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.club is the bestest new gTLD, .club survey finds

Kevin Murphy, December 21, 2017, Domain Registries

.CLUB Domains has published the results of some research it commissioned into media mentions of new gTLDs that show .club coming out on top.

It’s an interesting new way to compare the relative success of new gTLDs based on usage or eyeballs rather than registration volumes, even if the report has its flaws.

In a blog post, .CLUB chief marketing officer Jeff Sass wrote:

A business will invest their time and money to incorporate a domain name that they trust and value. Their domain becomes an active component of their branding, marketing, and PR activities.

When the press or media picks up announcements and/or writes articles about these businesses, the domain name typically gets mentioned in the articles and press releases. This leads to further awareness, familiarity, and trust built around the domain name extensions that are mentioned most frequently in the press.

The registry paid Meltwater, a media monitoring company, to dig up all the media references to domains using any of the top 10 largest new gTLDs over the first half of the year.

It found that .club had the most mentions both empirically and adjusted for TLD size, and that .club’s media mentions had the most positive slant.

From the report (pdf):

When tracking the number of press impressions (articles) in terms of raw numbers, the top 3 were: .CLUB, with 14,519 impressions; .XYZ, with 10,770 impressions; and .ONLINE, with 9,595 impressions. When looking at the impression data against topline registration numbers, the top 3 TLDs were: .CLUB, with 13.29 impressions for every 1,000 registrations; .ONLINE, with 12.87 impressions for every 1,000 registrations; and .SITE, with 6.55 impressions for every 1,000 registrations. As for positive sentiment, the top 3 TLDs were: .CLUB, with 4,300 articles; .ONLINE, with 2,200 articles; and .XYZ with 2,189 articles.

The definition of “article” used by Meltwater is pretty broad. It’s certainly not looking at only the mainstream media.

The survey included press releases as well as editorial, and seems to include a fair bit of user-generated content, such as posts on Medium.com and Sohu.com, too.

There’s even one “article” cited that is actually just a Kickstarter crowd-funding project page.

The survey also double-counts articles, so if a press release appears on multiple sites, or an article is syndicated to multiple publications, each appearance was counted separately.

One could argue that all of this is a fair enough way to conduct such a survey — .CLUB is looking for evidence of grassroots usage and awareness, not just of coverage by publications with rigorous editorial controls.

And the methodology also called for all articles produced by or written about the registries themselves to be disregarded, presumably reducing the number of hits per registry and the chance of the results being gamed.

But a lot of the 30 articles cited directly in the Meltwater report, particularly those coming out of China, appear to be rather spammy. Others are just odd. Others offer negative views of specific new gTLD domains.

One of them is an inexplicable Chinese translation of a warning about a UK company using a .loan domain to scam people, for example.

Another is a BuzzFeed article from Japan about a fake news site using a .xyz domain to target Koreans.

Other references are so minor that even though Meltwater’s spiders spotted them I doubt many human beings would.

One of .club’s big hits is just a tiny photo credit on an stock image used in a forgettable BuzzFeed listicle, another is the Daily Mail quoting an Instagram post by an American athlete who uses a .club domain in a hashtag, the third is a self-promotional blog post on Medium.com by the owner of minicomic.club.

If these are the most prominent citations Meltwater could dig up over six months, these new gTLDs still have a way to go in terms of awareness.

But my main issue with the research is that it was limited to the top 10 new gTLDs by registration volume: .xyz, .top, .loan, .club, .win, .online, .vip, .wang, .site and .bid.

As we all know by now, there’s a correlation (at least anecdotally) between volume, low price and low quality usage/abuse.

I’d love to see subsequent reports of this nature delve into smaller TLDs, including dot-brands, that may not have as many sales but may have greater engagement and more press coverage.

The full .CLUB/Meltwater report can be found here (pdf).

ICANN, with $143 million budget, running out of cash

Kevin Murphy, December 19, 2017, Domain Policy

ICANN is to tighten its belt over the coming year as lower than expected revenue from domain name registrations has caused a budget shortfall and dwindling reserves.

The organization is $1 million short so far in its fiscal 2018, which CEO Goran Marby says is forcing him to look at making cuts to staffing costs, travel expenses, and community-requested projects.

Meanwhile, chair Cherine Chalaby says the board of directors is worried that ICANN’s reserve fund is $80 million shy of where it ideally should be.

Both men outlined their priorities in separate end-of-year blog posts this week.

It does not yet appear that anyone’s job is on the line.

