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Renewals at 55% as first new gTLD junk drop begins

Kevin Murphy, February 18, 2015, Domain Registries

The first new gTLD to go live is seeing its first-year renewals at 55% one year after hitting general availability.

dotShabaka Registry’s شبكة. (or “.shabaka”, the Arabic for “.web”) has also seen its zone file shrink by about 27% over the last two weeks.

The zone peaked at 2,069 domains on February 1, 2015, but today stands at 1,521. Exactly one year ago, it was at 1,561 names.

The zone is smaller today than it was just two weeks after GA began, in other words.

“We can confirm we’re seeing renewal rates for names due in February at around 55%,” Adrian Kinderis, CEO of ARI Registry Services, which runs .shabaka’s back-end, told DI in a statement.

The registry added 1,608 domains in February 2014, 1,400 of those in the first half of the month.

The 55% is the number of domains that were renewed before their February expiry date. The full number for February will not be known until the grace period ends in mid-April.

“We have a handful of cancel renews and all other expired domains are in the auto-renew period,” he said. “It’s too early to examine the numbers for renews post-expiry date, but we expect this will increase the overall tally.”

“Given the market conditions we face in the region, the results align with our forecasts and we expect the numbers to improve for renewals due in the coming weeks and months,” he said.

In gTLDs, domains can enter a Auto Renew Grace Period for up to 45 days after expiration, during which they can still be renewed by their registrant and may or may not appear in the zone file.

It wouldn’t be fair on other new gTLD registries to read to much into these numbers, assuming they do not improve, as شبكة. is a bit of an unusual case.

It’s seen low registration volume, despite the apparently attractive string, largely because it’s restricted to Arabic script at the second level and the Arabic-speaking market is in its infancy.

When شبكة. launched there were no registrars offering an end-to-end Arabic shopping cart, Kinderis said. He added:

The most significant problem still remains demand and consumer awareness…

In regards to demand, the lack of awareness is a direct result of little to no marketing in the region. Apart from our own efforts, there has been little marketing or education programs deployed to increase awareness of new Top-Level Domains and Arabic script domain names.

We have even limited our marketing efforts because we identified early that market readiness is inadequate. Any large investment in marketing from dotShabaka Registry at the moment would be premature and wasteful until supply, demand and universal acceptance issues have been addressed.

He called on ICANN and its recently created Middle East Working Group to focus on ways to increase awareness and demand for domain names in the region. To date, it’s focused too much registrars and technical issues, he said.

شبكة. has its own set of issues and is probably not the best test case for new gTLDs in general.

That’s going to come soon. Donuts’ first batch of gTLDs — .guru, .bike, .holdings, .plumbing, .singles, .ventures and .clothing — had their base-price GA anniversary on February 4, and it appears that domains have already started to drop.

There’s little indication of anything amiss in the .guru zone file so far but the other six are down slightly — by maybe 100 or so names apiece, or less than 1% each — over the last two weeks.

Donuts executives have said they expect first-year renewals to be strong, but we’ve got a few weeks left before anyone will be in a position to know for sure.

dotShabaka wants to be the first new gTLD to launch, but big problems remain

Having been the first to sign a contract with ICANN two weeks ago, new gTLD registry dotShabaka is also desperate to be the first to launch, but faces big obstacles.

The company, International Domain Registry, is a spin-off of AusRegistry, with many of the same directors and staff, but executives insist it is an entirely separate entity and will become more so with time.

It was awarded, uncontested and unobjected, the Arabic TLD شبكة., which means “.web” and transliterates to “.shabaka”. It will do business under the trading name dotShabaka Registry.

According to the Registry Agreement published by ICANN last week, it was signed on July 13, one day before the other three registries to so far get contracts.

“It was a lot of work to make sure we were the first to sign, and we intend to be the first to delegation,” general manager Yasmin Omer told DI last week.

“The best-estimate timeline published by ICANN in Durban is our timeline, that’s our target,” she added.

The timeline she’s referring to (pdf) is the one that says the first new gTLD could hit the root as early as September 5, with the first Sunrise period kicking off a month later.

Omer is slightly less optimistic about the timing, however, saying that “mid-September” is looking more likely, due to the requirements of the Pre-Delegation Testing period that dotShabaka is currently in.

The company is doing preliminary PDT work right now and expects to start testing properly in the first week of August.

But PDT is not the only thing standing in dotShabaka’s — and other new gTLD applicants’ — path to delegation.

Right now, the Trademark Clearinghouse and the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement are the big barriers, Omer said.

TMCH requirements not ready

The TMCH is a problem because ICANN has still not finalized the TMCH’s RPM Requirements document, a set of rules that each new gTLD registry must adhere to in their Sunrise and Trademark Claims phases.

“A group within NTAG and the Registries Stakeholder Group has been negotiating this document with ICANN for some time now, going back and forth,” Omer said. “It’s all fine for those who intend on launching later on, but this document has yet to be finalized and that really harms us.”

A draft of the Requirements document (pdf) was published in April, and Omer said she expects ICANN to take a more up-to-date draft to public comment.

A standard 42-day comment period, starting today, would end mid-September.

As we reported in April, the Requirements raises questions about whether registries would, for example, be able to create lists of reserved premium domains or whether trademark owners would always get priority.

dotShabaka faces an additional problem with the TMCH because its gTLD is an Arabic string and there are been very little buy-in so far from companies in the Arabic-speaking world.

A couple of weeks ago, TMCH execs admitted that of the over 5,000 trademarks currently registered in the TMCH, only 13 are in Arabic.

In Durban, they said that the TMCH guidelines were not yet available in Arabic.

Part of the problem appears to be that a rumor was spread that the TMCH does not support non-Latin scripts, which executives said is not remotely true.

With so little participation from the Arabic trademark community, an early شبكة. launch could mean a woefully under-subscribed Sunrise period — 30 days to protect just a handful of companies.

“There’s no knowledge of the TMCH in the region,” Omer said.

“We’re currently putting our heads together to think of mechanisms to overcome this,” she said. “We don’t just want to be first to delegate and have it sit there idly, we want to be first to market as well.”

dotShabaka has been doing its own press in the region and claims to have taken thousands of expressions of interest in the gTLD, indicating that there is a market if awareness can be raised.

Registrars are a problem

Signing the 2013 Registrar Accreditation Agreement is a requirement for any registrar that want to sell new gTLDs, and that includes IDNs. Only seven registrars have publicly signed it to date.

According to Omer, the 2013 RAA’s stricter requirements are “not helping us in the region”.

Its provisions related to insurance can be “prohibitive to those located to those located in North Africa and the Middle East”, she said by way of an example.

In addition, there are only about seven accredited registrars in the region, all on older RAA versions, she said.

dotShabaka has already signed up Go Daddy and others to carry شبكة., so getting the TLD into the channel is not a problem.

But while Go Daddy will have an Arabic landing page for the TLD it will not have a full Arabic-language registration process and shopping cart ready in time for شبكة.’s planned launch window launch.

This makes me wonder whether there’s a risk that domain savvy Westerners are more likely to get a crack at the best شبكة. names before the Arab world is fully aware of the launch.

But Omer said that dotShabaka is doing its own outreach and that it’s committed to improving the “horrible” online experience for Arabic speakers that exists today.

“It’s not just about the TLD, it’s about the cause, it’s about an Arabic internet,” she said. “Yes there are issues and yes there are barriers, but we want to build more robust Arabic domain name market.”