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.xyz back on sale in China

Kevin Murphy, September 25, 2017, Domain Registries

Chinese registrars have started to carry .xyz domains again, about five months after a Chinese government ban.

West.cn and Net.cn are two of the China-based companies that appear to be selling .xyz names at the yuan equivalent of a US dollar, based on a spot check this morning.

West.cn flagged the “restoration” of service on its blog today, saying it was “overjoyed” to resume sales.

XYZ.com revealed back in May that its new gTLD domains were “temporarily” no longer available via Chinese registrars, after the government there suspended its license.

The reason for the suspension has always been a little vague, but the registry told DNW back in May that it related to Real Names Verification.

RNV is the government-mandated identity check that must take place before anyone in China can register and use a domain name.

XYZ had been outsourcing the function to ZDNS, but that relationship fell apart for some reason (rumor has it there was a money dispute) and XYZ decided to switch to Tele-info.

In the interim, Chinese registrars, apparently under order of their government, dutifully stopped carrying .xyz domains.

XYZ also went through ICANN’s Registry Services Evaluation Process to get its move to Tele-info approved at the Registry Agreement level.

The downtime prevented XYZ from masking the precipitous decline in its number of domains under management, which has fallen by over three million since May.

XYZ and the Chinese government have yet to issue statements about the newly reinstated license.

UPDATE 10/10/2017 — XYZ.com got in touch last week to say that .xyz was never “banned” in China.

A spokesperson said in an email: “We had RNV in place with ZDNS and opted to switch. To be compliant with ICANN, we suspended registrations in China.”

He declined to clarify whether the suspension was voluntary or ICANN-mandated.

He also declined to confirm or deny that Chinese registrars been told to suspend .xyz registrations by the government, as local sources have previously told DI and Domain Name Wire.

Other gTLDs owned by other registries have previously obtained Chinese licenses without ICANN first approving their RNV providers.

Okay, pedants, only 36% of new gTLDs are shrinking

Kevin Murphy, September 19, 2017, Domain Registries

Thirty-six percent of non-brand new gTLDs are shrinking, DI analysis shows.

According to numbers culled from zone files, 156 of the 435 commercial gTLDs we looked at had fewer domains yesterday than they did a year earlier.

On the bright side, that means the majority of them are still growing, but…

You: Wait, Kev, didn’t you write this exact same story yesterday, but said that 40% of new gTLDs were shrinking? Why are you now saying it’s 36%?

Me: People in the comments and on social media complained that I’d used domains under management (DUM) from May’s registry transaction reports — the most recent available — to collate the data yesterday, rather than more recent but less accurate zone files.

You: Why did they complain?

Me: I think because the May numbers show .xyz gaining on an annual basis, and yet everyone and his grandmother knows that .xyz’s numbers dropped off a cliff in July.

Your Grandmother: It’s true, they did. They lost millions…

You: Shut up, Gran. So, Kev, presumably if you do the same survey again, using the same TLDs, but use zone file data from this week instead, you’ll discover that the number of shrinking TLDs is far greater than 40%?

Me: Why would you presume that?

You: Because I also hate new gTLDs in general, not just .xyz specifically.

Me: Actually, the number of shrinking new gTLDs turns out to be smaller.

You: How come?

Me: Because only 36% of the gTLDs I surveyed had fewer numbers in their September 18, 2017 zone file than they did in their September 18, 2016 zone file.

You: So you actually over-reported the shrinkage in your first post? How come? I thought you were a shameless stooge of the new gTLD industry.

Me: I get that a lot.

You: Is .xyz at least on the list of biggest losers now?

Me: It is. Right at the top.

You: Good. I really fucking hate .xyz. What else changed? Stands to reason that some losers first time around are now gainers.

Me: Correct. Famous Four Media’s .party, for example, was a top 10 loser in the report comparing May 2016 DUM to May 2017 DUM, losing over 100,000 names, but it’s a top 10 gainer in the September-September zone file report, adding 85,000.

You: Explain.

Me: Well, .party’s reg numbers fell off a cliff in July 2016, and were still pretty depressed a year ago, but have since regained ground, presumably due to them costing less than a pack of gum.

You: Got it. Any others?

Me: It’s a similar story for .webcam, .work, .bar, .audio, .rest and a few others. They all shrunk May-May but gained September-September.

You: So, in summary, the new gTLD industry isn’t as unhealthy as you made out on Monday?

Me: Maybe. To be honest I don’t think the disparity between 36% and 40% makes a whole lot of difference. It’s still quite a lot of TLDs growing in the wrong direction. At one time, that kind of thing was virtually unheard of.

You: True dat.

Me: Anyway, can I get back to my blog post now?

You: Sure. Just don’t expect me to read to the end.

L’Oreal is using “closed generic” .makeup in an interesting way

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2017, Domain Registries

What do you call a registry that defensively registers names on behalf of the very people that would be its most likely customers if the TLD weren’t so hideously overpriced?

L’Oreal, apparently.

