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Paranoid ICANN opens another root server in China

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2019, Domain Tech

ICANN has announced the creation of another root server instance in China, which definitely, DEFINITELY won’t let the Chinese government mess with the interwebs.

ICANN said this week that it’s opened an instance of the L-root that it manages in Shanghai.

It’s the third L-root in China but only the first outside of Beijing.

In a press release announcing the installation, which was carried out with technical support from CNNIC and Shanghai Telecom, ICANN decided to preemptively head off any concerns that putting an important piece of internet infrastructure in China comes with added security risk:

Contrary to common misconception, root servers do not control the Internet. The operation of an instance also does not provide any mechanism to alter content of the DNS. Any modification of root zone content will be mitigated by a part of the DNS protocol known as the DNS Security Extensions (DNSSEC) and if an instance fail to respond to a query, resolvers will ask the same question to another instance or root server.

It’s merely the latest of 168 L-root installations and 1,015 copies of the 13 logical root servers, which all use IP Anycast to more quickly serve DNS answers to their local users.

Given how big and populous China is, there are surprisingly few root server instances in the country, according to root-servers.org.

In addition to ICANN’s three boxes, Verisign’s J-root and Internet Systems Consortium’s F-root have three in Beijing and two in Hangzhou between them. The K, I and F roots each have one instance in Beijing.

That’s eight nodes in China proper, which has 800 million internet users. Cross the border into semi-autonomous Hong Kong, which has a population of under eight million people, and there are nine root instances.

The city of Bucharest, Romania (pop. 1.8 million) has the same number of root instances as China.

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A third of the top TLDs are shrinking

Kevin Murphy, September 5, 2019, Domain Registries

Roughly one hundred of the top 300 top-level domains shrank in the second quarter, according to the latest CENTRstats Global TLD Report.

Median growth in domain registrations “hit a new recorded low” of 3.1%, the second new low in a row, CENTR said. It was 5.6% a year ago.

At the high end of the range, African ccTLDs — which have a relatively low base reg count, making impressive percentage growth easier — had median growth of 8.5%.

At the low end, European ccTLDs had median growth of 2%, CENTR said. These ccTLDs have more regs than all the other regions combined, making high-percentage growth trickier.

Europe was of course helped out by the UK, which spiked in July due to the end of the five-year second-level domain claims period, an effect I reported on last week.

Judging by CENTR’s numbers, Europe would have been virtually flat had .uk not grown by 1.1 million names in the quarter.

CENTR does not seem to count Taiwan’s .tw, the other ccTLD known to have driven growth internationally in Q2.

Verisign’s Domain Name Industry Brief, and DI’s own database, has Taiwan as the eighth-largest TLD, but it does not even make it to the CENTRstats’s top 10. (UPDATE September 9: .tw has since been added to the list.)

The gTLDs fared little better in percentage terms — up 2.4% year-over-year at the end of July. Verisign’s .com grew at 5% over the same period. For 2012-round new gTLDs, the number is 2.8%.

The CENTRstats report, which contains a whole lot more data, can be viewed or downloaded here.

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These two ccTLDs drove two thirds of all domain growth in Q2

Kevin Murphy, August 30, 2019, Domain Registries

The number of registered domain names in the world increased by 2.9 million in the second quarter, driven by .com and two ccTLDs.

That’s according to the latest Verisign Domain Name Industry Brief, which was published (pdf) overnight, and other data.

The quarter ended with 354.7 million domains. Verisign’s own .com was up 1.5 million over Q1 at 142.5 million names.

ccTLDs across the board grew by 1.9 million names sequentially to 158.7 million. Year-over-year, the increase was 10.5 million domains.

The sequential ccTLD increase can be attributed almost entirely to two TLDs: .tw and .uk. These two ccTLDs appear to account for two thirds of the overall net new domains appearing in Q2.

Taiwan grew by about 600,000 in the quarter, presumably due to an ongoing, unusual pricing-related growth spurt among Chinese domainers that I reported in June.

The UK saw an increase of roughly 1.3 million domains, ending the quarter at 13.3 million.

That’s down to the deadline for registering second-level .uk matches for third-level .co.uk domains, which passed June 25.

Nominet data shows that 2LDs increased by about 1.2 million in the period, even as 3LDs dipped. The difference between this and the Verisign data appears to be rounding.

Factoring out the .uk and .tw anomalies, we have basically flat ccTLD growth, judging by the DNIB data.

Meanwhile, the new gTLD number was 23 million. That’s flat after rounding, but Verisign said that the space was actually up by about 100,000 names.

