Latest news of the domain name industry

Recent Posts

Omicron domain sells for $5,000

Kevin Murphy, December 9, 2021, Domain Sales

The domain name omicronvariant.com, hand-registered less than six months ago, has sold for $5,000 via Sedo, raising all kinds of questions about the value and future of Covid-19 variant-related domains.

The domain, at time of writing, resolves to a Sedo parking page containing ads unrelated (for me) to the pandemic or healthcare.

It was registered in early June, just a day or two after the World Health Organization announced that it would start naming coronavirus variants after letters of the Greek alphabet.

At that time, and to this day, the delta variant is the dominant strain worldwide, and yet deltavariant.com is currently listed for sale for $2,000 at GoDaddy/Uniregistry.

It seems somebody out there is willing to bet that omicron will have the transmissibility speed and longevity to outstrip delta, become dominant, and make dropping $5,000 on the matching .com a wise investment.

Assuming non-nefarious use, I personally struggle to see the end-user value.

It appears that any .com combination of a Greek letter and the word “variant” that had not already been registered by June was quickly snapped up by speculators after WHO revealed its naming scheme.

Some domains, such as alphavariant.com and xivariant.com, were already in use by companies with web sites that predate the pandemic.

The company Nu Variant seems to have dodged a bullet — WHO skipped that letter because it’s a confusing homophone of “new” in some English dialects. It also skipped xi, as it’s a common name that happens to be shared by the premier of China, which was bad luck for the xivariant.com domainer.

All the other letters between delta and omicron have been assigned to variants that fizzled out or have failed to garner much media attention.

At this point, it seems quite possible that WHO will run out of Greek letters in a matter of months, but it reportedly has no current plan for its coronavirus nomenclature after that.

Hold on to your stats! ShortDot gets two gTLDs approved in China

Kevin Murphy, September 28, 2021, Domain Registries

ShortDot, which makes a business repurposing unwanted gTLDs for the budget end of the market, said today it has had two more horses in its stable approved for use in China.

The company said that .bond and .cyou have been given the necessary nods by Chinese authorities.

What this could mean, if history is any guide, is a sharp increase in sales for the two extensions, possibly to the extent that they materially affect overall domain industry volume stats for the next few years.

ShortDot seems to think so, saying in a press release: “Given the massive success of .icu in China, it is quite clear that .bond and .cyou will follow suit to become largely successful.”

.icu currently has about 600,000 names under management, more than half of which are registered via Chinese registrars. Its numbers are on their way down.

At its peak 18 months ago it had more than 10 times as many, about 6.6 million, due to its low pricing and popularity among Chinese speculators.

The sudden rise and wholly predictable precipitous fall of .icu has been messing with overall new gTLD industry stats for the last couple of years. No volume analysis is complete without a .icu-related asterisk.

It’s by no means assured that the same will be true of .cyou and .bond of course.

.cyou, which was originally a dot-brand matching the ticker symbol of a Chinese company, had 118,000 names under management at the end of May and 136,000 in its zone file yesterday.

Names in .cyou can be had for $2 at Namecheap and NameSilo, its top two registrars, which together hold over 70% of the market.

.bond, originally an Australian university’s dot-brand, has fewer than 5,000 names at the last count and retails for about $55 retail at the low end.

As judge freezes assets, is this OnlineNic domain portfolio really worth $70,000?

A California court has frozen the assets of beleaguered Chinese/American registrar OnlineNic, at the behest of Facebook, which is suing the company for alleged cybersquatting.

The judge in the case Friday mostly granted Facebook’s request for a temporary restraining order, banning OnlineNic from transferring money or domains out of the country.

It had discovered that the registrar had started transferring domains it has registered in its own name — about 600 of them — out of the country, to China-based Ename.

OnlineNic had told the court it could no longer afford to defend the case, and that it would shut up shop July 26.

Following Facebook’s request for a TRO, the registrar said it was merely moving the names to Ename so it could use its secondary market platform to raise $70,000 of the $75,000 needed to pay the so-called “Special Master”.

This is a court-appointed agent who had conducted a review of OnlineNic’s ticketing system records and found the company had deleted or obfuscated huge chunks of potential evidence.

