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Emoji domains get a 😟 after broad study

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2019, Domain Tech

Domain names containing emojis are a security risk and not recommended, according to a pretty comprehensive review by an ICANN study group.

The Country-Code Names Supporting Organization has delivered the results of its 12-person, 18-month Emoji Study Group, which was tasked with looking into the problems emoji domains can cause, review current policy, and talk to ccTLD registries that currently permit emoji domains.

The ESG didn’t have a lot of power, and its recommendations are basically an exercise in can-kicking, but it’s easily the most comprehensive overview of the issues surrounding emoji domains that I’ve ever come across.

It’s 30 pages long, and you can read it here (pdf).

Emojis are currently banned in gTLDs, where ICANN has to approve new Unicode tables before they can be used by registries at the second level, under its internationalized domain name policy, IDNA 2008.

But ccTLDs, which are not contracted with ICANN, have a lot more flexibility. There are 15 ccTLDs — almost all representing small islands or low-penetration African nations — that currently permit emoji domains, the ESG found.

That’s about 6% of Latin-script ccTLDs out there today. These TLDs are .az, .cf, .fm, .je, .ga, .ge, .gg, .gq, .ml, .st, .to, .tk, .uz, .vu, and .ws.

Five of them, including .tk, are run by notorious freebie registry Freenom, but perhaps the best-known is .ws, where major brands such as Budweiser and Coca-Cola have run marketing campaigns in the past.

The main problem with emojis is the potential for confusing similarity, and the ESG report does a pretty good job of enumerating the ways confusability can arise. Take its comparison of multiple applications’ version of the exact same “grinning face” emoji, for example:

Emoji comparison

If you saw a domain containing one of those in marketing on one platform, would you be able to confidently navigate to the site on another? I doubt I would.

There’s also variations in how registrars handle emojis on their storefronts, the report found. On some you can search with an emoji, on others you’ll need to type out the xn-- prefixed Punycode translation longhand.

In terms of recommendations, the ESG basically just asked ICANN to keep an eye on the situation, to come to a better definition of what an emoji actually is, and to reach out for information to the ccTLDs accepting emojis, which apparently haven’t been keen on opening up so far.

Despite the lack of closure, it’s a pretty good read if you’re interested in this kind of thing.

Kafka turns in grave as ICANN crowbars “useless” Greek TLD into the root

Kevin Murphy, September 9, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has finally approved a version of .eu in Greek script, but it’s already been criticized as “useless”.

Yesterday, ICANN’s board of directors rubber-stamped .ευ, the second internationalized domain name version of the European Union’s .eu, which will be represented in the DNS as .xn--qxa6a.

There’s a lot of history behind .ευ, much of it maddeningly illustrative of ICANN’s Kafkaesque obsession with procedure.

The first amusing thing to point out is that .ευ is technically being approved under ICANN’s IDN ccTLD Fast Track Process, a mere NINE YEARS after EURid first submitted its application.

The “Fast Track” has been used so far to approve 61 IDN ccTLDs. Often, the requested string is merely the name of the country in question, written in one of the local scripts, and the TLD is approved fairly quickly.

But in some cases, especially where the desired string is a two-character code, a string review will find the possibility of confusion with another TLD. This runs the risk of broadening the scope of domain homograph attacks sometimes used in phishing.

That’s what happened to .ευ, along with Bulgaria’s Cyrillic .бг and Greece’s own .ελ, which were rejected on string confusion grounds back in 2010 and 2011.

Under pressure from the Governmental Advisory Committee, ICANN then implemented an Extended Process Similarity Review Panel, essentially an appeals process designed to give unsuccessful Fast Track applicants a second bite at the apple.

That process led to Bulgaria being told that .бг was not too similar to Brazil’s .br, and Greece being told that .ελ did not look too much like .EA, a non-existent ccTLD that may or may not be delegated in future, after all.

But the EU’s .ευ failed at the same time, in 2014. The appeals review panel found that the string was confusable with upper-case .EY and .EV.

Again, these are not ccTLDs, just strings of two characters that have the potential to become ccTLDs in future should a new country or territory emerge and be assigned those codes by the International Standards Organization, a low-probability event.

