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 Dotblog.WordPress.com notifying them that they could apply and secure a .blog domain name before November 21st.
Chris Schidle took advantage of the opportunity and secured chris.blog 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 chris.blog 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.
i feel your pain. they also took my $250 for my app for https://t.co/8H0dBZfKny – surprisingly poor handling for a comm's company
— Chris Yim 🗽 (@cyim) November 17, 2016
Same thing happened to me with https://t.co/1bRlWkdtmy. Not cool.
— Mark Barrera (@mark_barrera) November 17, 2016
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 WordPress.com 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.”