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Domain growth slows a lot in Q1

The growth of the domain name industry slowed in the first quarter, numbers published today by Verisign reveal.

According to its latest Domain Name Industry Brief (pdf), the domain universe grew to 330.6 million in Q1.

That’s an increase of 1.3 million names on Q4 2016, a 0.4% sequential increase, and 11.8 million names, 3.7% growth, compared to Q1 2016.

In the Q4 DNIB, Verisign reported industry growth of 0.7% and 6.8% respectively.

The only change on the list of the top 10 TLDs was that .nl and .xyz switched places (.xyz is now in 10th place, with 5.6 million names, but this rank will not last long).

ccTLDs in general did not match the growth of the overall market. There were approximately 143.1 million ccTLD domains at the end of March, up 0.3% sequentially and 1.7% year over year, both substantially smaller numbers than reported in Q4.

The free ccTLD .tk, which has been responsible for huge swings in recent reports, is reported to have declined by about 100,000 names to 18.6 million.

Excluding .tk, the growth rate of ccTLDs was better — 0.5% sequentially and 3.9% compared to the year-ago quarter.

Verisign’s data is largely based on zone files for gTLDs and independent researcher ZookNic for ccTLDs.

Junk drop cuts .xyz in half, .top claims volume crown

The .xyz gTLD has seen its zone file halve in size, as millions of free and cheap domains were not renewed.

The former volume leader among new gTLDs started this month with a tad over 5.2 million domains in its zone.

But its July 17 zone contained 2.5 million, much less than half as many, DI analysis shows.

The precipitous decline means that Chinese-run gTLD .top, increasingly notorious as a go-to TLD for spammers, is now literally at the top of the league table, when you measure new gTLDs by zone file volume, with 2.6 million names.

The primary reason for .xyz losing so many names is of course the expiration of most of the domains that were sold for just $0.01 — or given away for free — in the first few days of June 2016, and the aggressive promotional pricing on offer for the remainder of that month.

On May 30, 2016, there were just under 2.8 million names in the .xyz zone. By July 1, 2016, that number had topped 6.2 million, an increase of 3.4 million over a single month.

That was .xyz’s peak. The zone has been in gradual decline ever since.

Domains generally take 45 days to drop, so it’s entirely possible XYZ.com will see further losses over the next month or so.

There’s nothing unusual about seeing a so-called “junk drop” a year after a TLD launches or runs a free-domains promotion. It’s been well-understood for over a decade and has been anticipated for .xyz for over a year.

But compounding its problems, the .xyz registry appears to still be banned in China, where a substantial portion of its former customer base is located.

The company disclosed over two months ago that it had a “temporary” problem that had seen its license to sell domains via Chinese registrars suspended.

The ban was related to XYZ falling out with its original “real name verification” provider, ZDNS, which was tasked with verifying the identities of Chinese registrants per local government regulations.

I’ve never been able to confirm with either party the cause of this split, but everyone else involved in the Chinese market I’ve asked has told me it related to a dispute over money.

Regardless, two months later the major Chinese registrars I checked today still appear to not be carrying .xyz names.

XYZ has meanwhile signed up with alternative Chinese RNV provider Tele-info, and just three days ago submitted the necessary paperwork (pdf) with ICANN to have the move approved as a registry service under its contract.

In that request, XYZ said the new RNV service “will allow XYZ to reenter certain domain name markets”, suggesting that it has not yet regained Chinese government approval to operate there.

.xyz sets price for numeric domains at $0.65

XYZ.com has announced that it will charge just $0.65 wholesale for over a billion numeric domain names in .xyz.

The revelation came as part of a confusing launch of what the registry calls its “1.111B Class” domains.

That’s because the pricing affects all 1.111 billion numerical domains of six, seven, eight and nine digits in .xyz.

These will now all register and renew for $0.65 or a recommended $0.99 retail.

That’s the same price that regular alphanumeric .xyz domains are selling at at many registrars, but the pricing for the 1.111B names is said to be fixed forever; it’s not a temporary promotion.

