“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.
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?
The post The first four new gTLDs have been unmitigated disasters first appeared on Domain Incite.