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.xyz kicks France out of the top 10 TLDs — Verisign

Verisign is reporting that the total number of registered domains worldwide topped 350 million in the first quarter, under its new reporting methodology.

The company’s latest Domain Name Industry Brief states that there were 350.5 million names across (almost) all TLDs, up by 8.8 million or 2.6% compared to the end of 2021 or 13.2 million (3.9%).

It’s sequential growth well beyond the 3.3 million increase reported in Q4, but the first quarter of any year is usually seasonally strong.

It’s the second DNIB that excludes Freenom’s collection of free TLDs, notably .tk, making comparisons beyond what Verisign itself calculates challenging.

Verisign’s own .com was up from 160 million to 161.3 million domains over the period, while .net was flat at 13.4 million.

Total ccTLD names were up 6 million or 4.7% sequentially to 133.4 million and up 3.1 million or 2.4% year over year.

The top 10 TLDs saw a new entry, with XYZ.com’s .xyz taking the tenth position with 4 million names, kicking out French ccTLD .fr, which has 3.9 million.

Another single-TLD brand protection service planned

BestTLD is planning to introduce a trademark-blocking service covering its single new gTLD, .best.

The company has asked ICANN for permission to launch what it calls the Best Protection service, which would provide domain blocks in lieu of defensive registrations in .best.

The service is similar to Donuts’ Domain Protected Marks List and other industry offerings, but is perhaps most comparable to the Trademark Sentry offering .CLUB Domains came up with a few years ago.

While DPML lets brands block their marks as domains across Donuts’ entire stable of almost 300 TLDs, BestTLD’s offering, like .CLUB’s, focuses instead on blocking marks as a substring in a single TLD.

In other words, Facebook could subscribe to the service for the string “facebook” and it would block domains such as “facebook-login.best”.

A good thing about such services from a registry’s perspective is that, unlike domains, the same string can be sold multiple times to different owners of the same trademarked string.

The registry has filed a Registry Services Evaluation Process request with ICANN and said it is ready to launch with back-end provider CentralNic whenever it gets approval.

Pricing was not disclosed, but if .CLUB’s $2,000 tag is any guide one might expect a super-premium fee.

Regular .best domains sell for about $20 a year and over 30,000 have been registered to date.

Three gTLDs to lose Donuts trademark protection

Three gTLDs are set to lose the trademark protection coverage at the end of the month, following their sale from Donuts to Public Interest Registry.

As noted by corporate registrar Com Laude recently, .charity, .gives and .foundation will no longer fall under Donuts’ Domain Protected Marks List service as of June 1.

DPML is a blocking services whereby the registry reserves trademarked strings across its whole portfolio of almost 300 gTLDs in exchange for a fee that is a big discount on defensive registrations.

gTLDs not in the portfolio will naturally enough no longer qualify, but Com Laude reported that existing subscriptions will be honored and PIR will offer DPML users the chance to change to a full registration.

Donuts announced the sale of the three TLDs to PIR last December.

PIR doesn’t have its own DPML equivalent. Its portfolio is small and its biggest deal is .org, where the defensive blocking horse bolted decades ago.

Verisign wipes free TLDs from the world stats

Kevin Murphy, April 19, 2022, Domain Registries

The number of domain names registered globally dropped by over 25 million in the first quarter, but only because Verisign has stopped tracking .tk and its free sister ccTLDs in its quarterly estimates.

The latest Domain Name Industry Brief says that 2021 ended with 341.7 million registrations across all TLDs, substantially fewer that the 367.3 million it reported at the end of the third quarter.

But this is only because Verisign has decided to no longer count the six Pacific and African ccTLDs managed by Freenom, notably .tk, which had contributed 24.7 million names to the Q3 tally.

The report says: “the .tk, .cf, .ga, .gq and .ml ccTLDs have been excluded from all applicable calculations, due to an unexplained change in estimates for the .tk zone size and lack of verification from the registry operator for these TLDs.”

It sounds rather like there’s been another weird fluctuation in .tk’s numbers that threw off the overall trend picture again, and Verisign’s basically said “to hell with it” and decided to exclude Freenom from its reports from now on.

This means the normalized numbers for Q4 2021 — ignoring Freenom in all applicable quarters — are 341.7 million, up 3.3 million or 1.0% sequentially and up 1.6 million or 0.5% year over year, the DNIB states.

The Freenom business model is to give domains away for free, mostly, in the first instance. It makes its money by retaining and monetizing domains that either expire or, frequently, which it suspends for abuse.

.tk domains never get deleted, in other words, so counting them alongside TLDs with the industry-standard business model could give a misleading impression of the global demand for domain names.

It’s not so much that counting spam domains is bad — every TLD has a spam problem to a greater or lesser extent — but the lack of deletions can create faulty assumptions.