OnlineNic has now told the court that it’s found a potential buyer, willing to pay $70,000 for the names in question.

This is the portfolio (pdf).

I’m no domain broker — I’m not even a domain investor — but even I have to wonder who would pay $70,000, or about $120 per name, for this junk. By sight alone, hardly any of them seem to be worth the base reg fee.

I’m guessing they’re dropped domains with traffic and/or the opportunity of selling them back to a forgetful original registrant.

Facebook’s war on privacy claims first registrar scalp

China’s oldest accredited registrar says it will shut up shop permanently next week after being sued into the ground by Facebook, apparently the first victim of the social media giant’s war against Whois privacy.

Facebook sued OnlineNIC in 2019 alleging widespread cybersquatting of its brands. The complaint cited 20 domains containing the Facebook or Instagram trademarks and asserted that the registrar, and not a customer, was the true registrant.

The complaint named ID Shield, apparently OnlineNIC’s Hong Kong-based Whois privacy service, as a defendant and was amended in March this year to add as a defendant 35.cn, another registrar that Facebook says is an alter ego of OnlineNic.

The amended complaint listed an addition 15 squatted domains, for 35 in total.

This week, OnlineNIC director Carrie Yu (aka Carrie Arden aka Yu Hongxia), told the court:

Defendants do not have the financial resources to continue to defend the instant litigation, and accordingly no longer intend to mount a defense. Defendants do not intend to file any oppositions to any pending filing… Subject to any requirements of ICANN, Defendants intend to cease business operations on July 26, 2021.

But Facebook reckons the registrar is about to do a runner to avoid paying almost $75,000 in court fees already incurred and avoid the jurisdiction of the California court where the case is being heard.

Facebook had asked for $3.5 million in penalties in a proposed judgment and OnlineNIC had not opposed.

While it presents itself as American, it appears that OnlineNIC is little more than a shell in the US.

Its official headquarters are little more than a lock-up garage surrounded by builders’ merchants in a grim, windowless facility just off the interstate near Oakland, California.

Its true base appears to be a business park in Xiamen, China, where 35.cn/35.com operates. The company has boasted in the past of being China’s first and oldest ICANN-accredited registrar, getting its foot in the door when the floodgates opened in 1999.

Facebook is now asking the court for a temporary restraining order freezing the defendants’ financial and domain assets, and for a domain broker to be appointed to liquidate its domain portfolio.

If you’re a legit OnlineNIC customer, you might be about to find yourself in a world of hurt.

OnlineNIC had just over 624,000 gTLD domains under management at the last count. 35.cn had another 200,000.

The lawsuit is one of three Facebook is currently fighting against registrars, one prong of its strategy to pressure the ICANN community to open up Whois records rendered private by EU law and consequent ICANN policy.

OnlineNIC is the low-hanging fruit of the trio and the first to be sued. It already faced cybersquatting cases filed by Verizon, Yahoo and Microsoft in 2009. The Verizon case came with a $33 million judgment.

Facebook has also sued the rather less shady registrars Namecheap and Web.com (now Newfold Digital) on similar grounds.

Domain regs dip for second quarter in a row and it’s all China’s fault

There were 363.5 million domain name registrations across all top-level domains at the end of March, down by 2.8 million names compared to the end of 2020, Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief shows.

But the losses can be attributed mostly to China, which saw plummeting .cn regs in the ccTLD world and big declines across gTLDs popular with Chinese speculators.

In .cn, regs were down a whopping four million at 20.7 million in the quarter. China has historically been subject to steep fluctuations due to local government regulations.

Overall, ccTLD registrations were down 2.4 million at 156.5 million, but that seems to be all down to China.

All the other ccTLDs in the DNIB top 10 were either flat or up slightly on Q4. The frequent wild-card .tk did not have an impact on this quarter’s numbers, staying flat.

Verisign does not break down new gTLD registrations, but zone file and transaction report data shows that the likes of .icu and .wang, which typically sell first-year regs very cheaply, were hit by material junk drops in Q1.

