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GMO and Radix secure Chinese gTLD approval

Kevin Murphy, January 3, 2017, Domain Registries

GMO Registry and Radix have won Chinese government approval for their respective new gTLDs .shop and .site.

It’s the second batch of foreign new gTLDs to get the nod from China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, following .vip, .club and .xyz in early December.

They’re also the first two Asian registries from outside China to get the right to flog their domains in China — GMO is Japanese and Radix is UAE-based with Indian roots.

Their new Chinese government licenses mean Chinese registrars will now be able to allow their customers to actually use .shop and .site domains to host web sites.

The registries in turn have had to agree to enforce China’s rather arbitrary and Draconian censorship policies on their Chinese customers.

The approvals were announced by MIIT December 29.

.site currently has about 570,000 domains in its zone file, making it a top-10 new gTLD by volume, while .shop, which launched much more recently, has over 100,000.

The ability for Chinese customers to develop their domains is no doubt good for the long-term health of TLDs, but it’s not necessarily a harbinger of shorter-term growth in a market where domains are often treated little more than meaningless baseball cards to be traded rather than commodities with intrinsic value.

.xyz, .club and .vip get the nod to sell in China

Kevin Murphy, December 5, 2016, Domain Registries

The Chinese government has granted licenses to operate in the country to its first tranche of new gTLDs — .vip, .club and .xyz.

The agreements mean that Chinese registrars will be able to give their Chinese customers the ability to actually use their domains for web sites.

It also means the companies will be obliged to censor domains the government does not like, but only those domains registered via Chinese registrars.

The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology announced the licenses, given to the Chinese subsidiaries of Minds + Machines, .CLUB Domains and XYZ.com respectively, today.

M+M CEO Toby Hall told DI that it’s “a great moment of support for Chinese registrars”, giving them a “very clear signal about which TLDs they can focus on”.

XYZ.com said in a blog post that some of its Chinese registrars (its biggest channel) are planning on offering discounts to celebrate the approval.

It’s always been possible for Chinese people to register new gTLD domains via Chinese registrars — it’s estimated that 42% of the 27 million new gTLD domains in existence today are Chinese-owned.

However, Chinese citizens need a government license if they want to launch a web site, and the government only issues licenses for domains in approved TLDs.

In addition to .cn and China-based gTLDs, which were the first to be given the nod, Verisign was approved earlier this year for .com.

Hall said that while .vip has been popular with Chinese domainers, the MIIT license means it can start to tap the small business market there too.

Obtaining the license means that the three registries, which are all based in the US or Europe, will have to comply with Chinese regulations when it comes to Chinese customers.

That basically means the Chinese government gets to censor pretty much anything it doesn’t like, up to and including sites that “spread rumors”.

Hall said that there’s no chance of this censorship bleeding out to affect non-Chinese customers.

M+M, along with XYZ and .CLUB, are using Chinese registry gateway ZDNS to act as a proxy between their own back-ends (Nominet for .vip, Neustar for .club and CentralNic for .xyz) and Chinese registrars.

“All of our Chinese web sites go through ZDNS, so only web sites going through ZDNS would be affected,” Hall said, referring to the censorship rules.

Hall added that he was “not aware” of there being a blocklist of politically sensitive strings that Chinese customers are not allowed to register.

XYZ hires .top guy as first China employee

Kevin Murphy, October 11, 2016, Domain Registries

XYZ.com has hired its first Beijing-based employee, as part of its ongoing plan to formally enter the Chinese market.

The company said yesterday that it has appointed Mason Zhang, until recently chief marketing office at .top gTLD registry Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology Co, as its new director of business development for China.

It’s part of XYZ’s seemingly interminable entry to the Chinese market, which is over a year old.

While the majority of .xyz’s registrations have been into China, the registry (along with pretty much every other Western registry) still does not have the necessary government permissions so that its customers can start using their names.

It kicked off a process to get ICANN approval for its Chinese gateway, operated by ZDNS, a year ago, and set up the mandatory Wholly Owned Foreign Enterprise in January.

The company said in a blog post that it expects to get its Chinese accreditation “very soon”.

