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These are the 10 most-used dot-brands

It occurred to me recently that my regular coverage of companies that choose to abandon their unused dot-brand gTLDs may have created a misleading impression that the dot-brand portion of the new gTLD program has been a big old waste of time.

I make no apologies for this. As a news guy, I look for deviations from the norm — “man bites dog” stuff — when deciding what to write about, and that quite often means reporting what could be considered Bad News.

When companies do adopt their dot-brands in a big way, they tend to do it rather quietly and almost always in a foreign language, so the news doesn’t usually cross my radar until long after it has ceased to be timely.

But it is true that the background noise of dot-brands is that quite a lot of them are being actively used to varying degrees, and I’m feeling some sense of obligation to report on that activity too, despite it being thoroughly un-newsworthy.

So here I present an unofficial list of the top 10 most-used dot-brands.

It’s based on how many active web sites I’ve found in each of the 460-odd dot-brand gTLDs I regularly spider.

I count a “dot-brand” as any gTLD that has Specification 13 in its ICANN contract, and here I’m defining an active web site to exclude redirects to sites in other, off-brand TLDs.

The numbers may not be precisely accurate today, because sites come and go, but I think they’re a decent guide.

I’m also fairly certain that “number of active web sites” is an absolutely terrible way to compare and rank dot-brands, but if nothing else I think the metric is a good indicator of enthusiasm for dot-brands (by the brand, if not necessarily its customers).

Here goes.

.seat — SEAT, S.A.

Spanish car manufacturer SEAT had 532 active .seat web sites at my last count, the vast majority of which appear to be template-driven brochureware sites named after and designated to the company’s authorized dealers across Europe.

The domain bradys.seat, for Dublin-based dealer Brady’s, is a rare example of an English-language version of the site.

I call the sites “brochureware” because, while it does appear to be possible to buy a car via these sites, you are invariably redirected to SEAT’s local ccTLD site before you get to this stage of the transaction.

SEAT itself does not appear to use .seat domains for its own web sites, preferring instead to use local ccTLDs.

SEAT is a subsidiary of Germany-based Volkswagen Group.

.lamborghini — Automobili Lamborghini S.p.A.

The second brand on the list is another car maker and another Volkswagen subsidiary, Italy-based Lamborghini. It had 145 active .lamborghini web sites at my last count.

Like sister-company SEAT, Lamborghini’s dot-brand is most-often used by its official dealers across the world, also using identikit, non-transactional templates.

Unlike SEAT, which grants its dealers domains matching their brands, dealer .lamborghini domains are in almost all cases geographic. For example, the German dealer MAHAG gets the domain munich.lamborghini.

Lamborghini has some domains for its own non-dealer use, such as home.lamborghini and contact.lamborghini, but these redirect to its .com site so I have not counted them here.

.bmw — Bayerische Motoren Werke Aktiengesellschaft

BMW also makes cars, but it’s not owned by VW. Its dot-brand, .bmw, had 83 live sites at my last count.

While the ownership may differ, the strategy does not. Most .bmw sites appear to be template-driven dealer sites.

BMW also has a few branded call-to-action domains, such as missiontomars.bmw and enjoytheride.bmw, but these redirect outside of .bmw.

While researching this TLD, I also found my first-ever example of an expired dot-brand domain, at productgeniusclips.bmw. Of course, one of the benefits of a dot-brand is that nobody else will be able to register this name when it drops.

.weber — Saint-Gobain Weber SA

We seem to be looking at an example here of a company that missed out on good domains to similarly named companies in different industries and is compensating with a dot-brand.

There are several companies in the world called Weber, and I had to do a double-take when I realized that this one is the “world leader in industrial mortars”.

It’s a concrete company, owned by 354-year-old French multinational Saint-Gobain.

It appears to be the first example on this list of a company that is using its dot-brand for its primary web site.

When I search for Weber from here in the UK, the first result for this particular company is uk.weber. It’s former domain in the UK seems to have been netweber.co.uk, which now redirects to the dot-brand.

A barbecue maker also called Weber, which owns weber.com, currently has far better search engine rankings from where I’m sitting.

Mortar-making Weber’s list of .weber domains are primarily two-character country-codes, but it also has a few generic terms that point to resolving web site wecare.weber, a domain that matches one of its slogans.

.bnpparibas — BNP Paribas

BNP Paribas is the world’s eighth-largest bank and one of several companies to wholeheartedly throw its weight behind the dot-brand concept.

It ditched its .fr and .net domains in 2015, instead pointing its retail banking customers in France to mabanque.bnpparibas. It also uses group.bnpparibas as its primary corporate web site.

Both of those domains are in the top 100,000 most-visited domains worldwide, according to Alexa data.