ShortDot’s .icu zone file shrank by 2.5 million names between January 1 and March 30. It’s still in decline in Q2, but the trajectory isn’t nearly as steep. It had 814,000 zone file names at the end of Q1.

Zodiac’s .wang was at 525,000 at the end of 2020 but had dropped to 86,000 by March 30.

.top also lost around half a million names in the first quarter.

The vast majority of regs in .icu, .top and .wang come through Chinese registrars, which often sell for under a dollar for the first year.

The DNIB reports that .com performed well as usual, up from 151.8 million reported in the Q4 report to 154.6 million, but Verisign bedfellow .net was once again flat at 13.4 million.

MMX’s year marked by terrible renewals

MMX saw its revenue dip in 2020, and it reported shocking renewal rates at two of its highest-volume gTLDs, according to the company’s annual financial results, published this morning.

The portfolio registry, which is in the process of selling off essentially its entire operating business to GoDaddy, reported revenue of $16.8 million for the year, down from $17.2 million in 2019.

Profit was up very slighty, to $2.9 million from $2.8 million.

The 2019 results included a few one-off gains, including $588,000 from losing a new gTLD auction, which accounted for most of the 2020 revenue decline.

But the company also reported a 19% decline in domains under management, from 2.46 million to 1.99 million, based on some terrible renewal rates in its .vip and .work gTLDs.

The DUM decline can be attributed mostly to .vip, a popular TLD among Chinese speculators, which started 2020 with around 1.4 million domains but finished the year with just over a million.

.work actually ended the year up on where it started, with around 709,000 names under management.

But MMX today disclosed that the renewal rates for .vip and .work were 36% and 18% respectively. In a business where 70%+ is considered healthy, these are some poor numbers indeed.

However, the company discontinued first-year promotions on these TLDs in 2020, focusing instead on selling domains likely to lead to recurring renewal revenue, which lead to 14% (.vip) and 19% (.work) increases in revenue.

Fewer domains. More money.

MMX said that it is seeing these trends continuing into 2021. Public transaction reports show both these TLDs losing 40-50,0000 names in January. The company expects revenue to fall 4% in the first quarter compared to Q1 2020.

One bright spot appears to be “The Great Relese”, the company’s move last month to mark down hundreds of thousands of premium-priced domains. That’s brought in $170,000 since its April 23 launch.

One basket where the company is placing a lot of its eggs is AdultBlock, the trademark protection service it inherited when it acquired ICM Registry a few years back. It enables customers to block their brands in .xxx, .porn, .adult and .sex without actually having to register the names.

The 10-year period ICM allowed brands to block when it launched in 2011 is coming to an end, so MMX is banking on renewals (which retail at $349 to $799 per year before multi-year discounts) to boost revenue.

“While it is early in the AdultBlock Sunrise B renewal period, we are encouraged by Registrar interest and some early sales of this product,” CEO Tony Farrow said in a statement.

This reliance on AdultBlock for short-term organic growth was one of the reasons MMX is selling up to GoDaddy.

The market-leading registrar and fast-emerging registry consolidator agreed to pay $120 million for MMX’s portfolio, which will leave MMX as a shell company only long enough to distribute the cash to investors before fading away quietly.

That deal has an August deadline to close and is dependent on approvals from business partners, ICANN and the Chinese government.

China could block GoDaddy’s $120 million MMX swoop

GoDaddy’s proposed $120 million acquisition of essentially all the meaningful assets of portfolio gTLD player MMX will be subject to Chinese government approval, it emerged this morning.

Following GoDaddy’s bare-bones press release announcing the deal last night, this morning MMX added a whole bunch of flesh, including a list of closing conditions, in its statement to shareholders.

GoDaddy is proposing to buy essentially MMX’s entire operating business — the 28 gTLD registry agreements with ICANN, including the four porn-related strings belonging to subsidiary ICM Registry.

Not only do MMX shareholders have to approve the deal — and holders of 64% of the shares have already promised they will — but ICANN approval will be required for the registry contracts to be reassigned.

This may prove a hurdle or delay if third parties raise competition concerns, but ICANN’s pretty opaque approval process generally doesn’t frown too much on industry consolidation.

