Have you ever heard of .com, .net and .org?
That question was posed to 3,349 domain name registrants in 24 countries by market research firm Nielsen this June and guess what — awareness of all three cornerstone gTLDs was down on a comparable 2015 survey.
Unbelievably, only 85% of respondents professed to be aware of .com’s existence, compared to 86% in 2015.
Equally unbelievably, awareness of .net and .org fell from 76% to 69% and from 70% to 65% respectively between 2015 and 2016, the survey found.
Those are just three among many hundreds of findings of the Nielsen survey, which was carried out in order to inform ICANN’s Competition, Consumer Trust & Consumer Choice Review.
The CCT is one of the reviews deemed mandatory before ICANN is able to launch the next round of new gTLD applications.
A great many of the numbers revealed by the survey are seriously open to question — some could even be empirically proven wrong.
But David Dickinson, project lead for Nielsen on the survey, told DI yesterday that the numbers themselves are less important than the trends, or lack thereof, that they might represent.
Nielsen carried out two surveys in 2015 — one of consumers and one of registrants — then repeated both surveys again a year later.
Respondents were selected from a pool of people who have at some point indicated to third-party market research companies that they are available to take surveys online, Dickinson said. They are usually compensated via some kind of redeemable loyalty points scheme.
The registrant surveys were limited to those who said they have registered a domain name. The consumer survey was limited to those who said they spend more than five hours a week online.
While the number of respondents were measured in the low thousands, the idea is that they provide a representative sample of all internet users and domain name registrants.
But there’s a lot of weirdness in the numbers.
Dickinson said that the 85% awareness number for .com could be due partly to random “mechanical errors” — people clicking the wrong buttons on their survey form — but said that lack of awareness was more common among younger respondents who were more likely to be aware of newer, less generic TLDs.
The surveys also highlighted a bizarre split in TLD awareness between consumers and registrants.
Given that registrants are a subset of consumers, and given that they are by definition more familiar with domain names, you’d expect respondents to the registrant surveys to show higher TLD awareness than those responding to the consumer surveys.
But the opposite was true.
The surveys found, for example, that 95% of consumers knew about .com, but only 85% of registrants did. For .net and .org the numbers were 88%/69% and 83%/65% respectively. None of it makes any sense.
Dickinson said that the 2015 consumer/registrant awareness numbers were “almost identical”.
“My only real conclusion here is that [in 2016] there was some systematic difference in the diligence that the registrants selected these names on these awareness questions, and that a large portion of that is just due to random variation,” he said.
“However, when we do look at those people who are registering new gTLDs, they tended to have much lower awareness of those legacy gTLDs than those people who were unaware or had not registered those new gTLDs,” he said.
“The people who said they did not recognize any of those new gTLDs at all the are very very centric on the legacy gTLDs and in particular .com,” he said.
“I think the data is overstated because of the random variation but there is a learning here when we break it down… that those legacy domains are becoming less relevant or less noticed by the younger people and the people who are registering these new gTLDs,” he said.
“I think there is a shift going on, but it’s not as big as what is stated here [in the numbers],” he said.
The surveys also looked at awareness and registration levels for new, 2012-round gTLDs, but again the numbers probably don’t accurately reflect reality.
For example, 39% of registrants claimed to have heard of .email domain names and 15% claimed to have actually registered one.
Again, these numbers don’t seem plausible. There are fewer than 60,000 .email domains in existence today. Even if there were only one million domain registrants in the world, 15% registration rate would mean at least 150,000 names should have been sold.
Dickinson said that this number could have been higher due to selection bias. The survey took about half an hour on average to fill out, so people more personally interested or invested in internet or domain name related stuff might have been more likely to stick around and complete it.
Interestingly, new gTLD awareness rates in North America were substantially lower than awareness elsewhere in the world. For example, only 25% of North Americans professed to have heard of .news, but that grew to 42% in Asia where most languages use a different script.
My sense here is that respondents — which all took the surveys in their native languages — may have just been clicking to confirm English words they recognized, rather than TLDs they had seen in the wild.
