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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.

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”.

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.

CENTR: domain growth now slowest EVER

The number of registered domain names in the world is growing at its slowest rate ever, according to CENTR.

Its latest CENTRstats Global TLD Report, covering the first quarter of 2019, shows median domain growth of 3.4% year-over-year, a “record low”.

That stat peaked at 29.8% in the third quarter of 2015, according to the report. That was when the first significant wave of new gTLDs were hitting the market.

The 3.4% figure is the median growth rate across the top 500 TLDs CENTR tracks.

The group tracks 1,486 TLDs in total, a little under the 1,531 currently in the root, ignoring TLDs that are too small or have unreliable data.

The report says that growth rates are similar across ccTLDs and gTLDs, though gTLDs seem to be faring slightly better.

The median growth rate of the top 300 gTLDs was 4.1%.

For ccTLDs, the percentage growth varied between regions, from 1.4% in the Americas to 6.3% in the still much smaller African markets.

CENTR estimates that there were 351 million registered domains at the end of the quarter.

.com outsells new gTLDs by 2:1 in 2018

The number of registered .com domains increased by more than double the growth of all new gTLDs last year, according to figures from Verisign.

The latest Domain Name Industry Brief reports that .com grew by 7.1 million names in 2018, while new gTLDs grew by 3.2 million names.

.com ended the year with 139 million registered names, while the whole new gTLD industry finished with 23.8 million.

It wasn’t all good news for Verisign, however. Its .net gTLD shrunk by 500,000 names over the period, likely due to the ongoing impact of the new gTLD program.

New gTLDs now account for 6.8% of all registered domains, compared to 6.2% at the end of 2017, Verisign’s numbers state.

Country codes fared better than .com in terms of raw regs, growing by 8.2 million domains to finish 2018 with 154.3 million names.

But that’s including .tk, the free ccTLD where dropping or abusive domains are reclaimed and parked by the registry and never expire.

Excluding .tk, ccTLDs were up by 6.6 million names in the year. Verisign estimates .tk as having a modest 21.5 million names.

The latest DNIB, and quarterly archives, can be downloaded from here.

Internet to lose its .co.ck? Cook Islands mulls name change

The government of the Cook Islands is reportedly thinking about changing its name, putting a question mark over the long-term longevity of its .ck top-level domain.

The AFP is reporting that an exploratory committee has been set up to pick a new name for the country, which is currently named after British explorer James Cook.

The new name would be in the local language, Cook Islands Maori, but would also reflect the country’s Polynesian heritage and “strong Christian belief”, AFP reports.

The Cook Islands is in the Pacific Ocean, about 3,000km from New Zealand. It gained independence in 1965 but retains strong ties to NZ. It has about 12,000 citizens.

Telecom Cook Islands has been running its ccTLD, .ck, since 1995. Registrations, which are a few hundred bucks a year, are only possible at the third level, under .co.ck, .org.ck and so on.

It appears from reporting that any formal name change is still a long way off, but it seems possible that a change of name could well lead to a change of ISO 3166-1 string and therefore a change of ccTLD.

As I explained in my post about the possible loss of .io last week, any such change would take years to roll through the ICANN system. Nobody would lose their domains overnight.

But perhaps the most famous .ck domain appears to have already gone dormant.

Fictional mid-noughties hipster Nathan Barley, antihero of the Charlie Brooker sitcom of the same name, owned trashbat.co.ck, as the opening shot of the show established.

Trashbat

Sadly, that domain, which unlike clownpenis.fart actually existed and was used to promote the short-lived series, appears to stop resolving three or four years ago.

UN ruling may put .io domains at risk

Kevin Murphy, February 25, 2019, Domain Policy

The future of .io domains may have been cast into doubt, following a ruling from the UN’s highest court.

The International Court of Justice this afternoon ruled (pdf) by a 13-1 majority that “the United Kingdom is under an obligation to bring to an end its administration of the Chagos Archipelago as rapidly as possible”.

The Chagos Archipelago is a cluster of islands that the UK calls the British Indian Ocean Territory.

It was originally part of Mauritius, but was retained by the UK shortly before Mauritius gained independence in 1968, so a strategic US military base could be built on Diego Garcia, one of the islands.

