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Domain universe grows almost 1% in 2017 despite new gTLD slump

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2018, Domain Registries

The total number of registered domain names in all TLDs was up 0.9% in 2017, despite a third-quarter dip, according to the latest data compiled by Verisign.

The latest Domain Name Industry Brief, published yesterday, shows that there were 332.4 million domains registered at the end of the year.

That’s up by 1.7 million names (0.5%) on the third quarter and up 3.1 million names (0.9%) on 2016.

Growth is growth, but when you consider that 2015-2016 growth was 6.8%, under 1% appears feeble.

The drag factors in 2017 were of course the 2012-round new gTLDs and Verisign’s own .net, offset by increases in .com and ccTLDs.

New gTLD domains were 20.6 million at the end of the year, down by about 500,000 compared to the third quarter and five million names compared to 2016.

As a percentage of overall registrations, new gTLDs dropped from 7.8% at the end of 2016 to 6.2%.

The top 10 new gTLDs now account for under 50% of new gTLD regs for the first time.

The numbers were primarily affected by big declines in high-volume spaces such as .xyz, which caused the domain universe to actually shrink in Q3.

Verisign’s own .com fared better, as usual, with .net suffering a decline.

The year ended with 131.9 million .com names, up by five million names on the year, exactly offsetting the shrinkage in new gTLDs.

But .net ended up with 14.5 million names, a 800,000 drop on 2016.

In the ccTLD world, total regs were up 1.4 million (1%) quarterly and 3.4 million (2.4%) annually.

Excluding wild-card ccTLD .tk, which never deletes domains and for which data for 2017 was not available to Verisign, the growth was a more modest 0.7 million (0.5%) quarterly and 2.3 million (1.8%) annually.

The DNIB report for Q4 2017 can be downloaded here (pdf).

Donuts releases free TLD-neutral name-spinner

Kevin Murphy, January 24, 2018, Domain Services

Donuts has announced the release of a free name-spinner tool for registrars and resellers.

Relevant Name Search, found at rns.domains, isn’t a destination site in itself, but will be free for registrars to integrate into their storefronts.

The company said it’s been in beta testing with eNom, Dreamhost, Dynadot and Name.com, with eNom using it for over a year.

The service recalls something similar released by Verisign.

However, unlike the Verisign NameStudio tool, Donuts said RNS is “registry-neutral”, meaning it’s not designed to plug its own portfolio of TLDs over those from other registries.

I subjected the service to a quick, non-scientific test today and found the results much more semantically relevant than the Verisign tool, which only returns .com, .net and .cc results.

When I used NameStudio in November to search for “vodka”, my best offering was dogvodka.com. With RNS, I was offered the likes of vodka.bar, vodka.rocks, vodka.party, vodka.social and vodka.trade (all of which appear to carry premium pricing).

While Verisign offered me funattorney.com on a search for “attorney”, Donuts offered up attorney.lawyer, attorney.lgbt and attorney.blog.

RNS does not ignore legacy gTLDs, however. Doing a search for something a little more niche will bring up .com and .net domains, appropriately (in my view) ranked.

Search for “birmingham taxi” and you’ll get three relevant .limo domains (yeah, .limo exists, apparently) before birminghamtaxi.net.

Similarly, if you want to open up a pizza place in Cardiff, search for “cardiff pizza” and you’ll get offered cardiff.pizza, cardiffpizza.menu, cardiffpizza.restaurant, cardiffpizza.cafe and cardiffpizza.delivery before you get to cardiffpizza.com.

Many domain investors would say that the .com is unarguably the superior domain (it’s also unregistered and non-premium), but even those people would have to admit that the five more prominent suggestions have more semantic relevance.

Donuts said that RNS is configurable to take into account TLD-specific promotions, geography and marketing campaigns, and that it can be integrated with a single API call.

.web closer to reality as antitrust probe ends

Kevin Murphy, January 10, 2018, Domain Registries

Verisign has been given the all-clear by the US government to go ahead and run the new gTLD .web, despite competition concerns.

The Department of Justice told the company yesterday that the antitrust investigation it launched almost exactly a year ago is now “closed”.

Verisign’s secret proxy in the 2016 auction, the original .web applicant Nu Dot Co, now plans to try to execute its Registry Agreement with ICANN.

That contract would then be assigned to Verisign through the normal ICANN process.

The .com registry operator today filed this statement with the US Securities and Exchange Commission:

As the Company previously disclosed, on January 18, 2017, the Company received a Civil Investigative Demand from the Antitrust Division of the United States Department of Justice (“DOJ”) requesting certain material related to the Company becoming the registry operator for the .web gTLD. On January 9, 2018, the DOJ notified the Company that this investigation was closed. Verisign previously announced on August 1, 2016, that it had provided funds for Nu Dot Co’s successful bid for the .web gTLD and the Company anticipates that Nu Dot Co will now seek to execute the .web Registry Agreement with ICANN and thereafter assign it to Verisign upon consent from ICANN.

This basically means that Justice disagrees with anyone who thinks Verisign plans to operate .web in a way that just props up its .com market dominance, such as by burying it without a trace.

People clamoring to register .web domains may still have some time to wait, however.

Rival applicant Donuts, via subsidiary Ruby Glen, still has a pending lawsuit against ICANN in California.

Donuts had originally sued to prevent the .web auction going ahead in mid-2016, trying to force Nu Dot Co to reveal who was really pulling its strings.

After the auction, in which Verisign committed to pay ICANN a record-setting $125 million, Donuts sued to have the result overturned.

But in November 2016, a judge ruled that the no-suing covenant that all new gTLD applicants had to sign was valid, throwing out Donuts’ case.

Donuts is now appealing that ruling, however, filing its most-recent brief just a few weeks ago.

Whether that will stop ICANN from signing the .web contract and delegating it to Verisign is an open question. It managed to delegate .africa to ZA Central Registry despite the existence of an ongoing lawsuit by a competing applicant.

If history is any guide, we may see a rival applicant apply for a temporary restraining order against .web’s delegation before long.

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.

Justice gives nod to O.com auction

Kevin Murphy, December 18, 2017, Domain Registries

The US Department of Justice does not intend to prevent Verisign from auctioning off the single-letter domain o.com.

Aaron Hoag, chief of the department’s Technology & Financial Services Section, told ICANN in a letter (pdf) that it does not intend to probe Verisign’s proposal.

The letter reads in its entirety:

Your letter dated December 7, 2017, to Makan Delrahim, Assistant Attorney General of the Antitrust Division, regarding VeriSign’s proposal to auction O.COM, has been referred to the Technology & Financial Services Section for review. After careful consideration of the matter, the Division can report that it does not intend to open an investigation into the proposed auction described in the attachment to your letter.

Verisign asked ICANN’s permission to auction o.com, with most of the the proceeds going to good causes, after over a decade of nagging from retailer Overstock.com, which desperately wants to own the currently reserved name.

It would set a precedent for the company to sell off the remaining 22 single-letter domains, not to mention the 10 digits, which are all currently reserved due to a decades-old technical policy no longer considered necessary.

Verisign would only receive its $7.85 base registry fee from the sale, despite the fact that single-letter domains could easily fetch seven or eight figures.

The company asked ICANN for permission to release the name via its Registry Services Evaluation Process last month.

ICANN said earlier this month that it had no objection on technical grounds, but referred it to US competition authorities for a review.

With the DoJ apparently not interested, the door is open for ICANN to approve the RSEP before the end of the year, meaning Verisign could carry out the auction in 2018.

The big question now is whether anyone other than Overstock will want to take part in the auction. Overstock has US trademarks on “O.com”, despite the fact that it’s never actually owned the domain.