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Emoji domains get a 😟 after broad study

Kevin Murphy, October 28, 2019, Domain Tech

Domain names containing emojis are a security risk and not recommended, according to a pretty comprehensive review by an ICANN study group.

The Country-Code Names Supporting Organization has delivered the results of its 12-person, 18-month Emoji Study Group, which was tasked with looking into the problems emoji domains can cause, review current policy, and talk to ccTLD registries that currently permit emoji domains.

The ESG didn’t have a lot of power, and its recommendations are basically an exercise in can-kicking, but it’s easily the most comprehensive overview of the issues surrounding emoji domains that I’ve ever come across.

It’s 30 pages long, and you can read it here (pdf).

Emojis are currently banned in gTLDs, where ICANN has to approve new Unicode tables before they can be used by registries at the second level, under its internationalized domain name policy, IDNA 2008.

But ccTLDs, which are not contracted with ICANN, have a lot more flexibility. There are 15 ccTLDs — almost all representing small islands or low-penetration African nations — that currently permit emoji domains, the ESG found.

That’s about 6% of Latin-script ccTLDs out there today. These TLDs are .az, .cf, .fm, .je, .ga, .ge, .gg, .gq, .ml, .st, .to, .tk, .uz, .vu, and .ws.

Five of them, including .tk, are run by notorious freebie registry Freenom, but perhaps the best-known is .ws, where major brands such as Budweiser and Coca-Cola have run marketing campaigns in the past.

The main problem with emojis is the potential for confusing similarity, and the ESG report does a pretty good job of enumerating the ways confusability can arise. Take its comparison of multiple applications’ version of the exact same “grinning face” emoji, for example:

Emoji comparison

If you saw a domain containing one of those in marketing on one platform, would you be able to confidently navigate to the site on another? I doubt I would.

There’s also variations in how registrars handle emojis on their storefronts, the report found. On some you can search with an emoji, on others you’ll need to type out the xn-- prefixed Punycode translation longhand.

In terms of recommendations, the ESG basically just asked ICANN to keep an eye on the situation, to come to a better definition of what an emoji actually is, and to reach out for information to the ccTLDs accepting emojis, which apparently haven’t been keen on opening up so far.

Despite the lack of closure, it’s a pretty good read if you’re interested in this kind of thing.

Mystery .vu registry revealed

Kevin Murphy, August 13, 2019, Domain Registries

Neustar has been selected as the back-end domain registry operator for the nation of Vanuatu.

The company, and the Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator, announced the appointment, which came after a competitive tender process between nine competing back-end providers, last night.

The ccTLD is .vu.

It’s unrestricted, with no local presence requirements, and currently costs $50 per year if you buy directly from the registry, Telecom Vanuatu Ltd (TVL).

Unusually, if you show up at TVL’s office in Vanuatu capital Port Vila, you can buy a domain for cash. I’ve never heard of that kind of “retail” domain name option before.

A handful of international registrars also sell the domains marked up, generally to over the $80 mark.

TVL was originally the sponsor of the ccTLD, but ICANN redelegated it to TRBR in March after Vanuatu’s government passed a law in 2016 calling for redelegation.

Under the deal, Neustar will take over the registry function from TVL after its 24 years in charge, bringing the .vu option to hundreds of other registrars.

Most registrars are already plugged in to Neustar, due to its operation of .us, .biz and .co. It also recently took over India’s .in.

There’s no public data on the number of domains under management, but Vanuatu is likely to have a much smaller footprint that Neustar’s main ccTLD clients.

It’s quite a young country, gaining independence from France and the UK in 1980, a Pacific archipelago of roughly 272,000 people.

Neustar expects the transition to its back-end to be completed September 30.

.vu to relaunch under mystery new registry

Kevin Murphy, March 17, 2019, Domain Registries

Vanuatu is to attempt to broaden the appeal of its .vu domain globally by switching to a new shared registry system.

The changes were initiated last week in Kobe, when the ICANN board of directors gave the final stamp of approval on the redelegation of the ccTLD.

.vu is now delegated to country’s Telecommunications Radiocommunications and Broadcasting Regulator (TRBR), having been managed since 1995 by Telecom Vanuatu Limited (TVL). The government passed a law in 2016 calling for the redelegation.

Under its new management, the market for .vu domains will be opened up at the registrar level. To date, TVL has operated as a sole source for .vu domains. From now on, it will just be one registrar among (presumably) many.

A registry back-end has already been selected, after tenders were received from nine companies, but it’s still in contract talks and TRBR is not ready to name the successful party just yet.

The Vanuatu government wants to encourage local ISPs and web developers to consider signing up as registrars or resellers, but the SRS will also be open to established international players.

Brand protection registrars and TLD completionists will no doubt begin to carry .vu directly as soon as they’re able to plug in to the new system.

But off the top of my head, I’m struggling to think of a strong global sales pitch for the string, other than a phonetic similarity to “view”.

It doesn’t stand for much as an acronym, doesn’t seem to work well in English as a domain hack, and doesn’t seem to mean much in other widely spoken languages (other than French, where it means “seen”, as in “déjà-vu”).

We can only hope the new management doesn’t attempt to market it with some kind of pathetic backronym.

Domains in .vu currently cost $50 (USD) per year when bought from TVL. I have no current data on how many .vu domains are registered.

InternetNZ’s Keith Davidson assisted in the redelegation and is handling comms during the handover.

Vanuatu is a Pacific archipelago nation, previously known as the New Hebrides, that gained independence from the UK and France in 1980. It had roughly 272,000 inhabitants at the last count.