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This latest Chinese bubble could deflate ccTLD growth

With many ccTLD operators recently reporting stagnant growth or shrinkage, one registry has performed stunningly well over the last year. Sadly, it bears the hallmarks of another speculative bubble originating in China.

Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief reported that ccTLDs, excluding the never-shrinking anomaly that is .tk, increased by 1.4 million domains in the first quarter of the year.

But it turns out about 1.2 million of those net new domains came from just one TLD: Taiwan’s .tw, operated by TWNIC.

Looking at the annual growth numbers, the DNIB reports that ccTLDs globally grew by 7.8 million names between the ends of March 2018 and March 2019.

But it also turns out that quite a lot of that — over five million names — also came from .tw.

Since August 2018, .tw has netted 5.8 million new registrations, ending May with 6.5 million names.

It’s come from basically nowhere to become the fifth-largest ccTLD by volume, or fourth if you exclude .tk, per the DNIB.

History tells us that when TLDs experience such huge, unprecedented growth spurts, it’s usually due to lowering prices or liberalizing registration policies.

In this case, it’s a bit of both. But mostly pricing.

TWNIC has made it much easier to get approved to sell .tw names if you’re already an ICANN-accredited registrar.

But it’s primarily a steep price cut that TWNIC briefly introduced last August that is behind huge uptick in sales.

Registry CEO Kenny Huang confirmed to DI that the pricing promo is behind the growth.

For about a month, registrants could obtain a one-year Latin or Chinese IDN .tw name for NTD 50 (about $1.50), a whopping 95% discount on its usual annual fee (about $30).

As a result, TWNIC added four million names in August and September, according to registry stats. The vast majority were Latin-script names.

According to China domain market experts Allegravita, and confirmed by Archive.org, one Taiwanese registrar was offering free .tw domains for a day whenever a Chinese Taipei athlete won a gold medal during the Asian Games, which ran over August and September. They wound up winning 17 golds.

Huang said that the majority of the regs came from mainland Chinese registrants.

History shows that big growth spurts like this inevitably lead to big declines a year or two later, in the “junk drop”. It’s not unusual for a registry to lose 90%+ of its free or cheap domains after the promotional first year is over.

Huang confirmed that he’s expecting .tw registrations to drop in the fourth quarter.

It seems likely that later this year we’re very likely going to see the impact of the .tw junk drop on ccTLD volumes overall, which are already perilously close to flat.

Speculative bubbles from China have in recent years contributed to wobbly performance from the new gTLD sector and even to .com itself.

Dodgy registrars could be banned from .org promotions

The worse a registrar is at tackling abuse, the more likely it is to be excluded from promotions in the .org space, according to a new policy from Public Interest Registry.

The .org registry said today that it is introducing a new “Quality Performance Index” to rate its registrars according to the quality of their registrations.

They’ll be ranked according to three criteria: abuse takedown, renewal rates, and domain usage.

Those that score above a certain threshold will be pre-qualified for promotions. The others will be encouraged to talk to their PIR rep about things they could do to get their scores up.

This kind of mechanism should in theory make it relatively easy to separate registrars into conscientious corporate citizens on the one hand and fly-by-night spam-friendly jerks on the other.

Keeping the bad guys away from the discounts could go a long way to keeping .org a relatively healthy zone.

But I expect there may be concern from the middle-ground of the registrar space, where we have well-meaning but under-resourced registrars that may find their scores wanting.

An additional concern may be that PIR said it intends to change the score threshold depending on the promotion, which appears to give it the ability to exclude registrars more or less at will.

The QPI initiative also extends to PIR’s newer, lesser-used gTLDs.

ZADNA CEO suspended for “hybrid misconduct”

The CEO of South Africa’s ccTLD registry has reportedly been suspended amid claims of “acts of misconduct”.

According to reports in the local tech press, Vika Mpisane was suspended in early December and has been subject to a delayed disciplinary process since January.