It’s also never been clear how Verisign and its third-party researcher, ZookNic, acquires its data on Freenom TLDs. Its .tk figure would often remain static for quarters on end, suggesting the data was only sporadically available.

I also tracked .tk’s published numbers independently for many years, and the last figure I have, from March 2019, is 41.3 million. It’s never been clear to me why the Verisign/ZookNic number has always been so much lower.

Verisign has always flagged up any oddities caused by .tk in its DNIB, and every edition has contained a footnote describing Freenom’s unusual practices.

The latest DNIB (pdf) says that .com had 160 million names, up 1.2 million, and .net had 13.4 million, down about 100,000, compared to Q3.

ccTLDs overall had 127.4 million, up about 700,000, a 0.6% sequential increase.

The ccTLD number was down by 5.3 million, or 4.0%, compared to the end of 2020, but that was due to a 9.4 million-name deletion by China’s .cn, which I noted in the second quarter and which Verisign calls a “registry-implemented zone reduction”.

Ignoring China, ccTLD names were up 4.1 million or 3.8%, the DNIB says.

Verisign only breaks out the top 10 ccTLDs separately, so the removal of .tk means that Australia’s .au is now in the top 10 list in tenth place with 3.4 million at the end of Q4. It will likely move up the ranks in the first quarter due to the release of second-level names, which has sped up its growth rate.

France’s .fr, with 3.9 million names, has now entered the overall top 10 TLDs due to .tk’s removal.

New gTLDs grew by 1.2 million names or 5.1% sequentially, but were down by pretty much the same amount annually, ending 2021 with 24.7 million names.

TMCH turning off some brand-blocking services

Kevin Murphy, April 13, 2022, Domain Services

The Trademark Clearinghouse is closing down two of its brand protection services after apparently failing to attract and retain registry partners.

The company announced recently that TREx, its Trademark Registry Exchange, will shut down after its customers’ existing subscriptions expire, saying:

The communication that we receive from our agents, resellers, clients and other registries that we have reached out to around improving the product shows that there is currently little appetite for such a service.

TMCH said it may revive the service after the new round of new gTLDs happens.

TREx was a service similar to Donuts’ Domain Protected Marks List and others, whereby trademark owners can block their brands across a multitude of TLDs for a substantial discount on the cost of defensive registrations.

But the TMCH offering was not restricted to one registry’s portfolio. Rather, it consolidated TLDs from multiple smaller operators, including at least one ccTLD — .de — into one service.

It seems to have peaked at 43 TLDs, but lost three when XYZ.com pulled out a couple years ago.

Its biggest partner was MMX, which sold its 22 gTLDs to GoDaddy Registry last year. I’d be very surprised if this consolidation was not a big factor in the decision to wind down TREx.

I’d also be surprised if we don’t see a DPML-like service from GoDaddy before long. It already operates AdultBlock on its four porn-themed gTLDs.

The news follows the announcement late last year that TMCH will also close down its BrandPulse service, which notified clients when domains similar to their brands were registered in any TLD, when its existing subscriptions expire.

Both services leveraged TMCH’s contractual relationship with ICANN, under which it provides functions supporting mandatory rights protection mechanisms under the new gTLD program rules, but neither are ICANN-mandated services.

ICANN accidentally summons Lesser Old One in DNSSEC snafu

Kevin Murphy, April 1, 2022, Gossip

Southern California has come under the control of timeless demonic entities, plunging the Greater Los Angeles Area into a thousand years of darkness and torment, after a DNSSEC misconfiguration led to ICANN accidentally summoning a Lesser Old One into the mortal realm.

“I can confirm that there was an RRSIG glitch during the ceremony to sign the root zone ZSK for 2022Q2 and introduce HSM6W at our secure facility in El Segundo, California, today,” an ICANN spokesperson said.

“A downstream KSK misconfiguration was inadvertently introduced into the IMRS, resulting in a cascading Trust Anchor collapse across the entire constellation,” he said.

“This unfortunately led to the opening of a transdimensional portal to the Lost City of R’lyeh and the manifestation of an entity our initial analysis indicates may be Baoht Z’uqqa-Mogg, High Commander of the Armies of the Damned and celestial envoy for the mighty Cthulhu,” he added.

“And for some reason Facebook is down in Denver; we’re looking into that too,” the spokesperson said.

ICANN’s Seven Secret DNSSEC Key Holders were observed fleeing from the data center where the signing ceremony had been taking place, casting aside their cowls and robes and clawing at their eyes and skin, according to local reports.

They were pursued by a wailing, forty-foot-tall scorpion-faced lizard monster, emerging from a blinding disc of purple hellfire and bent on subjugating the human race to millennia of torment, local TV station Fox Action 5 Shooty Shooty Bang Bang News reported from the scene, shortly before its news chopper was plucked from the sky by a blistered tentacle and tossed into Z’uqqa-Mogg’s slavering, beak-like mandibles.

