The “Big Bang” in graphic form
I propose to discuss in a series of future posts the changes that the nTLDs will cause on the domain name market, and how they may affect the strategies of the various stakeholders involved.
The domain name market players have been waiting for the introduction of the nTLDs for more than five years. The “big bang” announced with great excitation at the ICANN meeting in Paris in June 2008 began a few days ago with the introduction into the root system of the first four “new extensions” (1). Symbolically, they are “IDN TLDs”, i.e. TLDs with non-Latin characters: one with Arabic characters, two with Cyrillic characters and one with simplified Chinese characters.
A small-scale statistical retrospective on the development in the number of TLDs is possible with the “IANA files” (2), a genuine “whois” directory of TLDs. It indicates, for each active TLD, its registry, contacts and “date of birth” – the day on which it was inserted in the “root” system of the DNS administered by IANA. The IANA function was entrusted by the U.S. government to ICANN when the latter was created in 1998, which explains the vital role of this organization in the operation of the naming system.
The chart below provides an eloquent visual representation of the past… and the immediate future:
Source: IANA files, dates of insertion into the root
It can be immediately seen that up to the present date the gTLDs (or “generic” extensions such as .com, .net etc.) have been few in number compared with the ccTLDs (i.e. related to the country in which the registry is located). The main period of growth in the naming system – in terms of the number of delegated TLDs of course, not in the number of registered domain names – dates from the period 1985 – 1997, when the IANA function was administered by John Postel.
A spiteful tongue might point out that the curve has been somewhat flat since 1998 – the date on which ICANN was created. It can be easily explained however: the ccTLDs had already been allocated in 1997 and the changes that have occurred since are only marginal in number, as and when geopolitical reconfigurations worldwide have taken place. An example is the disappearance of the .yu ccTLD (for Yugoslavia) to be replaced by .rs (Serbia), .hr (Croatia), .si (Slovenia) and .me (Montenegro). ICANN, however, has not been inactive where gTLDs are concerned, having created a total of 15 gTLDs between 2001 and 2012, the latest being the steamy .xxx.
A new category of TLDs appeared in 2011: “IDN – ccTLDs”, or variations of ccTLDs for countries using non-Latin spellings: the Russian .рф is no doubt the best known, with more than 700,000 registered domain names, but there are 36 other IDN – ccTLDs so far, with a mixed bag of fortunes.
What will change from the end of 2013, and accelerate in 2014, the chart shows better than a thousand words: an explosion in the number of gTLDs over a short period of two to three years, while the ccTLDs remain stable.
Although spectacular, the trend hides however a more contrasting picture. In the same way that the small number of existing gTLDs alone has had as much impact as the 250 ccTLDs, not all of the future TLDs in gestation today will be of the .com ilk. A large number are backed by structures that will keep them for their own use or for a small community; others, the “geo-TLDs”, will target wider catchment areas but stay closely linked to their geographical signification, leaving a significant minority representing of a few hundred gTLDs that will be genuinely generic and open to all.
In my next post I shall continue with the impact of these developments on the various stakeholders, especially for registries and registrars (ICANN accredited registrars).