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Domain industry SHRINKS again… except of course it doesn’t

Kevin Murphy, September 3, 2021, Domain Registries

Verisign has published its latest Domain Name Industry Brief, once again showing growth numbers thrown off wildly by a single factor.

The second quarter closed with 367.3 million registrations across all TLDs, down by 2.8 million over the same point last year, the DNIB states.

But the entirety of that decline can be attributed to a single TLD. It’s Tokelau again!

.tk was down by 2.8 million domains compared to the year-ago quarter also. This decline was first recorded by Verisign in the fourth quarter last year, where it had a similarly depressing effect on the overall picture.

The ccTLD is operated by Dutch company Freenom, which gives away most of its domains for free, often on a monthly basis, and monetizes residual traffic whenever a name expires or is suspended for abuse.

It’s quite possible that most of its names are registry-owned, so it’s in Freenom’s discretion to keep hold of its entire inventory or periodically purge its database, which may be what happened in Q4.

It’s debatable, in other words, whether .tk’s numbers is really any reflection or guide on the rest of the domain name industry. To it’s credit, Verisign breaks out the non-.tk numbers separately.

The DNIB reports a rosier quarterly growth comparison — total internet-wide regs were up by 3.8 million names, or 1.0%.

The company’s own .com did well, growing by 2.4 million names to end June at 157 million. Even .net did better than usual, adding a net of a couple hundred thousand names, to 13.6 million.

All the top 10 ccTLDs were flat sequentially after rounding, with the exception of Brazil’s .br, which was up by 200,000 names.

Total ccTLD regs were 157.7 million, up 1.2 million sequentially but down 2.4 million year-over year. Factoring out .tk, the increases were 1.2 million and 400,000 respectively.

The second quarter of last year was a bit of a boom time for many registries due largely to the lockdown bump, which saw businesses in many countries rush to get online to survive pandemic restrictions.

Tokelau can not be blamed for the whopping 8.8 million decline in new gTLD registrations between the Junes, of course.

About six million of the plummet can be blamed on heavily discounted .icu, which saw its first junk drop begin about a year ago, and another two million seem to be attributable to .top.

Quarterly, the picture was a little brighter — Verisign says new gTLDs were up by under 100,000 compared to Q1 at 22.9 million.

Domain regs dip for second quarter in a row and it’s all China’s fault

There were 363.5 million domain name registrations across all top-level domains at the end of March, down by 2.8 million names compared to the end of 2020, Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief shows.

But the losses can be attributed mostly to China, which saw plummeting .cn regs in the ccTLD world and big declines across gTLDs popular with Chinese speculators.

In .cn, regs were down a whopping four million at 20.7 million in the quarter. China has historically been subject to steep fluctuations due to local government regulations.

Overall, ccTLD registrations were down 2.4 million at 156.5 million, but that seems to be all down to China.

All the other ccTLDs in the DNIB top 10 were either flat or up slightly on Q4. The frequent wild-card .tk did not have an impact on this quarter’s numbers, staying flat.

Verisign does not break down new gTLD registrations, but zone file and transaction report data shows that the likes of .icu and .wang, which typically sell first-year regs very cheaply, were hit by material junk drops in Q1.

ShortDot’s .icu zone file shrank by 2.5 million names between January 1 and March 30. It’s still in decline in Q2, but the trajectory isn’t nearly as steep. It had 814,000 zone file names at the end of Q1.

Zodiac’s .wang was at 525,000 at the end of 2020 but had dropped to 86,000 by March 30.

.top also lost around half a million names in the first quarter.

The vast majority of regs in .icu, .top and .wang come through Chinese registrars, which often sell for under a dollar for the first year.

The DNIB reports that .com performed well as usual, up from 151.8 million reported in the Q4 report to 154.6 million, but Verisign bedfellow .net was once again flat at 13.4 million.

Domain industry shrank in Q4, but as usual there’s a big BUT

The worldwide domain name count shrank in the fourth quarter, according to newly released Verisign data, but as usual the numbers were hugely impacted by big swings in just a few TLDs.