About half of its .makeup new gTLD comprises the names or nicknames of social media “influencers” in the make-up scene, and they all seem to belong to the registry.

Ironically, these are precisely the kind of people you’d expect to actually go out and register .makeup domains, if they didn’t cost close to $7,000 a pop.

L’Oreal put a $5,500 wholesale price-tag on .makeup domains, evidently as a Plan B to avoid actually having to sell names to people, after its original plan to keep the string as a “closed generic” failed due to ICANN politicking.

As you might expect, uptake has been minimal. The zone file currently has about 266 domains in it.

Beyond L’Oreal itself, there are defensive registrations by companies not remotely related to the make-up industry, such as BMW and Intuit, and registrations by competing companies in the cosmetics industry, such as Christian Dior and Estee Lauder.

But there are also something like 150 .makeup domains that were all registered at the same time, this April, representing the names and social media handles of young women who post YouTube videos about makeup for their often thousands of subscribers.

It turns out these women are all participants (willing, it seems) in WeLove.Makeup, a web site created by L’Oreal to promote its products.

The site is basically a social media aggregator. Each “influencer” has their own page, populated by their posts from YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, and such. It’s maintained by Findie, which specializes in that kind of thing.

The domains matching the participants names do not resolve to the site, however. They’re all registered to L’Oreal’s registry management partner Fairwinds and resolve to ad-free registrar parking pages.

The names were registered via 101Domain, which prices .makeup names at $6,999, but I’ve no idea what payment arrangement Fairwinds/L’Oreal has for this kind of thing.

This is what a wannabe closed generic can look like, it seems — the registry pricing its customers out of the market then registering their names on their behalf anyway.

Is this “innovation”?

Four in 10 new gTLDs are shrinking

Kevin Murphy, September 18, 2017, Domain Registries

Forty percent of non-brand new gTLDs are shrinking, DI analysis shows.

According to numbers culled from registry reports, 172 of the 435 commercial gTLDs we looked at had fewer domains under management at the start of June than they did a year earlier.

On the bright side, that means the majority of them are still growing, but it’s still a pretty poor showing.

As you might expect, registries with the greatest exposure to the budget and/or Chinese markets were hardest hit over the period.

.wang, .red, .ren, .science and .party all saw DUM decline by six figures. Another 27 gTLDs saw declines of over 10,000 names.

Of the portfolio registries, Famous Four Media, Uniregistry and Afilias saw the steepest falls, each churning through hundreds of thousands of domains.

FFM strings including .science, .party and .date, which are regularly offered for under $0.50 and have terrible renewal rates, were among the biggest losers.

For Afilias, its .red, .blue and .pink combined saw volumes plummet by over 300,000. Its Korean-surname-themed .kim lost 90,000 names over the year.

Much of Uniregistry’s decline, I believe, is due to the expiration of thousands of domains that were essentially registry-owned.

Here’s a list of the top 40 biggest losers.

TLDMay 2016 DUMMay 2017 DUMChange
wang1,063,080647,837-415,243
red309,31951,473-257,846
ren305,80181,840-223,961
science332,455183,626-148,829
party243,918140,063-103,855
click242,125149,179-92,946
kim128,05237,182-90,870
date190,506103,435-87,071
xn--ses554g192,076142,906-49,170
pink40,4677,838-32,629
property42,31413,187-29,127
blue41,54413,386-28,158
webcam86,92958,928-28,001
work100,76376,099-24,664
flowers26,0352,429-23,606
link396,611375,021-21,590
ninja54,65835,671-18,987
pics32,87014,907-17,963
xn--rhqv96g22,0245,271-16,753
cricket42,73626,192-16,544
black22,1515,888-16,263
audio24,5929,396-15,196
diet19,3214,164-15,157
lol95,11580,157-14,958
xn--3ds443g65,21750,628-14,589
bar20,1836,611-13,572
ooo18,9317,047-11,884
christmas15,5673,696-11,871
help53,17642,485-10,691
rest12,9222,768-10,154
blackfriday12,3932,288-10,105
hosting16,2306,461-9,769
news76,11966,754-9,365
love27,38418,125-9,259
fans17,9658,810-9,155
ink26,07017,896-8,174
xn--fiq228c5hs47,39340,289-7,104
faith60,04554,142-5,903
hiphop7,6221,934-5,688

At the opposite end of the table, the biggest gainers over the 12-month period were .xyz, .loan, .top, .online, .men, .tech, .kiwi, .club, .site and .bid.

Those 10 TLDs all saw volumes increase by over 100,000 names.

But that’s not necessarily hugely encouraging news, for various reasons.

We already know that .xyz is set to lose millions of names over its next couple of monthly registry reports.

One could guess that the peaks in Famous Four strings .bid, .loan and .men are likely to be matched by troughs before long.

.kiwi appears to be on the list due to its waiving the fees on about 200,000 domains, under a deal with a registrar last year.

.club recently said that it only expects to get 10% to 15% renewals on about 700,000 of its million total names.