Growth as a whole was tempered by what I call the “other” category. That comprises the pre-2012 gTLDs such as .net, .org, .info and .biz. That was down by about a half a million names.

.net continued its gradual new gTLD-related decline, down 200,000 names sequentially at 13.6 million, while .org was down by 100,000 names.

The overall growth numbers are subject to the usual DNIB-related disclaimers: Verisign (and most everyone else) doesn’t have good data for some TLDs, including large zones such as .tk and .cn.

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.blog registry handover did NOT go smoothly

Kevin Murphy, August 29, 2019, Domain Registries

The transition of .blog between registry back-end providers ended up taking six times longer than originally planned, due to “a series of unforeseen issues”.

Registry Knock Knock Whois There today told registrars that the move from Nominet to CentralNic took 18 hours to complete, far longer than the two to three hours anticipated.

An “unexpected database error” was blamed at one point for the delay, but KKWT said it is still conducting a post-mortem to figure out exactly what went wrong.

During the downtime, .blog registrations, renewals, transfers and general domain management at the registry level would not have been possible.

DNS resolution was not affected, so registrants of .blog domains would have been able to use their web sites and email as usual.

The migration, which covered roughly 200,000 domains, wrapped up at around 0800 UTC this morning. It seems engineers at the two back-end providers, both based in the UK, will have been working throughout the night to fix the issues.

KKWT reported the new CentralNIC EPP back-end functioning as expected but that several days of “post-migration clean-up” are to be expected.

Eighteen hours is more than the acceptable 14 hours of monthly downtime for EPP services under ICANN’s standard Registry Agreement, but below the 24 hours of weekly downtime at which emergency measures kick in.

CentralNic already handles very large TLDs, including .xyz, but I believe this is the largest incoming migration it’s handled to date.

KKWT is owned by Automattic, the same company as WordPress.com.

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Donuts slashes prices on a million domains

Kevin Murphy, August 28, 2019, Domain Registries

Donuts is to overhaul the pricing on 1.1 million registry-reserved “premium” domain names, taking hundreds of thousands out of premium status altogether.

The company said today that it has decided to reduce the registration cost of 250,000 domains across its 242 new gTLDs. Discounts as deep as 90% are possible, judging by the company’s pricing page.

A further 850,000 will have their premium tag removed and return to regular pricing.

Part of the overhaul relates to the Rightside acquisition, which closed in 2017. While Rightside’s portfolio of TLDs was substantially smaller than Donuts’, it had been much more aggressive on its premium pricing.

For the domains being moved to standard pricing, Donuts will give it one last shot at squeezing a premium price out of them, however.

The company said that from September 5 to November 1 there will be a “pre-sales” event, during which registrants can pay the current premium fee for the first year on the understanding that they will renew at the standard pricing.

For example, drunk.games currently commands a roughly $130-a-year registration fee at registrars. If you buy it during the pre-sales event you’ll pay $130 for the first year but only about $20 upon renewal.

Donuts says this unusual landrush-style event is designed to make the names more attractive to investors who want to get in before prices fall.

The full effect of the price changes takes effect November 5.

It’s worth noting that standard pricing at Donuts is actually going up across most TLDs, by as much as 9%, on October 1, so you may want to check what your actual renewal fee is before buying.

A searchable database of the newly priced inventory can be found here.

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.tech gTLD startups “raise $2 billion”

Kevin Murphy, August 28, 2019, Domain Registries

Tech startups using domain names in the .tech gTLD have raised $2 billion in venture capital financing over the last two years, according to Radix.

The registry looked at startups listed on Crunchbase as of June and found 650 companies using .tech domains. Of these, 170 of them had raised $2 billion in funding.

About 250 TLDs are in use by Crunchbase-listed startups, according to Radix.

According to a list provided by the company, funding amounts range from a modest $50,000 (obtained by the likes of the VR firm at virtualspaces.tech) to $620 million (obtained by the self-driving car company at aurora.tech).

Not every company on the list is still in business (if name resolution is any guide), and some of the .tech names bounce visitors to longer .com domains.

Meanwhile, domainer Morgan Linton has done a bit of similar research and discovered that 43% of the “top pick” startups appearing at Disrupt, the conference that like Crunchbase is owned by TechCrunch, are not using .com domains.

It’s a smaller sample size, but according to Linton, 18% of them use .io names. Most of the non-coms are on ccTLDs, in fact. The only new gTLD on his list is Google’s .app.

Disrupt made headlines in the domain world in 2010 when it launched its first conference web site on a .co domain, to coincide with the international launch of Colombia’s ccTLD by .CO Internet.

