Due to the ongoing pandemic, the European Commission has asked EURid, the .eu registry, to continue monitoring new .eu domain name registrations using their APEWS – Advanced Prevention and Early Warning System – platform for Covid-related keywords until 31 December 2021. The initial measures for these checks were set in early April 2020 in order to protect end-users from possible misuse of domain names.
What happens when a Brand changes its company name, which has a .brand new gTLD, such as through a takeover, merger or just a name change? Thereâs currently no quick process in place to allow them to obtain a new gTLD to reflect the change. This is one of the many issues raised by LoÃ¯c Damilaville, Market Research Manager at Afnic who manages the French ccTLD as well as 17 new gTLDs, in todayâs Q&A looking at the year just gone and the year ahead.
Damilaville delves into many issues facing the industry including growth, or lack of growth, rates for top-level domains, the financial issues forcing some gTLD operators to sell their gTLDS, the vulnerability of some TLDs to Chinese domainers, future rounds of new gTLD applications, challenges faced by smaller TLDs, particularly new gTLDs. Here heâs concerned about how to get registrars to carry them and without a presence on platforms, Damilaville is also concerned about how the industry is flourishing for many of the established players, but quite hostile to newcomers and real innovations.
Thereâs a lot more in Damilavilleâs Q&A, so please read on!
Domain Pulse: What were the highlights, lowlights and challenges of 2019 in the domain name industry, both for you and/or the industry in general?
LoÃ¯c Damilaville: In terms of trends, 2019 has seen the continuing decline of Legacy TLDs, apart from .COM which is enjoying an enviable – even if surprising – growth rate. Surprising because with its nearly 150 million domains it still grows by 5% a year. Is this single TLD “aspirating” the market? What is driving this growth?
“Penny TLDs”, that is to say TLDs whose domain names are “given” or sold at a very low price, have increased their volumes, but we doubt that these millions of domain names are actually used. They shall be considered as highly volatile and not relevant to assess the good or bad health of the market.
The market remains vulnerable to the domaining effect: in 2019, lots of Chinese domainers have transferred their investments from new gTLDs to .TW and this one has literally exploded in a few months. At the present time, we see the reverse effect with a .TW affected by deletions and a .ICU boosted, quite at the same time, by new creations. It may mean that these domaining waves are done by a relatively small number of coordinated big investors.
This phenomenon affects the stability of the market. For instance one may consider that new gTLDs have boomed at the end of 2019 but this boom is almost 100% caused by the .ICU effect, with most of the other new gTLDs experiencing a decrease in their new registrations. A global improvement in volumes doesn’t mean that most of the players are doing well.
This situation drives some registries faced with financial difficulties to sell their TLDs to big players which are also fighting increasingly on the back-end registry market. What is interesting as regards to these back-end activities is that they are researched not only by registries of small TLDs unable to get some costly technologies and infrastructures by themselves, but also by registries of very big TLDs, maybe for the same reasons, with a difference of scale. This is the sign of a kind of professionalisation of the market, but also of a concentration process, with a handful of players on the worldwide level. On the local or regional level, lots of middle-sized players are managing some geoTLDs and/or .BRAND TLDs.
The concentration continues at the registry and registrar levels, some back-ends being both of them. This phenomenon requires (and is allowed by) the growing presence of investment funds in the capital of these players. Although made with dubious methods, the .ORG takeover by Ethos Capital is just one example of this structural evolution of the market.
The Second Round is a topic, but more an icy one than a hot one. We should wait for Winter to leave ;-).
Among the very hot topics of 2019 we have noticed security issues, fights against all kind of DNS abuses, the painful consequences of GDPR for the IP community, and the emergence of services combining data, monitoring and qualification of domain names in terms of notoriety, risks etc.
Referring to our “7As” model (*) we shall consider that 2019 has not seen great improvements in Awareness, Amplitude, Advantages, Access, Adoption, Activity nor Affect. The domain name market may be a little too self-oriented and that could explain some of the difficulties met by new TLDs to “meet their market”.
We have developed a key success factors for Internet extensions evaluation grid which you can see here: htttps://www.afnic.fr/en/resources/blog/key-success-factors-for-internet-extensions-an-evaluation-grid-1.html
DP: What are you looking forward to in 2020?
LD: The main trends of the market should remain the same: decline in Legacy gTLDs, and maybe a 4 percent growth for .COM due to their forecast price increase.
ccTLDs will be affected by the .TW and .UK deletes, but apart from this phenomenon the growth should not be above 3-4%.
