Up until this year, buying a domain name was pretty straightforward. With one or two accounts at registrars like GoDaddy or namecheap, you could buy just about any domain extension. Transferring domain names was also relatively easy.
However, this year brings us the release of more than 600 new domain extensions from ICANN. Stuff like .reviews, .ninja or .technology. The expansion of generic top-level domain (gTLD) names is huge and unprecedented in internet history, but the confusion and difficulty in landing the domain that you want has also increased dramatically.
(Seattle is actually a hotbed of the gTLD industry with Bellevue-based Donuts being the largest registry of new gTLD extensions along with Rightside, which runs the Rightside registry, eNom and Name.com registrars. Mercer Island-based Top Level Spectrum is also in the thick of it.)
If you haven’t delved into these new domain names, here are the basics of the process. When ICANN approves a new domain extension, it awards the back-end management and sales of that registry to the winning bidder. The back end registry then contracts out to its accredited registrars, companies like GoDaddy, Name.com or eNom, to sell the domain names to the public. The domains are released to the public in a few phases.
- Sunrise (trademark holder) registration – trademark holders are allowed to register their trademarks under the new domain extension. Stuff like microsoft.reviews or google.technology.
- Priority (landrush) registration – domain names are available via premium pricing or auction prior to general availability. How this works seems to vary tremendously between various back-end registry providers.
- Pre-registration (or pre-order) – domain names can be pre-registered at various registrars. On the general availability date, all of the pre-registrations compete to be the first submittal to the registry.
- General availability – the date when anyone can register a domain name.
Let’s try to register a few new domain extensions to see just what a confusing mess this process has become.
- geekwire.sexy – already in general availability
- geekwire.dating – general availability on June 11, 2014
- seattle.christmas – general availability on July 8, 2014
Which registrar should I use?
If you plan to buy a variety of domain name extensions, plan to use a variety of registrars. There seems to be little rhyme or reason to which registrars are supporting which extensions. Some support new domains during early access periods, while others do not.
.sexy has been out for awhile now. Here are the results I get when trying to register geekwire.sexy. How would a GoDaddy customer know that this domain might be available elsewhere? And why is 1and1 asking me to pre-reserve a domain that is already available?
|not available for registration||$22.99||$19.99||$16.88||pre-reserve with no obligation|
Let’s try geekwire.dating. I can buy it at premium prices through the early access program at three registrars, but 1and1 only does pre-registration and namecheap won’t sell it to you until general availability.
|buy now for $1269.99 or pre-register for $69.99||buy now for $1247.99 or pre-register for $71.99||buy now for $1200 or pre-register for $59.99||not available. Make Offer||pre-register for $39.99|
How about something festive like seattle.christmas? Name and namecheap know nothing about it. eNom lets me pre-register. GoDaddy and 1and1 seem to imply that it is taken.
|not available for registration||pre-register for $46.99||no info on .christmas||no info on .christmas||add me to waiting list|
I guess the lesson here is that you need to check 4-5 different registrars during early registration periods to see where it is and isn’t available. Even after general availability, some registrars do not support certain domains. For example, in the most ironic of twists, GoDaddy appears to not be selling the .sexy domain at all!
Does “taken” really mean that a domain is taken?
I bet there are a lot of GeekWire readers who consider themselves tech ninjas, so let’s try to register tech.ninja. Name.com says it’s “taken”. eNom and namecheap say it’s “not available”. 1and1 tells me that “for legal reasons, this domain name cannot be requested.”
So, we are feeling dejected that someone already registered this domain. Let’s look and see who it is with a whois query. Whois says “this name is reserved by the registry in accordance with ICANN policy.” So wait, it is not registered?
Now let’s try GoDaddy. Lo and behold, Godaddy has this domain available via an auction starting at $500 on 6/9! How the heck am I supposed to know this? It took a visit to 5 registrars plus one whois query to figure out that I can still buy this domain name, albeit via auction.
As I’ve been watching these new domains come out, each registry is holding back some arbitrary list of “prime” domain names names under the guise of “this name is reserved in accordance with ICANN policy”. I get that they are trying to optimize revenue on primo names, but there is literally no mechanism to know for sure when and where these premium names are going to be auctioned, if at all. GoDaddy isn’t the only host of these auctions either. If you want something like tech.club, everyone says it’s taken except for Sedo who is allowing you to “make an offer.”
What do pre-registration and priority registration/early access really mean?
Early access and pre-registration of new domains are quite different. Some, but not all, registries allow you to purchase domain names before general availability at a premium price. A big chunk of these are part of the Donuts Early Access program. Early Access is a 7-day program at the beginning of general availability where the price started really high ($12k+ on the first day) and notches down each day for the next 5 days until it reaches the general availability price. Oddly, not all of the Donuts registrars participate in Early Access. Non-Donuts domains may or may not have the ability to buy early at premium prices.
Pre-registration is entirely different. By pre-registering for a domain, you are securing an exclusive spot at a particular registrar for submission only. You can be bumped out of the way by the Early Access Program if someone wants to pay more. If no one buys the domain during the Early Access Program, then each registrar submits their pre-registration on the general availability date. Whichever registrar got their submission in first wins.
If you come across a domain that says it is “taken” during the pre-registration period, once again you need to do a whois query. If it is registered, you’ll see contact info for who owns it. If whois says “domain not found”, it hasn’t been registered yet. If it is pre-registered, then the reservation is taken at that particular registrar only. Might as well visit another registrar to see if they have a pre-registration or early access program open.
Once I’ve got the domain names I want, can I transfer and consolidate them to my preferred registrar?
I’ve bought a number of new domain names and now find myself with 5 registrar accounts to house them all. Sometimes I had to use a particular registrar for availability. Other times it was based on a noticeable price differences. I’d love to transfer them all to one registrar for ease of management.
For new domains, ICANN doesn’t allow you to transfer during the first 60 days. Once that 60 days is up, your guess is as good as mine as to whether a particular transfer will be supported. I have some .today domains that I tried to transfer to namecheap, which says that “we don’t support transfer at this time.” This is odd, since namecheap is a white-labeled version of eNom, which does support this exact transfer.
Domain name transfers usually include a 1-year renewal in the price. I’m seeing transfer fees all over the board from $20-$100, depending on the extension. It seems prudent to wait it out and see where the market lands for renewal prices on these next year, at which time maybe I can clean up the overabundance of registrar accounts.
We need a Kayak for domain names
Some of the confusion when registering domain names will dissipate once all of these extensions are live in the wild. However, with hundreds of new extensions, and not all registrars supporting them, the industry needs someone to come along and do a “Kayak for domain names” to make it easier to see what’s actually available. Given the highly political and highly competitive world of internet registries, I don’t imagine we’ll see that anytime soon.