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Rightside slashes new gTLD prices to $0.99

Kevin Murphy, April 13, 2015, Domain Registries

Rightside registrar eNom is to offer domains in several Rightside gTLDs for $0.99 over the coming days.

Today, .rocks domains can be obtained for the special price. They’re usually $12.99 a year.

The price does not apply to renewals. Customers have to use the promo code “pocketchange”.

Rightside stablemates .forsale, .reviews, .ninja and .social will get the $0.99 treatment for one day each over the coming week.

As we’ve learned over the last several months, super-cheap domains boost TLDs’ numbers as some of the internet’s less than ethical characters bulk-register thousands of throwaway domains at once.

So far, gTLDs such as .xyz, .country and .kim have been affected by these spikes, which I currently believe are related to typosquatting campaigns in legacy gTLDs.

I would not be at all surprised if Rightside becomes the latest registry to see its volume swell for similar reasons.

ICANN slashes new gTLD revenues by 57%, forecasts renewals at 25% to 50%

Kevin Murphy, March 19, 2015, Domain Registries

ICANN has dramatically reduced the amount of revenue it expects to see from new gTLDs in its fiscal 2015.

According to a draft 2016 budget published this morning, the organization now reckons it will get just $300,000 from new gTLD registry transaction fees in the year ending June 30, 2015.

That’s down 75% from the $1.2 million predicted by its FY 2015 budget, which was approved in December.

Transaction fees are paid on new registrations, transfers and renewals, but only by gTLDs with over 50,000 billable transactions per year.

Today, only 14 of the 522 delegated new gTLDs have added more than 50,000 names. ICANN says that only 17 registries are currently paying transaction fees.

It’s not only the transaction fees where ICANN has scaled back its expectations, however.

The organization also expects its fixed new gTLD registry fees — the $6,250 each registry must pay per quarter regardless of volume — to come in way below targets.

The new budget anticipates $12.7 million from fixed registry fees in FY15, down 24% from the $16.7 million in its adopted FY15 budget.

This is presumably due to larger than expected numbers of would-be registries either withdrawing or dragging their feet in the path to delegation.

Registrar transaction fees are now anticipated at $1.1 million, compared to $2 million and $3.2 million predicted by the adopted and draft FY15 budgets respectively.

Taking all three revenue sources together, ICANN now expects new gTLDs to contribute just $14.1 million to its fiscal 2015 revenue, down 29% from the $19.8 million forecast in its adopted FY15 budget.

That’s down 57% from the $32.7 million in the original draft budget for the period.

The current budget assumes 15 million new gTLD registrations in the 12-month period, revised down from the 33 million domains predicted in its draft FY15 budget a year ago.

With just a few months left until the end of the fiscal year, there are currently fewer than 4.5 million domains in published new gTLD zone files.

ICANN plainly no longer expects new gTLDs to get anywhere close to 15 million domains.

Renewals expected to be weak, weak, weak

The organization is taking a conservative view about renewals for 2016.

The 2016 budget expects renewals at just 50% for regular gTLDs and 25% for registries — presumably ICANN has .xyz in mind — that gave away domains for free at launch.

That 50% is both ICANN’s “best” and “high” estimate. Its “low” estimate is 35% for non-free domains.

Obviously, 50% is a very low renewal number for any registry (70%+ is the norm). Even شبكة. (.shabaka) told us recently that 55% of its registrants are renewing before their domains expire.

Conversely, 25% may be a very optimistic number for free domains (when Afilias gave away free .info names a decade ago, almost all of them dropped rather than being renewed).

For fiscal 2016, which begins July 1, 2015, ICANN expects new gTLD revenue to be $24.1 million — about a quarter off its original plan for 2015.

That breaks down as $19.9 million from registry fixed fees, $2 million from registry transaction fees, and $2.3 million from registrar transaction fees.

ICANN said it is is assuming that it will start the year with 602 registries and end it with 945.

The proposed FY16 budget, now open for comment, can be found here.

For comparison purposes, the adopted FY15 budget is here (pdf) and the draft FY15 budget is here (pdf).

Adware dominating popular new gTLD ranks

Kevin Murphy, March 11, 2015, Domain Registries

Afilias’ .kim has become the latest victim (beneficiary?) of adware, as robo-registrations boost the gTLD’s zone file and apparent popularity.

It’s the latest new gTLD, after .xyz and .country, to see its rankings soar after hundreds of gibberish, bulk-registered domains started being used to serve ads by potentially unwanted software.

