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New gTLD lottery to return in 2026

Kevin Murphy, February 16, 2024, Domain Policy

Remember The Draw? It was the mechanism ICANN used to figure out which new gTLDs from the 2012 application round would get a first-mover advantage, and it’s coming back in 2026.

The Org is currently considering draft Applicant Guidebook language setting out the rules for how to pick which order to process applications in the next round.

There’s no mention of Digital Archery this time. ICANN is sticking to the tried-and-tested Prioritization Draw, a lottery method in which applicants buy a paper ticket for a nominal sum ($100 last time) and ICANN pulls them out of a big bucket to see who goes first.

Applicants for internationalized domain names will have an advantage again, but it’s arguably not as strong as in the 2012 round, when all the IDN applicants that had bought tickets were processed first.

This time, the draw will take place in batches of 500 applications, according to the latest version of the draft AGB language.

The first batch will contain at least 125 IDN applications — assuming there are 125 — and they will be drawn first, before any Latin-script strings get a look. In subsequent batches, the first 10% of tickets drawn will belong exclusively to IDN applicants.

In the 2012 round, the first 108 applications selected were IDNs. The Vatican won the lucky #1 spot with .天主教, the Chinese term for the Catholic Church, while Amazon was the first Latin-script application with .play (which Google eventually won but still hasn’t launched, over 11 years later).

Due to California’s gambling laws, applicants will have to show up to buy a ticket in person. If they can’t make it, they can select an Angeleno proxy from a list provided by ICANN to pick it up on their behalf.

Last time around, The Draw took over nine hours to sort all 1,930 applications and was the social highlight of the community’s calendar. Santa Claus even showed up.

ICANN insists it is working on linkification

Kevin Murphy, February 6, 2024, Domain Tech

Having been accused of ignoring the lack of universal support for new gTLDs in favor of virtue-signalling its support for multilingual domain names, ICANN has now insisted it is working on the problem.

ICANN chair Tripti Sinha said in a letter (pdf) published today that ICANN staff have been “actively engaging” with the software developer community on a “multitude of efforts” aimed at getting Universal Acceptance for all domain names.

She was responding to an October 2023 letter from .tube CEO Rami Schwartz, whose solo research last year uncovered the fact that many major app developers — including WhatsApp maker Meta — were relying on hard-coded TLD lists up to eight years old to validate domains.

This meant domains in the hundreds of TLDs that went live after November 2015 were not being detected as domains, and therefore not automatically “linkified” into clickable links, in many near-ubiquitous apps and web sites.

But Sinha insists that ICANN has been putting resources into the problem, including creating a “technical UA team” that is “actively engaging with technical organizations and communities, raising bug reports, as well as contributing open-source code where possible”.

The team has been participating in hackathons and conferences to push the UA message, she said, and has engaging in web sites such as Stack Overflow (where coders ask each other questions about tricky programming problems) to educate developers.

She named Meta and WordPress as software companies ICANN has been reaching out to directly.

“The ICANN org team has been meeting with META and reported UA related issues to them, including linkification. The team has recently also reported the issues shared by you related to more recently delegated TLDs, including .TUBE,” she told Schwartz. “META continues to look into these issues and is making progress towards resolving them.”

She also pointed out that ICANN and the ICANN-funded Universal Acceptance Steering Group held a Universal Acceptance Day last year and will conduct another this year.

UA Day is actually dozens of individual events — over 50 last year — that took place across the world over the space of a couple of months. This year’s event appears to be equally diverse, with events taking place from March to May across many locations mainly in Asia, Africa and South America.

The UASG supplies PowerPoint presentations and videos to each event to use if they wish, but the focus is very much on the substantially trickier problem of UA for internationalized domain names — domains or email addresses that use non-Latin scripts or diacritics not present in ASCII — rather than the lower-hanging fruit of getting developers to update their TLD lists more frequently.