The entity was then seen slamming its cloven hoof into the ground and performing an obscene incantation, opening a rift through which poured a horde of bloodthirsty, crab-headed minions that proceeded to swarm through the streets of LA, devouring all in their path.

“This is the one thing we hoped would not happen,” the ICANN spokesperson admitted.

In response to the crisis, which has so far resulted in the deaths of millions and the enslavement into madness of half the US west coast, ICANN’s Security and Stability Advisory Committee has formed an ad-hoc working group to devise possible strategies to banish the Old One to its cthonic netherworld.

It’s planning to deliver an initial draft of its report no later than September 2023, after which its work will be opened to the Whatever’s-Left-Of-The-Public Comment process.

What to make of this strange trend in new domain regs?

Kevin Murphy, March 18, 2022, Domain Registries

Are people getting the shortest domain possible when they register in a new gTLD?

Every month uber-registry Donuts publishes data about its portfolio, such as which gTLDs are most popular, in which region, what its most popular premium names are, and what keywords are most commonly registered at the second-level.

For the past few months, I’ve noticed what may be considered an unusual trend — many of the most popular SLD keywords are already gTLDs in their own right, suggesting registrants may not be getting their optimal domain.

The top 10 second-level keywords in February were: today, meta, letter, first, digital, verse, online, club, life, and home.

Put a dot in front of them, and five are also gTLDs — .today, .digital, .online, .club, and .life — some of which Donuts actually manages. One of them, .home, has multiple outstanding applications but has been essentially banned by ICANN due to high levels of name collision.

It’s even more noticeable in January’s numbers, with seven gTLD matches — online, life, digital, free, green, shop, world — in the top 10 SLD keywords.

In December there are six — today, group, online, digital, world and life. In November, four — online, digital, life, group. In October, six — digital, online, life, tech, shop, group.

It shouldn’t be hugely surprising that there’s a crossover between gTLD strings and popular SLD strings — one of the ways Donuts and others picked their gTLDs was by scouring the .com zone file for the most-common SLD endings.

The idea was that if Peter owned, or was thinking of registering, peterspickledpeppersonline.com, he might reasonably want to upgrade to the shorter peterspickledpeppers.online.

Donuts consistently says that the domains it sells are 20% shorter than domains registered in .com over the comparable period.

But its data suggests that this they’re not always getting their optimal domain. People are registering in new gTLDs, but they’re often not using the gTLD that would make their overall domain shorter.

I wonder why this is.

Cost could certainly be a factor. There’s not a massive amount of difference between a .online and a .live, and both are typically more expensive than .com, but it might be an issue for registrants on tight budgets.

It seems more likely that a lack of awareness among registrants may be the main issue — they don’t know the full breadth of options available to them (hell, even I don’t, and this is my job).

Registrars’ name spinners aren’t always helpful raising this awareness.

I typed the string “peterspickledpeppersonline” into the storefronts of seven popular registrars, all of which carry new gTLDs, and found that two of them didn’t offer peterspickledpeppers.online among their suggestions at all.

On some, the domain was way down the list, after far less-relevant suggestions, even though it is shorter and carries a higher price.

Namecheap boss goes nuclear on Russian customers

Namecheap has banned all Russians from its services in a comprehensive, surprising, and unprecedented expression of solidarity with Ukraine, the invaded country where most of its support staff are based.

CEO Richard Kirkendall said yesterday that Namecheap, which has over 14 million domains under management, “will no longer be providing services to users registered in Russia”, in an email to Russian customers.

Namecheap says it has over 1,000 employees in Ukraine.

It uses a company there called Zone3000 for its English-language customer support, from three locations across the country, mostly in Kharkiv, one of the cities that has been particularly affected by the Russian invasion over the last five days.

Kirkendall has given Russian customers until March 6, one week from the time of the email, to move to another registrar.

The email was posted online, and I’ve confirmed with Namecheap that it’s accurate. Kirkendall said:

Unfortunately, due to the Russian regime’s war crimes and human rights violations in Ukraine, we will no longer be providing services to users registered in Russia. While we sympathize that this war may not affect your own views or opinion on the matter, the fact is, your authoritarian government is committing human rights abuses and engaging in war crimes so this is a policy decision we have made and will stand by.

If you hold any top-level domains with us, we ask that you transfer them to another provider by March 6, 2022.

I’m told the words “any top-level domains” just means ‘any domains in any TLDs’.

Kirkendall went on to say that anyone using Russian and Belarusian ccTLDs — .ru, .xn--p1ai (.рф), .by, .xn--90ais (.бел), and .su — will no longer be able to use Namecheap’s email or hosting services.