Finally, .top is widely thought of as the TLD of choice for throwaway spam domains and has already lost a couple million names since June.

Here’s the top 30 gainers from my list:

TLDMay 2016 DUMMay 2017 DUMChange
xyz2,896,9835,995,2923,098,309
loan240,6422,132,8951,892,253
top2,494,4073,876,1081,381,701
online305,700749,097443,397
men14,904299,996285,092
tech132,507339,503206,996
kiwi10,997202,234191,237
club790,903980,327189,424
site405,596535,321129,725
bid363,751470,107106,356
win935,6091,030,09994,490
website178,863268,70989,846
space178,852265,07486,222
trade82,215161,11078,895
racing61,553135,02073,467
life38,813105,90667,093
accountant48,135111,04862,913
live47,42599,98852,563
host26,91865,55438,636
world29,99961,07931,080
download72,39899,90127,503
xin326,320353,63927,319
design43,53368,60025,067
city22,79344,83722,044
today53,72275,15821,436
press35,07955,92820,849
studio11,44029,73518,295
solutions52,15669,62817,472
email58,23670,53612,300
sale11,17422,77711,603

For the survey, I selected only new gTLDs from the 2012 round that had general availability dates in 2015 or earlier. I excluded any gTLD with Specifications 9 or 13, which act as a dot-brand flag, in their ICANN contract.

The 436 resulting TLDs include both wide-open, commercially available namespaces such as .link and .xyz, and the more restricted zones such as .bank and .law.

Will ICANN punt on .amazon again?

Kevin Murphy, September 15, 2017, Domain Policy

Amazon is piling pressure onto ICANN to finally approve its five-year-old gTLD applications for .amazon, but it seems to me the e-commerce giant will have a while to wait yet.

The company sent a letter to ICANN leadership this week calling on it to act quickly on the July ruling of an Independent Review Process panel that found ICANN had breached its own bylaws when it rejected the .amazon and and Chinese and Japanese transliterations.

Amazon’s letter said:

Such action is necessary because there is no sovereign right under international or national law to the name “Amazon,” because there are no well-founded and substantiated public policy reasons to block our Applications, because we are committed to using the TLDs in a respectful manner, and because the Board should respect the IRP accountability mechanism.

ICANN had denied the three applications based on nothing more than the consensus advice of its Governmental Advisory Committee, which had been swayed by the arguments of primarily Brazil and Peru that there were public policy reasons to keep the gTLD available for possible future use by its own peoples.

The string “Amazon”, among its many uses, is of course the name of a river and a rain forest that covers much of the South American continent.

But the IRP panel decided that the ICANN board should have at least required the GAC to explain its public policy arguments, rather than just accepting its advice as a mandate from on-high.

Global Domains Division chief Akram Atallah had testified before the panel that consensus GAC advice sets a bar “too high for the Board to say no.”

But the governmental objections “do not appear to be based on well-founded public policy concerns that justify the denial of the applications” the IRP panelists wrote.

The panel, in a 2-to-1 ruling, instructed ICANN to reopen Amazon’s applications.

Since the July ruling, ICANN’s board has not discussed how to proceed, but it seems likely that the matter will come up at its Montevideo, Uruguay retreat later this month.

No agenda for this meeting has yet been published, but there will be an unprecedented public webcast of the full formal board meeting, September 23.

The Amazon letter specifically asks the ICANN board of directors to not refer the .amazon matter back to the GAC for further advice, but I think that’s probably the most likely outcome.

I say this largely because while ICANN’s bylaws specifically allow it to reject GAC advice, it has cravenly avoided such a confrontation for most of its history.

It has on occasion even willfully misinterpreted GAC advice in order to appear that it has accepted it when it has not.

The GAC, compliantly, regularly provides pieces of advice that its leaders have acknowledged are deliberately vague and open to interpretation (for a reason best known to the politicians themselves).

It seems to me the most likely next step in the .amazon case is for the board to ask the GAC to reaffirm or reconsider its objection, giving the committee the chance to save face — and avoid a lengthy mediation process — by providing the board with something less than a consensus objection.

If ICANN were to do this, my feeling is that the GAC at large would probably be minded to stick to its guns.

But it only takes one government to voice opposition to advice for it to lose its “consensus” status, making it politically much easier for ICANN to ignore.

Hypothetically, the US government could return to its somewhat protectionist pre-2014 position of blocking consensus on .amazon, but that might risk fanning the flames of anti-US sentiment.

While the US no longer has its unique role in overseeing ICANN’s IANA function, it still acts as the jurisdictional overlord for the legal organization, which some other governments still hate.

A less confrontational approach might be to abstain and to allow friendly third-party governments to roadblock consensus, perhaps by emphasizing the importance of ICANN being seen to accountable in the post-transition world.

Anyway, this is just my gut premonition on how this could play out, based on the track records of ICANN and the GAC.

If ICANN can be relied on for anything, it’s to never make a decision on something today if it can be put off until tomorrow.