The announcement was themed on a take on the 16-year-old “All Your Base” meme and a white paper (pdf) written in the color scheme and typeface of a 1990s Unix terminal.

There’s a whole lot of fluff involved, but the gist of it appears to be that XYZ thinks these domains have value, when registered in bulk, to do stuff like address “Internet of Things” devices. The white paper states:

With the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), the 1.111B Class serves as a platform to easily and uniquely identify different devices, ranging from laptops to smart thermostats. In fact, registrants can even secure tens, hundreds, thousands to millions of domains in sequential order to create a block. These blocks can match device serial numbers or vehicle VIN numbers, then be used as portals for consumers to connect with their products, and for their products to receive updates from manufacturers.

There are of course far cheaper ways to go about this, such as using subdomains of an existing branded domain (which would have the added benefit of semantic value).

XYZ also talks in vague terms about these cheap domains being similar to Bitcoin, with reference to how Chinese domainers trade worthless domains as a kind of virtual currency.

I must confess I don’t get this idea at all. In my mind, owning a domain that has no possibility of an end-user buyer is more of a liability that an asset.

Still, it’s interesting to see a registry attempting to market domains for non-traditional purposes, so I’m curious to see how it plays out.

Country names to finally be released in new gTLDs

Kevin Murphy, May 24, 2017, Domain Policy

It looks like hundreds of domain names matching the names of countries are to finally get released from ICANN limbo.

The ICANN board last week passed a resolution calling for the organization to clear a backlog of over 60 registry requests to start selling or using country and territory names in their gTLDs.

Some of the requests date back to 2014. They’ve all been stuck in red tape while ICANN tried to make sure members of the Governmental Advisory Committee was cool with the names being released.

The result of these three years of pondering is scrappy, but will actually allow some names to hit the market this year.

The new resolution calls for ICANN to “take all steps necessary to grant ICANN approvals for the release of country and territory names at the second-level”, but only “to the extent the relevant government has indicated its approval”.

And that’s the catch.

Some governments, such as the US and UK, don’t care who registers matching names. Dozens of others want to vet each registry request on a case-by-case basis.

The wishes of each government are record in a GAC database.

The only territories to so far give a blanket waiver over their names are: Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, the UK, the USA, Guernsey and Pitcairn.

Almost 70 other countries have said they need to be told when a registry wants to sell a domain matching their name. Ten others give carte blanche to closed dot-brands, but require notification in the case of open gTLDs.

The majority of countries in the world have yet to officially express a preference one way or the other.

Of the roughly 60 new gTLD registries to request country name releases over the last few years, the vast majority are dot-brands. The number of open gTLDs with such requests appears to be in the single figures, and the only ones with mass-market appeal appear to be .xyz and .global.

XYZ acquires .storage, its 10th gTLD

XYZ.com said today that it has acquired the half-launched new gTLD .storage from its original owner.

The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but CEO Daniel Negari said in a blog post that it has been funded using some of the “excess of cash flow” from sales of .xyz domains.

The original .storage registry was Extra Space Storage, which rents out physical storage units in the US.

It started its protracted launch period a little over a year ago but had not planned to go to general availability until July this year.

Having apparently passed through its sunrise period and a special landrush for the storage industry, which ended in January, it has fewer than 800 domains in its zone file.

It looks like XYZ will be essentially relaunching the gTLD from scratch, with a new sunrise period penciled in for November and an early access period and GA slated for December.

Pre-launch pricing is around the $80 mark at the few registrars I checked today, and it looks like that will remain under the new management.

That’s despite XYZ talking today about .storage as a “premium” vertically-focused TLD along the lines of its $3,000 .cars or $750 .theatre.

The company said that it will not hold back reserved names at higher, premium pricing. Even nice-looking domains such as cloud.storage will be available at the base fee, it said.

The new acquisition becomes the 10th that XYZ has a hand in running, if you count the three car-related gTLDs it manages in a joint venture with Uniregistry. The others are .security, .rent, .protection, .theatre, and .college.