It had 62 active .bnpparibas sites at my last count, many of which appear to be fully-developed sites dedicated to groups such as shareholders and enterprise customers. There are also country-focused sites such as usa.bnpparibas and informational sites such as history.bnpparibas.

.abbott — Abbott Laboratories, Inc.

Abbott is a $30 billion-a-year healthcare company with 57 sites in its .abbott gTLD. It’s the only US-based company on this list.

The company appears to have a hybrid strategy when it comes to its dot-brand. While it has many active sites, it also has many redirects to sites in off-brand TLDs.

The domain shop.abbott bounces visitors to abbottstore.com, for example, while fully fledged product-specific sites such as transfusion.abbott, pediasure.abbott and diabetescare.abbott all remain in .abbott.

Google searches for the term “abbott” track this hybrid approach, returning a mixture of URLs in dot-brand and off-brand TLDs.

Abbott has yet to make the leap to using .abbott for its primary web sites, which remain in ccTLDs and .com.

.leclerc — A.C.D. LEC Association des Centres Distributeurs Edouard Leclerc

This huge “hypermarket” retail chain will no doubt be a household name to my French readers, but it’s a new one to this rosbif.

Leclerc logoInterestingly, the company has been called E.Leclerc — with the dot — since it was founded by Edouard Leclerc in 1949. This is apparently the logo it was using from its foundation until 2012, when it made most of the letters lower-case. This was of course the same year it applied for the .leclerc gTLD.

As you might imagine, the domain e.leclerc was a no-brainer.

The cool thing about the domain is that if somebody “searches” for the brand in their browser’s navigation bar, the browser will actually resolve it as a domain and take them straight to the retailer’s web site, avoiding the Google SERPs advertising tax that many companies feel obliged to pay.

The uncool, maddening flipside is that e.leclerc bounces visitors to e-leclerc.com, which seems like a huge missed trick in terms of branding.

That said, Leclerc does have a number of non-redirect .leclerc web sites that focus on specific product groups, such as technology, culture and homecare.

This could turn out to be the model Amazon eventually uses, if/when it gets its .amazon gTLD.

.bradesco — Banco Bradesco S.A.

Banco Bradesco is a Brazilian bank with almost $62 billion of annual revenue.

Like BNP Paribas, it’s ditched its old TLDs in favor of its dot-brand, and now uses banco.bradesco as its primary web site. The .com and .com.br both redirect to the .bradesco.

There’s also lots of redirecting internal to the TLD, with a few dozen brand/product .bradesco domains pointing back to banco.bradesco pages.

.aquarelle — Aquarelle.com

Aquarelle.com Group is a French flower delivery company, an early mover in the e-commerce world that has been using aquarelle.com since 1997. It operates in several European countries.

It has not made the leap away from the .com domain that has been its brand for the last 22 years, but it does use .aquarelle for a variety of creative purposes.

art-floral.aquarelle, for example, offers bouquet-making video tutorials. Sites such as chocolats.aquarelle act as promo pages for specific products that can be bought at the .com site. It also appears to be running a transactional web site for a third-party retailer, Darty, at darty.aquarelle.

.fage — Fage International S.A.

Finally, yoghurt! Or, as my US English spell-checker insists, “yogurt”.

Fage is brand I’ve never heard of, of a product I despise, but I gather it’s one of Greece’s most recognizable dairy brands.

It’s another example of a company that has thrown itself fully behind its dot-brand.

Before it applied for .fage, it was using fage.gr for its primary web site. Now, that domain redirects to greece.fage. The matching .com is owned by an unrelated entity.

It’s also the only example on this top 10 list of a dot-brand using “home” at the second level as its primary domain.

Other domains include various translations of the word “recipe”, which redirect internally to other .fage sites.

Four presidents slam .amazon decision

Kevin Murphy, May 28, 2019, Domain Policy

The leaders of four of the eight governments of the Amazon region of South America have formally condemned ICANN’s decision to move ahead with the .amazon gTLD.

In a joint statement over the weekend, the presidents of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, said they have agreed to “to join efforts to protect the interests of our countries related to geographical or cultural names and the right to cultural identity of indigenous peoples”.

These four countries comprise the Andean Community, an economic cooperation group covering the nations through which the Andes pass, which has just concluded a summit on a broad range of issues.

The presidents said they have “deep concerns” about ICANN’s decision to proceed towards delegating .amazon to Amazon the company, over the objections of the eight-nation Amazon Cooperation Treaty Organization.

ICANN is “setting a serious precedent by prioritizing private commercial interests over public policy considerations of the States, such as the rights of indigenous peoples and the preservation of the Amazon in favor of humanity and against global warming”, they said (via Google Translate).