“Mr Vika Mpisane was suspended for serious hybrid acts of misconduct including mismanagement of ZADNA funds and others,” ZADNA chair Motlatjo Ralefatane told MyBroadband.

While details are rather thin on the ground, there are local rumors that some of the allegations relate to Mpisane’s salary and bonuses.

Ralefatane reportedly said that forensic accounting investigations are ongoing.

ZADNA, the ZA Domain Name Authority, is a non-profit organization and official ccTLD manager for .za. It answers to the South African government, but is not funded by it. It should not be confused with ZACR, the commercial entity that actually runs the .za registry on ZADNA’s behalf.

Mpisane has come under increased scrutiny this week as it turns out he is running unopposed for the Southern Africa seat on the board of AFRINIC, the Regional Internet Registry responsible for handing out IP addresses on the continent, apparently without ZADNA’s knowledge.

According to MyBroadband, Ralefatane believes Mpisane should not be representing that he has ZADNA’s support for his run.

His CV (pdf), posted to the AFRINIC web site in April, states that he is the current CEO of ZADNA, with no reference to his suspension.

Ralefatane reportedly added that she is not sure if AFRINIC or ICANN are aware of the allegations against him. They are now.

Mpisane is still listed on ZADNA’s web site as its CEO, also with no reference to the suspension.

His bio on the site reads, in its entirety (errors from the original): “The voice of reason and wisdom An outstanding leader with passion about the internet and what is has to offer. He walks the talk and talks the talk”.

Brand kills off gTLD that is actually being USED

Two more companies have told ICANN they’ve changed their minds about running a dot-brand gTLD, including the first example of a TLD that is actually in use.

Dun & Bradstreet has said it no longer wishes to launch .duns, and Australian insurance company iSelect has had enough of .iselect.

Both companies filed to voluntarily terminate their ICANN registry agreements in March, and ICANN published its preliminary decision to allow them to do so this week.

While business data provider D&B never got around to using .duns, .iselect has had dozens of active domains for years.

The company started putting domains in its zone file about three years ago and had over 90 registered names at the last count, with about a dozen indexed by Google. That’s a quite a lot for a dot-brand.

It is using domains such as home.iselect, news.iselect and careers.iselect as redirects to parts of its main corporate site, while domains such as gas.iselect, creditcards.iselect and health.iselect send customers to specific product pages.

They all redirect to its main iselect.com.au site. There are no web sites as far as I can tell that keep visitors in the .iselect realm.

I’m pretty certain this is the first example of a voluntary contract termination by a dot-brand that is actually in active use.

There have been 52 such terminations to date, including these two latest ones, almost all of which have been dot-brands that never got out of the barn door.

That’s over 10% of the dot-brands that were delegated from the 2012 gTLD application round.

New gTLDs slip again in Q1

The number of domains registered in new gTLDs slipped again in the first quarter, but it was not as bad as it could have been.

Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief, out today, reports that new gTLD domains dropped by 800,000 sequentially to end March at a round 23.0 million.

It could have been worse.

New gTLD regs in Q1 were actually up compared to the same period last year, by 2.8 million.

That’s despite the fact that GRS Domains, the old Famous Four portfolio, has lost about three million domains since last August.

Verisign’s own .com was up sequentially by two million domains and at 141 million, up by 7.1 million compared to Q1 2018. But .net’s decline continued. It was down from 14 million in December to 13.8 million in March.

Here’s a chart (click to enlarge) that may help visualize the respective growth of new gTLDs and .com over the last three years. The Y axes are in the millions of domains.

.com v new gs

New gTLDs have shrunk sequentially in six of the last 12 quarters, while .com has grown in all but two.

The ccTLD world, despite the woes reported by many European registries, was the strongest growth segment. It was up by 2.5 million sequentially and 10 million compared to a year ago to finish the period with 156.8 million.

But once you factor out .tk, the free TLD that does not delete expired or abusive names, ccTLDs were up by 1.4 million sequentially and 7.8 million on last year.