Another known unknown is China.

MMX told shareholders that it needs: “Approval of Chinese authorities for the change of control of MMX China (including change of control in respect of relevant licenses held by MMX China permitting it to distribute TLDs in China).”

The reason for this is quite straightforward: in volume terms, quite a lot of MMX’s business has been in China in recent years. Popular sellers such as .vip, with over 800,000 names today, have been driven primarily by Chinese investors.

A local presence (in this case MMX China) and approval from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology is required to legally sell a TLD to Chinese registrants via Chinese registrars.

I’ve no particular reason to believe MIIT will withhold its approval for MMX China to move into GoDaddy’s ownership, but a failure to get the nod from China appears to be a deal-breaker.

MMX’s statement to the markets this morning also provided some clarity on what exactly it is that GoDaddy is proposing to buy.

The gTLDs to be acquired are: .vip,.nrw, .casa, .vodka, .xxx, .fit, .miami, .fishing, .porn, .beer, .surf, .boston, .adult, .yoga, .garden, .abogado, .work, .fashion, .horse, .rodeo, .sex, .wedding, .luxe, .dds, .law, .bayern, .cooking, and .country.

It seems that when Tony Farrow took over as MMX CEO last year, after his predecessor left due to an accounting snafu, he had the portfolio audited and came to the conclusion that it could expect only pretty crappy growth over the coming years.

It had banked on selling expensive defensive trademark blocks in its four porn-themed gTLDs to big brands to make up the shortfall, but then GoDaddy approached in December brandishing its rather large checkbook.

MMX reckons the deal values the company at a 92% premium over its closing share price Tuesday, and 87% and 78% premiums over its 20-day and 90-day average selling price.

.bayern, .nrw and the four porn gTLDs belong to subsidiaries that GoDaddy will acquire outright, but GoDaddy is not proposing to buy MMX itself.

Rather, MMX will likely stay alive and publicly traded long enough to redistribute its cash windfall to investors and sell or wind down about a dozen non-operating subsidiaries.

It has a transition services agreement to manage certain business functions of the registry until January next year, which sounds a bit like what fellow GoDaddy acquisition .CLUB Domains explained to me last night.

After that, London’s Alternative Investment Market rules will treat MMX as a “cash shell”, and it will either have to acquire an operating business from somewhere or make itself the subject of a reverse takeover by a company looking for a quick way to the public markets.

Domain industry shrank in Q4, but as usual there’s a big BUT

The worldwide domain name count shrank in the fourth quarter, according to newly released Verisign data, but as usual the numbers were hugely impacted by big swings in just a few TLDs.

The latest Domain Name Industry Brief (pdf), which is mainly compiled from zone file counts, shows that 2020 ended with 366.3 million names, down by 4.4 million or 1.2% compared to the end of the third quarter.

It’s the free and almost-free TLDs that swung the math.

Remarkably, industry wild-card .tk actually shrank during the quarter. This is highly unusual, as the registry’s business model is based on giving out names for free, never deleting domains, and monetizing the traffic to expired or suspended names.

It saw domains down by 2.8 million names over the quarter, from 27.5 million to 24.7 million.

Another big dipper was .icu, which sells cheap (usually under $1) and appeals to speculators largely in China.

While it slipped out of the top 10 TLDs, meaning the DNIB no longer breaks out its numbers, DI’s own zone file counts show its zone decline from 5.3 million to 3.4 million during Q4, a 1.9 million decline.

Notably spammy new gTLD .top, which also costs next to nothing and is popular in China, also had a role to play. Its zone count was down by about 900,000 between September 30 and December 31.

Those three TLDs alone account for a loss of 5.6 million names, far more than the 4.4 million industry-wide quarterly drop calculated by Verisign.

The impact of .icu’s continued spiral downwards is likely to be felt in Q1 2021 also. It’s lost another 2.4 million zone file names since the start of the year.

Verisign said the the universe of ccTLD domains contracted by 1.7 million of 1% during the quarter, ending the year with 158.9 million names.