Nielsen clearly suspected that there would be an element of “false recall” among respondents because it actually included some fake TLDs among the real ones.
This led to findings such as: 26% of Africans have heard of .cairo, 17% of North Americans have heard of .toronto and 21% of South Americans have heard of .bogota.
None of those city TLDs exist.
Dickinson explained this as “assumed familiarity”.
“What very much seems to happen is that if something has an implied ‘face validity’ — it seems to make sense or seems to be readily interpretable — then those ones will get higher stated awareness than the ones that are just random letters, such as .xyz,” he said.
Indeed, while there are over six million .xyz domains out there today, with high-profile registrants including Google, only 13% of respondents claimed to be aware of it.
“The more implied familiarity or sense of familiarity there is, the more likely people are to feel like they’ve been there or seen it, so it’s definitely a false recall, but the learning from that is that the more interpretable… those things are then they have more easy acceptance by consumers than things that are not interpretable,” Dickinson said.
The surveys did not only cover awareness and registration patterns. There are literally hundreds of data points in there covering different perceptions of TLDs new and old. I’ve just focused here on the ones that made me question whether the survey was worth the time, expense and paper it was written on.
But Dickinson said that the raw numbers are not necessarily what the ICANN review teams should be looking at.
“Maybe the absolute number is not exactly dead-on, but what are the relationships between the numbers?” he said.
“I tend to look at the relationships, so for example one of the objectives of doing this survey was to see if the new gTLD program impacted the perception of the industry in any way, or trustworthiness in the industry,” he said.
“For example, we can say we’re not sure it improved — the numbers didn’t change significantly in that direction to allow us to definitively say it improved — but it certainly did not decline,” he said. “We can rule out that it declined.”
“Overall, we can say that the new gTLD program is emerging with fairly strong awareness, relative,” he said.
“We can also say with certainty that none of those new gTLDs are anywhere approaching the awareness of the legacy gTLDs, and even if there is some erosion in the legacy gTLDs it’s going to take a long time for those to reach parity, if they ever do,” he said.
The Nielsen surveys are one input to the work of the volunteer CCT Review Team, which intends to publish its preliminary report before the end of the year.
CCT-RT chair Jonathan Zuck recently published a blog post on the ICANN web site giving a progress report on recent work.
The winners of the recent DI prize draw, with three free tickets for the newdomains.org conference at stake, have been confirmed.
To enter the competition, you simply had to leave a comment on DI completing the sentence “The biggest challenge facing new gTLDs next year will be…”
I read all the submissions and found them all interesting but ultimately the comments were completely irrelevant in determining the winners, which were selected by three random numbers generated by Random.org.
The winners were:
- Colin Campbell of .CLUB Domains.
- Jeffrey Sass of .CLUB Domains.
- Phil Buckingham of DotAdvice.
It definitely looks weird that two people from the same company won tickets. Weird enough that for half a second I wondered whether justice would be better serviced if were to fix a different outcome.
But I didn’t. If it looks unjust, blame randomness. Fate’s a bitch.
Many thanks to all who entered. There were some interesting comments.
How will ICANN measure the success of its new top-level domains program, and how many defensive registrations is too many?
These questions are now firmly on the ICANN agenda, following the publication of 37 draft recommendations for how to measure the success or otherwise of new gTLDs.
The advice of the Consumer Trust Working Group, published last night and now open for public comment, is a must-read for anyone interested in the emerging new gTLD market.
The recommendations describe myriad ways ICANN could benchmark the performance of new gTLDs three years from now, to fulfill its promise to the US Department of Commerce to study the effect of the program on consumer choice and competition.
While it’s a broad document covering a lot of bases, I’m going to be disappointingly predictable here and immediately zero in on the headline wedge issue that I think will get most tongues wagging over the coming weeks and months:
The working group decided to recommend that, as a measure of success, domain name registrations in new gTLDs should be no more than 15% defensive* three years after launch.
Defensive in this case would mean they were registered during the mandatory Sunrise period.