Zhang’s former employer, .top, is second only to .xyz in terms of new gTLD registration volume, also due to Chinese sales. It has about 3.7 million names in its zone file, compared to .xyz’s 6.1 million.

Chinese investor pumps $7 million into M+M as .vip pushes firm into profit

Kevin Murphy, September 20, 2016, Domain Registries

Minds + Machines made a profit, kinda, in the first half of the year, due to the popularity of .vip in China.

The company today announced a loss of $1.9 million for the six months to June 30, compared to a $1.6 million loss in the comparable 2015 period, on revenue that was up 115% at $7.4 million.

But factoring out discontinued operations — M+M started to close its registrar and registry back-end businesses during the half — it actually managed to sneak a profit of $56,000.

Its revenue was also unaffected by one-time gains from gTLD auction losses, something which had pumped up its top line regularly for the last few years.

Chairman Guy Elliot said in a statement to the markets that M+M “has successfully been navigated out of troubled waters”.

The turnaround is due in no small part to the success of .vip, which racked up over 400,000 registrations in its first month (back in May), the large majority of which were sold to Chinese investors.

The company said that $5.5 million of the $8 million in H1 billings were made in the first 21 days of .vip’s availability.

Having started 2016 with no sales in Asia whatsoever, it expects 45% of its revenue to come from China by the end of the year.

As a direct consequence of .vip’s sales, M+M has received a £5.5 million ($7.2 million) investment from Goldstream Capital Master Fund I, a Cayman Islands shell company owned by Chinese private equity firm Hony Capital.

Hony, which manages $10 billion in assets, is perhaps best known for owning the pizza restaurant chain Pizza Express, which it acquired for $1.54 billion in 2014.

According to its web site, Hony’s own investors include three large Chinese state-owned investment vehicles.

The investment deal includes clauses preventing Hony from trying to get a director on M+M’s board and/or launching a hostile takeover bid.

It will own 7.17% of M+M after buying 50 million shares at £0.13 each, assuming M+M’s simultaneously announced £13 million ($17 million) share buyback is fully subscribed.

M+M opened a subsidiary in China (a Wholly-Owned Foreign Enterprise) during the half, in order to better serve the Chinese market and comply with Chinese government regulations.

It simultaneously laid off 44% of its staff in the US — engineers no longer needed due to the shift into an almost entirely marketing-focused business — and expects to end the year with only 13 employees there.

One in seven new gTLD domain names are actually just numbers

Roughly one out of every seven new gTLD domain names active today is numbers-only before the dot, according to DI research.

It might be surprising to some that the DNS, designed to turn immemorable numbers into memorable names, is actually being used to register millions of numeric domains.

Using the almost 1,000 new gTLD zone files we had access to on July 19*, DI counted 20,933,637 unique domain names of which 3,259,684 were purely numeric.

In other words, 15.57% of new gTLD domain names only contain numbers before the dot.

Fourteen gTLDs have a third or more of their zones fully numeric. One is two-thirds numeric.

The reason for this, of course, is China.

Numeric domains are said to be popular in China due to the fact that digits are the only 10 characters permissible in DNS that Chinese speakers natively understand.

Many popular web sites in China use short, numeric .com or .cn domain names. Some short numeric domains have sold for six or seven figures to end-user companies.

So there’s a thirst for numerics among Chinese domainers, as well as domainers elsewhere who want to exploit the Chinese market.

I talked to a successful domainer recently who acquired thousands of numeric domain names purely to flip to Chinese investors.

Personally, I think the market is overblown. Data suggests there’s a limited appetite for numerics among actual end users.

Fewer than 2,700 of top one million most-visited domains, as ranked by Amazon’s Alexa service, are numeric. A quarter of a percent. Even if Alexa is wrong by a factor of 10, that’s still only 2.7% of the internet’s biggest sites using numeric domain names.

So which gTLDs are most exposed to the numeric market?

Surprisingly, given the registry’s reluctance to deeply discount its domains, two Donuts gTLDs — .gold and .run, both relatively small TLDs — top the table with 66.32% and 54.65% respectively.

I think these are anomalies. The majority of Donuts’ portfolio have far smaller percentages of numerics.