After some negative replies, accusing Namecheap of going too far, Kirkendall wrote:

We haven’t blocked the domains, we are asking people to move. There are plenty of other choices out there when it comes to infrastructure services so this isn’t “deplatforming”. I sympathize with people that are not pro regime but ultimately even those tax dollars they may generate go to the regime. We have people on the ground in Ukraine being bombarded now non stop. I cannot with good conscience continue to support the Russian regime in any way, shape or form. People that are getting angry need to point that at the cause, their own government. If more grace time is necessary for some to move, we will provide it. Free speech is one thing but this decision is more about a government that is committing war crimes against innocent people that we want nothing to do with.

It’s by some way the strongest stance anyone in the domain industry has yet taken on the war in Ukraine.

Namecheap intends to issue a formal statement outlining its position later today.

UDRP cases soar at WIPO in 2021

Kevin Murphy, February 15, 2022, Domain Policy

The World Intellectual Property Organization has released statistics for cybersquatting cases in 2021, showing one of the biggest growth spurts in UDRP’s 22-year history.

Trademark owners filed 5,128 UDRP complaints last year, WIPO said, a 22% increase on 2020.

There have been almost 56,000 cases since 1999, covering over 100,000 domains names, it said.

The number of annual cases has been growing every year since 2013, its numbers show.

WIPO took a punt that the increase last year might be related to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but didn’t really attempt to back up that claim, saying in a release:

The accelerating growth in cybersquatting cases filed with the WIPO Center can be largely attributed to trademark owners reinforcing their online presence to offer authentic content and trusted sales outlets, with a greater number of people spending more time online, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The number of domains hit by UDRP that include strings such as “covid” or “corona” or “vaccine” are pretty small, amounting to just a few dozen domains across all providers, searches show.

The growth does not necessarily mean the total number of UDRP cases has increased by a commensurate amount — some of it might be accounted for by WIPO winning market share from the five other ICANN-approved UDRP providers.

It also does not indicate an increase in cybersquatting. WIPO did not release stats on the number of cases that resulted in a domain name being transferred to the complaining trademark owner.

“It’s not our fault!” — ICANN blames community for widespread delays

Kevin Murphy, February 14, 2022, Domain Policy

ICANN may be years behind schedule when it comes to getting things done on multiple fronts, but it’s the community’s fault for making up rubbish policies, bickering endlessly, and attempting to hack the policy-making process.

That’s me paraphrasing a letter sent last week by chair Maarten Botterman to the Registries Stakeholder Group, in which he complained about the community providing “ambiguous, incomplete, or unclear policy recommendations”.

RySG chair Samantha Demetriou had written to Botterman (pdf) in December to lament the Org and board’s lack of timely progress on many initiatives, some of which have been in limbo for many years.

Policies and projects related to Whois, new gTLDs and the Independent Review Process have been held up for a long time, in the latter case since 2013, she wrote, leading to community volunteers feeling “disempowered or discouraged”.

As I recently reported, ICANN has not implemented a GNSO policy since 2016.

The lack of board action on community work also risks ICANN’s legitimacy and credibility, Demetriou wrote.

But Botterman’s response (pdf), sent Thursday, deflects blame back at the community, denying that the delays are “simply because of failure at the level of the organization and Board.”

He wrote:

we need to continue to find our way forward together to address the challenges that affect the efficiency of our current decision-making processes, including, for example, ambiguous, incomplete, or unclear policy recommendations, the relitigation of policy issues during implementation, and the use of the review process to create recommendations that should properly be addressed by policy development

In other words, the community is providing badly thought-out policy recommendations, continuing to argue about policy after the implementation stage is underway, and using community reviews, rather than the Policy Development Process, to create policy.

The RySG, along with their registrar counterparts, put their concerns to the board at ICANN 72 in October, warning of “volunteer burnout” and a “chilling effect” on community morale due to board and Org inaction.

At that meeting, director Avri Doria presented staff-compiled stats showing that across five recent bylaws-mandated community reviews (not PDPs), the board had received 241 recommendations.

She said that 69% had been approved, 7% had been rejected, 18% were placed in a pending status, and 6% were “still being worked on”.

CEO Göran Marby provided a laundry list of excuses for the delays, including: reconciling differing community viewpoints, the large number of recommendations being considered, the potential for some recommendations to break ICANN bylaws, sensitivity to the bottom-up nature of the multi-stakeholder process, lack of staff, and the extra time it takes to be transparent about decision-making.

Just this week, ICANN has posted eight job listings, mostly in policy support.

In his letter last week, Botterman pointed to a “Prioritization Framework”, which is currently being piloted, along with further community conversations at ICANN 73 next month and a “thought paper” on “evolving consensus policies”.

Because why fix something when you can instead create another layer of bureaucracy and indulge in more navel-gazing?