Marby indicated that headcount would be reduced through attrition — sometimes not replacing staff who leave — rather than lay-offs.

“The reality is, ICANN has a significant budget but not an infinite budget. We need to make some changes, and can’t do everything we are asked,” he wrote, before explaining some areas where “efficiencies” could be found.

For example, when someone leaves ICANN org, we are taking a close look at the vacancy, the team’s needs and other people’s availability and skills before deciding if we are going to fill the role. We are also looking at our staff travel practices for ICANN meetings and other ICANN org commitments, reviewing our language services support levels and offering, and trying to consolidate our collateral and the volume of reports. We are looking at what projects we could delay or stop

Some might say that this renewed focus on how ICANN manages its money is overdue. The organization has bloated fast over the last several years, as over 1,200 new gTLD registries became contracted parties and interest in ICANN’s work grew globally.

In its financial year ending June 2012, it budgeted for revenue of $69.7 million and expenses of $67 million.

For FY2017, which ended this June, it was up to revenue of $132.4 million and expenses of $126.5 million.

Over the same period, headcount swelled from 158 full-time equivalents to 365. That was anticipated to grow to 413 by next June.

For the financial year ending next June, ICANN had budgeted for $142.8 million revenue, growing from $135.9 million, but Marby said in his blog post today that it might actually be flat instead.

As much as 64% of ICANN’s revenue is driven by transaction volumes — registrations, renewals and transfers — in gTLDs. In the quarter to September, revenue was $1 million behind plan due to lower than expected transactions, Marby said.

The message is to expect cuts, possibly to projects you care about.

Adding complexity, the ICANN board has decided following public consultation at 12 months funding is the appropriate amount ICANN should be keeping in reserve — so it can continue to function for a year should its contracted parties all abruptly decide not to pay their dues.

Unfortunately, as Chalaby outlined in his post today, this reserve pool is currently at about $60 million — just five months’ worth — so the organization is going to have to figure out how to replenish it.

Building up reserves to the tune of an extra $80 million is likely to put more pressure on the regular annual budget, leeching cash from other projects.

Chalaby said that the board will discuss its options at its February 2018 workshop.

Marby, meanwhile, said that a new budget will be out for public comment in mid-January.

.kids auction is off

Kevin Murphy, December 12, 2017, Domain Registries

ICANN has postponed the planned auction of the .kid(s) gTLDs after an appeal from one of the applicants.

The last-resort auction had been penciled in for January 25, and there was a December 8 deadline for the three participants to submit their info to the auctioneer.

But DotKids Foundation, the shallowest-pocketed of the three, filed a Request for Reconsideration last Wednesday, asking ICANN to put the contention set back on hold.

The cancellation of the January auction appears to be to give ICANN’s board of directors time to consider the RfR under its usual process — it has not yet ruled on it.

DotKids and Amazon have applied for .kids and Google has applied for .kid. A String Confusion Objection won by Google put the two strings in the same contention set, meaning only one will eventually go live.

DotKids comprehensively lost a Community Priority Evaluation, which would negate an auction altogether, but it thinks the CPE got it wrong and wants to be treated the same way as other gTLD applicants whose CPE results are currently under review.

Reconsideration requests take between 30 and 90 days to process, and they rarely go the way of the requester, so the delay to the auction will likely not be too long.

As .wed goes EBERO, did the first new gTLD just fail?

Kevin Murphy, December 11, 2017, Domain Registries

A wedding-themed gTLD with a Bizarro World business model may become the first commercial gTLD to outright fail.

.wed, run by a small US outfit named Atgron, has become the first non-brand gTLD to be placed under ICANN’s emergency control, after it lost its back-end provider.

DI understands that Atgron’s arrangement with its small New Zealand back-end registry services provider CoCCA expired at the end of November and that there was a “controlled” transition to ICANN’s Emergency Back-End Registry Operator program.

The TLD is now being managed by Nominet, one of ICANN’s approved EBERO providers.

It’s the first commercial gTLD to go to EBERO, which is considered a platform of last resort for failing gTLDs.

A couple of unused dot-brands have previously switched to EBERO, but they were single-registrant spaces with no active domains.

.wed, by contrast, had about 40 domains under management at the last count, some apparently belonging to actual third-party registrants.

Under the standard new gTLD Registry Agreement, ICANN can put a TLD in the emergency program if they fail to meet up-time targets in any of five critical registry functions.

In this case, ICANN said that Atgron had failed to provide Whois services as required by contract. The threshold for Whois triggering EBERO is 24 hours downtime over a week.