The native Chagossians were all forcibly relocated to Mauritius and the Seychelles over the next several years. Today, most everyone who lives there are British or American military.

But the ICJ ruled today, after decades of Mauritian outrage, that “the process of decolonization of Mauritius was not lawfully completed when that country acceded to independence in 1968, following the separation of the Chagos Archipelago”.

So BIOT, if the UK government follows the ruling, may cease to exist in the not-too-distant future.

BIOT’s ccTLD is .io, which has become popular with tech startups over the last few years and has over 270,000 domains.

It’s run by London-based Internet Computer Bureau Ltd, which Afilias bought for $70 million almost two years ago.

Could it soon become a ccTLD without a territory, leaving it open to retirement and removal from the DNS root?

It’s not impossible, but I’ll freely admit that I’m getting into heavy, early speculation here.

There are a lot of moving parts to consider, and at time of writing the UK government has not even stated how it will respond to the non-binding ICJ ruling.

Should the UK abide by the ruling and wind down BIOT, its IO reservation on the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 list could then be removed by the International Standards Organisation.

That would mean .io no longer fits the ICANN criteria for being a ccTLD, leaving it subject to forced retirement.

Retired TLDs are removed from the DNS root, meaning all the second-level domains under them stop working, obviously.

It’s not entirely clear how this would happen. ICANN’s Country Code Names Supporting Organization has not finished work on its policy for the retirement of ccTLDs.

TLDs are certainly not retired overnight, without the chance of an orderly winding-down.

Judging by the current state of ccNSO discussions, it appears that ccTLDs could in future be retired with or without the consent of their registry, with a five-to-10-year clock starting from the string’s removal from the ISO 3166-1 list.

Under existing ICANN procedures, I’m aware of at least two ccTLDs that have been retired in recent years.

Timor-Leste was given .tl a few years after it rebranded from Portuguese Timor, and .tp was removed from the DNS a decade later. It took five years for .an to be retired after the Netherlands Antilles’ split into several distinct territories in 2010.

But there are also weird hangers-on, such as the Soviet Union’s .su, which has an “exceptional reservation” on the ISO list and is still active (and inexplicably popular) as a ccTLD.

As I say, I’m in heavy speculative territory when it comes to .io, but it strikes me that not many registrants will consider when buying their names that the territory their TLD represents may one day simple poof out of existence at the stroke of a pen.

Afilias declined to comment for this article.

Right of the colon? IDN getting killed over dot confusion

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2019, Domain Registries

An internationalized domain name ccTLD is reportedly getting buried because of a confusion about how many dots should appear.

Armenia’s .հայ (.xn--y9a3aq) today has fewer than 300 registered domains, well under 1% of the volume enjoyed by the Latin-script .am, apparently due to a unique quirk of the Armenian language.

According to a report in the local tech press, sourcing a registry VP, .հայ domains are not working because of how the Armenian script uses punctuation.

In Armenian, a full-stop or period is represented by two vertically aligned dots called a verjaket that looks pretty much identical to a colon in English and other Latin-based languages.

A single dot, looking and positioned exactly like a Latin period, is called a mijaket and is used in the same way English and other languages use a colon.

It’s not entirely clear whether the problem lies with the user, the keyboards, the browsers, or elsewhere, but it’s plain to see how confusion could arise when you have Armenian-script characters on both sides of a Latin-script dot.

The registry, ISOC Armenia, is today reporting just 298 .հայ domains, compared to 34,354 .am domains.

The Latin-script ccTLD has benefited in the past from its association elsewhere with AM radio. It’s also sometimes used as a domain hack, including by Instagram’s URL shortener.

It’s probably worth noting that while Armenia seems to have a unique problem, it’s far from unusual for an IDN ccTLD to perform poorly against its Latin stablemate.

.հայ, which transliterates to “.hay”, is an abbreviation of the Armenian name for Armenia, Հայաստան or “Hayastan”. It was delegated by ICANN in 2015 as part of its IDN ccTLD fast-track program.

Armenian has fewer than seven million speakers worldwide. Armenia has roughly three million inhabitants.