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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.

.org domains could come in seven new languages

Public Interest Registry is planning support for seven more languages in the .org gTLD.

The company has asked ICANN for permission to support seven additional internationalized domain name scripts: Croatian, Finnish, Hindi, Italian, Montenegrin, Portuguese, and Japanese.

Five of these languages use the Latin script also used in English, but have special accents or diacritics that require IDN tables to support in the DNS.

PIR submitted the request via the Registry Services Evaluation Process, where it is currently being reviewed by ICANN. Such RSEPs are usually approved without controversy.

Next new gTLD round should be less English, says ICANN boss

Kevin Murphy, June 16, 2021, Domain Policy

The next round of new gTLDs should be less focused on the English-speaking world, ICANN CEO Göran Marby said yesterday.

Talking to ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee in a bilateral session at ICANN 71 yesterday, Marby said he believed the 2012 round — the last time anyone was able to apply for a new gTLD — was too English-centric.

We have so few identifiers on the internet, [which] I think is a problem. Most of them are in relation to the English language or translations of English words…

I think and I truly believe that the next round should be giving the ability for people to have identifiers on the internet that’s actually in correlation with their own local contexts, their own scripts, their own keyboards, their own narratives, so they can create their pwn communities on the internet…

We have to rethink a lot of things we have done previously, because last time we did a round it was very much about the English language and I don’t think that’s fair for the rest of the world.

He pointed out the need for universal acceptance — the technical and educational challenge of making sure all software and online services support non-Latin internationalized domain names.

While it’s true that the 2012 round of applications turned out very much English-heavy, it was not by design.

Broadening the gTLD space out to non-Latin scripts and non-English languages was one of the benefits frequently cited (often, I thought, to guilt-trip the naysayers) before opponents of new gTLDs — including governments — in the run-up to the 2012 round.

ICANN was tasked in 2011/12 with reaching out to potential applications in under-served areas of the world, but it’s generally considered to have done a pretty shoddy job of it.

In the 2012 round, 116 of the 1,930 total applications were for IDNs, and 97 of those at some point made it into the DNS root. There have been a further 61 IDN ccTLDs that came in through the IDN ccTLD Fast Track process.

IDN applicants were given special privileges in the 2012 round, such as prioritization in the lottery that selected the processing order for applications. The first delegated new gTLD was in Arabic.

The IDN gTLDs have had a mixed performance volume-wise, with the top 10 strings, which are mostly Chinese, having between 14,500 and 164,000 domains under management.

Only one has passed the 50,000-domain threshold where it has to start paying ICANN transaction fees.

The numbers are not thoroughly terrible by new gTLD standards, but they don’t make the case for huge demand, either.

Universal Acceptance – making the internet work for everyone [Guest Post]

Kevin Murphy, March 24, 2021, Domain Tech

Editor’s note: this is a guest post written by Aman Masjide, head of compliance at new gTLD registry Radix.

Back in 2014, to foster innovation and to better the choice in domain names, ICANN introduced new generic top-level domains through its New gTLD Program. It was a monumental move that enabled businesses, individuals, and communities across the globe to mark their presence on the internet.

Allowing users to be present digitally in their chosen language (non-ASCII characters and scripts) gave opportunities to local businesses, civil societies, and governments to better serve their communities.

Analysys Mason conservatively estimates that there is scope of $9.8 billion growth in potential revenue from both; existing users who are using new domain names and from new internet users coming online through Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs).

To achieve this, Universal Acceptance of new gTLDs and IDNs is critical in making the Internet more accessible to the next billion users. Founded in February 2015, the Universal Acceptance Steering Group (UASG) undertakes activities to promote Universal Acceptance of all valid domain names and email addresses.

Through its ambassadorship and local Initiative programs, UASG promotes Universal Acceptance globally. Their efforts are divided and executed through five working groups that include:

  • Technology Working Group
  • Email Address Internationalization Working Group
  • Communications Working Group
  • Measurement Working Group
  • Local Initiatives Working Group

Before we get into the acceptance of new domain extensions (nTLDs), we must first understand what acceptance means and how it’s measured.

The Universal Acceptance Steering Group’s mission sums up acceptance in one short statement: “All domain names and all email addresses work in all software applications.”

While this is a simple understanding of the concept, for an end user of an nTLD, this statement further branches out into multiple questions such as:

  • Will my domain name work on all platforms/applications–online or offline?
  • Will my email address on a new domain extension get accepted on all websites/platforms and pass all the validation tests?
  • Will my emails on new domain extensions, once accepted, stop going into the junk folder?
  • Will I be able to use all the features of a website/platform irrespective of my domain extensions? For example, will a social media platform accept a new domain extension in the bio, comments, posts, messenger, etc, and process it exactly like any other legacy TLD?

The Universal Acceptance (UA) of all domain names and email addresses requires that every piece of software is able to accept, validate, process, store, and display them correctly and consistently.

As a new domains registry, it was critical for us to understand what the gaps were and how to close them so that the internet operates the same for nTLD users as it does for the legacy TLD users.

