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Amid .org controversy, Cerf predicts the death of all domains

Kevin Murphy, December 4, 2019, 16:10:32 (UTC), Domain Registries

As the debate about the sale by the Internet Society of .org registry PIR to a private equity company passionately continues, one reason put forward to defend the deal doesn’t appear to have been given much attention: it seems ISOC doesn’t have much confidence in the longevity of the domain name industry.

Reducing ISOC’s exposure to a single revenue source has been expressed as a pro for the deal by several supporters, but was perhaps best stated by Vint Cerf — ISOC founder, former ICANN chair, and Google’s chief internet evangelist — on an ISOC mailing list posting last week. Cerf wrote:

The domain name business started in 1992. There is not assurance that it will go one indefinitely — something new will likely come along. It would be good for ISOC to be able to continue its work without specific dependence on a single TLD’s commercial viability.

It’s perhaps not a particularly controversial statement. Nothing lasts forever. Everything dies. Whether it’s climate-related human extinction, a robot uprising, the zombie apocalypse, or the inevitable heat death of the universe, something’s definitely going to kill off DNS eventually.

I expect Cerf was more probably referring to a new technology that will come along to replace the need for domains altogether.

But is it a pressing reason to flog Public Interest Registry in 2019?

Maybe. It’s no secret that volume growth across the domain market is not great. Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief showed most growth in the second quarter driven by anomalies.

Even .org itself is struggling. Look at this chart, that tracks .org domains under management in the last few years.

.org chart

You’ll see that DUM peaked at 11.4 million names in early 2016. That was after a couple of anomalous spikes that I speculate were related to pricing promotions or marketing campaigns.

It only took a few years for the gTLD to shed these gains.

Before the spikes, .org was at 10.6 million DUM. By July this year, it was at 10.5 million. Not pictured, the just-published transaction reports for August show the loss of about 30,000 more domains, bringing the TLD to its lowest level since October 2014.

Roughly speaking, for every domain it loses, PIR’s top line shrinks by a little under $10. A million domains lost is $10 million in lost revenue.

And this is a period in which PIR did not increase its prices, despite being permitted to do so by 10% per year.

Some amount of recent shrinkage could be accounted for by PIR’s “Quality Performance Index”, which seeks to reduce abusive .org registrations. But that’s only been in place since this June.

So, ISOC and Cerf perhaps have a right to be pessimistic.

And if the decline in volumes continues, it is perhaps inevitable that PIR’s new owner will have to increase prices just to keep revenues from going down in line with DUM.

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Comments (14)

  1. The .ORG is shrinking due, in part, to the end of volume discounting in 2018. There is a general consolidation trend happening at a country level with .ORG becoming more dependent on brand protection registrations (ccTLD/COM/NET/ORG) but things are consolidating around the ccTLD/COM axis. The .ORG has improved in quality as the result of many of the discounted registrations dropping but the impact of the ISCO/Ethos deal could see domain names dropping due to non-profits and other organisations rebranding to the local ccTLDs. That could take about four or five years to happen though.

  2. Cerf’s sugar daddy is Google. Google is the single greatest threat to domain names. Go figure.

  3. Roberto says:

    The .org sale was yet another power play by the DEEP STATE who will use the funds to take your guns so only the entrenched dwellers of the swamp will survive the above-mentioned Zombie Apocalypse (thank you for confirming Kevin).

    • TH says:

      I thought the deep state was made up of “purportedly” apolitical civil servants who have intentionally chosen public service over private profit as a career path? Y’know, the exact opposite of venture capital. At any rate, I do agree that Ethos Capital is very likely the shadow organization planning to launch the zombie apocalypse with a nefarious plan to price .org domains so exorbitantly that aspiring gun owners won’t have the financial resources to buy guns, and hunters and sport shooters will have to sell their AR 15’s to feed the family, leaving them exposed to Vint Cerf’s unquenchable hunger for brains. I hope this pressing issue is raised on tomorrow’s Ethos web conference.

