This edition of Roundtable had it all and
I could have experienced even more if I could have gotten into town
a day earlier. As it was, having just returned from Amsterdam, I was
tied up writing our review
of the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. ccTLDs conference and barely finished it in
time to reach Washington for the opening cocktail party Sunday
evening (June 14). Had I gotten there the day before I could have
accepted an invitation from Michael
and David Castello to a pre-show dinner (with some great
guests) that they hosted Saturday night at the Central Michel
Carleton snapped this photo of dinner mates (clockwise from
left) Rick Waters,
Phil Corwin, Andrew Allemann, Michael Mann, Brian
Taff, Ammar Kubba, David Castello, Michael
Castello and Steve DelBianco at Central Michel Richard
Washington D.C. Saturday night (June 13).
If I could have gotten to Washington even
a few hours earlier, I could have made it to the big pre-show party
that BuyDomains co-founder Michael
Mann held at his Bethesda, Maryland home Sunday
Michael Mann (left) with guests David Castello (CCIN.com),
(Associated Cities) and Leland Hardy (NewYork.com) at a
hosted at his suburban Washington home Sunday afternoon (June 14)
Guests begin to gather around the pool for Mann's house party.
(this photo courtesy of Richard Meyer)
At almost every conference there are
private side events like these; parties, company sponsored dinners,
local excursions, etc. that add a great deal to the already
attractive official agenda mapped out by conference organizers.
Though I missed two special events it quickly became apparent that
Thought Convergence's newly remodeled Roundtable conference was
going to be a crowd pleaser entirely on its own merits.
At the welcoming cocktail party attendees
found the open bars paired with a spectacular dinner buffet. I would
later learn that the chef at the Washington Grand Hyatt had won an
award as the top chef in Hyatt's entire American chain. This
night was devoted to getting to know each other better and in
addition to all of the old friends, there were many new faces.
Roundtable has always drawn a very diverse crowd, and by bringing a
major conference to Washington for the first time they attracted
people from an exceptionally broad range of vocations.
Scene from the opening night cocktail party at Domain Roundtable
(Left to right) Lisa Botzer, Diana Jackson, Divyank
Turakhia and Toby Hardy.
The first full day of business
got underway Monday morning (June 15) when Thought
Kevin Vo and Chief Strategy Officer Ammar Kubba
welcomed registrants to Washington.
Convergence CEO Kevin Vo (left) and CSO Ammar
Kubba welcome attendees.
A little before 9:30am it was time for the
first of only five seminars that would be held during
Roundtable. Over the years some conference sessions have started
feeling like "filler," rehashing topics that registrants
have heard too many times before. That has caused some attendees to
bypass them and look for more productive ways to spend their time.
Roundtable organizers obviously took note of that and pared their
seminar schedule down to five strong entries, all featuring well
versed panelists (including some major names who have never appeared
on a conference panel before) who covered new ground that held
The first session, focusing on Evolving
Market & Technology Trends, brought Andrew Allemann
(DomainNameWire.com), Simonetta Batteiger (Sedo.com), Hal
Bailey (Google.com) and Nico Zeifang (Zeifang.com) to the
dais with Thought Convergence VP of Marketing Jamal Haque
serving as moderator.
from the opening session at Roundtable Monday morning (June 15)
The panelists gave their thoughts on areas
where major growth is expected including social media, mobile and
IDNs as well as how things like browser technology changes might
affect domain names. Zeifang said IDNs are already seeing widespread
use in his country, Germany, and that they would get bigger,
eventually becoming the dominant choice in nations that want to use
their own character sets on the Internet.
|Today, due to the precipitous decline in
parking revenue over the past year, a major trend is domain
owners looking for new ways to monetize their assets.
Many consider the standard parking page to be passe now,
however Google's Bailey said he wouldn't write them off just
Bailey told the story of how a friend who wanted to go to
Spain told him about how excited she was to find a great
website about the country. She even used it to book her
hotel room. When Bailey checked out the "site" he
was surprised to see it was a parking page with links his
friend had used to find the services she was looking for.
