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So what’s behind .eu domains enormous success?

Category : Domain names · by Apr 9th, 2006

Well, I was sceptical that people would want .eu domains. What's the point? Do people really feel that European? If they want a domain, why not just buy a .com or their own country's domain. Apart from Germany and the UK, most other European countries have surprisingly few domains registered.

But boy was I wrong. By the end of the first day – the first day! – of .eu domains being open to the public, EURid had sold over one million of them. I called EURid up and they admitted that while they were expecting to sell one million, they had expected it to take a few months.

This morning it is now at 1.27 million (plus 300,000 registrations during the sunrise period) – making it the seventh biggest Internet registry in just two days. Here's a list I've knocked up from the most recent stats:

.com: 50.2 million
.de: 8.0 million
.net: 7.4 million
.uk: 4.8 million
.org: 4.5 million
.info: 2.7 million
.eu: 1.6 million
.biz: 1.4 million

And what is even more remarkable is how popular .eu has been with those of us in the UK. As a country that has always had a difficult relationship with Europe, it's hard to see why the new domain would be so popular with Brits. Even EURid was stumped.

I think the simple answer is that the UK is very Net-savvy. After four hours of .eu domains being available it was the UK that had registered the most. But this has now changed to Germany out in front (394,000), followed by the UK (265,000), then the Netherlands (150,000), Italy (80,000), Cyprus (?! – 73,000), Sweden (62,000) and France (50,000) in that order. You can see the latest stats here.

I suspect there is alot of buy-to-resell going on. There is a value to a .eu domain, a big chunk of it provided by the fact that it has got a fair amount of coverage – much more so in Europe that the releases of other new top-level domains like .info or .biz.

In fact, you can put a pretty good figure on the degree of speculation inherent in domain names by looking at the number of active domains against those that have been deleted in different Net registries. Obviously lots of people buy domains for a daft reason and then never get around to using them and then don't bother to pay to renew them when they come up. But that is a small chunk of it, most of it is speculation.

And that figure is 1:2. Or, put it another way, about a third of domain registrations will be used. Dotcom is obviously the most extreme – it has 50 million active domains but 115 million deleted domains. But dot-net has 7.4 million active and 13.3 deleted. Dot-org has 4.5 and 10.5 respectively. The more recent registries where the renewal process hasn't been through two iterations yet have a lower ratio. Dot-info has 2.7 million active and 3.5 deleted. And dot-biz, 1.4m active and just 761,000 deleted.

But getting away from all the stats – there is clearly something big that has happened here. Every-day people have gone piling in to this new domain. Have we unknowingly hit a moment of wider societal awareness of the Internet and its variations? Has the .xxx controversy made people more aware that there is more than just dotcom?

Or are these massive registrations an indication of wider anti-American feeling? It's something that people do their best to ignore but the simple fact is that a very, very large number of people across the world hold the current US administration in contempt because of the War on Terror and all the associated events of the past five years. Do people feel a sense of pride in having something that isn't American – something that is “Europe”?

Or is it just a sense of excitement in there being a new domain that you are likely to be able to get the name that you want? After all, only people in the EU are allowed to buy the domains, so competition is far smaller than a truly global top-level domain.

I think it's a combination of all of the above: speculation; awareness; anti-Americanism; and the chance of actually getting what you want.

What the huge success of .eu does highlight however, and again, is the inadequacies of Net overseeing organisation ICANN. There is this faintly ridiculous game played with new gTLDs at ICANN. One, it restricts the number of top-level domains people can have, then it creates an opaque and at time ridiculous system for deciding what new TLDs there can be, and then it points and laughs at the domains when they don't do as well as the existing domains, claiming that it is right not to release any more domains.

The huge registrations of the .eu domains say one thing very, very loudly in my view: ICANN – YOU DO NOT KNOW BEST WHEN IT COMES TO TOP-LEVEL DOMAINS!!!    

The .eu domain did not come from any ICANN process. In fact, it would never have emerged from the US-centric, US-blinkered organisation. It was pushed by the European Union, and ICANN was wise enough not to stand in the EU's way. It has taken bloody ages to get up and running, but it demonstrates if nothing else that ICANN is in fact getting in the way of people wanting to use the Net the way they want, as opposed to aiding them.

I think ICANN really has started to realise this, although its instinct is still to control every element, because it has somehow all become about power. The most stupid control element it has just put in place is the requirements it expects everyone to reach in future if they are even going to be taken seriously for a new TLD bid. They need this number of staff etc etc – it works out at $250,000. And then there is ICANN's fee for even deeming to consider the new TLD. ICANN is getting right in the way.

The next round of new gTLDs will be the most interesting yet. It will really see the Internet pushed and pulled in ways it never has been before and if ICANN doesn't get the system right for approving them, it won't survive the ordeal.

The new, shiny .eu domain – despite having come from the stultifying world of European bureaucracy – has demonstrated the world wants the Internet its way – and that is fast, flexible and open. Another new season of the Internet is upon us.

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