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People are forgetting .com exists — ICANN survey

Kevin Murphy, September 22, 2016, 10:45:21 (UTC), Domain Policy

Have you ever heard of .com, .net and .org?
That question was posed to 3,349 domain name registrants in 24 countries by market research firm Nielsen this June and guess what — awareness of all three cornerstone gTLDs was down on a comparable 2015 survey.
Unbelievably, only 85% of respondents professed to be aware of .com’s existence, compared to 86% in 2015.
Equally unbelievably, awareness of .net and .org fell from 76% to 69% and from 70% to 65% respectively between 2015 and 2016, the survey found.
Those are just three among many hundreds of findings of the Nielsen survey, which was carried out in order to inform ICANN’s Competition, Consumer Trust & Consumer Choice Review.
The CCT is one of the reviews deemed mandatory before ICANN is able to launch the next round of new gTLD applications.
A great many of the numbers revealed by the survey are seriously open to question — some could even be empirically proven wrong.
But David Dickinson, project lead for Nielsen on the survey, told DI yesterday that the numbers themselves are less important than the trends, or lack thereof, that they might represent.
Nielsen carried out two surveys in 2015 — one of consumers and one of registrants — then repeated both surveys again a year later.
Respondents were selected from a pool of people who have at some point indicated to third-party market research companies that they are available to take surveys online, Dickinson said. They are usually compensated via some kind of redeemable loyalty points scheme.
The registrant surveys were limited to those who said they have registered a domain name. The consumer survey was limited to those who said they spend more than five hours a week online.
While the number of respondents were measured in the low thousands, the idea is that they provide a representative sample of all internet users and domain name registrants.
But there’s a lot of weirdness in the numbers.
Dickinson said that the 85% awareness number for .com could be due partly to random “mechanical errors” — people clicking the wrong buttons on their survey form — but said that lack of awareness was more common among younger respondents who were more likely to be aware of newer, less generic TLDs.
The surveys also highlighted a bizarre split in TLD awareness between consumers and registrants.
Given that registrants are a subset of consumers, and given that they are by definition more familiar with domain names, you’d expect respondents to the registrant surveys to show higher TLD awareness than those responding to the consumer surveys.
But the opposite was true.
The surveys found, for example, that 95% of consumers knew about .com, but only 85% of registrants did. For .net and .org the numbers were 88%/69% and 83%/65% respectively. None of it makes any sense.
Dickinson said that the 2015 consumer/registrant awareness numbers were “almost identical”.
“My only real conclusion here is that [in 2016] there was some systematic difference in the diligence that the registrants selected these names on these awareness questions, and that a large portion of that is just due to random variation,” he said.
“However, when we do look at those people who are registering new gTLDs, they tended to have much lower awareness of those legacy gTLDs than those people who were unaware or had not registered those new gTLDs,” he said.
“The people who said they did not recognize any of those new gTLDs at all the are very very centric on the legacy gTLDs and in particular .com,” he said.
“I think the data is overstated because of the random variation but there is a learning here when we break it down… that those legacy domains are becoming less relevant or less noticed by the younger people and the people who are registering these new gTLDs,” he said.
“I think there is a shift going on, but it’s not as big as what is stated here [in the numbers],” he said.
The surveys also looked at awareness and registration levels for new, 2012-round gTLDs, but again the numbers probably don’t accurately reflect reality.
For example, 39% of registrants claimed to have heard of .email domain names and 15% claimed to have actually registered one.
Again, these numbers don’t seem plausible. There are fewer than 60,000 .email domains in existence today. Even if there were only one million domain registrants in the world, 15% registration rate would mean at least 150,000 names should have been sold.
Dickinson said that this number could have been higher due to selection bias. The survey took about half an hour on average to fill out, so people more personally interested or invested in internet or domain name related stuff might have been more likely to stick around and complete it.
Interestingly, new gTLD awareness rates in North America were substantially lower than awareness elsewhere in the world. For example, only 25% of North Americans professed to have heard of .news, but that grew to 42% in Asia where most languages use a different script.
My sense here is that respondents — which all took the surveys in their native languages — may have just been clicking to confirm English words they recognized, rather than TLDs they had seen in the wild.
Nielsen clearly suspected that there would be an element of “false recall” among respondents because it actually included some fake TLDs among the real ones.
This led to findings such as: 26% of Africans have heard of .cairo, 17% of North Americans have heard of .toronto and 21% of South Americans have heard of .bogota.
None of those city TLDs exist.
Dickinson explained this as “assumed familiarity”.
“What very much seems to happen is that if something has an implied ‘face validity’ — it seems to make sense or seems to be readily interpretable — then those ones will get higher stated awareness than the ones that are just random letters, such as .xyz,” he said.
Indeed, while there are over six million .xyz domains out there today, with high-profile registrants including Google, only 13% of respondents claimed to be aware of it.
“The more implied familiarity or sense of familiarity there is, the more likely people are to feel like they’ve been there or seen it, so it’s definitely a false recall, but the learning from that is that the more interpretable… those things are then they have more easy acceptance by consumers than things that are not interpretable,” Dickinson said.
The surveys did not only cover awareness and registration patterns. There are literally hundreds of data points in there covering different perceptions of TLDs new and old. I’ve just focused here on the ones that made me question whether the survey was worth the time, expense and paper it was written on.
But Dickinson said that the raw numbers are not necessarily what the ICANN review teams should be looking at.
“Maybe the absolute number is not exactly dead-on, but what are the relationships between the numbers?” he said.
“I tend to look at the relationships, so for example one of the objectives of doing this survey was to see if the new gTLD program impacted the perception of the industry in any way, or trustworthiness in the industry,” he said.
“For example, we can say we’re not sure it improved — the numbers didn’t change significantly in that direction to allow us to definitively say it improved — but it certainly did not decline,” he said. “We can rule out that it declined.”
“Overall, we can say that the new gTLD program is emerging with fairly strong awareness, relative,” he said.
“We can also say with certainty that none of those new gTLDs are anywhere approaching the awareness of the legacy gTLDs, and even if there is some erosion in the legacy gTLDs it’s going to take a long time for those to reach parity, if they ever do,” he said.
The Nielsen surveys are one input to the work of the volunteer CCT Review Team, which intends to publish its preliminary report before the end of the year.
CCT-RT chair Jonathan Zuck recently published a blog post on the ICANN web site giving a progress report on recent work.