Some think social media sites like Facebook and Twitter
|domains as the preferred platform
for communicating with others on the Internet. Batteiger
doesn't buy that though. She pointed out that when you write
content on those sites you are not the one who owns
it. If you
want control over what you create and more options in how it
is presented, your own domain and site is the way to go.
The next session on Unique
Opportunities to Increase Your Domain's Value had David
Castello moderating an all-star panel that included his brother Michael
(Castello Cities Internet Network), Michael Mann
(Washington VC), Brian Taff (who co-founded BuyDomains with
Mann), Jay Chapman (DigiMedia) and Rob Monster (Epik.com).
Mann and Monster have attended domain conferences but this is the
first time they were coaxed onto the stage to share their extensive
expertise. All of these panelists are focused on the world beyond
parking with most heavily involved in full scale development.
Monster's current focus is on
taking domains to the next monetization level through the
platform he has in place at Epik.com.
The system automatically generates relevant content for
domains including photos and even video clips that are
pulled in from around the web. In addition to earning
revenue from PPC advertising, Monster said the multi-page
sites created can be more easily sold, moving capital gains
front and center as a way to profit from your domains.
Monster said, "we are at the front end of a new Golden
Age for domains."
Chapman, the DigiMedia President
who works with legendary domainer Scott Day to build
out his great generic domain names like Recipes.com,
said that he and Day believe the greatest opportunities lie
in building great domains into real businesses. Chapman said
they are getting ready to launch WebDesign.com with a
"great partner" that has them especially excited.
The Castello Brothers
follow a similar path. They have built highly profitable
sites on geodomains like PalmSprings.com and
|Nashville.com and well as
on generics like Whisky.com and DayCare.com,
a site that has attracted 15,000 members. They have also
begun exploring partnerships to accelerate the development
process on their best domains.
|Taff, whose forte has always been deal making,
agreed that there are some great opportunities in
partnerships but he cautioned that keeping it simple should
be your manta. "Integrating people and technology is
never a simple thing, Taff said.
Acknowledging that many domainers
are not equipped to be great developers, Mann said that the
best domains demand the best managers so his focus today is
bringing those two together to create powerful online
After the lunch break, Jonathan
Zuck, the President of the Association for
Competitive Technology, delivered a keynote address
titled Policy Schmolicy: Whose Internet Is It Anyway?
Zuck tried to convince attendees that they had to get
involved in the legal and policymaking process, otherwise
critical decisions affecting their futures would be made by
people who have little knowledge of understanding of what
Co-Founder Brian Taff
speaker Jonathan Zuck
As an example of what can happen Zuck
noted that car dealers in all 50 states managed to get a law passed
that made it illegal for carmakers to sell direct to consumers. He
said it was a great law for used car dealers but not so great for
the public, noting that bad policy that hurts you will be made if you don't pay
Of course this is exactly what the Internet
Commerce Association has been preaching all along, which
made Zuck's talk the perfect lead in to the next panel discussion
that was moderated by ICA Legal Counsel Phil Corwin. Before
that seminar, The Policy Game: High Stakes for Domainers,
got underway, Corwin and ICA President Jeremiah Johnston briefed the
audience on the issues the organization has been battling and the
need for more people to join and support the effort to protect the
interests of domain owners.
The Policy Game panel included (left to
right above) John Morris (General Counsel at the Center for
Democracy & Technology), Jonathon Nevett (Sr. VP of
Domain Services at Network Solutions), Mike Zaneis
(Interactive Advertising Bureau), Fabricio Vayra (chief
trademark attorney for Time Warner), IP Attorney and former ICANN
board member Michael Palage and Steve DelBianco
(Executive Director, NetChoice), with Phil Corwin moderating.