New gTLDs will still be split between high volumes generic TLDs and the others. Geos seem to be stronger than Communities and little Generics but the average volume remains low. Brands will continue to progress slowly but surely. They are the most promising segment of this market.
Security, monitoring and data issues will have more and more audience in relation with the DNS Abuse efforts. Tools designed to manage the GDPR limitations will enjoy a strong interest since the needs for identifying and tracking “abusers” have not vanished, those “abusers” feeling encouraged by the anonymity guaranteed by GDPR and the failure of ICANN to provide any reliable, quick and low-cost solution to rights owners.
DP: What challenges and opportunities do you see for the year ahead?
LD: The big challenge for domain names is to exist by themselves, that is to say, to be actually perceived by users as added-value components of their internet presence and not just something technical, necessary to be reached on the internet, whether it is a .COM, .FR or .ANYTHING.
Another big challenge is for the registrars to find their way into a more diversified domain name world. One of the main burdens for new gTLDs is to reach their potential customers, a task they can’t do if they are not referenced by the registrars which actually reach these customers. But registrars seem to lack enthusiasm to sell new gTLDs which are not at first sought by their customers, and a vicious circle is in force: big registrars proposes to their customers the TLDs they already know (and buy), and the new gTLDs are kept in the shadows and not bought as the customers don’t know them very well and do not trust them.
We may also mention the “Next Round” as a challenge for the ICANN Community, but – in relation with what precedes – also for the market players in general. In the current organisation of the market, more generic TLDs will create only more confusion without being able to reach their customers. The situation of .BRANDs and .GEOs are very different because in both cases the “market” already exists: big companies will become used to consider that having their own TLD is a “must have”. And GeoTLDs are appealing to the feelings of proximity and local pride of their “natural” customers.
This leads to another big challenge. Apart from the high-volume oriented ones, the new or future TLDs will be more and more focused on niches, whether they be geographical or sectorial. This means that we will see a lot of TLDs with very low volumes compared to those we are used to see. In order to allow them to be financially viable, there MUST be a deep thought about the global financial organisation of the market.
At the ICANN level, the $25,000 flat fee is a burden that strangles many little TLDs and obliges them to sell their domain names at uncompetitive prices compared to .COM and big ccTLDs.
At the back-end level, things are more difficult to analyse but we should see in the future the emergence of some low-cost solutions targeting little TLDs and some value-added solutions targeting big TLDs or TLDs wanting to propose very specific services to their registrants. The homogeneous market as we know it nowadays is probably condemned but the transition to new models will take a long time. The growing influence of financial people in the management of TLDs should be an opportunity by providing some new means, but it can also be a threat because innovations may imperil the forecasted Return on Investment rates. When you buy a cash cow, you do not want it to become a risky bet.
DP: What progress do you see on a new round of applications for new gTLDs in 2020?
LD: There will be progress but it would be hazardous to say that everything should be settled at the end of the year. One main question â that is not addressed by the focus on process â is to ask what kind of Â«new roundÂ» we really want, and basically if we want a Â«roundÂ» or a continuous process.
It seems very logical and strategically important to allow the .BRANDs to benefit from a special, expedited and permanent process as soon as the candidates are eligible to certain rules avoiding Â«optimizationÂ» by some Â«smartÂ» guys. There are lots of reasons in favour of this special process: these TLDs are for internal use only, and since the big companies are often changing their names, creating some new trademarks, etc., they should be able to change their .BRANDs when they need to do so. For the time being, having a .BRAND is a strategic strength if you intend to keep the same name for the next decades, but it can also become a trap if you are obliged to change your companyâs name because of a merger or any other event.
The Geo-TLDs should also be allowed fast procedures if they are requested by legitimate authorities.
The fact that ICANN is only able to provide a Â«roundÂ» every ten years is not a proof of its efficiency. That said, we are aware that it depends strongly on its own Community and should not be considered the only responsible of these delays.
DP: What one thing would you like to see addressed or changed in the domain name industry?
LD: Lots of the points we could address have already been talked about. The main issue is that some problems or deficiencies, or even some threats to some players, are benefitting others, and reciprocally. The situation of the domain name industry results mostly from compromises built through power relations between its members and their Â«externalÂ» partners such as governments, right owners, customers etc.
These compromises are not fully optimal and many of them are so weak that they are constantly challenged by the dissatisfied parties. One may remark that it is the story of life: but the parties involved should make an effort to reach a long-term win-win deal more than seeking for deals which only protect their own interests in the short term.