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Comments (10)

  1. Andrew says:

    The logic of paying people who have time on their hands to take a survey and expecting accurate results gives me a chuckle.

  2. Eric Lyon says:

    I’m not surprised at all. It’s nice to see some survey stats going public so that the naysayers have something to look at.
    While the percentages are small at this point, I think it’s clear that the industry is shifting to a new model and that value may be affected in the years to come.

  3. Asfas says:

    Exactly what Andrew said.

  4. survey lover says:

    I’ve read through the reports, but could not find a specific mention of the margin of error. There was a risk value of 5%, but I’m not sure that is the same thing.
    So I’m a little sceptical that even trends can be determined from the data if you have only 2 collection points and a 1% difference.
    For their own reputation, Nielsen should be more clear on how accurate the data is. Even if their budget didnt allow a more robust (and probably labour intensive), collection method like cold calling or face to face.

  5. FlyingNano says:

    When human being are confronted with an unknown objects, everything are strangers to their eyes including their mind; this is norm. Onece these objects is more familiarized, devided perception and interpretation will be more likely to diminished. Once that level is satisfied, adoptation will then sit in.

  6. ok,
    it seem that the surveyed people do not represent the broad spectrum of people who register domain name on a daily basis.
    people can register domain name, and be unfamiliar with the technicality of the domain name. When you ask a technical question to people who are not technically inclined, usually their brain freeze.
    If you want to conduct these kind of survey, you must educate them on the “domaining technical terms” before asking the question.
    if they simply asked the 15% what they mean by their answer, you will be surprised by the variety of the answers

  7. FlyingNano says:

    You: “If you want to conduct these kinds of survey, you must educate them on the domaining technical term” before asking the question”
    Me: this is supposed to be a survey, the key approach of the survey is to NOT to give them any hint and advancement knowledge of what you are trying to accomplished; to the participants.
    If this is a tangible product you want your participants to cover thier eyes. This way, their answers will be determined by their own personal perception of this and that. Doing this, their response will be more likely was not based on products and service advance knowledge manipulation.
    Also, it would not be fair if you expect to get all your answers at once; knowingly that this survey is only conducted with a short term basis. I believe since the new gTLDs have not been established that long☺️

    • Disagree, what’s the point to survey people if they don’t understand the question.
      The results represent nothing and you can have the wrong the conclusion, because people do not understand what you are talking about in the first place.
      they don’t know better, and doing a reputable survey is a hard task when it come to new technologies.

  8. SeattleFreeze says:

    Researching on my own domain, this article didn’t say much about naming but statistics shows that all that data from surveys mean little to most anyone. The most helpful was in the comments, thank you @FlyingNano for your key words. I will keep those in mind!

Leave a Reply to Asfas