The latest Domain Name Industry Brief (pdf), which is mainly compiled from zone file counts, shows that 2020 ended with 366.3 million names, down by 4.4 million or 1.2% compared to the end of the third quarter.

It’s the free and almost-free TLDs that swung the math.

Remarkably, industry wild-card .tk actually shrank during the quarter. This is highly unusual, as the registry’s business model is based on giving out names for free, never deleting domains, and monetizing the traffic to expired or suspended names.

It saw domains down by 2.8 million names over the quarter, from 27.5 million to 24.7 million.

Another big dipper was .icu, which sells cheap (usually under $1) and appeals to speculators largely in China.

While it slipped out of the top 10 TLDs, meaning the DNIB no longer breaks out its numbers, DI’s own zone file counts show its zone decline from 5.3 million to 3.4 million during Q4, a 1.9 million decline.

Notably spammy new gTLD .top, which also costs next to nothing and is popular in China, also had a role to play. Its zone count was down by about 900,000 between September 30 and December 31.

Those three TLDs alone account for a loss of 5.6 million names, far more than the 4.4 million industry-wide quarterly drop calculated by Verisign.

The impact of .icu’s continued spiral downwards is likely to be felt in Q1 2021 also. It’s lost another 2.4 million zone file names since the start of the year.

Verisign said the the universe of ccTLD domains contracted by 1.7 million of 1% during the quarter, ending the year with 158.9 million names.

The .tk shrinkage of course more than accounts for this dip. Without it, ccTLDs would be up by 1.1 million names or 1.1%. The major, top-10 ccTLDs mostly showed six-figure growth, the DNIB reflects.

New gTLDs were down 4.2 million names or 13.8% sequentially, ending the quarter with 26 million.

In addition to the aforementioned .top and .icu, this figure appears to have been affected by six-figure losses in some of the highest-volume, lowest-priced new gTLDs, including .club, .site .work and .vip.

In the main legacy gTLDs, Verisign’s own .com grew by 1.5 million names, from 151.8 million to 150.3 million, during the quarter. Its .net was again flat at 13.4 million. Public Interest Registry’s .org gained a (rounded) 100,000 names, ending the year at 10.3 million.

The annual numbers across the industry for 2020 have better optics. The DNIB shows that domain volume was up by 4.0 million or 1.1% year over year.

That breaks down into a 6.3 million increase in .com, a 1.3 million increase across the ccTLDs, and a 3.3 million decrease in new gTLDs, not all of which can be explained away by factoring out .icu and .top.

ShortDot adds fourth gTLD to its stable, plans March launch

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2021, Domain Registries

Another unused new gTLD has changed hands, ending up at ShortDot, the registry best-known for high-volume .icu.

ShortDot confirmed to DI today that it has acquired .cfd from its former owner, DotCFD.

The original plan for .cfd, one of the Boston Ivy collection of investment-related new gTLD applications, was for it to represent CFDs, or “contracts for difference”, a risky type of financial instrument that has proved sufficiently controversial that they’re not even legal in the US.

Since 2012, when the string was first applied for, CFDs have come in for serious criticism from market regulators and others due to the risk of significant losses they present to retail investors.

No .cfd domains have ever been sold, and it doesn’t appear to have ever properly launched, even though it’s been in the DNS root for five years.

But ShortDot COO Kevin Kopas tells me the plan is to repurpose the domain for an entirely different market.

“When we were contemplating the purchase and subsequent marketing angle we found that the traditional meaning of a CFD in the finance world doesn’t have the most positive connotation to it,” he said.

“We’re branding .cfd for the Clothing & Fashion Design industry and will be marketing it to entrepreneurs, bloggers, vloggers and others that are on the cutting edge of the fashion industry,” he said.

If that sounds like a stretch, you’re probably right — as far as I can tell, the fashion industry has never used that acronym and creating demand there will be a tall order. We’re in “professional web” territory here.

But Kopas said that ShortDot is already working with some influencers in the space “to create some pioneer cases that will go live at launch”. It’s also planning to attend fashion industry events after pandemic travel restrictions are over.