I reported at the time that .ευ was probably as good as dead. It seemed pretty clear based on the rules at the time that if a string was confusable in uppercase OR lowercase, it would be rejected.

But I was quickly informed by ICANN that I was incorrect, and that ICANN top brass needed to discuss the results.

That seems to have led to ICANN tweaking the rules yet again in order to crowbar .ευ into the root.

In 2015, the board of directors reached out to the GAC, the ccNSO and the Security and Stability Advisory Committee for advice.

They dutifully returned two years later with proposed changes (pdf) that seemed tailor-made for the European Union’s predicament.

A requested IDN ccTLD that caused confusion with other strings in only uppercase, but not lowercase (just like .ευ!!!) could still get delegated, provided it had a comprehensive risk mitigation strategy in place, they recommended.

The recommendation was quickly approved by ICANN, which then sent its implementation guidelines (again, tailor-made for EURid (pdf)) back to the ccNSO/SSAC.

It was not until February this year that the ccNSO/SSAC group got back to ICANN (pdf) to approve of its implementation plan and to say that it has already tested it against EURid’s proposed risk-mitigation plan (pdf).

Basically, the process in 2009 didn’t produce the desired result, so ICANN changed the process. It didn’t produced the desired result again in 2014, so the process was changed again.

But at least Greek-speaking EU citizens are finally going to get a meaningful ccTLD that allows them to express their EUishness in their native script, right?

WRONG!

I recently read with interest and surprise a blog post by domainer-blogger Konstantinos Zournas, in which he referred to .ευ as the “worst domain extension ever”.

Zournas, who is Greek, opened my eyes to the fact that “.ευ” is meaningless in his native tongue. It’s just two Greek letters that visually resemble “EU” in Latin script. It’s confusing by design, but with .eu, a ccTLD that EURid already manages.

While not for a moment doubting Zournas’ familiarity with his own language, I had to confirm this on the EU’s Greek-language web site.

He’s right, the Greek for “European Union” is “Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης”, so the sensible two-letter IDN ccTLD would be .ΕΈ (those are Greek characters that look a bit like Latin E).

That would have almost certainly failed the ICANN string similarity process, however, as .ee/EE is the current, extant ccTLD for Estonia.

In short (too late), it seems to have taken ICANN the best part of a decade, and Jesus H Christ knows how many person-hours, to hack its own procedures multiple times in order to force through an application for a TLD that doesn’t mean anything, can’t be confused with anything that currently exists on the internet, and probably won’t be widely used anyway.

Gratz to all involved!

Foreigners mostly speak foreign, ccTLD study finds

English may be the lingua franca of the internet, but most foreigners still stubbornly stick to their own tongues, a study has found.

The research, carried out by Oxford Information Labs for CENTR, covered 10 ccTLDs and geo-gTLDs and found that “on average, 76% of web content associated with each TLD reflects the languages spoken in the relevant country or territory.”

English was used in 19% of cases, with other languages coming in at 4%.

The Latin-script ccTLDs in question were .ch (Switzerland), .nl (Netherlands), .pt (Portugal), .ru (Russia), .se (Sweden) and .sk (Slovakia).

Also surveyed was the Cyrillic-script Russian ccTLD .рф and .nu, which is designated to English-speaking Niue but marketed primarily in Swedish-speaking Sweden (it also helpfully makes its zone files available for this kind of research).

The research also covered .cat, a gTLD specifically targeted at the Catalonia region of Spain.

In total, 16.4 million domains, culled from zone files, were looked at. The results were supplemented by research carried out in .nl by local registry SIDN.

Oxford Information Labs said that it was hired “to test the hypothesis that ccTLDs support local languages”

In each TLD, the minimum amount of content in the TLD-appropriate language (after parked pages and spam had been weeded out) was 64% of domains. That appears to be the score for .sk, the Slovakian TLD run by a British registry.

The highest concentration of local language occurred, as you might expect, in the IDN .рф.

Surprisingly, .cat, which I believe is the only TLD in the survey to contractually require “substantial” local-language content in its registrants’ web sites, appears to be about 30% non-Catalan.

The average across all the surveyed TLD was 76% local-language content. The researchers concluded:

This study’s findings indicate that country and regional TLDs boost the presence of local languages online and show lower levels of English language than is found in the domain name sector worldwide.