.kim is today the 4th most-popular new gTLD, with 85 domains in the top 100,000 on the internet and 264 in the top one million.

A month ago, it had a rank of 223, with just 16 domains in the top one million.

The domain names involved — gems such as oatmealsmoke.kim, vegetableladybug.kim and tubhaircut.kim — have seen a boat-load of traffic and rocketing Alexa rank.

The reason for the boost seems to be a one-off bulk registration of about 1,000 meaningless .kim domain names in early February, which now appear to be being used to serve ads via adware.

In this chart (click to enlarge), we see .kim’s zone file growth since the start of 2015.

The spike on February 5, which represents over 1,000 names, is the date almost all of the .kim names with Alexa rank were first registered.

They all appear to be using Uniregistry as the registrar and its free privacy service to mask their Whois details.

These domains often do not resolve if you type them into your browser. They’re also using robots.txt to hide themselves from search engines.

But they’ve been leaving traces of their activity elsewhere on the web, strongly suggesting their involvement in adware campaigns.

It seems that the current (ab?)use of .kim domains is merely the latest in a series of possibly linked campaigns.

I noted in January that gibberish .country domains — at the time priced at just $1 at Uniregistry — were suddenly taking over from .xyz in the popularity charts.

The following three charts, captured from DI PRO’s TLD Health Check, show how the three TLDs’ Alexa popularity rose and fell during what I suspect were related adware campaigns..

First, .xyz, which was the first new gTLD to show evidence of having robo-registrations used in adware campaigns, saw its popularity spike at the end of 2014 and start of 2015:

Next, Minds + Machines’ .country, which saw its zone file spike by 1,500 names around January 6, starts to see its Alexa-ranked total rocket almost immediately.

.country peaks around February 9, just a few days after the .kim robo-registrations were made.

Finally, as .country’s use declines, .kim takes over. Its popularity has been growing day by day since around February 13.

I think what we’re looking at here is one shadowy outfit cycling through bulk-registered, throwaway domain names to serve ads via unwanted adware programs.

It seems possible that domains are retired when they become sufficiently blocked by security countermeasures, and other domains in other TLDs are then brought online to take over.

None of this necessarily reflects badly on any of the new gTLDs in question, or even new gTLDs as a whole, of course.

For starters, I’ve reason to believe that TLDs such as .eu and .biz have previously been targeted by the same people.

The “attacks”, for want of a better word, are only really noticeable because the new gTLDs being targeted are young and still quite small.

It takes much longer to build up genuine popularity for a newly launched web site than it does to merely redirect exist captive traffic to a newly registered domain.

What it may mean, however, is that .kim and .country are going to be in for statistically significant junk drops about a year from now, when the first-year registrations expire.

For .kim, 1,000 names is about 14% of its current zone file. For .country, it’s more like a quarter.

The daily-updated list of new gTLD domains with Alexa rank can be explored by DI PRO subscribers here. The charts in this post were all captured from the respective TLD’s page on TLD Health Check.

Verisign sues .xyz and Negari for “false advertising”

Kevin Murphy, February 24, 2015, Domain Registries

Handbags at dawn!

Verisign, the $7.5 billion .com domain gorilla, has sued upstart XYZ.com and CEO Daniel Negari for disparaging .com and allegedly misrepresenting how well .xyz is doing.

It’s the biggest legacy gTLD versus the biggest (allegedly) new gTLD.

The lawsuit focuses on some registrars’ habit of giving .xyz names to registrants of .com and other domains without their consent, enabling XYZ.com and Negari to use inflated numbers as a marketing tool.

The Lanham Act false advertising lawsuit was filed in Virginia last December, but I don’t believe it’s been reported before now.

Verisign’s beef is first with this video, which is published on the front page of xyz.com:

Verisign said that the claim that it’s “impossible” to find a .com domain (which isn’t quite what the ad says) is false.

The complaint goes on to say that interviews Negari did with NPR and VentureBeat last year have been twisted to characterize .xyz as “the next .com”, whereas neither outlet made such an endorsement. It states:

XYZ’s promotional statements, when viewed together and in context, reflect a strategy to create a deceptive message to the public that companies and individuals cannot get the .COM domain names they want from Verisign, and that XYZ is quickly becoming the preferred alternative.

As regular readers will be aware, .xyz’s zone file, which had almost 785,000 names in it yesterday, has been massively inflated by a campaign last year by Network Solutions to push free .xyz domains into customers’ accounts without their consent.