Even though there hasn’t been a new TLD delegation for a couple of years, there were still almost 30 TLDs deleted from the DNS root last year. The number of valid TLDs changes perhaps more frequently than many developers realize.

Walking down the street somewhere, I once saw a barbershop called “Every Six Weekly”. Crap brand, certainly, but the message lodged itself in my borderline autistic nerd brain — that’s how often society expects me to get my hair cut, every six weeks.

Maybe ICANN should try something like that.

After 14 years, ICANN practices what it preaches on IDNs

Kevin Murphy, January 19, 2024, Domain Tech

Almost 14 years after the first non-Latin domain names were added to the DNS root, ICANN has finally declared itself IDN-compatible.

“ICANN staff can now send emails to and receive emails from internationalized email addresses,” the Org said in a blog post today.

“ICANN also supports short and long ASCII top-level domains in all systems, as well as ASCII-based Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs) in Punycode (A-label) in public-facing systems,” Org added. “In addition, IDNs in Unicode (U-label) work in ICANN’s public-facing systems.”

It’s the weakest brag imaginable.

ICANN is the organization that is tasked with ensuring the internet’s naming and addressing systems are interoperable globally. It’s the one organization on the planet that absolutely, by definition, has to deal with the owners of IDNs.

And yet it’s taken almost 14 years for this milestone to be reached. The first IDN TLDs — the Arabic translations of the ccTLDs of Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — were delegated to the DNS root May 5, 2010.

As my post from that time reflects, IDN support then, even in browsers, was awful.

There have been 159 IDN TLDs in the root since the first batch (about half a dozen or so were dot-brands that have since been retired) and a great many Latin-script TLDs support IDNs at the second level.

To be fair, ICANN cannot shoulder all the blame for this tardiness. Presumably, Org uses the same off-the-shelf email systems as the rest of us, so it would have been reliant on its vendors to add the necessary support.

Today’s blog post notes that ICANN had to work with its technology partners to impress upon them the importance of IDN support and Universal Acceptance in general.

ICANN has made greater IDN adoption one of its main goals of the forthcoming next application round of the new gTLD program, part of an effort to get more registries founded in currently under-served regions.

But there are some who believe this focus on IDNs has come at the cost of ignoring Universal Acceptance issues affecting Latin-script TLDs.

Popular social networking apps — surely the most common vector for link-sharing nowadays — have been found lacking in their support for the most recently created TLDs, and some say ICANN has failed its duty to reach out to developers to school them on UA.

Last year, the CEO of .tube discovered that popular software was relying on a hard-coded list of TLDs in the Android operating system that had not been updated since November 2015, meaning the 468 TLDs that have been delegated since then would not be recognized as domains and not “linkified” when shared on apps such as WhatsApp.

It also seems that Twitter as of this week is still relying on a hard-coded TLD list that has not been updated since 2020, meaning domains in the three TLDs that have been delegated since then — .spa, .kids and .music — are not linkified.

Given how simple updating a TLD list should be, and given that somebody at ICANN presumably has the ear of somebody at Twitter or Meta or Google or wherever — Android updated its list pretty quickly when alerted to to the problem by .tube — it’s baffling to me that these problems persist in the light of ICANN’s stated focus on UA.

The first four new gTLDs have been unmitigated disasters

Kevin Murphy, October 16, 2023, Domain Registries

“Arabic ‘Dot Shabaka’ goes online, ‘Dot Com’ era nearing end”.

That was a headline from a Turkish news site in February 2014 when the first Arabic gTLD — شبكة. — went to general availability, having been delegated to the DNS root October 23, 2013, 10 years ago next week.

It was one of the first four gTLDs to go live from ICANN’s 2012 new gTLD application round. At the time, the registry very kindly documented its launch on the pages of this very blog.

A decade on, شبكة. — which transliterates as “dot shabaka” — has just 670 registered domains, a 2015 peak of 2,093 names, and barely any active web sites of note. The registrar arm of the registry that runs it, GoDaddy, doesn’t even support it.