Former ICANN Board Member
Palage noted that there has been a
lot of "mission creep" at ICANN over the years
leading to situations where ICANN has gone beyond the
mandate the U.S. Department of Commerce charged it
with when the organization was formed. All of the panelists
agreed that one of the biggest problems today is that ICANN
is basically unaccountable to anyone other than its own
DelBianco said ICANN is like a
playpen for "suckers". "We all run around
trying to provide input then the ICANN board does whatever
they want." ICANN wants even more freedom. They hope to
end their operating agreement with the U.S. government that
expires later this year so they can go off totally on their
own. The panelists agree the organization is not ready
for that yet.
As ICANN has expanded its own
mission its budget has soared form $8 million in 2003
to an estimated $67 million for the upcoming budget
year. They already have their eyes set on nine digits as a
requirement for their next CEO (replacing Dr. Paul Twomey
|stepping down) is experience
running a $100 million organization. It would appear
that their plan to roll out unlimited new gTLDs next year
despite widespread community opposition is at least partly
fueled by a potential financial windfall that would feed the
ICANN growth machine.
There is a lot on uncertainty as to how
policy matters will play out from here. Corwin urged attendees to
pay careful attention to the policy and legislative issues he covers
on the ICA
website. Domain owners have to be aware of what ICANN is
doing as well as domain related matters that crop up within federal
and state governments and courts. "The rules are going to be
changing, " Corwin said, "and the new ones could be a real
threat to your business."
The business day closed with a series of
roundtable discussions in which some of the day's speakers came back
to meet with small groups of registrants who wanted the opportunity
to ask one on one questions.
of the small group roundtable discussions Monday afternoon.
After the roundtable discussions it was
time to shift to social gear for another lively cocktail party and
from the Monday evening cocktail hour (June 15)
Later in the evening NameMedia
hosted a private dinner for a dozen guests at Wolfgang Puck's
restaurant, The Source, at the Newseum. Diana and I
had the pleasure of joining that group for a beautiful night on the
open balcony of the restaurant.
Larry Fischer (DirectNavigation.com) and Brian Carr
(Name Media SVP, Direct Search)
enjoying the ride to The Source, Wolfgang Puck's restaurant
at the Newseum.
NameMedia dinner at The Source Monday night (June 15)
(clockwise starting from
left): Ron & Diana Jackson (DNJournal.com), Bob
Mountain (NameMedia), Jeff Bennett (NameMedia
President), Andrew Allemann (DomainNameWire),
Kirsten Frederick (NameMedia), Larry Fischer (DirectNavigation.com),
Leonard Holmes (ParkQuick.com) and, also representing
NameMedia, Cortnee Gunn, Brian Carr,
Kristen McCarthy & David Zakur).
The next morning the final day of Domain
Roundtable (Tuesday, June 16) opened with a session on Utilizing
Online Tools to Benefit Your Business. Panelists (left to
right in the photo below) Daniel
Negari (Cyber2Media, Inc.), Sean Stafford (ComWired.com),
Susan Prosser (DomainTools.com) and Gregg McNair (Strata
PPX Services), who celebrated a birthday the night before, covered
tools available to improve SEO, expand your portfolio and manage
your domains and traffic to improve your return on investment. Jamal
Haque returned as moderator.
Stafford covered how his geo-IP aware DNS
management company, ComWired.com, divides up its client's portfolios
and sends the traffic from individual domains to different parking
companies based on the vistors' location. Stafford said this
unique strategy converts more traffic into clicks.
|McNair's company, Strata PPX, is also
taking a new approach to monetization by building a CPA platform
that owns every link in the chain from the product manufacturer to
the consumer purchase. McNair said cutting out the middlemen allows
them to pay higher commissions than CPA competitors.
One thing that stood out to me at the show
was how much innovation is currently going on in the
monetization space. A lot of people are looking for better solutions
and with the brain power and financial resources being invested in
that quest I feel confident that we are going to see some real
breakthroughs in the not to distant future.