The global situation for this market â still flourishing for the established players, but quite hostile to newcomers and real innovations â would be improved by a new approach of the challenges it faces. It is still waiting for its Â«New DealÂ» and will probably still wait for a long time, not for the better.
Previous Q&As in this series were with:
- David Fowler, vice-president, marketing and communications, Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) – here
- Katrin Ohlmer, CEO and founder of DOTZON GmbH – here
- EURid, manager of the .eu top level domain – available here
Q&As in the 2019 series were with:
- EURid, manager of the .eu top level domain (available here)
- Katrin Ohlmer, CEO and founder of DOTZON GmbH (here)
- Afiliasâ Roland LaPlante (here)
- DotBERLINâs Dirk Krischenowski (here)
- DENIC (here)
- Internet.bsâ Marc McCutcheon (here)
- nic.atâs Richard Wein (here)
- Neustarâs George Pongas (here)
- CentralNicâs Ben Crawford (here)
- CIRAâs David Fowler (here)
- Jovenet Consultingâs Jean Guillon (here)
- GGRGâs Giuseppe Graziano (here)
- Blacknight Solutionsâ Michele Neylon (here)
- Public Interest Registryâs President and CEO Jon Nevett (here)
- ICANN board member Chris Disspain (here).
A post on the Afnic blog this week is intended to give food for thought on what makes up a successful top-level domain, suggesting one way could be via the 7 As â awareness, amplitude, advantage, access, adoption, activity and affect.
For each TLD, the post by LoÃ¯c Damilaville notes, there are different metrics. Legacy gTLDs, new gTLDs and ccTLDs are all different, and even within the differing TLDs there are differing metrics â success for a .brand gTLD is completely different for a generic gTLD or ccTLD. And even with generic gTLDs there are differing metrics.
So a summary of the 7 As as outlined by Damilaville, who is a Deputy Director General at Afnic, manager of the French ccTLD .fr as well as 17 new gTLDs and a number of ccTLDs for French territories, are:
1) Awareness: the most well-known market factor as well as relating to an objective reality: âdomain names in general such as new TLDs still suffer from a certain lack of awareness among the general publicâ and âindividuals are simply unaware of this precious tool for consolidating their online presence.â
2) Amplitude: refers âto a TLDâs volume potential in terms of target audience and catchment area.â This varies from highly restrictive TLDs to open generics such as âthe highly restrictive .BANK, to the .COOP for cooperatives, for example, which cannot really be consider as âfailuresâ when they achieve tens of thousands of names. As for ccTLDs, which usually have local reach, Amplitude will depend to a large extent on the spread of the Internet in the particular country.â
3) Advantage: âthe advantages generated by the TLD for both clients and the registry with its registrars. Itâs the âvalue-addedâ in the wider sense that will explain why registrars will be more or less inclined to suggest this TLD to their clients.â
4) Access: this refers to âmarket access, meaning their capacity for being listed with the right registrars for the target audience.â This varies for .com that is available through almost all ICANN-accredited registrars while by âway of contrast, some TLDs are only issued by a handful of registrars, which can compromise their development. ccTLDs are often marketed by their own local registrar networks, a minority of which have the sole status of âICANN registrarâ, although this does not prevent them from developing a dense network across national territory.â
5) Adoption: is the TLD seen as a âmust-haveâ or ânice- to-haveâ when it comes to Internet presence? The answer Damilaville notes âwill often depend on the target audience, but we can look at the example of .CORP / .BRAND, which are currently ânice-to-haveâ for major groups but might become âmust-haveâ in a few decades.â
6) Activity: âa TLD will last if it is economically viable, but also if it can be sure of a good renewal rate. This relates in part to the use that owners make of the names. Is it sites providing content and functionalities that can extend as far as e-commerce? Or is it just parking pages or websites generated automatically but of no interest to visitors?â
7) Affect: lastly ââAffectâ is also about the renewal rate, representing the retention rate that goes beyond the actual level of usage.â
To read Damilavilleâs column Key success factors for Internet extensions: an evaluation grid in more detail, go to: https://www.afnic.fr/en/resources/blog/key-success-factors-for-internet-extensions-an-evaluation-grid.html
SIDN Labs, Afnic Labs and Grenoble Alps University have commenced a new research project on the âClassification of compromised versus maliciously registered domainsâ (COMAR).
The Franco-Dutch project, which commenced on 1 October, will address the problem of automatically distinguishing between domain names registered by cybercriminals for the purpose of malicious activities, and domain names exploited through vulnerable web applications. The project is designed to help intermediaries such as registrars and ccTLD registries further optimise their anti-abuse processes.