شبكة. is the Arabic for “.web”. The dot goes to the right because Arabic is read right-to-left. A full domain looks like this فيمأمنمنالألغام.شبك in your address bar but in the DNS, the TLD is represented by the Punycode .xn--ngbc5azd.

Given the Latin-script version of .web auctioned off for $135 million, and that there are 274 million Arabic speakers in the world, you might expect there to be a thirsty market for dot shabaka domains.

Nope.

It added about 2,000 domains in its first three months, crept up to 2,093 over the next two years, and has been on the decline pretty much consistently ever since. It has 40 accredited registrars, but only 21 of those have any domains under management.

Notably, GoDaddy has zero dot shabaka names under management, despite GoDaddy Registry being the official registry due to a string of consolidation ending with its acquisition of Neustar’s registry business over three years ago.

Its largest registrar is Dynadot, which seems to have a pretty responsive, intuitive storefront for non-Latin domain names.

Doing a site search on Google reveals the registry’s NIC site as the top hit — never a good sign — and a first page dominated by broken, misconfigured, and junk sites. An anti-landmine organization and a reputation management service are among the legit sites that show up.

One of the first-page results is actually in Japanese, a page declaring “ドメイン「المهوس.شبكة」は、日本語では、「オタク.ネット」という意味です。” or “The domain ‘المهوس.شبكة’ means ‘otaku.net’ in Japanese.” (per Google Translate).

It’s hardly a ringing endorsement of the demand for Arabic script names. If a reasonably priced, .com-competitive, god-tier gTLD such as “.web” is a backwater neglected even by its own registry, what does that say about any long-tail internationalized domain name gTLDs that might be applied for in the next ICANN application round?

We don’t have to wait until then to get a sense, however. Dot shabaka was one of four gTLDs delegated on the same October 2013 day, and the others haven’t fared much better. The other three were:

  • .xn--unup4y (.游戏) — means “.games” in Chinese. Operated by Identity Digital (formerly Donuts).
  • .xn--80aswg (.сайт) — means “.site” in several Cyrillic languages, including Russian. Operated by CORE Association.
  • .xn--80asehdb (.онлайн) — means “.online” in several Cyrillic languages, including Russian. Also operated by CORE Association.

You might expect .游戏 to do quite well. There are over a billion Chinese speakers in the world and gaming is a popular pastime in the country, but this TLD is doing even worse than dot shabaka.

While it was a day-one delegation, Identity Digital didn’t actually start selling .游戏 domains until early 2017, so it’s had a shorter amount of time to build up to the pitiful 318 domains recorded in the last registry transaction report. While its DUM number is lumpy over time, there’s an overall upward trend.

Compare to Latin-script .games (also Identity Digital) which had over 48,000 domains at the last count. Even comparing to premium-priced and XYZ-operated .game (Chinese isn’t big on plurals), which had 4,227 names, is unfavorable.

The two decade-old Cyrillic gTLDs aren’t doing much better, despite there being 255 million Russian-speakers in the world.

While .онлайн (“.online”) has a relatively decent 2,340 domains, the English version, run by Radix, has 2,732,653 domains. The Russian “.site” (.сайт) has just 829 domains, compared to Radix’s English version, which has 1,501,721.

The major Russia-based registrars, while they are understandably the biggest sellers of Cyrillic gTLD domains, are actually selling far more of their Latin-script, English-language equivalents.

Reg.ru, for example, has 99,716 .site domains under management, but just 249 in .сайт. It has 188,125 .online domains — where it is the fourth-largest registrar — but just 918 in .онлайн.

While there are certainly supply-side problems, such as the problem of Universal Acceptance, I suspect the abject failures of these four IDN gTLDs to gain traction over the last decade, despite their first-mover advantages, is based at least equally on a lack of demand.

ICANN has made UA — particularly with regards IDNs — one of its top priorities for the next new gTLD application round. Supporting a multilingual internet is one of the CEO’s goals for the current fiscal year.

