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Zimbabwe wants to rebuild its domain market from scratch

Zimbabwe has put out a call for feedback on plans to modernize its almost non-existent domain name industry.

The local ccTLD manager, Postal and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority of Zimbabwe (POTRAZ), has issued a consultation document discussing plans to essentially architect the .zw market from scratch.

.zw currently has no automated registration process, no Whois, no formal registry-registrar framework, no DNSSEC, no IPv6, and no governing policies.

POTRAZ is proposing to adopt “best practices” from fellow ccTLDs in Africa and elsewhere, by appointing a new registry operator that will work with a registrar channel under policies created by POTRAZ, as sponsoring organization, itself.

It looks rather like the contract to run the ccTLD could soon be up for grabs.

But first, POTRAZ wants to know how much involvement the Zimbabwean government should have in the operations of the TLD, presenting four options ranging from full governmental control to industry self-regulation.

Currently, POTRAZ, a government regulator, has handed off registry operations for .zw to state-owned telecoms company TelOne.

It has a three-level structure, with TelOne looking after .org.zw, the Zimbabwe Internet Service Providers Association looking after .co.zw and the University of Harare managing .ac.zw.

Interestingly, POTRAZ has not yet decided whether .zw domains should be free or paid for, and whether annual renewals should be required.

The consultation is open until August 9.

Zimbabwe has a population of about 16 million and, according to Internet World Stats, 6.8 million internet users.

Luxembourg tops 100,000 .lu domains

Luxembourgish ccTLD .lu has grown to more than 100,000 domain names for the first time.

ccTLD operator Restena said last week that the domain crossed the threshold June 21. At the end of the month, it had 100,056 domains under management.

While it’s certainly not a lot for a ccTLD, it is when compared to the size of the country it represents.

Luxembourg has a population of under 600,000, so in theory 1 in 6 Luxembourgish people own a .lu domain.

That’s close to the ratio as you’d see in the UK, with its 66 million inhabitants and 12 million .uk domains, though it trails Germany’s 1:5 and the Netherlands’ 1:3.

The per capita numbers are probably not all that useful, however. Restena said that 75% of its domains are in corporate hands.

Many companies are “based” in Luxembourg for tax reasons, which may have some impact on reg numbers.

Restena said that about 3,000 names of the 100,000 are “reserved” and not actively used.

The growth of .lu has not been particularly fast. My records show it has only grown by about 3,000 names over the last year.

China domain smaller than expected

The Chinese national ccTLD registry has reported 2018 registration figures below what outsiders had estimated.

CNNIC said last week (in Chinese) that it ended last year with 21.24 million .cn domain names under management.

That’s quite a lot below the 22.7 million domains reported by Verisign’s Q4 Domain Name Industry Brief (pdf).

It would also slip .cn into second-place after .tk in the ccTLD rankings, and into third place overall, if the DNIB’s estimate of .tk’s 21.5 million domains is accurate.

Tokelau’s repurposed ccTLD is unusual in that the registry does not delete domains that expire or are suspended for abuse, meaning it’s often excluded from growth comparisons.

China would still be comfortably ahead of Germany’s .de, the next-largest “real” ccTLD, with 16.2 million domains.

CNNIC added that it ended 2018 with 1.72 million registered domains in .中国 (.xn--fiqs8s), which is the Chinese name for China and the country’s internationalized domain name ccTLD.

CNNC has been coy about its reg numbers for the last couple of years.

It stopped publishing monthly totals on its web site in February 2017, when it had 20.8 million .cn domains under management.

Foreigners mostly speak foreign, ccTLD study finds

English may be the lingua franca of the internet, but most foreigners still stubbornly stick to their own tongues, a study has found.

The research, carried out by Oxford Information Labs for CENTR, covered 10 ccTLDs and geo-gTLDs and found that “on average, 76% of web content associated with each TLD reflects the languages spoken in the relevant country or territory.”

English was used in 19% of cases, with other languages coming in at 4%.

The Latin-script ccTLDs in question were .ch (Switzerland), .nl (Netherlands), .pt (Portugal), .ru (Russia), .se (Sweden) and .sk (Slovakia).

Also surveyed was the Cyrillic-script Russian ccTLD .рф and .nu, which is designated to English-speaking Niue but marketed primarily in Swedish-speaking Sweden (it also helpfully makes its zone files available for this kind of research).

The research also covered .cat, a gTLD specifically targeted at the Catalonia region of Spain.

In total, 16.4 million domains, culled from zone files, were looked at. The results were supplemented by research carried out in .nl by local registry SIDN.

Oxford Information Labs said that it was hired “to test the hypothesis that ccTLDs support local languages”

In each TLD, the minimum amount of content in the TLD-appropriate language (after parked pages and spam had been weeded out) was 64% of domains. That appears to be the score for .sk, the Slovakian TLD run by a British registry.

The highest concentration of local language occurred, as you might expect, in the IDN .рф.

Surprisingly, .cat, which I believe is the only TLD in the survey to contractually require “substantial” local-language content in its registrants’ web sites, appears to be about 30% non-Catalan.

The average across all the surveyed TLD was 76% local-language content. The researchers concluded:

This study’s findings indicate that country and regional TLDs boost the presence of local languages online and show lower levels of English language than is found in the domain name sector worldwide.

It is estimated that 54% of all web content is in English.

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.