It turns out Verisign became the unwilling recipient of gtld-servers.xyz, due to it owning the equivalent .com.

According to Verisign, Negari has used these inflated numbers to falsely make it look like .xyz is a viable and thriving alternative to .com. The company claims:

Verisign is being injured as a result of XYZ and Negari’s false and/or misleading statements of fact including because XYZ and Negari’s statements undermine the equity and good will Verisign has developed in the .COM registry.

XYZ and Negari should be ordered to disgorge their profits and other ill-gotten gains received as a result of this deception on the consuming public.

The complaint makes reference to typosquatting lawsuits Negari’s old company, Cyber2Media, settled with Facebook and Goodwill Industries a few years ago, presumably just in order to frame Negari as a bad guy.

Verisign wants not only for XYZ to pay up, but also for the court to force the company to disclose its robo-registration numbers whenever it makes a claim about how successful .xyz is.

XYZ denies everything. Answering Verisign’s complaint in January, it also makes nine affirmative defenses citing among other things its first amendment rights and Verisign’s “unclean hands”.

While many of Verisign’s allegations appear to be factually true, I of course cannot comment on whether its legal case holds water.

But I do think the lawsuit makes the company looks rather petty — a former monopolist running to the courts on trivial grounds as soon as it sees a little competition.

I also wonder how the company is going to demonstrate harm, given that by its own admission .com continues to sell millions of new domains every quarter.

But the lesson here is for all new gTLD registries — if you’re going to compare yourselves to .com, you might want to get your facts straight first if you want to keep your legal fees down.

And perhaps that’s the point.

Read the complaint here and the answer here, both in PDF format.

Pop-ups boost most-popular new gTLD domains, and it’s not just .xyz any more

Kevin Murphy, January 26, 2015, Domain Registries

The .xyz and .country gTLDs are currently dominating the league table of most-popular new gTLDs, but massive pop-up advertising campaigns using junk domains can account for the majority of their leading sites.

Today, Amazon’s Alexa site popularity tool sees 2,425 new gTLD domains in its top one million. Of those, 163 are in the top 50,000 sites.

But almost two thirds of those 163 domains appear to be throwaways that receive traffic not because they’re attracting visitors, but because they’re used to serve pop-up advertising, in some cases via adware.

The trend has been visible for a few months now, restricted almost exclusively to .xyz, but over the last two weeks .country has also started to be used in this way.

That’s interesting because, unlike .xyz, .country is not a low-cost gTLD. Go Daddy currently sells it for $39.95 per year.

(UPDATE: As Andrew points out in the comments, Uniregistry is selling .country names for $1 for the first year, which almost certainly explains the .country bump.)

Almost 100 of the top 163 new gTLD domains comprise two unrelated dictionary words put together to make something nonsensical.

Domains such as iciclecellar.country, laborervolcano.country, classkitten.country, sweepstakesglove.country, rewardmen.country, installationdesk.country have recently joined have joined the likes of vasegiraffe.xyz, cactusstew.xyz, bedcrow.xyz, notebookwrist.xyz, wishgrass.xyz, pencilkite.xyz and basketriver.xyz on this list.

As far as I can tell, they’re all registered via Uniregistry and using its free Whois privacy service to mask the identities of the registrants.

Visiting these domains in your browser will either result in an error — where I suspect the site is checking the referrer before deciding whether to show a page — or will send you on a merry redirect chain that terminates in an affiliate marketing sign-up page.

Some of the domains have been discussed in online forums as serving up pop-up ads, which would account for large amounts of traffic and high popularity.

Some have alleged that they’ve seen adware serve up ads from some of these domains.

Pop-up ads may be annoying, but they’re legal and — unlike spam and malware — not usually a violation of gTLD registries’ terms of service.

Whether benefiting from adware would leave a registrant in violation of a registrar or registry’s ToS is also a fuzzy area.

But for the new gTLD industry, which is currently in a mindshare-building mode, this kind of use does not make for great optics. If internet users see new gTLDs most often in an unwanted context, it could impair their trust in the new gTLD environment.

Seller’s remorse despite .club leading $1m NamesCon auction

Kevin Murphy, January 14, 2015, Domain Services

The Right Of The Dot and SnapNames auction here at the NamesCon conference in Las Vegas last night raised just shy of $1 million, in what attendees broadly seem to agree was a successful event.

The grand total was $990,851, with 87 out of the 134 lots hitting their reserve and selling during the live/online bidding.

