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.wang cut off with Chinese red tape

The registry behind .wang and several Chinese-language gTLDs has seen its official registry web site blocked due to Chinese regulations.

Zodiac Registry, which also runs .商城, .八卦 and .网店 (“mail”, “gossip” and “shop”), has seen zodiacregistry.com intercepted by its web host and replaced with a placeholder message explaining that the site lacks the proper government license.

Wang blocked

It seems to have happened relatively recently. Google’s cache shows results from the page resolving normally in late May.

Ironically, its host is Alibaba, which also happens to be its largest registrar partner.

There’s no suggestion that registry operations or registrants have been affected. Domain availability checks at registrars for Zodiac TLDs appear to be working as normal.

The downtime appears to be a configuration problem. Alibaba requires customers to submit their Internet Content Provider license number before it will allow their sites to resolve properly.

ICP licenses are part of China’s censorship regime, issued by the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. They must be obtained by any Chinese web site that wants to operate in China.

Zodiac does in fact have such a license, which according to the MIIT web site is active on at least six other domains.

While zodiacregistry.com is the domain officially listed with IANA for the company, it also operates TLD-specific sites such as bagua.wang for the “gossip” registry. None of these have been affected by the licensing issue.

UPDATE June 12: The site is now back online as normal.

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.

.icu gets China nod as it tops 900,000 regs

Chinese regulators have approved .icu for sale and use in China, according to the registry.

ShortDot COO Kevin Kopas told DI today that the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has approved its year-old gTLD for mainland use.

The company plans to launch .icu there formally June 12, he said.

Kopas also said that .icu has recently topped 900,000 registrations.

It’s a remarkable growth achievement for a gTLD with barely a year on the clock, given that SpamHaus stats show that its level of spam abuse is still comparable to .com.

But with prices at around $1.50 at its largest registrars and very little semantic value, one has to assume that a lot of its registrations are speculative. Its first junk drop could be brutal.

MIIT approval may help it continue its growth trend. To date, China-based registrars have recorded no .icu sales.

Dot-brand .bond has been acquired and will relaunch as a generic this July

The domain name’s Bond, dot Bond… or something.

Sorry.

ShortDot, the registry behind the .icu top-level domain, has acquired a dot-brand gTLD and plans to repurpose it as a generic.

The seller is Bond University, a newish, smallish university in Queensland, Australia, and the gTLD is .bond.

ShortDot co-founder Kevin Kopas confirmed the deal to DI tonight, and said the new owner hopes .bond will prove attractive to bail bondsmen, offerers of financial bonds and, yes, fans of the James Bond franchise.

There’s also the dictionary meaning of “bonding” with somebody in a familial, friendly or business sense.

A new Bond movie is due to come out next April, so .bond might pick up a few regs then, assuming the registry is careful not to too closely associate itself with the heavily-guarded IP.

Kopas said that the current plan is to launch a 60-day sunrise period July 9 this year. ShortDot is currently working on unbranding the TLD within its ICANN contract, to allow it to sell to an unrestricted audience.

Premium domains will be offered with premium renewal fees.

ShortDot also plans to move away from Neustar’s back-end to CentralNic.

Bond University never actually used its TLD, which would have been a single-registrant space for its own exclusive use. It’s been dormant since its 2014 delegation, with just a single placeholder domain in its zone file.

There are plenty of those. About 50 owners of unused dot-brands have chosen to terminate their ICANN contracts and simply fizzle away to nothing.

But a small handful of others have chosen to instead sell their contracts to registries that think they can make a bit of money marketing them as generic strings.

The most obvious example of this to date would be .monster, which XYZ.com recently relaunched as a quirky open generic after the jobs site Monster.com decided it didn’t need a dot-brand after all. It’s been on sale for about a month and has about 1,750 names in its zone file.

The first example, I believe, was .observer, which Top Level Spectrum acquired from the Observer newspaper in 2016. That TLD went on sale two years ago but has fewer than 1,000 domains under management today.