But it had the same goals in the 2012 round too. The reason the first four to be delegated were IDNs was because IDN applicants, in act of what we’d probably call “virtue signalling” nowadays, were given priority in the lottery that decided the order in which they were processed.

Second time lucky?

Next round of gTLDs could come much sooner than expected

Kevin Murphy, July 24, 2023, Domain Policy

ICANN’s next new gTLDs application round may be closer than we thought, after a policy working group dramatically reduced the timetable for completing its work.

The Internationalized Domain Names Expedited Policy Development Process team has managed to shave a whopping 13 months off its schedule, potentially leading to a similar period being shaved off the runway to the next application window.

The IDNs EPDP had expected to deliver its final deliverables — policy recommendations on how IDNs are handled in gTLD applications — in November 2025, meaning the earliest they could be adopted by the ICANN board would be March 2026.

Because the IDNs policy is seen as a critical gating factor to the next round commencing, the date ICANN penciled in for the next application window was May 2026.

But now the IDNs EPDP group has revised its deadline down to October 2024, member Donna Austin told the GNSO Council last Thursday. This could mean the board could approve its work in early 2025.

The new target means that IDNs are no longer the biggest delaying factor on the critical path to the next window — that honor now falls on the “closed generics” problem, which a “small team” of the GNSO and Governmental Advisory Committee have been working on in private all year.

The latest thinking on closed generics is that another EPDP would be formed with an estimated run-time of 96 weeks (22 months) — a mid-2025 end date, in other words.

But there are even question marks over that optimal timeline now, following a less than supportive informal public comment period that closed last week. The closed generics small team has apparently taken a week off to ask itself some fundamental questions.

One possibility that has been suggested to speed things up is to take closed generics out of the critical path by retaining the current de facto ban for the next round.

If that were to happen, we could be looking at an application window in 2025.

But nobody ever won money betting on ICANN hitting deadlines, so take this speculation with a pinch of salt big enough to give an elephant hypertension.

IDNs — small and shrinking

Kevin Murphy, February 20, 2023, Domain Registries

It’s no secret that internationalized domain names haven’t exactly been flying off the shelves since they were first introduced over a decade ago, but the latest ICANN data shows registration volumes are shrinking.

According to its second annual IDN Progress Report (pdf), there were 1.52 million IDN names across all gTLDs (including Latin-script TLDs) at the end of 2022, which was down 2.94% from a year earlier.

ICANN pointed out that this is actually a slower decline than in previous years, where the average shrinkage from 2019 to 2021 was 11.36%.

Chinese-script names were perhaps unsurprisingly the most common, representing 50% of the total, with Latin coming second-place with 26%. Some Latin-script languages need representing as IDNs to accommodate diacritics like cedillas and umlauts.

Korean, Cyrillic and Japanese followed in popularity. The multitude of scripts used in India fall into the “other” category, with less than 1% of the total — fewer than Hebrew — despite the country’s vast population.

The relatively low number of registrations is spread across ASCII and IDN gTLDs. Ninety-one of the 1,172 total gTLDs are IDN gTLDs and 462 gTLDs support IDNs at the second-level, regardless of top-level script.

ICANN’s report does not cover ccTLDs, presumably because the zone files are not usually readily available, but we know from ccTLD registry that their own IDNs can be somewhat popular.

Russia reports 681,000 .РФ names today, while China recorded 190,000 .中国 names mid-2022.

ICANN has made IDNs and universal acceptance a cornerstone of its current strategic plan and there’s likely to be a push for IDN applications in the next new gTLD rounnd.

Now Nokia scraps a dot-brand

Kevin Murphy, August 3, 2022, Domain Registries

Finnish tech company Nokia has become the latest company to get rid of a dot-brand gTLD.

It’s asked ICANN to terminate the contract for the IDN .诺基亚 ( .xn--jlq61u9w7b), which is the Chinese transliteration of “Nokia”.

