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Domain name industry growth slowed by China crackdown

The massive slump in Chinese domain name registrations appears to have hit the overall domain name market significantly in the first quarter 2010, slowing its growth.

According to the latest VeriSign Domain Name Industry Brief, only one million net new domains were registered across all TLDs in the period, a paltry 0.6% increase.

There were about 193 million domains active at the end of March, up from 192 million at the start of the year.

A million might seem like a lot, until you consider that the market grew by 11 million domains in the fourth quarter and by three million in the first quarter of 2009.

The slump is certainly due to the rapid decline in .cn domains.

China’s ccTLD had about 13.4 million names at the end of last year, and only 8.8 million at the end of March. April’s numbers show the decline continued, with 8.5 million names registered.

The China drag has been caused by a combination of pricing and the Draconian new identification requirements the communist government placed on the registry, CNNIC.

Chinese registrants now have to present photo ID before they can register a domain.

VeriSign’s own .com/.net business did a decent trade in the quarter, up 7% compared to the same quarter last and 2.7% on December to 99.3 million names in total.

With registrations growing by 2.7 million per month, this means VeriSign already has more than 100 million names in its com/net database.

Nominet appoints Baroness to chair

Nominet, the .uk registry manager, has hired Irene Fritchie, aka Baroness Fritchie, to be its new chair.

No, I’d never heard of her either, but apparently Fritchie is a life peer and a dame, with a seat in the House of Lords since 2005.

Her geek credentials appear to comprise her chairmanship, until last year, of the Web Science Research Initiative, a joint initiative between the University of Southampton and MIT.

So she’s on speaking terms with Tim Berners-Lee, it seems.

Fritchie replaces Bob Gilbert, who quit in March after guiding the organization through a tricky period.

A cynic would say that it’s fortuitous that Nominet now has a member of the UK legislature fighting its corner, given that the recently passed Digital Economy Act originated and was primarily written in the Lords.

The Act created powers for the British government to take over .uk if Nominet screws up by letting domainers commandeer its board.

Fritchie is a cross-bencher, meaning she is beholden to no one political party.

Nominet also said that it has appointed Piers White MBE as a non-executive director. White has a background in banking and currently sits on the board of Ordnance Survey.

ICANN’s Sword algorithm fails Bulgarian IDN test

ICANN has released version 4 of its new TLD Draft Applicant Guidebook (more on that later) and it still contains references to the controversial “Sword” algorithm.

As I’ve previously reported, this algorithm is designed to compare two strings for visual similarity to help prevent potentially confusing new TLDs being added to the root.

The DAG v4 contains the new text:

The algorithm supports the common characters in Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Devanagari, Greek, Japanese, Korean, and Latin scripts. It can also compare strings in different scripts to each other.

So I thought I’d check how highly the internationalized domain name .бг, the Cyrillic version of Bulgaria’s .bg ccTLD, scores.

As you may recall, .бг was rejected by ICANN two weeks ago due to its visual similarity to .br, Brazil’s ccTLD. As far as I know, it’s the only TLD to date that has been rejected on these grounds.

Plugging “бг” into Sword returns 24 strings that score over 30 out of 100 for similarity. Some, such as “bf” and “bt”, score over 70.

Brazil’s .br is not one of them.

Using the tool to compare “бг” directly to “br” returns a score of 26. That’s a lower score than strings such as “biz” and “org”.

I should note that the Sword web page is ambiguous about whether it is capable of comparing Cyrillic strings to Latin strings, but the new language in the DAG certainly suggests that it is.

Could litigation delay ICANN’s new TLDs?

Intellectual property lawyers are wondering aloud about the possibility of ICANN being sued in order to delay the launch of new top-level domains.

The idea was raised during a panel at the annual meeting of INTA, the International Trademark Association, in Boston yesterday, according to its daily newsletter (pdf).

Kristina Rosette of the law firm Covington & Burling reportedly “suggested litigation is a possibility to slow down the application launch. One source of litigation could be trademark owners, worried about mass cybersquatting”.

That’s reported speech, by the way, not a quote. The article does not make clear the context.

Rosette is Intellectual Property Constituency representative for North America on ICANN’s GNSO Council.

The IP community is worried that the launch of new TLDs will lead to companies splurging more money unnecessarily on defensive registrations.

The current best, arguably most optimistic guess on the new TLD timeline comes from registry hopeful Minds + Machines. M+M has applications opening next April.

A delay in the launch of new TLDs would hurt most the startup companies that intend to apply for them, and the service providers and consultants hoping to facilitate the launches.

Some of these companies make minimal revenue, are dependent on funding, and would prefer applications open sooner rather than later.

dotSport complains to ICANN about other .sports

One of the companies that intends to apply for the .sport top-level domain has written to ICANN, begging that it does not approve any TLDs for individual sports.

dotSport’s Policy Advisory Committee, which appears to think it already has rights in the .sport string, said ICANN should respect “sport solidarity”.

In other words, please don’t allow .tennis or .golf to be approved.

The company wrote:

The PAC members reiterate our concern that ICANN may be prematurely entertaining a process that will allow proliferation of names in sub-categories or individual sports, which will lead to a number of detrimental effects

The detrimental effects, referenced in this letter last August, basically boil down to the potential for user confusion and the need for defensive registrations by sports teams and personalities.

You could apply the same arguments to pretty much any potential new TLD – what would .music mean for the .hiphop community?

The dotSport PAC is filled with high-level appointees from more than half a dozen sports federations, representing sports from basketball to rugby to archery, so its views are far from irrelevant.

Its position appears to be that the DNS hierarchy should be used for taxonomic purposes, at least when it comes to sports.

It’s an argument that was floated all the way back in the 2000 round of TLD applications, and probably before.

Purely from a marketing point of view, it seems like a self-defeating objective to mandate the use of www.example.hockey.sport when www.example.hockey is an option.

The main example of such a mandatory multi-level taxonomy, the old-style .us ccTLD, was a spectacular commercial failure.

Could it be that dotSport wants to be the registry for all .sports for the price of one? It certainly appears that way.