Kopas said that the plan is to sell .bond names for between $5 and $10 wholesale.

“Overall the goal of ShortDot is to offer domains that are affordable for end users and profitable for registrars,” he said.

It’s only the company’s second TLD. The first was .icu, which it bought from One.com (which hadn’t really used it) and relaunched in May 2018.

Since then, it’s grown extremely rapidly and is currently the eighth-largest new gTLD by zone file volume.

It had over 765,000 domains in its zone today, up from basically nothing a year ago, no doubt largely due to its incredibly low prices.

Before AlpNames died, it was selling .icu names to Chinese customers for the yuan equivalent of just $0.50.

Today, the domain is available from NameCheap and NameSilo, its two largest registrars, for about $1.50.

Remarkably, spam fighters haven’t highlighted much to be concerned about in .icu yet.

The TLD has a 6.4% “badness” rating with SpamHaus, roughly the same as the similarly sized MMX offering .vip, which is also popular in China, and lower than .com itself.

Compare to .loan, which has a bit over a million names and which SpamHaus gives a 28.7% “bad” score.

In other words, .icu seems to be doing very well, volume-wise, without yet attracting huge amounts of abuse.

It’s a neat trick, if you can pull it off. But is the success repeatable? I guess we’ll find out with .bond when it launches.

“Stringent” new online censorship law could affect domain companies

Kevin Murphy, April 8, 2019, Domain Policy

Blame Zuck.

The UK government is planning to introduce what it calls “stringent” new laws to tackle abusive behavior online, and there’s a chance it could wind up capturing domain name registries and registrars in its net.

The Department for Culture, Media and Sport this morning published what it calls the Online Harms White Paper, an initial 12-week consultation document that could lead to legislation being drafted at a later date.

The paper calls for the creation of a new independent regulator, charged with overseeing social media companies’ efforts to reduce the availability of content such as incitements to violence, self-harm, suicide, child abuse, “hate crime” and even “fake news”.

It basically would increase the amount of liability that companies have for user-generated content hosted on their services, even when that content is not necessarily illegal but is nevertheless considered “harmful”.

The regulator would have to create a code of conduct for companies the legislation covers to abide by.

When the code is breached, the regulator would have the authority to issue fines — possibly comparable to the 4% of profits that can be fined under GDPR — against not only the companies themselves but also their senior management.

The paper seems to most directly address ongoing tabloid scandals related to Facebook and its ilk, such as the suicide of Molly Russell, a 14-year-old who viewed material related to self-harm on Instagram before her death.

While it does not mention domain names once, the government clearly anticipates casting a wide net. The paper states:

The scope will include companies from a range of sectors, including social media companies, public discussion forums, retailers that allow users to review products online, along with non-profit organisations, file sharing sites and cloud hosting providers.

That’s a broad enough definition such that it could even cover blogs, including this one, that allow users to post comments.

The paper also discusses asking search engines to remove sites from their indexes, and compelling ISPs to block abusive sites as a “last resort” measure.

There’s a short mental hop from ISP blocking to domain name takedowns, in my view.

The paper also discusses steps the regulator could take to ensure companies with no UK legal presence are still covered by the rules.

While the paper, as I say, does not mention the domain name industry once, subsidiary services provided by registrars, such as hosting, could be directly affected.

There’s no guarantee that the paper will become a bill. There’s already a backlash from those who believe it constitutes unacceptable censorship, comparable to regimes such as in China.

There’s also no guarantee such a bill would eventually become law. The UK government is arguably currently the weakest it has ever been, with a propped-up minority in Parliament and many MPs in open revolt over Brexit.

With talk of an early general election incessant recently, it’s also possible the government may not last long enough to bring its plans to fruition.

Still, it’s probably something the domain industry, including ICANN, should probably keep an eye on.

The full 100-page white paper can be found here (pdf) and an executive summary can be read here.