Negari discussed methods he used to build
his domain portfolio and Prosser, the General Manager at
DomainTools.com, probably had the easiest job of all because most
people in the industry are already familiar with and reliant upon
the wide variety of tools and services the subscription based site
McNair (Strata PPX) at his birthday
party the night before this panel sesson.
The show's final seminar followed, one
devoted to The Macro View of Domain Valuation. The
panel (seen left to right in the photo below) featured Markus
Schnermann (KeywordDomains.com), Christian Kalled
(Sedo.com), Donny Simonton (Parked.com) and Andrew Miller (Internet
Real Estate Group). Thought Convergence VP of Corporate
Development Tim Chen served as the moderator.
This group discussed the factors to
consider when deciding how to value specific domains, a topic they
were particularly well qualified to cover. Miller's company bought, developed and in some cases sold some of the most valuable
keyword .coms on the Internet, including CreditCards.com, Software.com,
Phone.com and many others.
Kalled is one of the best known brokers in
the business and was the man who orchestrated the $3 million sale
of Vodka.com for client Roy Messer.
President many associate Simonton with the PPC business but the
company is also a major buyer in domain auctions. He studied domain
valuation to help develop a proprietary software program that
generates maximum recommended amounts to pay for any domains he is
Schnermann, who is based in Germany, added
his special knowledge of ccTLD values to the mix.
After lunch there was a break before
Aftermarket.com's live domain auction would get underway at 4pm so
Diana and I took that opportunity to stroll down to the National
Gallery of Art to spend a few hours among
|the masterpieces on display there
Grand Hyatt is just a 10-15 minute walk away from the major museums
on the Mall).
National Gallery of Art is a must see when we are in
were back at the hotel in time to catch an
auction that produced just under a half million dollars in
sales. Much of the that came on the strength of the $380,000 sale of
Contests.com to National A-1, a Philadelphia
based company that has assembled some fabulous one word generic .com
domains (they were the ones who, with a $5 million bid, pushed
ToysRUs to pay $5.1 million to get Toys.com in a bankruptcy
court auction earlier this year).
Chen conducting the live domain auction at Roundtable
Tuesday (June 16).
Soon after the auction ended it was time
to head for the big closing night party hosted by TrafficZ and
Parked.com at one of Washington's hottest nightspots, Club
Josephine. Over the years I've been to a lot of
conference parties at nightclubs around the country and this one had
to be my favorite. It had something for everyone. Everything from a
raucous dance to floor to quieter areas with comfortable sofas for
those who preferred chatting with friends.
Sedo North American Marketing Team Supervisor Heather DelCarpini
chats with new friends at the TrafficZ/Parked.com Closing Night
The dance floor attracts a crowd.
Thought Convergence Director of Corporate
Events Laura Schmidt, who handled the show's
logistics, made sure there was plenty of fabulous food for
partygoers. The dessert table included a silver anniversary cake
that Thought Convergence thoughtfully brought in to help Diana and I
celebrate our 25th anniversary that fell on that night. It was also
a special occasion for our friend Rob Grant who was celebrating his
birthday and was also surprised with a cake of his own.
and Anniversaries: Thought Convergence made the closing night
party especially memorable for Rob Grant and Ron &
Diana Jackson who were celebrating special occasions.
Laura, Kevin, Ammar and everyone at
Thought Convergence truly left no stone unturned to put their own
distinctive mark on Domain Roundtable. If you have talked to anyone
who was there then you have no doubt heard some of the great word of
mouth buzz they created with this top notch event.
Schmidt makes sure everything is "just right" for
The conference game has become a tough one
with many strong competitors and more shows than ever scheduled in 2010 (T.R.A.F.F.I.C.
they are expanding from three annual conferences to six scattered
around the globe next year). Some
observers think a shakeout is inevitable, but there is no sign that any of the
current players is planning to bow out. To the contrary, with this
event Domain Roundtable sent a clear message that they plan to
continue competing at the major league level and that they are playing