It is estimated that 54% of all web content is in English.

Neustar loses most of its Amazon back-end biz to Nominet

Kevin Murphy, April 12, 2019, Domain Registries

Amazon has switched two thirds of its large portfolio of new gTLDs over to Nominet’s back-end registry services, replacing Neustar.

Judging by changes to IANA records this week, Amazon has moved 35 gTLDs to Nominet, leaving 17 at Neustar.

A Neustar spokesperson confirmed the changes, telling DI:

in an effort to diversify their back-end support, Amazon has chosen to move some, but not all, of their TLDs to another provider. Neustar will still manage multiple Amazon TLDs after the transition and we look forward to our continued partnership.

The switch more than doubles Nominet’s number of TLDs under management. Its biggest customer to date was MMX, which pushed 20 of its TLDs to the .uk registry in a restructuring a few years ago.

The Amazon loss, and a few others recently, also mean that Neustar is by my back-of-the-envelope calculation no longer the largest back-end when measured by the number of TLDs under management.

Those bragging rights would go to Donuts, which self-manages its own rather large portfolio of 241 TLDs. Neustar would remain the largest provider in terms of service provided to third-party clients.

The Neustar-to-Nominet technical migration appears to have kicked off a couple of weeks ago and emerged Wednesday when Nominet’s Technical Contact information replaced Neustar’s in most of Amazon’s IANA records.

Customers will not have noticed, because the TLDs in question barely have any customers.

The only one of the 35 affected TLDs with any registrations at all is .moi, which has just a couple hundred domains in its zone.

The other affected TLDs, none of which have launched, are: .moi, .yamaxun, .author, .book, .buy, .call, .circle, .fast, .got, .jot, .joy, .like, .pin, .read, .room, .safe, .smile, .tushu, .wanggou, .spot, .tunes, .you, .talk, .audible, .deal, .fire, .now, .kindle, .silk, .save, .hot, .pay, .secure, .wow and .free.

The TLDs remaining with Neustar are: .bot, .zero, .ポイント, .書籍, .クラウド, .ストア, .セール, .coupon, .zappos, .ファッション, .食品, .song, .家電, .aws, .imdb, .prime, and .通販.

Six of the TLDs staying with Neustar have launched, but only one, .bot, has more than 100 registrations.

.bot is a tightly restricted, experimental space currently in a long-term “limited registration period” which is not due to end until next January. It has around 1,500 names in its zone file.

Four of Amazon’s dot-brands are staying with Neustar, which is probably the most enthusiastic cheerleader for dot-brands out there, and four are going to Nominet.

Neustar appears to be keeping all of Amazon’s internationalized domain names. Nominet currently manages no IDNs.

How important the adjustment is from a dollar perspective would rather depend on what the per-domain component of the deals were, and whether Amazon ever plans to actually make its gTLDs commercially available.

In recent weeks, XYZ.com also moved its recently acquired .baby gTLD from Neustar, where it had been an unused dot-brand, to preferred provider CentralNic, while .kred and .ceo, both under the same ownership, also switched to CentralNic.

“Just give up!” ICANN tells its most stubborn new gTLD applicant

Kevin Murphy, April 8, 2019, Domain Policy

ICANN has urged the company that wants to run .internet as new gTLD to just give up and go away.

The India-based company, Nameshop, actually applied for .idn — to stand for “internationalized domain name” — back in the 2012 application round.

It failed the Geographic Names Review portion of the application process because IDN is the International Standards Organization’s 3166-1 three-letter code for Indonesia, and those were all banned.

While one might question the logic of applying for a Latin-script string to represent IDNs, overlooking the ISO banned list was not an incredibly stupid move.

Even a company with Google’s brainpower resources overlooked this paragraph of the Applicant Guidebook and applied for three 3166-1 restricted strings: .and, .are and .est.

But rather than withdraw its .idn bid, like Google did with its failed applications, Nameshop decided to ask ICANN to change its applied-for string to .internet.

There was a small amount of precedent for this. ICANN had permitted a few applicants to correct typos in their applied-for strings, enabling DotConnectAfrica for example to correct its nutty application for “.dotafrica” to its intended “.africa”.

