Automattic Clarifies .blog Landrush Process After Bait and Switch Allegations

Earlier this year, Knock Knock Whois There LLC, an Automattic subsidiary in partnership with Primer Nivel, won an auction for around $19 million dollars to offer top-level .blog domains. On August 18th, an email was sent to users who signed up to notifying them that they could apply and secure a .blog domain name before November 21st.

Applying For a Domain Name
Applying For a Domain Name

Chris Schidle took advantage of the opportunity and secured for $30 per year with a $220 application fee. People who apply for a domain only receive it if no one else applies for it. If there are multiple applications, the domain goes through an auction process between November 14-17.

As the auction dates drew nearer and Schidle didn’t receive any information concerning the auction, he contacted support. Support confirmed that his application was not successful and he received a refund on November 15th. After asking support about the auction process, Schidle was informed that ended up on a list of reserved domains that were not available for registration.

In a blog post entitled “The .blog Bait and Switch”, Schidle expressed disappointment in Automattic’s lack of communication. “Perhaps it’s not fair to call this bait and switch,” Schidle said.

“Really it was bait and 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 a chance at securing the domain. That was the logical conclusion given the terms they outlined via a successful application or winning an auction.”

Other applicants shared similar experiences on Twitter.

In response to Schidel’s post, Paolo Belcastro published an explanation of the process behind activating some domains in the Founder’s Program while reserving others. Belcastro says that as a registrar, they’re able to activate up to 100 domain names. Some of the domains were given to third-parties and 25 generic domains were given to to be shared for free with millions of users.

The registrar reserved all one, two, and three-character domains from being registered. They also allowed Automattic employees to reserve a single domain each, some of which were first names.

On behalf of .blog, Belcastro apologized to those who filed applications in August and later discovered the domains were not available.

Many registrars started taking pre-registrations for the Landrush period as early as last August. We do realize 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 apologize 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).

In addition, domains were removed as well as added to the lists, and we didn’t want to take the risk for registrars to refuse applications in September for domains that would be released in October.

To mitigate the uncertainty surrounding domain availability, fees were set up in a way so that only successful registrations would be charged. This provided a way to give full refunds to those with failed applications.

Schidle appreciates the company’s apology, “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),” he said. “But I think they realize their mistake in handling that communication and their apology is appreciated.”


16 responses to “Automattic Clarifies .blog Landrush Process After Bait and Switch Allegations”

  1. “They also allowed Automattic employees to reserve a single domain each, some of which were first names.”

    I understand they paid millions of dollars for the privilege to be the registrar, but ICANN should have some rules against this IMO…

    • ICANN? Well, whatever.

      This is just another fine example of Automattic’s track record of “Do as I say, not as I do” when it comes to the broader community, as well as their (lack of) understanding that the end to end experience is the product, etc.

      Put another way, if say Squarespace did similar Matt & Co would start a blog based pissing match about the ills of Squarespace, etc.

      “Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.”

  2. As someone who has registered over 5,000 domains for clients and for myself in both GTLDs and CCTLDs like .AM, .CA, .CO, .COM, .DATE, .DJ, .FM, .HR, .LOL, .ME, .MEDIA, .NET, .NEWS, .NINJA, .ONLINE, .ORG, .PARTY, .PE, .RACING, .REVIEW, .SITE, .STREAM, .TOP & .WEBSITE

    I dont get the application fee. In all the GTLDs/CCTLDs (see above) that I registered, I only paid the yearly fee. Sometimes I get a discount on the first year.

    Some are 6,000+ a year like (similar to other north american cities)., & are $40.50 each by the way. is not available

    I have NEVER paid TWO fees for domains.

    apparently and are available for $40.50 (so are where you change name with most top WordPress community members).

      • I have NEVER had to pay a “reservation” “guarantee” fee for ANY domain I have gotten for myself or a client in over 50 domain registrars I have used since the 1990s.

      • Agreed, Miroslav.

        A registration fee would have been ok if it was reasonable – say ten or twenty dollars. Ironically, they probably would have gotten many times more registrations. I certainly gave it a miss coz of the fee.

        It just seemed to me a chance for Automattic to take advantage of folks’ egos and make a sh*t tonne of money depsite their supposed altruism.

        I do often get mixed and conflicting messages from Automattic about their ideals and philosophies.

  3. Matt seem to always open to do something “questionable” to make more money right?
    Like when he decided to use wp org as web spam.
    So it’s not really unexpected (?)

    or it could be a honest mistake from dot blog team.

    • we all do things to make more money.

      people who present at WordCamps – essentially free marketing
      companies who sponsor WordCamps – they get their money back. GoDaddy sponsored WCTO, I got 27 domains through them over the years (I moved some out of GoDaddy).

      people…etc…get the idea?

      • I think David is referring to what seems to be the biz philosophy of “Keep drinking the WP Kool Aid kids, while we count the cash.”

        What is Google’s tagline again? “Don’t be Automattic”? ;)

  4. This is one of the many examples why I shy away from anything coming from Automattic…

  5. I’ve been involved in licensing some .blog domains, and the process for this tld has been noticeably less transparent than any registrar I’ve ever used, which is quite a few. I’ve had to ask for clarification on several matters, that typically would have been laid out for customers to read and understand right on the sales page. This is more like “give us your money and we’ll send you an email indicating you didn’t get the desired domain in a month or so with no explanation.”

    It’s not bait and switch. It’s just a screwy way to handle business, which I’m sure Matt was behind.

  6. I find this interesting because it is completely 100% unethical. Anyone in their right mind who thought this through would know:

    1) it is TOTALLY wrong
    2) it would backfire

    Reason #1 is enough!
    Here is an article on Business and Ethics that would make sense to most people with any conscience at all.

  7. Bait and switch? The only thing that is bait here is the obvious clickbait title.

    When you’ve laid out $19 million for the right to offer .blog domains then how do you suppose they recoup the outlay?

    Reserving a list of ‘prime’ domain names is standard practice.

    Whilst clearly they could have performed better in communicating to unsuccessful applicants, you shouldn’t turn someone’s disappointment into a journalistic piece on ethics.

    PS. Paying the best part of $300 for a .blog domain is crazy. Owners of .xyz domains, which can now be bought for literally $0.01, will tell you that virtually all new gtlds are basically crap. Unless of course you own one off the reserved list …


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