Fellow portfolio players Afilias (.bet, .kim) and Uniregistry (.lol, .mom) also feature prominently on the list.

Here’s the top 30 new gTLDs, ranked by the percentage of their zones that are numeric. It includes every gTLD over 20%.

TLDTotal DomainsNumerics%
gold9,2366,12566.32
run16,2268,86754.65
bet25,50312,40448.64
lol95,69745,15447.18
rip3,0781,35844.12
men15,5906,82243.76
mom49,41820,96442.42
kim117,98448,26240.91
wang1,065,295404,05937.93
pink40,02714,53136.3
black22,1327,65234.57
xin119,52240,55533.93
win951,275318,62233.49
vin5,8151,90832.81
ink23,5827,08230.03
fund7,0482,05729.19
ooo18,7605,46029.1
blue41,03011,72728.58
red308,88085,12127.56
vip276,56575,92527.45
pet7,9852,07926.04
rent6,9931,73824.85
top2,611,513599,27822.95
bid368,92283,34122.59
date188,20341,81522.22
ren306,37367,67822.09
gift26,7155,75221.53
wiki18,1083,76220.78
club769,527159,49320.73
sale10,6042,16220.39

In absolute terms, the larger-volume registries naturally have the larger number of numeric domains in their zones.

XYZ.com’s .xyz alone has over 867,000 numeric domains in its zone. That’s a lot of names, but in percentage terms it’s below the industry mean.

.top, .wang, .win and club, all heavily marketed in China, fill out the top five in volume terms.

Here’s the top 30 gTLDs with the largest absolute number of numerics. They account for 3,099,981 numeric domains of the 3,259,684 industry total.

TLDTotal DomainsNumerics%
xyz6,051,039867,45514.34
top2,611,513599,27822.95
wang1,065,295404,05937.93
win951,275318,62233.49
club769,527159,49320.73
red308,88085,12127.56
bid368,92283,34122.59
vip276,56575,92527.45
ren306,37367,67822.09
site417,02358,22913.96
kim117,98448,26240.91
lol95,69745,15447.18
date188,20341,81522.22
xin119,52240,55533.93
loan242,01332,53713.44
mom49,41820,96442.42
tech134,00216,80412.54
pink40,02714,53136.3
pub63,85812,45319.5
bet25,50312,40448.64
blue41,03011,72728.58
news76,72511,06814.43
online301,06810,8263.6
website157,47810,5376.69
party206,43010,2364.96
run16,2268,86754.65
download71,0488,85312.46
help50,4528,14516.14
black22,1327,65234.57
one58,5427,39012.62

While short domains are more attractive to investors and end users, the vast majority of numeric domains in new gTLDs are of course longer than five digits.

.xyz, for example, has over 757,000 numeric domains of six or more characters. .top, .wang and .win are also measured in the hundreds of thousands in this regard.

Four gTLDs — .club, .wang, .top and .xyz — are over 99% full when it comes to five-digit numeric domains (that is, they have over 99,000 numeric domains in their zones).

.win is over 95% full on that basis, after which the numbers drop sharply to 65% and below.

In terms of four-number domains, there are 10 gTLDs that are over 99% full and 16 over 90% full.

There are 36 new gTLDs over 90% full in terms of three-digit numeric domains. More than a dozen appear to be completely full (giving myself some wriggle-room for reserved names and those that otherwise don’t appear in the zone files).

So what to make of all this?

I’m not a domainer, but I’ve sometimes heard domainers compare domains to baseball cards.

Going with that analogy, I’d say that if the typical numeric domain name collection contains the odd vintage Babe Ruth**, he’s far outnumbered by cards depicting some guy’s kid playing catch in the park.

That may be true of all domain portfolios, numeric or otherwise, but I feel numerics exist primarily right now to be traded between domainers.

As long as this continues, new gTLD registries — at least the ones actually charging for their names — will continue to benefit.

* A note on methodology. Due to the way access to zone files via ICANN works (ie, sporadically) we were missing some zone files on July 19. Including the missing gTLD may alter the league tables presented above, but I don’t believe the missing data was significant to the overall totals. Only one of the top 100 gTLDs, a zone of about 28,000 names, was missing.

** I know nothing about baseball.