Since last Thursday's launch of Russia's Cyrillic script IDN ccTLD, registration volumes have smashed all expectations, much like a Soyuz rocket blasting off into space from the Baikonur Cosmodrome.
At the time of writing (14:00 17/11/2010 UTC), .рф, which is Cyrillic for RF (short for Российская Федерация - Russian Federation) has just exceeded 500,000 registrations, having passed the 100,000 mark in the first three hours. It is already among the top 30 ccTLDs worldwide and heading towards the top 20 at high speed. Andrei Kolesnikov, Director of ccTLD.ru, the organisation that manages both .рф and Russia's ASCII script .ru ccTLD, said last week that he expected there would be 'as many as 100,000' domains registered in .рф by the end of 2010. Clearly, he was somewhat conservative with this projection! Less than two months after .ru joined the 3 million club, it is far from idle speculation to now start thinking about when .рф will overtake its older sibling.
It is also worth considering that the other recent TLD launch that has attracted significant registration volumes — the launch of second-level registrations under Colombia's .co — took two months to hit the half million mark. .рф managed that feat in only six days.
Registrations in .рф are restricted to Russian citizens and Russian-registered businesses and are priced at the same level as for .ru. RU Center — the largest Registrar in Russia — are selling both .ru and .рф for 600 Rubles, a shade under US$20.00 at current exchange rates. There are a total of 26 registrars currently accredited for .рф. The .рф string was selected in preference to a direct transliteration of 'RU' which would be 'PY' in Cyrillic, due to potential visual conflict with Paraguay's existing .py ASCII script ccTLD.
According to ccTLD.ru, the most popular letters in the addresses registered in the first hour were ы and я — Cyrillic characters with no equivalent in the Roman script. Clearly, the demand for domain names including these characters has been building since the internet became an everyday phenomenon in Russia.
Even if we assume that a large proportion of registrations are speculative at this early stage, the launch of .рф cannot be regarded as anything but a huge success. This success proves that there is real community demand for native script Top-Level Domains, and bodes well for the prospects of other IDN Top-Level Domains, in both the ccTLD and gTLD contexts. It can also been seen as a vindication of the ICANN Board's decision to proceed with the IDN ccTLD program on a 'Fast Track', ahead of the finalisation of the new gTLD program, due to a perception of strong demand, particularly from the Russian and Chinese language communities. The reality of that demand has now been conclusively established.
As Milton Mueller pointed out back in 2007, the Fast Track program has created an opportunity for IDN ccTLDs to establish themselves in the market before the introduction of a wave of new gTLDs, which will likely include dozens, if not hundreds of IDN gTLDs covering dozens of scripts.
We look forward with eager anticipation to the launch of other IDN ccTLDs, including Qatar's قطر. which was recently approved for delegation by the ICANN Board. To date, ICANN have approved 34 IDN ccTLD strings, from 21 countries and covering 13 different scripts. 15 of these 34 strings have been delegated into the root. See ICANN's String Evaluation Completion page for the full list.
AusRegistry International is the Domain Name Registry Software and Services provider for the United Arab Emirates' .ae and امارات. (.emarat) ccTLDs and for Qatar's .qa and قطر. (.qatar) ccTLDs.
By Jon Lawrence, Executive Officer, Electronic Frontiers Australia; Board member, ISOC-AU
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