ACTO had been prepared to agree to Amazon running .amazon, but it wanted effective veto power on the TLD’s policy-setting committee and a number of other concessions that Amazon thought would interfere with its commercial interests.

As it stands, Amazon has offered to block thousands of culturally sensitive domains and to give the ACTO nations a minority voice in its policy-making activities.

ICANN will soon open these proposed commitments to public comment, and will likely decide to put .amazon into the root not too long thereafter.

Major registries posting “fabricated” Whois data

One or more of the major gTLD registries are publishing Whois query data that may be “fabricated”, according to some of ICANN’s top security minds.

The Security and Stability Advisory Committee recently wrote to ICANN’s top brass to complain about inconsistent and possibly outright bogus reporting of Whois port 43 query volumes.

SSAC said (pdf):

it appears that the WHOIS query statistics provided to ICANN by registry operators as part of their monthly reporting obligations are generally not reliable. Some operators are using different methods to count queries, some are interpreting the registry contract differently, and some may be reporting numbers that are fabricated or otherwise not reflective of reality. Reliable reporting is essential to the ICANN community, especially to inform policy-making.

SSAC says that the inconsistency of the data makes it very difficult to make informed decisions about the future of Whois access and to determine the impact of GPDR.

While the letter does not name names, I’ve replicated some of SSAC’s research and I think I’m in a position to point fingers.

In my opinion, Google, Verisign, Afilias and Donuts appear to be the causes of the greatest concern for SSAC, but several others exhibit behavior SSAC is not happy about.

I reached out to these four registries on Wednesday and have published their responses, if I received any, below.

SSAC’s concerns relate to the monthly data dumps that gTLD registries new and old are contractually obliged to provide ICANN, which publishes the data three months later.

Some of these stats concern billable transactions such as registrations and renewals. Others are used to measure uptime obligations. Others are largely of academic interest.

One such stat is “Whois port 43 queries”, defined in gTLD contracts as “number of WHOIS (port-43) queries responded during the reporting period”.

According to SSAC, and confirmed by my look at the data, there appears to be a wide divergence in how registries and back-end registry services providers calculate this number.

The most obvious example of bogosity is that some registries are reporting identical numbers for each of their TLDs. SSAC chair Rod Rasmussen told DI:

The largest issue we saw at various registries was the reporting of the exact or near exact same number of queries for many or all of their supported TLDs, regardless of how many registered domain names are in those zones. That result is a statistical improbability so vanishingly small that it seems clear that they were reporting some sort of aggregate number for all their TLDs, either as a whole or divided amongst them.

While Rasmussen would not name the registries concerned, my research shows that the main culprit here appears to be Google.

In its December data dumps, it reported exactly 68,031,882 port 43 queries for each of its 45 gTLDs.

If these numbers are to be believed, .app with its 385,000 domains received precisely the same amount of port 43 interest as .gbiz, which has no registrations.

As SSAC points out, this is simply not plausible.

A Google spokesperson has not yet responded to DI’s request for comment.

Similarly, Afilias appears to have reported identical data for a subset of its dot-brand clients’ gTLDs, 16 of which purportedly had exactly 1,071,939 port 43 lookups in December.

Afilias has many more TLDs that did not report identical data.

An Afilias spokesperson told DI: “Afilias has submitted data to ICANN that addresses the anomaly and the update should be posted shortly.”

SSAC’s second beef is that one particular operator may have reported numbers that “were altered or synthesized”. SSAC said in its letter:

In a given month, the number of reported WHOIS queries for each of the operator’s TLDs is different. While some of the TLDs are much larger than others, the WHOIS query totals for them are close to each other. Further statistical analysis on the number of WHOIS queries per TLD revealed that an abnormal distribution. For one month of data for one of the registries, the WHOIS query counts per TLD differed from the mean by about +/- 1%, nearly linearly. This appeared to be highly unusual, especially with TLDs that have different usage patterns and domain counts. There is a chance that the numbers were altered or synthesized.

I think SSAC could be either referring here to Donuts or Verisign

Looking again at December’s data, all but one of Donuts’ gTLDs reported port 43 queries between 99.3% and 100.7% of the mean average of 458,658,327 queries.

Is it plausible that .gripe, with 1,200 registrations, is getting almost as much Whois traffic as .live, with 343,000? Seems unlikely.

Donuts has yet to provide DI with its comments on the SSAC letter. I’ll update this post and tweet the link if I receive any new information.

All of the gTLDs Verisign manages on behalf of dot-brand clients, and some of its own non-.com gTLDs, exhibit the same pattern as Donuts in terms of all queries falling within +/- 1% of the mean, which is around 431 million per month.

