Jan 3, 2023 - by Elisa Cooper

2022 Domain Name Year In Review

I can hardly believe it’s that time of year again – time for our annual top 10 year in review. Having been at this for more than 20 years, you’d think I’d seen it all? But with the domain name industry, things are always in flux, and I could never have predicted some of these items. So without further ado – here are the top 10 biggest stories from 2022.

10. Domain Name Market Reaches 349.9 Million Registrations

According to Verisign’s Domain Name Industry Brief, “The third quarter of 2022 closed with 349.9 million domain name registrations across all top-level domains, a decrease of 1.6 million domain name registrations, or 0.4%, compared to the second quarter of 2022. Domain name registrations have increased by 11.5 million, or 3.4%, year over year.” And if the total number of registrations seems smaller this year, it’s worth noting that “all figure(s) exclude domain names in the .TK, .CF, .GA, .GQ and .ML ccTLDs operated by Freenom.”

9. MarkMonitor Acquired by Newfold Digital

In September of this year, Newfold Digital, a web and commerce technology provider backed by Clearlake Capital Group and Siris Capital Group, announced their intent to acquire MarkMonitor from Clarivate Analytics. Over the years MarkMonitor has had a number of different owners – initially venture-backed, the company had been acquired by Thomson Reuters in 2012 and subsequently spun out as part of Clarivate Analytics in 2016. According to their announcement, “MarkMonitor is currently expected to generate approximately $80 million of revenue and $35 million of EBITDA for the full year 2022.” Newfold Digital operates retail registrars including Bluehost, CrazyDomains, and HostGator.

8. New gTLDs from 2012 Round Continue to Launch

More than 10 years after the launch of the first round of new gTLDs, we’re still seeing the launch of TLDs in dribs and drabs. This last year saw .BOO, .RSVP, .KIDS and .GIVING launch. And we’re not done yet - we’re still waiting for some of the most anticipated TLDs like .MUSIC and .WEB to launch, along with a number of others that are slated to launch in 2023.

7. Changes to the Inter-Registrar Component of Transfer Policy Anticipated

This past year, the Transfer Policy working group proposed significant changes to the AuthInfo code which will now become the TAC (Transfer Authorization Code). Unlike the AuthInfo code currently used today, the TAC will be created for one-time use only, valid for a period of 14 days, and stored securely by the registry. Other changes proposed by the working group include removing the requirement for the Gaining Form of Authorization (FOA) and expanding the reasons for denying a transfer to include “evidence” of DNS threat. Language around notifications to registrants has been updated to allow for presentation flexibility – currently the policy requires that e-mails are sent.

6. Web3 Identities Raise Questions for Brand Owners

Web3 identities, sometimes referred to as blockchain domains, are being used as a way to simplify the naming of blockchain wallets. As with all new and emerging spaces, there are risks. And as with the launch of any namespace, there is the potential for brand abuse to occur. Brand owners have recognized that generally these new technologies do not currently offer reliable or robust dispute mechanisms. Consequently, some feel that defensive registrations provide the best brand protection strategy, and many have taken that approach.

5. Whois Disclosure System Proposed as Option to Inform SSAD (System for Standardized Access and Disclosure) Recommendations

In September of 2022, ICANN Org proposed a system for providing access to nonpublic registration data related to generic top-level domains (gTLDs). The Whois Disclosure System (WDS) was designed to simplify the process for submitting and receiving requests for nonpublic gTLD registration data for both requestors and ICANN-accredited registrars. The WDS is essentially a logging system with all clarifying questions occurring outside of the system, and registrars are not contractually bound to use the system. That said, if implemented, this system could help to inform the ICANN Board’s consideration of a much more expensive and robust SSAD (System for Standardized Access and Disclosure).

4. DNS Abuse Emerging as Hot Topic at ICANN

DNS abuse is one of those topics that has been around as long as ICANN itself. But in this last year, the focus on it has grown. In response to concerns raised by the Community, the GNSO appointed a small team to recommend possible next steps to the council. At ICANN75, this small group made four draft recommendations which included requesting a Preliminary Issue Report on the topic of malicious registrations, exploring the role bulk registrations play in DNS abuse, encouraging contracted parties work with DNS abuse reporters to promote and/or improve existing tools and to work with contracted parties to share findings of the small team as it relates to potential gaps in the Registry Agreement (RA) and Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA).

3. Registrars Set to Renegotiate ICANN Contracts

In early December of 2022, the ICANN Registrar Stakeholder Group initiated a request for discussions to amend the Registrar Accreditation Agreement (RAA). The focus of the amendment is to incorporate baseline contractual requirements to Section 3.18 of the RAA for registrars to disrupt and/or mitigate DNS abuse. The Contracted Parties House (of which the Registrars are members along with the Registries) jointly set forth their agreed-upon definitions of DNS Abuse which include malware, botnets, phishing, pharming and spam.

2. Corporate Domain Professionals Would Consider Moving Registrars

GoDaddy Corporate Domains (GCD) recently conducted its Sixth Annual Corporate Domain Management Survey which was sent to over 500 corporate domain name professionals from diverse verticals including retail, manufacturing, financial services, travel, and media. More than half (56%) of survey respondents hailed from companies which own more than 3,000 domain names. Nearly one-third (29%) came from companies with more than 10,000 domain names. This year’s survey found that a sizable 40% of respondents would consider leaving their current registrar. This rather substantial sign shows that many companies are less than satisfied with their incumbent providers and are potentially open to pursuing a switch in the future.

1. ICANN Closing-In on Round 2 New gTLD Timeline

In September of 2021, after the supermajority approval of the Final Report of the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures PDP by the GNSO, the ICANN Board initiated a 10-month ODP (Operational Design Phase). During the ODP, ICANN Org analyzed the outputs from the final report, developed a high-level business process design using the 2012 Applicant Guidebook as a baseline, and assessed the impact of the next round on ICANN specifically identifying costs, timelines, staffing and resources. In December, ICANN Org delivered the Operational Design Assessment (ODA). With an assumption of 2000 applications, the ODA stated that an application window could open in as soon as two years with a cap on the number of applications processed in a single year, or as long as 5 years depending upon the technology designed and built to support application processing.

So what does 2023 hold in store for us? With the pandemic seemingly in the rearview mirror, and many returning to in-person work (at least a few days a week), it feels like we are now well into our new normal. I predict that those waiting for the next round of new gTLDs will begin to pressure ICANN to move more quickly. After all, I don’t think anyone every expected that the length of time between rounds would be 12 – 15 years. I also predict that the topic of DNS Abuse will remain a hot one, and that ICANN will continue to look at way to address concerns. And with an uncertain economy ahead, I predict that companies with large portfolios will begin actively looking to cut costs associated with domain name management – by both paring portfolios and/or changing vendors. But as always, the one thing I do know about this industry is to expect the unexpected.

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Elisa Cooper

Bringing with her 20 years of marketing experience, Elisa Cooper joined the company in 2017 to lead the organization’s marketing strategy and execution. A domain name industry veteran, Elisa has worked closely with many Fortune 1000 companies in assisting with domain and brand protection policy development and has spoken and written extensively on these topics.

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