Leading the pack was homecare.com, which sold for $350,000.

But that deal actually closed before the live event began, leaving .CLUB Domains’ wine.club at the top of the sold list with a winning $140,000 bid.

Despite the sale, registry CEO Colin Campbell — evidently disappointed he had not placed a higher reserve on the name, expressed some seller’s remorse on Twitter this morning.

.CLUB also offloaded reserved names weed.club ($16,000), fight.club ($13,500) and tequila.club ($8,000), among others.

.com of course had the best night, with carauctions.com going for $90,000, susan.com going for $34,000 and tik.com and vil.com both going for $33,000.

Organizer Mike Berkens took a $76,000 hit on sexeducation.com, which he purchased for $100,000 and sold without reserve for $24,000.

Also noteworthy was what I believe was the biggest bid of the night — a $1.2 million in-room bid for auctions.com, owned by .xyz registry CEO Daniel Negari.

The domain failed to meet its reserve, however, and will join the other unsold names in an extended online auction that begins this weekend.

.xyz press release yanked for “encouraging cybersquatting”

Kevin Murphy, January 13, 2015, Domain Registries

XYZ.com has withdrawn a month-old press release following allegations that it encouraged cybersquatting in .xyz.

The December 3 release concerned the release of 18,000 .xyz domains that were previously blocked due to ICANN’s policy on name collisions.

The release highlighted “trademarked names such as Nike, Hulu, Netflix, Skype, Pepsi, Audi and Deloitte” that were becoming available, according to World Trademark Review, which reported the story yesterday.

Five of the seven brands highlighted have since been registered by apparent cybersquatters, WTR reported.

The .xyz press release has since been withdrawn from the web sites on which it appeared, and registry production manager Shayan Rostam told WTR that the intention was to encourage brand owners to register, rather than cybersquatters.

“Cybersquatting has a negative effect on our business and we would never take any action to encourage cybersquatting,” he reportedly said.

Read the WTR article here.

The new massive number two new gTLD has me paralyzed with confusion

Kevin Murphy, January 8, 2015, Domain Registries

The Chinese-script gTLD .网址 powered to the number two spot in the new gTLD rankings by zone file size this week, but it’s doing some things very strangely.

.网址 is Chinese for “.site”, “.url” or “.webaddress”.

The registry is Hu Yi Global, ostensibly a Hong Kong-based registrar but, judging by IANA’s records, actually part of its Beijing-based back-end Knet.

I’m going to come out and admit it: even after a few hours research I still don’t know a heck of a lot about these guys. The language barrier has got me, and the data is just weird.

These are the things I can tell you:

  • .网址 has 352,727 domains in its zone file today, up by about a quarter of a million names since the start of the week.
  • The names all seem to be using knet.cn name servers
  • I don’t think any of them resolve on the web. I tried loads and couldn’t find so much as a parking page. Google is only aware of about eight resolving .网址 pages.
  • They all seem to have been registered via the same Chinese registrar, which goes by the name of ZDNS (also providing DNS for the TLD itself).
  • They all seem to be registered with “nameinfo@knet.com” in the email address field for the registrant, admin and technical contacts in Whois, even when the registrants are different.
  • That’s even true for dozens of famous trademarks I checked — whether it’s the Bank of China or Alexander McQueen, they’re all using nameinfo@knet.cn as their email address.
  • I’ve been unable to find a Whois record with a completed Registrant Organization field.
  • Nobody seems to be selling these things. ZDNS (officially Internet Domain Name System Beijing Engineering Research Center) is apparently the only registrar to sell any so far and its web site doesn’t say a damn thing about .网址. The registry’s official nic.网址 site doesn’t even have any information about how to buy one either.
  • ZDNS hasn’t sold a single domain in any other gTLD.
  • News reports in China, linked to from the registry’s web site, boast about how .网址 is the biggest IDN TLD out there.

So what’s going on here? Are we looking at a Chinese .xyz? A bunch of registry-reserved names? A seriously borked Whois?

Don’t expect any answers from DI today on this one. I’ve been staring at Chinese characters for hours and my brain is addled.

I give up. You tell me.

Over 180,000 blocked new gTLD names to drop next week

Kevin Murphy, November 20, 2014, Domain Registries

Several new gTLD registries will release hundreds of thousands of currently blocked domain names — some of them quite nice-looking — next Wednesday.

It’s one of the first big batches of name collisions to be released to market.

