United Domains “Domain-Recht”-Blog: Interview with Stefan Meinecke

Three weeks ago, Florian Hitzelberger conducted an interview with Stefan for the German Blog “domain-recht.de“. I finally managed to translate it, because I thought you people would be interested in that. Be aware that it’s a quick-n-dirty translation. I am absolutely sure that after one minute into reading this interview, you’ll be like “Oh okay, yeah, a German translated that. Look how he excessively uses present perfect progressive tense!”

Dear Mr. Meinecke,

Your Munich-based company greenSec solutions is running ntldstats.com since 2014. In only a few weeks it has become the world’s most important and reliable source for statistics all around new Top Level Domains.

When did you start working in the domain name industry? What has been the decisive factor for devoting yourself to nTLDs and eventually creating a statistical website for them?

I started to work in this sector in 2008. The reason was actually quite simple: nTLDs were a new and interesting topic and nobody had created such a website back then.

How much work is ntldstats.com? Do you have any help in running it?

It actually is a lot of work. Initially, I have been focusing on features a lot. But eventually it turned out that the mere amount of data is what requires most of the attention. It’s all about optimizing processes.

The huge amount of work has also led to more manpower. Three more people now work at nTLDStats: Jan Wilkens is supporting me as a developer, Jochen Kieler takes care of the marketing and Denis Wisotzki is handling corporate communications.

800 nTLDs have been listed in the root zone since March 2014. So far, roughly 1 million domains have been registered. On top of the list is .xyz with about 1.6 million registered domains. How meaningful are such numbers and according to your experience – is there original content behind every domain?

I wanted to deliver unbiased statistics from the very beginning. This also meant to introduce statistics showing numbers for spam, fraud or parked domains. Although “Fraud” has to be enjoyed with care. We use third party data, for example Google safe browsing. So in order for fraudulent domains to show up at all, they must have been reported to Google in the first place. Our data shows that this is only rarely the case. Most users browsing dubious websites just close their browser tab instead of reporting it.

So since we’re aware that we’re just scratching the surface here, we gathered some more data on that a few weeks ago: https://blog.ntldstats.com/looking-at-spam/. Throughout the process of identifying spam domains, we realized that in order to catch over 90% of them, we’d need to invest several months of work.

For .xyz we have roughly identified 50,000 domains as spam. Around 750,000, so basically half of all registered domains in .xyz, have no A record. The domains exist, but cannot be accessed. You’ll have to decide for yourself whether you think that these are legitimate investments or not. Personally, those numbers don’t surprise me at all. Take “Chengdu West dimension digital technology co., Ltd.” as an example, where a .xyz domain only cost 0.59€. Does it, in light of recent discussions about XYZ LLCs dubious marketing campaigns, really surprise you that this Registrar holds about 450,000 .xyz domains?

Did Registries try to push registration numbers? If so, which nTLDs have been affected by that and what methods have been used?

One popular case of “robo-registration” is Network Solutions Inc. If a customer had one or more .com domains in their portfolio, the company unsolicited added the same .xyz domain name to that customer’s portfolio. Although Network Solutions obviously didn’t charge anything for it back then, the opt-out-process was reportedly pretty obscure.

I doubt that Network Solutions did this on their own. In my opinion it fits the .xyz marketing style.

But Network Solutions isn’t the only one. As I mentioned earlier, Chengdu has over 450,000 .xyz domains. And it started pretty much exactly on September 22. There has been a remarkable boost on October 31. All of a sudden, tens of thousands of domains were registered every day. Of course other TLDs grew as well -. wang, .top and .win experienced similar growth rates. But .xyz still stands out. Then we have GMO Internet Inc., where you can get an .xyz domain for just €0.22. They basically sell below cost. I highly doubt that the Registrars are doing such campaigns on their own. And the reason for “filler domains”, meaning domains like aaa111, aaa112, aaa113 in .top, .wang, .science and .xyz, can only be a Registry trying to boost numbers. The WHOIS entries of “filler”-domains that are not registered anonymously, show that roughly 250,000 of filler- or spam-domains belong to nine holders from China. The only way in which this would make sense would be if these owners were investors of the respective registry. Apart from the fact that this is doubtful, it still would be at least dubious.

How many new TLD domains are actually used? Can you tell how many domains are just redirections to already existing websites?

https://ntldstats.com/parking/tld paints a pretty good picture. The percentage of unused domains is often over 50%, across all TLDs. nTLDs for cities are the exception. Numerically, .xyz and .top lead the list.

One of the major concerns in connection with the introduction of new top level domains has been the possibility for abuse through cybersquatting or otherwise legally offensive behavior. Has this fear been confirmed so far?

No. Illegal behavior has been largely prevented by introducing the TMCH. Registries are quite committed to eliminate fraud of all kinds. If there is any kind of dubious behavior regarding nTLDs, it’s mostly cybersquatting.

Email and phishing messages are still a big problem. Did it get worse by introducing new TLDs?

Absolutely. The main reason are the ridiculously low prices or, even worse, marketing campaigns that give away nTLDs for free.

Of 1,930 applications for nTLDs, 664 are so-called .brands, brand TLDs such as .apple, .bmw or .canon. The number of domain names registered within those .brands is almost zero. Why do you think that is?

The reason is that the registration of .brand TLDs is not publicly available. .OVH is an exception, since OVH is giving one domain to each hosting customer for free. As far as I know, Google and Apple are planning on doing something similar.

.music, .shop or .web are still not delegated, but are expected to be auctioned to the highest bidder in the coming weeks. What nTLD that is yet to come do you think has the biggest potential?

I don’t think you can limit this to a certain nTLD, because there is a much simpler rule: The nTLD in question must be suitable for the masses. Mass capability is not only done by choosing a clever TLD, but also through affordability. If you charge 200$ for a domain per year, it’s not suited for the general public.

So what is the formula for a successful nTLD?

Apart from the afore-mentioned factors, the nTLD should at least serve its market. A very good example of this is .xxx – even if it’s not a new TLD. .xxx validates the owner of the domain and once live, the websites are checked for malware on a daily basis. Sure, you’re not reinventing the wheel, but it’s a good start that tackles common problems of the business .xxx customer’s conduct.

Registries are continuously working on making the Domain Name System more secure. System security extensions (DNSSEC) is a part of those efforts. Did DNSSEC make its way to nTLDs yet?

https://ntldstats.com/dnssec shows that DNSSEC still lacks attention. I think that hosting companies are mainly responsible for that. Customers almost always use the predefined name servers of the hosting companies. If DNSSEC would have been a default feature of those name servers, we would see domains supporting DNSSEC rise. I won’t deny that it’s a huge technical effort, but I think it is worth it nevertheless.

What surprised you most while working at ntldstats.com?

That technical Know-How largely varies depending on the Registry. 🙂

What plans do you have for ntldstats.com? What additional services can we look forward to?

Currently, most of the work takes place behind the scenes. Processes are being optimized and refined algorithms are to be found. We want to make small changes to the interface and put some functions to better visibility. Thus, we will introduce more options that will allow our visitors to view more detailed statistics. Las but not least we’re working on popular features: fastest growing TLDs as well as comparisons with last week’s numbers.