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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.

New rules could stop registries ripping off big brands

Kevin Murphy, January 25, 2021, Domain Policy

New gTLD registries could be banned from unfairly reaching into the deep pockets of famous brands, under proposed rules soon to be considered by ICANN.

A recommendation approved by the GNSO Council last Thursday targets practices such as using reserved and premium lists to block trademark owners from registering their brands during sunrise periods, or charging them exorbitant fees.

It’s believed to target new TLDs that hope to copy controversial practices deployed by the likes of .sucks, .feedback and .top in the 2012 gTLD round.

The recommendations came in the final report of Review of All Rights Protection Mechanisms (RPMs) in All gTLDs working group, which suggests over 30 tweaks to policies such as Sunrise, Trademark Claims, Trademark Clearinghouse and Uniform Rapid Suspension.

While the recommendations almost all received full consensus of the working group, that’s largely because the group could not agree to any of the major changes that had been demanded by the intellectual property lobby.

The aforementioned RPMs will therefore not change a great deal for the next batch of new gTLD applicants.

Even the recommendation about not ripping off big brands is fairly weak, and may well be watered down to homeopathic levels by the forthcoming Implementation Review Team, which will be tasked with turning policy into practice.

This is the recommendation:

Sunrise Final Recommendation #1

The Working Group recommends that the Registry Agreement for future new gTLDs include a provision stating that a Registry Operator shall not operate its TLD in such a way as to have the effect of intentionally circumventing the mandatory RPMs imposed by ICANN or restricting brand owners’ reasonable use of the Sunrise RPM.

Implementation Guidance:

The Working Group agrees that this recommendation and its implementation are not intended to preclude or restrict a Registry Operator’s legitimate business practices that are otherwise compliant with ICANN policies and procedures.

The idea is that ICANN Compliance could come down on registries deploying unfair rules designed to rip off trademark owners.

Practices that have come in for criticism in the past, and are cited in the report, include:

.top’s attempt to charge Facebook $30,000 for facebook.top

.feedback registering thousands of brand-match domains to itself

.sucks placing brand-match domains in an expensive premium pricing tier

Famous Four Media doing the same thing

The working group could not agree on whether any of these should be banned, and it looks like the IRT will have a lot of wriggle room when it comes to interpret the recommendation.

Now that the GNSO Council has approved the RPM working group’s final report (pdf), it will be passed to the ICANN board of directors for consideration before the nitty-gritty work of translating words into reality begins.

New gTLDs rebound in Q2

Kevin Murphy, August 21, 2018, Domain Registries

New gTLD registration volumes reversed a long trend of decline in the second quarter, according to Verisign’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief.

The DNIB (pdf), published late last week, shows new gTLD domains up by 1.6 million sequentially to 21.8 million at the end of June, a 7.8% increase.

That’s the first time Verisign’s numbers have shown quarterly growth for new gTLDs since December 2016, five quarters of shrinkage ago.

Domains (millions)
Q3 201623.4
Q4 201625.6
Q1 201725.4
Q2 201724.3
Q3 201721.1
Q4 201720.6
Q1 201820.1
Q2 201821.8

The best-performing new gTLD across Q2 was .top according to my zone file records, adding about 600,000 names.

.top plays almost exclusively into the sub-$1 Chinese market and is regularly singled out as a spam-friendly zone. SpamHaus currently ranks it as almost 45% “bad”.

Overall, the domain universe saw growth of six million names, or 1.8%, finishing the quarter at 339.8 million names, according to Verisign.

Verisign’s own .com ended Q2 with 135.6 million domains, up from 133.9 million at the end of March.

That’s a sequential increase of 1.7 millions, only 100,000 more than the total net increase from the new gTLD industry.

.net is still suffering, however, flat in the period with 14.1 million names.

ccTLDs saw an increase of 3.5 million names, up 2.4%, to end June at 149.7 million, the DNIB states.

But that’s mainly as a result of free TLD .tk, which never deletes names. Stripping its growth out (Verisign and partner ZookNic evidently have access to .tk data now) total ccTLD growth would only have been 1.9 million names.

XYZ junk drop sinks the industry in Q3

Kevin Murphy, December 20, 2017, Domain Registries

The total number of domains registered in the world suffered a rare period of decline in the third quarter, according to Verisign’s latest numbers.

The Q3 Domain Name Industry Brief shows September ended with 330.7 million registered names across all TLDs, a 1.2 million dip on the second quarter.

Year-on-year, there was still growth: 3.7 million domains, or 1.1%.

The shrinkage follows a flat Q2 and a slowing Q1.

The finger of blame can be primarily pointed at .xyz and .top, which lost millions of domains in the quarter due, in .xyz’s case at least, to the expiration of millions of names that had been sold for a penny or two a year earlier.

Not that you’d know this from the DNIB (pdf). For some reason Verisign doesn’t like talking about new gTLD growth rates in its reports, even when they’re going the wrong way.