The ultimate goal of COMAR is to develop a machine learning-based classifier that labels blacklisted domains as compromised or maliciously registered, then extensively evaluate its accuracy, and implement it for a production-level environment. They also plan to study the attackersâ profit-maximising behaviour and their business models. The project will apply a classifier to unlabelled domain names of URL blacklists, for example, to answer the following question: do attackers prefer to register malicious domains, compromise vulnerable websites, or misuse domains of legitimate services such as cloud-based file-sharing services in their criminal activities?
COMAR is a joint project of SIDN Labs, Afnic Labs, and Grenoble Alps University. SIDN is the country code top level domain (ccTLD) registry for .nl, Afnic for .fr and Grenoble Alps University is aiming to establish itself as a leading cybersecurity research centre in the RhÃ´ne-Alpes region in France.
For more information on the research project, see:
The French railway operator SNCF launched their new home online this week with their home page now oui.sncf. SNCF is one of the most prominent brands to make the switch to a new gTLD, particularly in Europe. The previous home of SNCF online, voyages-sncf.com, now redirects to the new domain name. The launch is part of a major rebranding which includes new social media pages including Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
There are currently 7 domain names registered, 3 of them parked, under the new generic top level domain according to nTLDstats.com with SNCF using the .fr registry provider Afnic for backend registry services.
The change is part of a massive transformation that the railway operator hopes will see an additional 15 million customers per year by 2020, a five-fold growth in low fare passengers, a €1.5 billion investment in rolling stock and a €300 investment in on-board WiFi. The change is to counter the growth of low-cost airlines and bus services. The new low-cost TGV services will become OUIGO. The rebranding of the TGV service will commenced with the Paris-Bordeaux route on 2 July.
The rebranding of Voyages-SNCF.com to use a new generic top level domain will certainly raise awareness in France of the new gTLDs as most French people will use their national railways. One quarter of all French SNCF tickets are sold through the website. Under voyages-sncf.com there are 14 websites in 6 languages.
Growth in the total number of domain names registered worldwide was 7.1% in 2016, down from 11.7% in 2015, a study released Monday from the French ccTLD registry Afnic found.
Globally there were 338 million domain names at the end of 2016 including 169 million under legacy top level domains (.COM, .NET, .ORG, etc.), 28 million new generic TLDs, the first of which was introduced in 2014 and of which over 1,200 have now been delegated and 141 million under country code top level domains (ccTLDs).
Among the legacy gTLDs there is some variation with some going backwards, some increasing and others more or less treading water, the 2016 Global Domain Name Market [pdf] found.
With 131 million domain names and 39% market share, .com remains by far the largest TLD and even though registrations continually increase, its market share is slowly decreasing with a loss of 3 market share points since year-end 2014. Its growth has also slowed considerably, down from 6.4% to 3.7% in 3 years.
The new gTLDs continue to gain market share in terms of volume, accounting for 8% of the domain names registered worldwide at year-end 2016, compared with 4% at year-end 2015. The new gTLD market can be broken down into segments the report notes – Community, Geographic, Generic and Corporate – with very different purposes and profiles, from the hundreds of .Corp that only hold a few names, to generic TLDs involved in a race for volume.
ccTLDs which had an excellent year in 2015, experienced zero growth in 2016. Africa and North America were the most dynamic regions in 2016, while Europe in comparison stagnated. Latin America is growing slowly, and the Asia-Pacific region is subject to very strong variations both up and down. The Asia-Pacific region reflects the overall market trend.
Since 2014, the market has undergone major upheavals caused by changes linked to the aim of market participants to diversify their sources of income, but also to pursue integration strategies within the value chain.
After boosting the performance of some TLDs in 2015, “Chinese domain name filings” are now weighing on the growth of these same TLDs because of the numerous deletions.
The build-up of the financial sphere in the capital of certain major players is resulting in ambitious strategies while subjecting the market to new frames of reference and changes in management teams.
The report concludes that the intensification of competition and the absolute necessity to optimise the match between supply and demand will continue to weigh on the players and force them to rethink their business models and their positions more than they have ever done since the market first emerged twenty years ago.
To download the report in full, see:
The former CEO of Afnic, Mathieu Weill, has announced his new position following a surprise resignation in late April. The new position is Head of Digital Economy Department with the Ministry of Economy in France.
Weill surprisingly quit his role as head of Afnic, the announcement coming in late April with the board appointing Pierre Bonis, then the Deputy CEO, as Acting Chief Executive Officer from 1 May. A recruitment process is currently underway for a permanent CEO.