So, as I put to Verisign, .realtor (~40k regs) purportedly has roughly the same number of port 43 queries as .comsec (which hasn’t launched).

Verisign explained this by saying that almost all of the port 43 queries it reports come from its own systems. A spokesperson told DI:

The .realtor and .comsec query responses are almost all responses to our own monitoring tools. After explaining to SSAC how Verisign continuously monitors its systems and services (which may be active in tens or even hundreds of locations at any given time) we are confident that the accuracy of the data Verisign reports is not in question. The reporting requirement calls for all query responses to be counted and does not draw a distinction between responses to monitoring and non-monitoring queries. If ICANN would prefer that all registries distinguish between the two, then it is up to ICANN to discuss that with registry operators.

It appears from the reported numbers that Verisign polls its own Whois servers more than 160 times per second. Donuts’ numbers are even larger.

I would guess, based on the huge volumes of queries being reported by other registries, that this is common (but not universal) practice.

SSAC said that it approves of the practice of monitoring port 43 responses, but it does not think that registries should aggregate their own internal queries with those that come from real Whois consumers when reporting traffic to ICANN.

Either way, it thinks that all registries should calculate their totals in the same way, to make apples-to-apples comparisons possible.

Afilias’ spokesperson said: “Afilias agrees that everyone should report the data the same way.”

As far as ICANN goes, its standard registry contract is open to interpretation. It doesn’t really say why registries are expected to collect and supply this data, merely that they are obliged to do so.

The contracts do not specify whether registries are supposed to report these numbers to show off the load their servers are bearing, or to quantify demand for Whois services.

SSAC thinks it should be the latter.

You may be thinking that the fact that it’s taken a decade or more for anyone to notice that the data is basically useless means that it’s probably not all that important.

But SSAC thinks the poor data quality interferes with research on important policy and practical issues.

It’s rendered SSAC’s attempt to figure out whether GDPR and ICANN’s Temp Spec have had an effect on Whois queries pretty much futile, for example.

The meaningful research in question also includes work leading to the replacement of Whois with RDAP, the Registration Data Access Protocol.

Finally, there’s the looming possibility that ICANN may before long start acting as a clearinghouse for access to unredacted Whois records. If it has no idea how often Whois is actually used, that’s going to make planning its infrastructure very difficult, which in turn could lead to downtime.

Rasmussen told DI: “Our impression is that all involved want to get the numbers right, but there are inconsistent approaches to reporting between registry operators that lead to data that cannot be utilized for meaningful research.”

Hold your horses! The last wave of comments on .amazon hasn’t started yet

ICANN has yet to open the final (?) public comment period on Amazon’s .amazon gTLD applications, but it’s been receiving comments anyway.

As I blogged at the weekend, ICANN has now given all but final approval to .amazon, and the last hurdle is 30 days of public comments, on Amazon’s proposed Public Interest Commitments.

I noted at the time that the ability to comment had not yet opened, or that it was well hidden.

Over the last 24 hours or so, ICANN has nevertheless received about 15 comments about .amazon on its old new gTLD application comment system.

They’re all negative, urging ICANN to prioritize the rights of the Amazon region of South America over Amazon’s corporate IP rights.

Go here and search for the string “amazon” to locate and read them.

But according to ICANN, the 30 days of comment has not yet kicked off.

A spokesperson told DI last night that the .amazon applications are still being processed and that the PICs have not yet been formally published.

It’s not yet clear whether the new gTLD application comment system will be used, or whether ICANN will use the email-based system it uses by default for comment periods.

I expect ICANN will make a formal announcement when comments do open. Either way, I’ll blog about it here when the time comes.

Amazon’s proposed PICs were published as part of a letter to ICANN (pdf) last month.

Given the timing, it seems ICANN only has a few days to open the comment period if it wants to have any hope of approving .amazon during ICANN 65, which runs in Marrakech from June 24 to 27.

.gay picks the absolutely perfect launch date

Top Level Design has announced the launch date for its forthcoming .gay gTLD, and the timing couldn’t be more symbolic.

It’s picked October 11 as the date for general availability, which also happens to be National Coming Out Day in the US.

National Coming Out Day, which has been observed by gay rights organizations since 1987, is meant to celebrate LBGTQ people “coming out of the closet” and publicly acknowledging their sexual identity.

It happens on the same date every year to commemorate a 1987 civil rights march in Washington, DC.

According to Wikipedia, the event is also celebrated in Ireland, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the UK.

Leading up to its GA launch, Top Level Design plans to kick off its sunrise period in August.

Given that .gay has not yet been delegated, and has not filed its startup plan with ICANN, I imagine there’s some flexibility to the launch timetable.

The registry has recently been brainstorming ideas about how to promote positive content and reduce the inevitable abuse in its new TLD.