Like .nokia itself, the TLD is not currently in use. Nokia has not asked ICANN to terminate .nokia (or, at least, ICANN has not published such a notice).

Other companies that chose to terminate their Chinese IDNs include Richemont and Volkswagen. In Richemont’s case it was followed by all its other gTLDs.

Universal unacceptance? ICANN lets XYZ dump languages from UNR gTLDs

Even as CEO Göran Marby was accepting an ambassadorship from the Universal Acceptance Steering Group last month, ICANN was quietly approving a registry’s plan to drop support for several languages, potentially putting dozens of domains at risk.

It seems portfolio registry XYZ.com was having problems migrating the 10 gTLDs it recently acquired in UNR’s firesale auction from the UNR back-end to long-time partner CentralNic, so it’s cutting off some language support to ease the transition.

The company told ICANN in a recent Registry Services Evaluation Process request (pdf) that internationalized domain names in Cyrillic, Chinese, Japanese and German were “causing issues with the [Registry System Testing] for the technical transition”.

“So, in order to move forward with the migration to CentralNic, we have no choice but to remove support for these IDNs. This will only impact fewer than 50 registrations in these TLDs,” the company told ICANN.

I asked both XYZ and CentralNic whether this means the IDN domains in question would be deleted but got no response from either.

Support for the four languages will be removed in .christmas, .guitars, .pics, .audio, .diet, .flowers, .game, .hosting, .lol, .mom according to contractual amendments that ICANN has subsequently approved.

The RSEP was published the same week ICANN signed a memorandum of understanding with .eu registry EURid, promising to collaborate on IDNs and universal acceptance.

The same week, Marby, who has stated publicly on several occasions his commitment to IDNs and UA, was named an honorary ambassador of the UASG to “help amplify the importance of UA work to enable a multilingual Internet”.

UPDATE July 24, 2022:
CentralNic CTO Gavin Brown says:

I can confirm that no domains will be deleted or suspended due to the withdrawal of these IDN tables. The RSEP request template we provided to XYZ incorrectly stated that domains would be deleted, however, neither we nor XYZ have any plans to delete or suspend any domains, and we hope to re-enable the IDN tables in the near future.

Greek .eu domains to be deleted

Kevin Murphy, February 15, 2022, Domain Registries

EURid has started warning registrants that their Greek-script .eu domains will be deleted this year.

The names will no longer work after November 14, the company said yesterday.

It’s part of the registry’s three-year plan to phase out mixed-script internationalized domain names, which are considered poor security practice.

The affected domains are Greek-script IDN.eu names, not IDN.IDN names using the Greek-script .ευ.

.ευ was introduced in 2019, after an amusingly Kafkaesque, yet typically ICANN, decade-long effort to crowbar the ccTLD through its IDN Fast Track rules.

Because EURid had been accepting Greek-script second-level names under its base Latin .eu domain for some time, it grandfathered existing registrants by “cloning” their .eu names into .ευ, albeit with only a three-year lifespan.

There were only 2,694 .ευ domains registered at the end of 2021, so one must assume that the number of domains on the deleting list must be smaller.

Volkswagen drives IDN dot-brand off a cliff

Kevin Murphy, September 13, 2021, Domain Registries

Volkwagen has decided it no longer wishes to run its Chinese-script dot-brand gTLD.

The car-maker’s Chinese arm has asked ICANN to terminate its contract for .大众汽车 (.xn--3oq18vl8pn36a), which has been in the root for five years.

It’s the standard terminating dot-brand story — the gTLD was never used and VW evidently decided it wasn’t needed.

The company also runs .volkswagen, and that’s not used either, but ICANN has yet to publish termination papers for that particular string.

Fellow German car-maker Audi is one of the most prolific users of dot-brands. Its .audi gTLD has over 1,800 registered domains, most of which appear to be used by its licensed dealerships.

.volkwagen is the 95th terminated dot-brand and the seventh terminated internationalized domain name gTLD.