Verisign’s own .com and .net grew by 1.5 million names to 145.8 million, putting ground between themselves and ccTLDs, which collectively were up by 500,000 names or 0.3% sequentially to 144.7 million.

.top adds a quarter million names in a day

Kevin Murphy, February 17, 2016, Domain Registries

The new gTLD .top set a new record for one-day growth, adding almost a quarter million domains on Monday.

The February 16 .top zone file shows 1,343,665 domains, up 238,616 on the day, according to DI stats.

That’s the majority of the 287,950-name growth the whole new gTLD universe experienced that day.

It’s the second example of a single TLD growing by six figures in a day, following .xyz’s 131,000-name growth on February 6.

It seems that the majority of the names were registered via West.cn, a Chinese registrar that sells the names for CNY 4 ($0.60).

It seems we’re looking at a buying spree by a limited number of Chinese investors.

.top is run by Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology and marketed primarily in Chinese.

It’s currently the second largest new gTLD by zone size, after .xyz.

New gTLDs top 12 million domains

Kevin Murphy, February 9, 2016, Domain Registries

The new gTLD universe passed 12 million domains for the first time today, according to zone files.

Today, we counted 12,001,346 domains across all the 2012-round gTLD zones, up by just under 60,000 names on the day.

Over 50,000 of the new names were split fairly evenly between .xyz and .club, which seem to be the beneficiaries of a domainer surge that’s been going on for the last four days.

As of today, .club has overtaken .wang to be the third-largest zone, with 638,565 names.

It’s taken less than one month for the new gTLDs to add their latest million names.

Our total zone file count topped 11 million on January 12.

.xyz alone has added over 380,000 names since then; .club another 90,000. Most of that growth has come in the last seven days.

Second-placed budget Chinese-run gTLD .top has added over 95,000 names in the last 30 days.

Zone files don’t take account of domains that are registered but don’t have name servers, so the actual number of registered names will be slightly higher.

.top gTLD tops a million as China goes domain nuts

Kevin Murphy, January 17, 2016, Domain Registries

China-based new gTLD .top has become only the second new gTLD to pass the one-million-domain milestone.

The gTLD, managed by Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology Co, had 1,000,469 domains in its zone file on Saturday, an increase of 5,808 on the day.

The zone has grown by 453,833 domains in the last 90 days, according to DI PRO stats.

It’s growing just slightly faster, in percentage terms, than new gTLD volume leader XYZ.com’s .xyz.

The rapid growth can no doubt be attributed largely to price, feeding the current Chinese appetite for domain investment.

Its most successful registrar, West.cn (Chengdu West Dimension Digital Technology Co), is currently selling .top names prominently for CNY 4 for the first year. That’s just $0.60.

The registry says that registrants come from 231 countries and regions. On its web site, it highlights France’s Gandi.net and Gibraltar’s budget registrar AlpNames as key international partners.

However, the latest registry reports show that over 90% of its sales are coming from China-based registrars.

Despite .top being a Latin-script TLD, European and North America registrars seem to account for a very small number of registrations.

It’s not even carried by the likes of GoDaddy and eNom.

The third-place 2012-round new gTLD is currently .wang, another Chinese registry, which yesterday had 628,125 names in its zone file.

Number four is .win, which despite being run by Gilbraltar-based Famous Four Media is utterly dominated by sales via Chinese registrars.

At number five is .club, with 552,065 names and a much more international distribution of registrars.

.top says Facebook shakedown was just a typo

Kevin Murphy, January 16, 2015, Domain Registries

Jiangsu Bangning Science & Technology, the .top registry, is blaming a typo for a Facebook executive’s claim that it wanted $30,000 or more for facebook.top.

Information provided to the ICANN GNSO Council by Facebook domain manager Susan Kawaguchi yesterday showed that .top wanted RMB 180,000 (currently $29,000) for a trademarked name that previously had been blocked due to ICANN’s name collisions policy.

But Mason Zhang, manager of the registry’s overseas channel division, told DI today that the price is actually RMB 18,000 ($2,900):

We were shocked when seeing that our register price for TMCH protected names like Facebook during Exclusive Registration Period is changed from “eighteen thousand” into what is written, the “one hundred and eighty thousand”.

I think that might be a type mistake from our side, and we checked and we are certain that the price is CNY EIGHTEEN THOUSAND.

The 18,000-yuan sunrise fee is published on the registry’s official web site, as I noted yesterday.

The registry email sent to Facebook is reproduced in this PDF.

I wondered yesterday whether a breakdown in communication may to be blame. Perhaps I was correct.

While $3,000 is still rather high for a defensive registration, it doesn’t stink of extortion quite as badly as $30,000.

Still, it’s moderately good news for Facebook and any other company worried they were going to have to shell out record-breaking prices to defensively register their brands.

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