  4. Thought that the zombie apocalypse was all those .BRAND gTLDs closing down? 🙂

  5. Todd says:

    Right, domain names are dying.

    That must be why a private equity firm just put up over a billion dollars to buy dot org.

    Let’s get real. Vint Cerf is just grasping at straws to justify selling out dot org registrants and deflect criticism over ISOC’s involvement in this sketchfest.

    • Snoopy says:

      I wouldn’t trust anyone who works for Google, but the fact is .org is in decline.

      For the P/E people this is about milking the cash cow for every dollar, not about volume growth.

  6. Trent says:

    “And if the decline in volumes continues, it is perhaps inevitable that PIR’s new owner will have to increase prices just to keep revenues from going down in line with DUM.”

    Why would you reach this conclusion?

    First you say DUM’s are dropping since prices were effectively raised to wholesale cost of just under $10 with the elimination of price promotions.

    So wouldn’t DUM’s continue to drop significantly if prices were hiked from current levels.

    Raise dot org prices too much and you are just as likely to incite a death spiral of declining registrations and declining revenues.

  7. Trent says:

    Dot com has been capped at $7.85 for six years and it has shown steady growth in registration volumes.

    Meanwhile, dot org is showing declines at the $9.80 range.

    So perhaps dot org should be looking at LOWERING prices as a way to maximize their revenue, rather than raising prices.

    That price point has actually shown to be effective in real-life application.

    The market is giving feedback about the appropriate wholesale price of domains.

    Not just hypothesizing on a blog and suggesting with no supporting data that higher prices is the answer.

    • Kevin Murphy says:

      I’ll start replying to you when you start using your real name, stop switching names between comments, and use a non-bullshit email address. Deal?

    • Rubens Kuhl says:

      Verisign reckons that .com is seeing growth from China that is not expected to be sustained.

  8. 168 says:

    VC world is in a social good phase needing to show a giving back component. B corps.
    Ethos “excited” and more interested in the added services to non profits than the reg fees. That’s where the money is not the reg. PIR wasn’t in the position to offer added services. 100+ a month in services vs 10 a year in reg.
    It’s commonplace for nonprofits to pay profit co for much needed tech/ digital services. No budget for staff,consult etc.
    A lot of HOA’s .orgs contract services too.
    The money is in the services, not reg fees.

    I think the outrage should be geared towards the inside players and not specspit fear of reg fee rising.
    Domainers should discourage profiting by resale of .org domains to be true to current opinion of “for profit” Ethos.

    Came across a phd hacker over the summer that also claimed domains will be replaced by new tech on the horizon.
    ISOC would be aware of the probability and timing before most.
    Haven’t seen any suggestions of other nonprofits that have the ability to take over the registry.
    If ISOC focuses on expansion and access for the 46% of population not yet connected that helps VC’s and domainers. Money is moving into areas like Africa, South America, outer regions of India where access is just beginning.
    Most don’t consider the rest of the global market yet to be tapped.

    Cheers

  9. John McCabe says:

    This just out on the .ORG news, a scathing piece from “the failing New York Times” (now with over 10 million paid subscribers): https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/05/opinion/dot-org-domain.html

    “Too often students’ evaluations stalled at three letters: ‘This page is a reliable source to obtain information from,’ one wrote, ‘you see in the URL that it ends in .org as opposed to .com.’

    “The kids are wrong. Dot-org symbolizes neither quality nor trustworthiness. It’s a marketing tool that relies on a widespread but false association with credibility.”

    Internet users need easy- and immediate- access to actionable information … ideally via the browser window … allowing them to review the bona fides of each source domain.

    No one is born with digital literacy. Each must learn to discern for themselves – based upon reputation criteria including assertions and confirmed cross-assertions, what weight -if any – to provide to different sources.

    In the words of our Jamaican brothers and sisters, “Soon come.”

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