But that marketing deal lapsed after a year. Disrupt is back on techcrunch.com and disrupt.co is back in registry hands as a “premium” reserved name.

.co still appears on Linton’s list, however, so the initial partnership may still be bearing fruit.

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Whois killer deadline has passed. Did most registrars miss it?

Kevin Murphy, August 28, 2019, Domain Registrars

The deadline for registrars to implement the new Whois-killer RDAP protocol passed yesterday, but it’s possible most registrars did not hit the target.

ICANN told registrars in February (pdf) that they had six months to start making RDAP (Registration Data Access Protocol) services available.

RDAP is the replacement for the age-old Whois protocol, and provides virtually the same experience for the end user, enabling them to query domain ownership records.

It’s a bit more structured and flexible, however, enabling future services such as tiered, authenticated access.

Despite the August 26 deadline coming and going, ICANN records suggest that as many as three quarter of accredited registrars have not yet implemented RDAP.

The IANA department started publishing the base URLs for registrar RDAP servers recent.

According to this list, there are 2,454 currently accredited registrars, of which only 615 (about 25%) have an RDAP server.

But I’m not convinced this number is particularly useful.

First, just because a registrar’s RDAP server is not listed, does not mean it does not have one.

For example, the two largest registrars, Tucows and GoDaddy, do not have servers on the list, but both are known to have been working on RDAP services for a long time through public pilots or live services. Similarly, some CentralNic registrars have servers listed while others do not.

Second, of the 1,839 accreditations without servers, at least 1,200 are DropCatch.com shells, which tips the scales towards non-compliance considerably.

Still, it seems likely that some registrars did in fact miss their deadline. How stringently ICANN chooses to enforce this remains to be seen.

ICANN itself replaced its “Whois” service with a “Lookup” service last month.

According to Michele Neylon of the registrar Blacknight, contracted parties can also discover RDAP URLs via ICANN’s closed RADAR registrar information portal.

RDAP and Whois will run concurrently for a while before Whois takes its final bow and disappears forever.

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CIRA replaces CORE as emergency backup registry

Kevin Murphy, August 28, 2019, Domain Registries

ICANN has switched around its line up of emergency registry providers, swapping out CORE Association for CIRA.

The organization last night announced that its three newly contracted Emergency Back-End Registry Operators are Nominet, CNNIC, and CIRA.

EBEROs are failsafe registries that will take over any gTLD that has failed or is on the verge of failing outright, putting its customers domains at risk.

The EBERO is responsible for winding down these gTLDs in an orderly fashion, giving registrants the chance to migrate to a different TLD.

So far, only .wed has entered the program, when the project with the imaginative business model of making it impractical to renew domains went out of business in 2017.

Nominet now caretakes .wed under the EBERO program.

Both Nominet (.uk) and CNNIC (.cn) have been approved EBEROs since 2013, under five-year contracts with ICANN.

CORE was also approved in 2013, but appears to have lost its contract. It’s been replaced by CIRA, the Canadian Internet Registry Association.

“We are honoured to be among this select group of trusted registry operators,” Dave Chiswell, VP of product development for CIRA, said in a statement. He said CIRA only suffered eight hours of downtime when it migrated .ca to a new back-end platform recently.

A key reason for CIRA replacing CORE is very likely geography. When ICANN put out its request for proposals last year, it made a big deal about how it wanted coverage in Europe, Asia and North America — where most gTLD registries are concentrated.

CORE is based in Switzerland. CIRA is obviously based in Canada and CNNIC is Chinese.

Another side-effect of the contract renegotiations is that ICANN is now paying 30% less for the services of the three providers, according to a recent board resolution.

The three providers are contracted for five years.

Whether, and to what extent, they’ll ever actually be triggered to provide EBERO services is open to debate.

Currently, there are six gTLDs in advanced stages of ICANN compliance proceedings, putting them at risk of having their contracts revoked: .whoswho, and five Persian-themed strings.

It’s not inconceivable than one or more of these gTLDs could wind up in EBERO, but ICANN appears to be cutting the registries a lot of slack to resolve their issues.

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The Amazon is burning. Is this good news for .amazon?

Kevin Murphy, August 26, 2019, Domain Policy

With the tide of international opinion turning against Brazil due to the ongoing forest fires in the Amazon, could we see governments change their tune when it comes to Amazon’s application for .amazon?

A much higher number of forest fires than usual are currently burning in the region, largely in Brazil, which critics led by environmentalists and French president Emmanuel Macron have blamed on relaxed “slash and burn” farming policies introduced by new Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro.