ICANN said:

Registry operator, Atgron, Inc., which operates gTLD .WED, experienced a Registration Data Directory Services failure, and ICANN designated EBERO provider Nominet as emergency interim registry operator. Nominet has now stepped in and is restoring service for the TLD.

The EBERO program is designed to be activated should a registry operator require assistance to sustain critical registry functions for a period of time. The primary concern of the EBERO program is to protect registrants by ensuring that the five critical registry functions are available. ICANN’s goal is to have the emergency event resolved as soon as possible.

However, the situation looks to me a lot more like a business failure than a technical failure.

Multiple sources with knowledge of the transition tell me that the Whois was turned off deliberately, purely to provide a triggering event for the EBERO failover system, after Atgron’s back-end contract with CoCCA expired.

The logic was that turning off Whois would be far less disruptive for registrants and internet users than losing DNS resolution, DNSSEC, data escrow or EPP.

ICANN was aware of the situation and it all happened in a coordinated fashion. ICANN told DI:

WED’s backend registry operator recently notified ICANN that they would likely cease to provide backend registry services for .WED and provided us with the time and date that this would occur. As such, we were aware of the pending failure worked to minimize impact to registrants and end users during the transition to the Emergency Back-end Registry Operator (EBERO) service provider.

In its first statement, ICANN said that Nominet has only been appointed as the “interim” registry, while Atgron works on its issues.

It’s quite possible that the registry will bounce back and sign a deal with a new back-end provider, or build its own infrastructure.

KSregistry, part of the KeyDrive group, briefly provided services to .wed last week before the EBERO took over, but I gather that no permanent deal has been signed.

One wonders whether it’s worth Atgron’s effort to carry on with the .wed project, which clearly isn’t working out.

The company was founded by an American defense contractor with no previous experience of the domain name industry after she read a newspaper article about the new gTLD program, and has a business model that has so far failed to attract customers.

The key thing keeping registrars and registrants away in droves has been its policy that domains could be registered (for about $50 a year) for a maximum period of two years before a $30,000 renewal fee kicked in.

That wasn’t an attempt to rip anybody off, however, it was an attempt to incentivize registrants to allow their domains to expire and be used by other people, pretty much the antithesis of standard industry practice (and arguably long-term business success).

That’s one among many contractual reasons that only one registrar ever signed up to sell .wed domains.

Atgron’s domains under management peaked at a bit over 300 in March 2016 and were down to 42 in August this year, making it probably the failiest commercial new gTLD from the 2012 round.

In short, .wed isn’t dead, but it certainly appears extremely unwell.

UPDATE: This post was updated December 12 with a statement from ICANN.

Numeric .xyz names plummet despite dollar deal

Kevin Murphy, December 7, 2017, Domain Registries

XYZ.com’s effort to sell over a billion numeric .xyz domains at just $0.65 each does not appear to be gaining traction.

The number of qualifying domains in the .xyz zone file has plummeted by almost 200,000 since the deal was introduced and dipped by over 4,000 since the blanket discount went live.

The $0.65 registry fee applies to what XYZ calls the “1.111B Class” of domains — all 1.111 billion possible six, seven, eight and nine-digit numeric .xyz domains.

These domains carry a recommended retail price of $0.99.

It’s not a promotional price. It’s permanent and also applies to renewals.

Some registrars opted to start offering the lower price from June 1, but it did not come into effect automatically for all .xyz registrars until November 11

The number of domains in this class seems to be on a downward trend, regardless.

There were 272,589 such domains May 31, according to my analysis of .xyz zone files, but that was down to 74,864 on December 5.

On November 10, the day before the pricing became uniform, there were 78,256 such domains. That shows a decline of over 4,000 domains over the last four weeks.

It’s possible that the 1.111B offer is attracting registrants, but that their positive impact on the numbers is being drowned out by unrelated negative factors.

The period of the 200,000-name decline coincides with the massive mid-July junk drop, in which .xyz lost over half of its total active domains due to the expiration of domains registered for just a penny or two in mid-2015.

Many of those penny domains were numeric, due to interest from speculators from China, where such names have currency.

The period also coincides with a time in which XYZ was prohibited from selling via Chinese registrars, due to a problem changing its Real Names Verification provider.

In recent marketing, XYZ has highlighted some interesting uses of 1.111B domains, including a partnership with blockchain cryptocurrency Ethereum.

Other registrants are using the domains to match important dates and autonomous system numbers.