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Verisign Should Clear Up the Paid "Analysts" Controversy

Paul Stahura

In recent days it was revealed that analyst Zeus Kerravala, who had written a dozen-some articles, over many years, for Network World promoting Verisign's pro-.COM point of view and disparaging new top-level domains as a bad idea, was in fact a paid Verisign consultant.

None of that was disclosed when Mr. Kerravala wrote these articles from January 2013 through October 2015. Articles Mr. Kerravala wrote for Network World included the headlines:

.com is still the best choice (January 29, 2013)

Why .com is still the domain of choice for businesses (October 29, 2014)

What do 'The Brady Bunch' and new gTLDs have in common? Buyer beware! (June 11, 2014)

His most recent story, published October 28, 2015 under the title "Why more companies are ditching new domain names and reverting to .com," was filled with factual inaccuracies. Of the five examples he gave to prove his invalid point that companies are leaving new gTLDs to return to .COM, three are factually wrong. Two of the five examples he highlights are not even new gTLDS but are country codes (Libya's .ly and Anguilla's .ai), which have been delegated for decades. A third supposed example never referred to a new gTLD domain.

To their credit, when Network World learned that Mr. Kerravala had misled them by not disclosing his relationship with Verisign, the editors immediately removed the problematic articles from their website. We appreciate their actions.

In addition, Mr. Kerravala wrote a pro-Verisign article for Seeking Alpha in which he claims in the disclosure: "I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article." It will be interesting to see if Seeking Alpha follows suit and removes Mr. Kerravala's pro-Verisign article as well.

But all this raises a bigger issue: how many other shadow "analysts" is Verisign paying? Verisign should either declare that Mr. Kerravala was the lone analyst writing pro-Verisign articles, or require that the others it is paying disclose that relationship.

A failure to do so will only raise a cloud of suspicion over any analysts who write something positive for Verisign or .COM domain names.

That's in part because there's a history here with Verisign. Take the case of the Bill Hobbs, a blogger who was outed as being the mysterious "Steven Forrest" of the once-upon-a-time pro-Verisign blog Free2innovate.

So it's time for Verisign to come clean. Are there other shadow analysts, bloggers, or commenters the company is paying that are writing "independent" articles or viewpoints promoting Verisign's business interests? If so, who are they? At minimum, they should disclose their Verisign connection.

I'm not talking about industry groups that Verisign supports, because many companies join industry groups to advance their interests. I'm also not talking about sponsored articles that are clearly so marked. I'm talking about purportedly independent analysts who aren't disclosing that their views may not really be independent at all.

If Verisign doesn't step forward now, it will do a disservice to those who write about the company. It will make the domain industry suspicious of their motives. Hopefully Verisign will clear this up so we can move on in a constructive way.

By Paul Stahura, Founder and CEO Donuts Inc.
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Blast from the past Kieren McCarthy  –  Nov 09, 2015 5:00 PM PDT

As well as "Steven Forrest", this post just reminded me of the appalling .Net evaluation where ICANN purposefully skewed the review carried out by Telcordia in order to award .net to Verisign and so get its lawyers off its back.

It was so biased it defied imagination and yet despite numerous complaints from a number of people, the Board just pushed it through. One of the real low-points of ICANN's history. I wrote a story about it but I remember I had done a full analysis of the review. Probably lost somewhere in the ICANN archives… http://www.theregister.co.uk/2005/05/03/verisign/

Paul,This is an interesting article coming from Constantine Roussos  –  Nov 11, 2015 1:55 PM PDT

Paul,

This is an interesting article coming from you and quite inconsistent when one takes into consideration your own organization's obstructive actions with respect to holding some of your competition hostage by either abusing accountability mechanisms (such as IRPs) or engaging with various (paid or unpaid) actors behind-the-scenes to file last-minute spurious letters of opposition using templated letters your company (under your guidance) prepared against us. How is this different than the accusations you have against Verisign?

If one reads this article and looks at the plethora of evidence and anti-competitive, obstructive activities that Donuts has engaged over the years (under your leadership) then one would stratch their head and wonder if Donuts has tunnel vision. Based on the evidence, one would reasonably conclude that Donuts is the epitome of leveraging "factual inaccuracies" and engaging in anti-competitive, obstructive and spurious activity.

This is quite alarming to many given that your organization has over 200 TLDs delegated and should be focused on creating innovation and differentiation to compete with .COM as opposed to complaining about Verisign. If registrants are offered a better value proposition than .COM then they would switch and register any of Donuts' 200 TLDs. Why not focus on that?

Perhaps it is time for Donuts to come clean as well? Under your leadership, Donuts is also "mak[ing] the domain industry suspicious of their motives." It is in everyone's best interest that "hopefully [Donuts] will clear this up so we can move on in a constructive way" as well. You can't have it both ways Paul.

In my opinion, the biggest issue with the domain industry is based on the culture that many of its leaders instill in their employees, which I would reasonably argue contributes to the domain industry's reputation.

For example, at the Dublin ICANN Meeting I had some interesting conversation with some individuals who have a close relationship with your organization. We had a mind-blowing conversation concerning the pattern of obstruction spearheaded by your organization and your allies (under your leadership). Their response was to blame ICANN (not their organization's leadership) for creating an environment in which false statements, obstructive behavior and anti-competitive abuse of accountability mechanisms is acceptable and is "all business." Unfortunately this type of stance is to a great degree the norm in the domain industry.

My two cents on the matter is that it is all about leadership and doing the right thing for the right reasons. It should not always be about money but focused on purpose. If employees or family members are exposed to activity by their role models or leaders that is suspicious or unethical because it is "all business" then that would have a negative impact on them and on the reputation of the domain industry.

Constantine Roussos
.MUSIC

Points Made Well Joe S Alagna  –  Nov 16, 2015 3:16 PM PDT

"If Verisign doesn't step forward now, it will do a disservice to those who write about the company"

Not only to those who write about the company but also to investors…

There are a lot of people who make investment decisions based on these articles.  In the name of truth there should always be proper disclosures.

Seeking Alpha article also pulled Mason Cole  –  Nov 18, 2015 5:13 AM PDT

Kerravala's article promoting .COM on Seeking Alpha also pulled: http://seekingalpha.com/article/1925551-new-generic-top-level-domain-names-pose-no-threat-to-verisign

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