The company is planning to launch the domain with a first-come, first-served sunrise period beginning March 10 and ending April 12. General availability is slated for April 13 with a seven day early access period.

It’s the fourth unwanted gTLD ShortDot has acquired, repurposed and relaunched.

Its biggest success to date is .icu, a low-cost domain that proved popular almost exclusively in China and currently has 2.5 million domains in its zone file (down from a peak of 6.3 million less than a year ago).

ShortDot has shifted, then lost, so many .icu domains over the last two years that you’ve really got to factor out its influence if you want to get any sensible picture of what the new gTLD industry’s growth looks like.

It also runs .bond (2,500 names in its zone today) and .cyou (with 65,000).

Industry growth driven by new gTLD(s) in Q1

The number of domain names registered worldwide increased by 4.5 million in the first quarter, a sequential growth of 1.2%, largely due to new gTLDs and one new gTLD in particular, judging by Verisign’s latest data.

According to the company’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief, ShortDot’s .icu grew by 1.6 million domains during the quarter.

That’s more than half the growth of the new gTLDs as a whole, which grew by three million names to close March at 32.3 million.

.icu is one of those inexplicable, faddy Chinese phenomena. Its top registrar, West.cn, is currently selling them for the equivalent of $0.70 for the first year.

It’s now the eighth-largest TLD of any type, sitting on the DNIB league table between .org and .nl.

Fellow Chinese favorite .top was responsible for about 300,000 extra domains, though it’s lost most of that growth post-quarter, if zone files are any guide.

.xyz also appears to have had a decent quarter, growing by a couple hundred thousand names.

Verisign’s own .com contributed an additional 1.9 million domains, ending Q1 at 147.3 million. Baby brother .net was basically flat at 13.4 million.

The ccTLD space continued the decline of the last few quarters, coming in down 200,000 names at 157.4 million. Annually, ccTLDs were up by 600,000 names, however.

Overall, there were 366.8 million domain registrations in the world at the end of Q1, an increase of 14.9 million or 4.2% compared to the same moment last year.

Possibly the strangest new gTLD acquisition yet

Kevin Murphy, February 5, 2020, Domain Registries

The company running .icu has taken over a similar-sounding but ugly dot-brand from a Chinese games company.

ShortDot took over the ICANN registry agreement for .cyou from a Chinese games company in November, recently updated ICANN records show.

The seller is Beijing Gamease Age Digital Technology Co, which makes massively multiplayer online games targeted at the Chinese market.

The company is branded as Changyou.com and CYOU is its Nasdaq ticker symbol. The .cyou gTLD was not technically a dot-brand under ICANN rules.

Changyou signed its registry agreement with ICANN five years ago, but never registered any .cyou domains.

The decision to dump .cyou is no doubt related to the fact that Changyou is currently in the process of being reacquired and delisted by Sohu, its majority owner and former parent. The domain presumably soon will have no meaning for the company, even defensively.

It’s such a clumsy, otherwise meaningless string, that surely there was one one potential home for it: the .icu registry. Just as .icu can be read as “I see you”, .cyou can be read as “see you”.

ShortDot has had an inexplicable success with .icu in the last 12 months, during which it has become the industry volume leader in new gTLD sales. Today’s zone files show over SIX MILLION domains have been registered. That’s up from about 400,000 a year ago.

Most of its sales are coming via Chinese registrars, which are selling .icu names for under a dollar for the first year. It has yet to see its first junk drop.

If SpamHaus statistics are any guide, the buyers are largely domainers, rather than spammers. SpamHaus says .icu has under a 2% “badness” rating.

So, while .cyou would look like utter rubbish to any other registry, if ShortDot can bundle it with .icu, perhaps persuading a portion of its registrants to double-up, it may be worth a bit of money.

The registry expects to launch its new acquisition in June.

It’s the second branded gTLD ShortDot has acquired and repurposed after .bond, which used to belong to a university of the same name.

Q3 industry growth driven by .tk, .com and .icu

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2019, Domain Registries

The domain name industry grew by 5.1 million names in the third quarter, according to the latest Domain Name Industry Brief from Verisign.

September ended with 359.8 million names across the board, the DNIB (pdf) shows.

