap of show week in Las Vegas. Despite rigorous pre-conference testing, Latonas' new internet auction platform began experiencing serious issues that forced the company to postpone the sale soon after it started. It was rescheduled for 10am Saturday morning. No one felt worse about this than Rick Latona and his team and many understanding attendees tried to lift their spirits with words of encouragement. It is one of those things that could happen to anyone and all that can be done is to make the best of a bad situation, which is exactly what they did.

The auction delay certainly did not dampen spirits at Friday night's official T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Party held at the Gold Lounge at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas's fabulous new $11 billion City Center development that had just opened in December. 

Part of the crowd at the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Party Friday night (Jan. 22) at the Gold Lounge

Representing Sedo.com well - Kamila Sekiewicz and Kathy Nielsen

Gold guests (Left to right): Jazmin Carrillo (Parked.com), Kelly Urquhart (WhyPark.com), 
Ammar Kubba (Thought Convergence, Inc.) and Michael Robertson (Fabulous.com)

There's More! Coming Up On Page 2:

  • Details on All Events From the Closing Day at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Las Vegas 2010

  • The Delayed Live Domain Auction Reaches the Finish Line

  • Panelists Provide Tips on Playing the Drop Market and Domain Optimization 
     
  • 7 Entrepreneurs Race for Funding on the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Test Track

  • Some of the Best Sessions Aren't On the Agenda
  • Industry Newcomers Introduce New Ideas

  • The Show Ends But the Action Continues in Las Vegas

Continue to Page 2


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