The .tk shrinkage of course more than accounts for this dip. Without it, ccTLDs would be up by 1.1 million names or 1.1%. The major, top-10 ccTLDs mostly showed six-figure growth, the DNIB reflects.

New gTLDs were down 4.2 million names or 13.8% sequentially, ending the quarter with 26 million.

In addition to the aforementioned .top and .icu, this figure appears to have been affected by six-figure losses in some of the highest-volume, lowest-priced new gTLDs, including .club, .site .work and .vip.

In the main legacy gTLDs, Verisign’s own .com grew by 1.5 million names, from 151.8 million to 150.3 million, during the quarter. Its .net was again flat at 13.4 million. Public Interest Registry’s .org gained a (rounded) 100,000 names, ending the year at 10.3 million.

The annual numbers across the industry for 2020 have better optics. The DNIB shows that domain volume was up by 4.0 million or 1.1% year over year.

That breaks down into a 6.3 million increase in .com, a 1.3 million increase across the ccTLDs, and a 3.3 million decrease in new gTLDs, not all of which can be explained away by factoring out .icu and .top.

ShortDot adds fourth gTLD to its stable, plans March launch

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2021, Domain Registries

Another unused new gTLD has changed hands, ending up at ShortDot, the registry best-known for high-volume .icu.

ShortDot confirmed to DI today that it has acquired .cfd from its former owner, DotCFD.

The original plan for .cfd, one of the Boston Ivy collection of investment-related new gTLD applications, was for it to represent CFDs, or “contracts for difference”, a risky type of financial instrument that has proved sufficiently controversial that they’re not even legal in the US.

Since 2012, when the string was first applied for, CFDs have come in for serious criticism from market regulators and others due to the risk of significant losses they present to retail investors.

No .cfd domains have ever been sold, and it doesn’t appear to have ever properly launched, even though it’s been in the DNS root for five years.

But ShortDot COO Kevin Kopas tells me the plan is to repurpose the domain for an entirely different market.

“When we were contemplating the purchase and subsequent marketing angle we found that the traditional meaning of a CFD in the finance world doesn’t have the most positive connotation to it,” he said.

“We’re branding .cfd for the Clothing & Fashion Design industry and will be marketing it to entrepreneurs, bloggers, vloggers and others that are on the cutting edge of the fashion industry,” he said.

If that sounds like a stretch, you’re probably right — as far as I can tell, the fashion industry has never used that acronym and creating demand there will be a tall order. We’re in “professional web” territory here.

But Kopas said that ShortDot is already working with some influencers in the space “to create some pioneer cases that will go live at launch”. It’s also planning to attend fashion industry events after pandemic travel restrictions are over.

The company is planning to launch the domain with a first-come, first-served sunrise period beginning March 10 and ending April 12. General availability is slated for April 13 with a seven day early access period.

It’s the fourth unwanted gTLD ShortDot has acquired, repurposed and relaunched.

Its biggest success to date is .icu, a low-cost domain that proved popular almost exclusively in China and currently has 2.5 million domains in its zone file (down from a peak of 6.3 million less than a year ago).

ShortDot has shifted, then lost, so many .icu domains over the last two years that you’ve really got to factor out its influence if you want to get any sensible picture of what the new gTLD industry’s growth looks like.

It also runs .bond (2,500 names in its zone today) and .cyou (with 65,000).

CSC becomes first foreign registrar to get the China nod

It’s probably not the best time, politically, to be bragging about doing business in China, but CSC has nevertheless just announced that it’s been given the nod to act as a registrar in China.

The company claims to be the first non-Chinese registrar to be given an official government license to operate in the country, though many registries have obtained one over the last few years since harsh new regulations came into power.

Under the Chinese rules, web site owners need a license to operate, and they can only register domains from approved registrars in approved TLDs.

It’s basically a great big censorship tool, but it doesn’t seem to have stopped every Chinese citizen from registering domains via foreign-owed registrars.

CSC has a corporate client base, so it’s got more incentive than most to follow the rules to the letter.

“CSC’s success in becoming licensed as a foreign-owned registrar positions the company as a go-to resource for global organizations doing business in China,” the company said in a press release.