The companies behind .xyz, .website, .press, .host, .ink, .wiki, .rest and .bar will release most of their blocked names at 1400 UTC on November 26. These registries all use CentralNic as their back-end.

The gTLD with the biggest “drop” is .host, with over 100,000 names. .wiki, .website and .xyz all have 10,000 to 20,000 releasing names apiece.

According to Radix business head Sandeep Ramchamdani, A smallish number — measured in the hundreds — of the .host, .press and .website names are on the company’s premium domain lists and will carry a higher price.

He gave the following sample of .website domains that will become available at the baseline, non-premium, registry fee:

analyze.website, anti.website, april.website, bookmark.website, challenge.website, classics.website, consumer.website, definitions.website, ginger.website, graffiti.website, inspired.website, jobportal.website, lenders.website, malibu.website, marvelous.website, ola.website, clients.website, commercial.website, comparison.website

Drop-catching services such as Pool.com are taking pre-orders on names set to be released.

Other registries have already released their name collisions domains.

I gather that .archi, .bio, .wien and .quebec have already unblocked their collisions this week.

Donuts tells us it has no current plan for its first drops. Rightside, which runs Donuts’ back-end, is reportedly planning to drop names in a couple dozen gTLDs on the same date in January.

As we reported earlier this week, millions of names are due to be released over the coming months, due to the expiration of the 90-day “controlled interruption” phase that ICANN forced all new gTLD registries to implement.

By definition, name collision names already have seen traffic in the past and may do so again.

.ooo sales targets are batshit crazy

Kevin Murphy, September 23, 2014, Domain Registries

New gTLD registry and e-commerce network Infibeam, which is taking its .ooo TLD to sunrise today, has been bandying around some truly wacky registration predictions in the Indian press today.

The company’s founder told one local paper, the The Hindu’s BusinessLine, that .ooo will have volumes that dwarf .xyz and a literally impossible number of sunrise registrations.

I’m not going to link to the article itself because the BusinessLine website, probably via an embedded ad, tried to download malware onto my machine. The headline is “Infibeam to offer ‘.ooo’ for ‘.com-savvy’ netizens” if you want to Google it.

Here’s an extract, however, which quotes Infibeam founder Vishal Mehta:

The company is targeting 35,000-40,000 trademark registered companies along with several SMEs.

“The new GTLD is the first of a kind initiative by any e-commerce company. Over the next 6-12 months we expect to get about 1-2 million domain registrations under .ooo,” Mehta told BusinessLine.

This is nuts for at least two reasons.

First, Infibeam seems to be expecting 35,000 to 40,000 sunrise registrations.

That’s impossible.

The .ooo sunrise period starts today, when there’s just shy of 33,000 trademarks listed in the Trademark Clearinghouse.

A TMCH listing is of course required to buy a name at sunrise, so even if every mark in the TMCH converted to a .ooo name — which they won’t — the TLD still couldn’t hit the bottom end of its projection.

In reality, .ooo will be lucky to hit 500 sunrise registrations, just like every other gTLD this year.

Second, the only way Infibeam is going to get one to two million registered domains in six to 12 months is if the company not only gives them away for free, but actually forces them upon registrants without their consent.

The registry with the most number of registrations to date is .xyz, which has about 517,000 domains in its zone file today. It’s managed that feat in three and a half months largely by giving the names away for free to its registrars’ customers whether they want them or not.

Conceivably, Infibeam could do the same with .ooo, but that wouldn’t be especially helpful to its application commitment to make the gTLD “synonymous with trust and consumer choice”.

Indeed, its application talks exclusively about offering .ooo names to existing Infibeam customers.

Could the company leverage its BuildaBazaar e-commerce network to create quickly a substantial base of registrations?

It web site talks of a “billion dreams” and a “billion stores” and its .ooo gTLD application states: “Our goal is nothing less than providing a billion stores for a billion people.”

According to the application, Infibeam will try to persuade its BuildaBazaar customers to upgrade to a premium package that includes a .ooo domain name for their stores.

All Infibeam would need to do would be to convert 0.1% of its billion-strong BuildaBazaar customer base to .ooo domain names and it could hit one million registrations almost overnight.

That would assume that BuildaBazaar has a billion stores, of course. It doesn’t. It has 20,000 stores.

So where are the “1-2 million domain registrations” over the “next 6-12 months” going to come from?

Beats me.

I hope for Mehta’s sake that he was misquoted because otherwise I suspect he’s going to be very disappointed very quickly.