But swapping out .idn for .internet was obviously not a simple correction but rather looked a complete upgrade of its addressable market. Nobody else had applied for .internet, and Nameshop was well aware of this, so Nameshop’s bid would have been a shoo-in.

To allow the change would have opened the floodgates for every applicant that found itself in a tricky contention set to completely change their desired strings to something cheaper or more achievable.

But Nameshop principal Sivasubramanian Muthusamy did not take no for an answer. He’s been nagging ICANN to change its mind ever since.

There’s a lengthy, rather slick timeline of his lobbying efforts published on the Nameshop web site.

He filed a Request for Reconsideration back in 2013, which was swiftly rejected by the ICANN board of directors.

In July 2017, he wrote to ICANN to complain that Nameshop’s string change request should be treated the same as any other:

It seems that if ICANN can allow string changes from a relatively undesirable name to a more desireable name based on misspelling, then ICANN should allow a change from a desireable name in three characters(IDN) to longer name in eight characters (Internet) based on confusion with geographical names

Meetings with ICANN staff, the Ombudsman, the Governmental Advisory Committee and others to discuss his predicament several times over the last several years have proved fruitless.

Finally, today ICANN has published a letter (pdf) it sent to Muthusamy on Friday, urging him to ditch his Quixotic quest and get his money back. Christine Willett, VP of gTLD operations, wrote:

Given we are unable to take further action on Nameshop’s application, we encourage you to withdraw the application for a full refund of Nameshop’s application fee.

I doubt this is the first time ICANN has urged Nameshop to take its money and run, but it seems ICANN is now finally sick of talking about the issue.

Willett added that ICANN staff and directors “politely decline” his request for further in-person meetings to discuss the application, and encouraged him to apply for his desired string in the next application round, whenever that may be.

Data beats Merdinger to head universal acceptance group

Kevin Murphy, March 12, 2019, Domain Policy

Email entrepreneur and internationalized domain name expert Ajay Data has been named as the new chair of the group that is struggling to promote the universal acceptance of top-level domains across the internet.

Data, who replaces Afilias COO Ram Mohan after a four-year term, beat GoDaddy’s VP of domains Rich Merdinger in a secret ballot of the Universal Acceptance Steering Group this week.

The number of votes each candidate received were not disclosed.

India-based Data is founder and CEO of Xgenplus, a developer of enterprise email servers with a focus on support for non-Latin scripts and internationalized domain names.

He’s been intimately involved in all things IDN for many years.

The UASG is an independent group, which receives funding from ICANN, dedicated to reaching out to software and web site developers to ensure their systems can support domain names in all scripts, including IDNs, as well as raise awareness of new gTLDs.

Neustar completes .in migration

The transfer of India’s suite of ccTLDs from Afilias to Neustar is done.

NIXI, the .in registry, announced today: “The transition of .IN to its new Neustar-backed Registry platform is now complete.”

With 2.2 million names, not counting names in NIXI’s plethora of localized transliterations, .in is the third-largest TLD migration, behind the 3.1 million .au names that made the reverse journey from Neustar to Afilias last year and the 2.7 million .org names that went from Verisign to Afilias in 2003.

The .in migration started yesterday. NIXI had expected up to 48 hours downtime at the registry EPP level, with obviously no DNS downtime.

The name servers for .in and its IDN equivalents currently all simultaneously include Afilias-owned and Neustar-owned servers.

An Afilias lawsuit against the Indian government, which claimed Neustar lacked experience with Indian scripts and attempted to block the transition, appears to have been dropped last week.

Neustar is reportedly charging NIXI $0.70 per transaction, $0.40 less than Afilias had bid to renew its contract. It won the contract after an open bidding process last August.

Right of the colon? IDN getting killed over dot confusion

Kevin Murphy, February 11, 2019, Domain Registries

An internationalized domain name ccTLD is reportedly getting buried because of a confusion about how many dots should appear.

Armenia’s .հայ (.xn--y9a3aq) today has fewer than 300 registered domains, well under 1% of the volume enjoyed by the Latin-script .am, apparently due to a unique quirk of the Armenian language.

According to a report in the local tech press, sourcing a registry VP, .հայ domains are not working because of how the Armenian script uses punctuation.

In Armenian, a full-stop or period is represented by two vertically aligned dots called a verjaket that looks pretty much identical to a colon in English and other Latin-based languages.

