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About that $3,800 emoji domain sale…

Kevin Murphy, June 5, 2017, Domain Tech

The debate over the age of the emoji domain name ☮.com may have been settled. It probably is as old as it was claimed to be.

You may recall that last week I blogged about the €3,400 ($3,816) sale of the domain to an end user. It wasn’t a big sale or a big story, but it’s so rare to see an emoji name sell I thought it was worth a few paragraphs.

It had been claimed, and I reported, that the name was 16 years old, having been registered in April 2001.

Later that day, ICANN principle technologist Paul Hoffman, who was co-author of the IDNA2003 standard that governed how non-ASCII domains were represented in the DNS, questioned whether the name could possibly be that old.

Under IDNA2003, IDNs are encoded with the “xn--” prefix. While applications may render ☮.com as the “peace” symbol, in the DNS it is in fact xn--v4h.com.

Hoffman told me that the prefix had been picked more or less at random in March 2003, so there was no way a speculator could have known in April 2001 how to register a domain that would have no meaning for another two years.

In addition, the Punycode standard that converts non-Latin characters to ASCII was not finalized until 2003 either.

It seemed more likely that the creation date in the Whois record was incorrect, so I updated the original blog post with the new information.

That kicked off a bit of a debate in the comments about scenarios in which the creation date was correct. Some commenters wondered whether the original buyer had registered many domains with different prefixes with the hope of getting lucky.

What none of us considered was that the domain itself changed between 2001 and 2003. Given new information Hoffman supplied over the weekend, that now strikes me as the most plausible scenario.

What most of us had forgotten was that Verisign launched an IDN registration test-bed all the way back in December 2000 (archive.org link).

That roll-out, controversial at the time, encoded the domains with Punycode predecessor RACE and used the bq– prefix.

However, after the IDNA2003 and Punycode standards were published in 2003, Verisign then converted all of the existing IDN .com domains over to the two new standards. Names beginning bq– were changed to xn--, and the encoding of the subsequent characters was changed.

So ☮.com very probably was registered in 2001, but in ASCII it was a completely different domain name back then.

We seem to have a rare(ish) case here of the creation date in the Whois being “right” but the domain name itself being “wrong”.

There may be as many as half a million .com domains with similar issues in their Whois.

I hope this clears up any confusion.

Sixteen-year-old emoji .com sells for €3,400

Kevin Murphy, June 1, 2017, Domain Sales

An emoji domain name believed to be in the first three such domains ever registered has been sold.

The domain ☮.com (xn--v4h.com) seems to to have been sold to an end-user buyer, via Sedo, for €3,400 ($3,816). The sale appears to have been a quick flip by an Austrian investor.

☮ is of course better known as a symbol representing peace, most associated with campaigns for nuclear disarmament.

The name now redirects to Sonshi.com, an “educational resource for Sun Tzu’s The Art of War”. The owner explains:

As students of Sun Tzu, we understand the objective of understanding warfare is peace. Even when we are forced to do battle, we want to end it quickly. If possible, it is best to prevent fighting altogether. There are few symbols that represent peace and are as recognizable as ☮.

According to research carried out by domain investor Michael Cyger, ☮.com is one of the three oldest emoji domains, after a “hot spring” symbol in .com and .net, all having been registered April 19, 2001.

It’s not a knock-your-socks-off price, given the scarcity of emoji domains and the age of the registration, but it seems to show there are buyers out there.

Emoji domains were recently discouraged by ICANN’s security committee due to the potential for security risks, and are currently effectively banned in new gTLDs.

Emoji domains get a 👎 from security panel

Kevin Murphy, May 30, 2017, Domain Tech

The use of emojis in domain names has been discouraged by ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee.

In a paper late last week, SSAC told ICANN that emojis — aka emoticons or smileys — lack standardization, are barred by the relevant domain name technical standards, and could cause user confusion.

Emoji domains, while technically possible, are not particularly prevalent on the internet right now.

They’re implicitly banned in gTLDs due to the contractual requirement to adhere to the IDNA2008 standard, which restricts internationalized domain names to actual spoken human languages, and the only ccTLD I’m aware of actively marketing the names is Samoa’s .ws.

There was a notable example of Coca Cola registering 😀.ws (xn--h28h.ws) for a billboard marketing campaign in Puerto Rico a couple of years ago, but that name has since expired and been registered by an Australian photographer.

The SSAC said that emoji use should be banned in TLDs and discouraged at the second level for several reasons.

Mainly, the problem is that while emojis are described in the Unicode standards, there’s no standardization across devices and applications as to how they are displayed.

A certain degree of creative flair is permitted, meaning a smiling face in one app may look unlike the technically same emoji in another app. On smaller screens and with smaller fonts, technically different emojis may look alike.

This could lead to confusion, which could lead to security problems, SSAC warns:

It is generally difficult for people to figure out how to specify exactly what happy face they are trying to produce, and different systems represent the same emoji with different code points. The shape and color of emoji can change while a user is viewing them, and the user has no way of knowing whether what they are seeing is what the sender intended. As a result, the user is less likely to reach the intended resource and may instead be tricked by a phishing site or other intentional misrepresentation.

SSAC added that it:

strongly discourages the registration of any domain name that includes emoji in any of its labels. The SSAC also advises registrants of domain names with emoji that such domains may not function consistently or may not be universally accessible as expected

The brief paper can be read here (pdf).