Half of the growth came from Tokelau’s .tk, which is handed out for free by Freenom and is where domains never delete. It grew by 2.6 million names to 25.1 million in the quarter.

Next biggest grower was Verisign’s own .com, which grew by 1.5 million names to end September with an even 144 million. Its red-headed sibling, .net, lost 200,000 names over the same period and ended the quarter on 13.4 million.

Excluding .com and .tk leaves just one million names worth of net growth across the remainder of the industry, which comprises another 1,515 TLDs.

Taiwan’s .tw, which has been going through a bit of a spurt over the last year or so, added 300,000 domains, but .uk, which was a driver in Q2, was flat at 13.3 million.

New gTLDs grew by one million during the quarter, ending at 24 million, according to the DNIB.

That appears to have been driven almost entirely by ShortDot’s cheapo .icu, which has been flying off the shelves in China all year. Zone file records show it added over a million domains in Q3. It currently has 4.2 million names in its zone.

When these domains start to drop, it will likely be on a scale to materially affect the overall industry numbers in future DNIBs.

.bond domains could cost a grand each

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2019, Domain Registries

Newish registry ShortDot has announced the release details for its recently acquired .bond gTLD, and they ain’t gonna be cheap.

The TLD is set to go to sunrise in a little under a month, October 17, for 33 days.

General availability begins November 19 with a seven day early access period during which the domains will be more expensive than usual but get cheaper each day.

The regular pricing is likely to see registrars sell .bond names for between $800 and $1,000 a pop, according to ShortDot COO Kevin Kopas.

There won’t be any more-expensive premium tiers, he said.

The gTLD was originally owned by Bond University in Australia, but it was acquired unused by ShortDot earlier this year.

The company hopes it will appeal to bail bondsmen, offerers of financial bonds and James Bond fans.

The business model with .bond is diametrically opposed to .icu, where names sell for under $2 a year (and renew for under $8, if indeed any of them renew).

That zone has inexplicably gone from 0 to 1.8 million names in the last 16 months, and ShortDot says it’s just crossed the two-million mark of registered names.

That second million appears to have been added in just the last three months.

.icu joins the million-domains club in one year, but spam triples

Another new gTLD has joined the exclusive list of those to enter seven figures in terms of domains under management.

.icu, managed by ShortDot, topped one million names this week, according to COO Kevin Kopas.

It’s taken about a month for DUM to increase from 900,000 names, and if zone files are any guide half of that growth seems to have happened in the last week.

.icu domains currently sell for between $1 and $2 for the first year at the cheap end of the market, where most regs are concentrated, with renewals closer to the $10 mark.

The gTLD joins the likes of .club, .xyz, .site and .online to cross the seven-figure threshold.

When we reported on the 900,000-reg mark at the end of May, we noted that .icu had a SpamHaus “badness” rating of 6.4%, meaning that 6.4% of all the emails coming from .icu addresses that SpamHaus saw were classified as spam.

That score was roughly the same as .com, so therefore pretty respectable.

But in the meantime, .icu’s badness score has almost tripled, to 17.4%, while .com’s has stayed about the same.

Picking through the Google search results and Alexa list for .icu domains, it appears that high-quality legit web sites are few and far between.

Whether that’s a fixable symptom of .icu’s rapid growth — it’s only about 13 months post-launch — or a predictor of poor long-term potential remains to be seen.

.icu gets China nod as it tops 900,000 regs

Chinese regulators have approved .icu for sale and use in China, according to the registry.

ShortDot COO Kevin Kopas told DI today that the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has approved its year-old gTLD for mainland use.

The company plans to launch .icu there formally June 12, he said.

Kopas also said that .icu has recently topped 900,000 registrations.

It’s a remarkable growth achievement for a gTLD with barely a year on the clock, given that SpamHaus stats show that its level of spam abuse is still comparable to .com.

But with prices at around $1.50 at its largest registrars and very little semantic value, one has to assume that a lot of its registrations are speculative. Its first junk drop could be brutal.

MIIT approval may help it continue its growth trend. To date, China-based registrars have recorded no .icu sales.

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