A single dot, looking and positioned exactly like a Latin period, is called a mijaket and is used in the same way English and other languages use a colon.

It’s not entirely clear whether the problem lies with the user, the keyboards, the browsers, or elsewhere, but it’s plain to see how confusion could arise when you have Armenian-script characters on both sides of a Latin-script dot.

The registry, ISOC Armenia, is today reporting just 298 .հայ domains, compared to 34,354 .am domains.

The Latin-script ccTLD has benefited in the past from its association elsewhere with AM radio. It’s also sometimes used as a domain hack, including by Instagram’s URL shortener.

It’s probably worth noting that while Armenia seems to have a unique problem, it’s far from unusual for an IDN ccTLD to perform poorly against its Latin stablemate.

.հայ, which transliterates to “.hay”, is an abbreviation of the Armenian name for Armenia, Հայաստան or “Hayastan”. It was delegated by ICANN in 2015 as part of its IDN ccTLD fast-track program.

Armenian has fewer than seven million speakers worldwide. Armenia has roughly three million inhabitants.

ICANN approves two new TLDs, including THAT one

Kevin Murphy, January 30, 2019, Domain Registries

ICANN’s board of directors has given the nod to two more country-code TLDs.

The eight-year-old nation of South Sudan is finally getting its possibly controversial .ss, while Mauritania is getting the Arabic-script version of its name, موريتانيا. (.xn--mgbah1a3hjkrd), to complement its existing .mr ccTLD.

Both TLDs were approved by ICANN after going through the usual, secretive IANA process, at its board meeting at the weekend.

The recipient of موريتانيا. is the Université de Nouakchott Al Aasriya, while .ss is going to National Communication Authority, a governmental agency.

As previously noted, .ss has the potential to be controversial due to its Nazi associations, and the fact that Nazis are precisely the kind of people who have trouble finding TLDs that will allow them to register names.

But none of that is ICANN’s business. It simply checks to make sure the requester has the support of the local internet community and that the string is on the ISO 3166 list.

The Mauritanian IDN has already been added to the DNS root, while .ss has not.

Afilias sues India to block $12 million Neustar back-end deal

Kevin Murphy, August 27, 2018, Domain Registries

Afilias has sued the Indian government to prevent it awarding the .in ccTLD back-end registry contract to fierce rival Neustar.

The news emerged in local reports over the weekend and appears to be corroborated by published court documents.

According to Moneycontrol, the National Internet Exchange of India plans to award the technical service provider contract to Neustar, after over a decade under Afilias, but Afilias wants the deal blocked.

The contract would also include some 15 current internationalized domain name ccTLDs, with another seven on the way, in addition to .in.

That’s something Afilias reckons Neustar is not technically capable of, according to reports.

Afilias’ lawsuit reportedly alleges that Neustar “has no experience or technical capability to manage and support IDNs in Indian languages and scripts and neither does it claim to have prior experience in Indian languages”.

Neustar runs plenty of IDN TLDs for its dot-brand customers, but none of them appear to be in Indian scripts.

NIXI’s February request for proposals (pdf) contains the requirement: “Support of IDN TLDs in all twenty two scheduled Indian languages and Indian scripts”.

I suppose it’s debatable what this means. Actual, hands-on, operational experience running Indian-script TLDs at scale would be a hell of a requirement to put in an RFP, essentially locking Afilias into the contract for years to come.

Only Verisign and Public Interest Registry currently run delegated gTLDs that use officially recognized Indian scripts, according to my database. And those TLDs — such as Verisign’s .कॉम (the Devanagari .com) — are basically unused.

Neither Neustar nor Afilias have responded to DI’s requests for comment today.

.in has over 2.2 million domains under management, according to NIXI.

Neustar’s Indian subsidiary undercut its rival with a $0.70 per-domain-year offer, $0.40 cheaper than Afilias’ $1.10, according to Moneycontrol.

That would make the deal worth north of $12 million over five years for Afilias and over $7.7 million for Neustar.

One can’t help but be reminded of the two companies’ battle over Australia’s .au, which Afilias sneaked out from under long-time incumbent Neustar late last year.

That handover, the largest in DNS history, was completed relatively smoothly a couple months ago.