The idea is that consumer choice can be demonstrated by lots of registrations in new gTLDs, but that defensive registrations should not count toward that goal.
The 15%-Sunrise baseline number was chosen fairly arbitrarily – other suggestions were 20% and 12% – and is designed to spur community discussion. It’s not final.
Still it’s interesting.
It implies that if a registry has 15,000 Sunrise registrations, it needs to sell another 85,000 domains in three years to be seen as having made a successful contribution to consumer choice.
By way of an example, if it were to be retroactively applied to .xxx, the most recent gTLD to launch, ICM Registry would have to get its total registrations up to 533,000 by the end of 2014.
Is 15% too low? Too high? Is it even a useful metric? ICANN wants to know.
Whatever the ultimate number turns out to be, it’s going to be handy for plugging into spreadsheets – something opponents of new gTLDs will find very useful when they try to make the case that ICANN endorses a certain dollar value of trademark extortion.
Because many registries will also accept defensive registrations after Sunrise, two more metrics are proposed.
The group recommends that domains in new gTLDs that redirect to identical domains in legacy TLDs – strongly implying a defensive registration – should be no more than 15% after three years.
It also recommends that ICANN should carry out a survey to see how many registrants own matching second-level domains in legacy TLDs, and that this should also be lower than 15%.
I’ve only outlined three of the working group’s recommendations here. Many of the other 34 are also interesting and will be much-debated as the new gTLD program continues.
This is vitally important stuff for the future of new gTLDs, and applicants would be well advised to have a good read — to see what might be expected of them in future — before finalizing their applications.
* It should be noted that the recommendation as published confusingly reads “Post-Sunrise registrations > 15% of total registrations”, which I think is a typo. The > operator implies that non-defensive registrations only need to be over 15% of total registrations, which I’m certain is not what the working group intended to say.
(UPDATE: this typo has now been corrected).
Afilias is offering $5,000 for the best idea about what to do with a new generic top-level domain.
The company has kicked off a competition today designed to stimulate interest in ICANN’s new gTLD program.
It said in a press release this evening:
With this contest, Afilias is looking for unique new TLD ideas, whether that domain is a “dot Brand” (for a company) or a “dot Niche” (for a concept or community) or a “dot City” domain. The goal is to discover ideas for “right of the dot” domains that cannot be done today with any of the existing domains, like .com or .net.
Basically, you send in your best new gTLD idea – not just a string, but an innovative way to use it – and you stand a chance of winning prizes of $5,000, $3,000 or $1,500.
According to the press release, I’ve agreed to be on the judging panel, apparently as the latest stage of my ongoing campaign of utterly shameless self-promotion.
The other judges are former ICANN president Paul Twomey, Matthew Quint of the Center on Global Brand Leadership and David Rogers of BRITE, both at Columbia Business School, as well as Afilias’ CTO and CMO, Ram Mohan and Roland LaPlante.
I’m not sure what to expect, but it strikes me that if you have a halfway decent idea for a new gTLD – and you don’t actually plan to apply for it – you may not have much to lose by entering.
Afilias is accepting submissions until October 17, just two weeks from now, and the winners will be announced October 24.
Congratulations to Jim Davies, you’ve just won a free conference pass for newdomains.org worth $1,000 for entering the latest DomainIncite competition.
That’s a second Australia-based winner, by the looks of things, after Michael’s win on Monday. I hope you guys can both afford the airfare.
Competition Day Three
I have two final tickets to give away.
To reiterate, they’re Full Conference passes for the newdomains.org conference in Munich, Germany, on September 26 and 27. Flights, hotels and Oktoberfest not included. Details here.
If you want a pass, just leave a comment here before 2359 UTC Sunday August 14, saying why you think you should get one. Make something up.
I’ll use Random.org again to pick the two lucky winners and announce the names on Monday.
All winners will be contacted by somebody from the conference organizer, United-Domains, next week.
UPDATE: Proving just how random Random.org is, the winning order it selected was 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. The winners are TAG and Daniel. I’ll be in touch.