Initial research concluded that UA readiness issues occur when applications are not able to handle the following categories of a domains name or email addresses:

Domain Names

  • New short top-level domain names: example.fun, example.site
  • New long top-level domain names: example.berlin, example.space
  • Internationalized Domain Names: παράδειγμα.ευ

Email Addresses

  • ASCII@ASCII; new short or long TLD: ekrem@misal.istanbul
  • ASCII@IDN: john@société.org
  • Unicode@ASCII: 测试@example.com
  • Unicode@IDN: ईमेल@उदाहरण.भारत
  • Unicode@IDN; right to left scripts: لیم@لاثم.عقوم ای

For Universal Acceptance to succeed, it needs to be examined holistically.

Over the years, UASG working group members have conducted several gap analysis on programming languages and frameworks, networking command-line tools, web browsers, websites, and have made great strides in acceptance of new domain extensions.

According to UASG’s FY 2020 report, tests conducted on top websites showed that

  • The acceptance rate of emails on short nTLDs has increased from 91% in 2017 to 98.3% in 2020.
  • The acceptance rate of emails on long nTLDs has increased from 78% in 2017 to 84.8% in 2020.

table

Note: The table above compares the 2020 results to the earlier 2017 and 2019 testing results.

Two important caveats should be remembered in this case:

  • Different email addresses were tested (but they were of the same type).
  • The websites tested in 2020 were different from previous ones as they were the 50 most popular in the 20 countries rather than the 1,000 most popular globally.

However, these results may still be used to compare overall trends.

Universal Acceptance Readiness Report 2020 (pdf) also segregated test websites as per different categories such as eCommerce, government, education, etc and the results were promising.

table

Such studies help UASG ambassadors and advocates to identify and focus on websites of a specific category that require immediate attention. We conducted a similar study at Radix where we analysed top websites belonging to different categories. These were the results (click to enlarge):

table

While the acceptance rates for new short and new long cases is more than 80% under most categories, we see a drastic dip when a domain is on an IDN TLD. Such comparisons highlight problem areas and provide direction to ambassadors and members who are advocating for Universal Acceptance.

Radix’s contribution to UASG

UA is something that affects nTLD users the most. This is why it’s crucial to focus on the feedback that we receive from them. At Radix, we work closely with our users to ensure we have the first hand information on any UA related issues faced by the customer.

The feedback could be about linkification, validation or acceptance of emails on nTLDs on different websites and platforms. Radix also actively invests its resources in gap analysis by testing various websites and social media platforms. We are also part of the ambassadorship program promoting and supporting local and global UA initiatives.

Here are some of the UASG initiatives that Radix is part of:

At Radix, our objective is to ensure that nTLDs are accepted across websites and platforms. To achieve this, we actively work with UASG and share as many issues and gaps noticed and reported by customers.

Contribution by other registries

A key objective for most registries is to ensure great customer experience when it comes to their nTLDs and I’ve always admired it when registry operators have actively taken initiative and participated in the five UASG groups mentioned above.

One of the ways to do this is to capture all the queries and complaints reported by their customers/registrar partners and share it with UASG. This will help their support team direct their resources in solving the problems and encouraging those websites to become UA compliant.

Contribution by registrars

When it comes to UA-related issues, registrars are the first in chain to receive a complaint or feedback from the user. Therefore, it’s crucial that their support teams have all the necessary information needed on how to best handle such complaints.

For now, they can:

  • Inform the customer about the potential UA issue and raise a request on behalf of the customer with UASG. Issues can be logged at – https://uasg.tech/global-support-center/
  • Report these instances to the Registry Operator so that they can connect and follow up with UASG.
  • Join any of the five working groups and participate.

The path ahead

The UASG is consistently compiling and sharing all the important information needed for organizations and developers to become UA ready. This is not only about ensuring the readiness of a system to accept certain TLDs or emails, but also about realising the full potential of an organization by connecting with people and businesses that might not be even on it’s radar.

Every successful step taken by an organization towards UA readiness is also a step towards equality and inclusiveness on the internet.

Guest poster Aman Masjide leads compliance and abuse mitigation at Radix.

Eight years after asking, Israel to get its Hebrew ccTLD

Kevin Murphy, February 3, 2021, Domain Registries

Israel is likely to be awarded the Hebrew-script version of its ccTLD, at a meeting of ICANN’s board of directors next week.

ICANN is poised to approved ישראל. (the dot goes on the right, in accordance with Hebrew writing practice), which means “Israel”, on February 8.

The beneficiary will be not-for-profit ISOC-IL, which has been running .il for the last 25 years. The Latin-script version currently has just shy of 270,000 domains under management.

ISOC-IL first expressed its interest in an internationalized domain name ccTLD (pdf) in 2012, but only received final technical approval from ICANN last May.

The proposal appears to have been held up by government delays in selecting a registry operator — government approval is a requirement under ICANN’s increasingly inappropriately named IDN ccTLD “Fast Track” program, which began in 2009.

It’s debatable how much demand there is for Hebrew domains. There are fewer than 10 million speakers in the world and most are very familiar with the Latin script.

Verisign’s gTLD קום., a transliteration of .com, has fewer than 1,700 domains in its zone file today, and is on a downward trend, two years after launch. Most are registered via local registrar Domain The Net, which had planned to compete with ISOC-IL for the IDN contract.