The rain forest is an important carbon sink, said to provide 20% of the world’s oxygen. The more of it is lost, the harder it is to tackle climate change, the argument goes.

It’s been an important topic at the Macro-hosted G7 summit, which ends today. Even the bloody Pope has weighed in.

Arguably, the stakes are nothing less than the survival of human civilization and life on Earth itself.

And this is a story about domain names. Sorry. This is a blog about domain names. My hands are tied.

Amazon the company has been fighting governments over its application for .amazon, along with the Chinese and Japanese translations, for over six years.

ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee was responsible for killing off .amazon in 2013 after it decided by consensus that Amazon’s application should not proceed.

That decision was only reached after the US, under the Obama administration, decided to abstain from discussions.

The US had been protecting Amazon by blocking GAC consensus, but changed its tune partly in order to throw a bone to world leaders, including then-president of Brazil Dilma Rousseff, who were outraged by CIA analyst Edward Snowden’s revelations of widespread US digital espionage.

After ICANN dutifully followed the GAC advice and rejected Amazon’s gTLD applications, Amazon appealed via the Independent Review Process and, in 2017, won.

The IRP panel ruled that the GAC’s objection had no clear grounding in public policy that could be gleaned from the record. It told ICANN to re-open the applications and evaluate them objectively.

Ever since then, the GAC’s advice to ICANN has been that it must “facilitate a mutually acceptable solution” between Amazon and the eight nations of the Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization.

ICANN has been doing just that, or at least attempting to, for the last couple of years.

But the two parties failed to come to an agreement. ACTO wants to have essential veto power over Amazon’s use of .amazon, whereas Amazon is only prepared to offer lists of protected names, a minority position in any policy-setting body, and some sweeteners.

In May this year, ICANN’s board of directors voted to move .amazon along towards delegation, noting that there was “no public policy reason” why it should not.

In June, the government of Colombia filed a Request for Reconsideration with ICANN, demanding it reevaluate that decision.

The RfR was considered by ICANN’s Board Accountability Measures Committee at its meeting August 14, but its recommendation has not yet been published. I’m expecting it to be posted this week.

There’s still opportunity for the GAC to cause mischief, or act as a further delay on .amazon, but will it, in light of some country’s outrage over Brazil’s policy over the rain forest?

One could argue that if the nation that has the largest chunk of Amazon within its borders seems to have little regard to its international importance, why should its claim to ownership of the string “amazon” get priority over a big brand that has offered to protect culturally significant words and phrases?

Remember, as the example of the US in 2012/13 shows us, it only takes one government to block a GAC consensus. If Brazil or Peru continue to pursue their anti-Amazon path, could France throw a spanner in the works, smoothing .amazon’s road to delegation?

Anything’s possible, I suppose, but my feeling is that most governments back ACTO’s position largely because they’re worried that they could find themselves in a similar position of having to fight off an application for a “geographic” string in the next gTLD application round.

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China’s MySpace trainwreck sells its gTLD

Kevin Murphy, August 23, 2019, Domain Registries

A once-hot Chinese social networking company that now sells used cars instead has offloaded its gTLD.

The registry contract for .ren, the Pinyin for the Chinese “人”, meaning “people”, has been transferred from Beijing Qianxiang Wangjing Technology Development Co to ZDNS International.

The original registry is better known by the name Renren.

At the time the new gTLD was applied for in 2012, Renren was at the peak of its powers, discussed in the same breath as Facebook.

A social networking site with close to 60 million active monthly users in China, it had recently raised $800 million by floating on the New York Stock Exchange.

But it has fallen on hard times since, and the site was sold for just $20 million in cash and $40 million of stock last November.

A number of articles around the same time chart its downfall, calling it a “trainwreck”, a “digital ghost town” and, even more embarrassingly, “China’s answer to MySpace”

You get the idea.

Renren the company is still a going concern due to its now-core business of selling used cars in China, but the NYSE threatened to delist its stock a couple of weeks ago because its share price had been below $1 for more than 30 days.

Now, it seems it’s getting rid of its gTLD too.

.ren has been bought (presumably) by ZDNS International, the Hong Kong-based arm of DNS service provider ZDNS.

It’s not a dot-brand. The space is open to all-comers and is currently priced competitively with .com.

The gTLD’s fortunes tracked the site’s declining popularity. It’s been on the slide, volume-wise, for years.

It peaked at around 320,000 zone file domains in November 2016, comparable to other TLDs popular in China, but today stands at around 17,000.

It’s the second registry contract ZDNS has taken over recently. A month ago, I reported it has taken over .fans from CentralNic.

ZDNS was already providing back-end services for .ren.

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