But with his new position becoming public it is now clear the reason for the quick change – a new position with the French government.
Afnic acts as the registry for the French ccTLD and a number of French territory ccTLDs. The announcement came just days after Afnic announced it has been awarded the right to operate .fr for another 5 years by the French government.
Mathieu Weill, the CEO of the French ccTLD registry Afnic, will be stepping down as of 1 May. In an announcement today on the website for the French country code top level domain, it notes he “has been appointed to other duties as from 1 May 2017.”
In his place as of 1 May the current deputy CEO, Pierre Bonis, will take on the role of Acting CEO while a search is undertaken to replace Weill.
The announcement comes just days after Afnic announced it has been awarded the right to operate .fr for another 5 years.
Weill was appointed CEO of Afnic in July 2005. During that time, according to Weill’s LinkedIn profile, .fr has grown from 300,000 to 3 million domains under management, improved customer satisfaction and technical performance, contributed to and implemented a complete rewrite of the legal and regulatory environment, acquired customers for 17 new gTLDs, launched the Afnic Foundationfor Digital Inclusion and led a full review of legislation and regulations for the domain sector.
He has also been a co-chair of the working group on enhancing ICANN's Accountability since 2014 and undertaken numerous other activities, mostly within Europe.
Marking the departure of Weill, the Afnic Board of Directors unanimously hailed the work he has accomplished since 2005 as head of the association in a statement on their website.
Mathieu Weill's work resulted in strong growth for Afnic during that period according to the statement, enabling the association to enhance its expertise, diversify its activities, and gain broader recognition both in France and on the international market. Mathieu Weill successfully oversaw those major changes by involving both the staff of the association and all of its stakeholders.
Afnic's Board of Directors will launch a call for candidates for the position of CEO and will select one or more independent firms of consultants to support it in the open process.
Afnic has been awarded the right to operate the .fr ccTLD for another 5 years, the registry announced.
In December 2016 .fr passed the 3 million domain name registrations mark, just days after the Italian country code top level domain, .it, passed the same mark.
In a decree dated 5 April 2017 published in the Official Journal of the French Republic, Mr. Christophe Sirugue, French Minister of State for Industry, the Digital Sector and Innovation, has appointed Afnic as the Registry for the .fr TLD for a term of 5 years from 25 June 2017.
“We are delighted by this decision which rewards the commitment and work of the teams and members of Afnic, who have allowed us to meet our commitments to make .fr a secure, simple and competitive namespace. With growth close to 30% since 2012, the .fr is one of the 4 most dynamic TLD suffixes in Europe and ranks as one of the top 10 in top-level domains worldwide. The .fr now represents a community of more than 3 million online successes,” said Mathieu Weill, Afnic CEO.
Afnic will continue to promote the .fr as a key partner in ensuring the online presence of SOHOs / SMEs, supporting digital solidarity and making the voice of France heard at the international level.
For the next 5 years, Afnic has set itself the goal of helping the one million French SOHOs / SMEs still absent from the Internet get on-line. Since 2012, the Réussir-en.fr program has been helping them begin their digital transformation and develop their online presence with business diagnostics, tools and practical advice.
A non-profit association committed to combat digital exclusion, Afnic donates most of the profits from .fr to the Afnic Foundation for Digital Solidarity, created in 2015, which financed 35 projects throughout France as of its first operating year in 2016.
A week or so after the Italian ccTLD .it reached three million registrations, the French ccTLD reached the same milestone.
It means the French country code Top Level Domain (ccTLD), today with 3,005,270 registrations, is probably the tenth largest ccTLD behind .it given the latest Verisign Domain Name Industry Brief for the end of June, discounting .tk (Tokelau) due to it giving away its domain names and the large amount of phishing spam and scams using the ccTLDâs domains.
The .fr grew by 2.1% in 2016 and the registry says simplicity, attractiveness and trust are the main reasons for its success.
“Registering a .fr domain name is one of the keys to a successful online presence for companies and individuals alike,â said Mathieu Weill, Afnic CEO. âTo support the development of their business on the Internet, Afnic has set up the RÃ©ussir-en.fr program (rÃ©ussir-en.fr), and intends to continue its efforts to make France a European leader in online presence.”
.fr domain names are available for registration to any person or business with a mailing address in the European Union.
Afnic donates 90% of the profits generated by .fr to its Foundation for Digital Inclusion(fondation-afnic.fr) which funds field projects to make the Internet accessible to the greatest number of people and to reduce digital exclusion throughout France.