With the completion of our ☯.com domain sale last week on September 11, 2017, Punycode.com has been involved in the top three highest emoji domain sales in history: ☁.com, ☯.com, and ☮.com. They were sold for $13,600, $11,201, and $3,807, respectively.
Despite this achievement, we believe these prices are just the beginning. For instance, this month Punycode.com had been offered $20,000 for our ☮.com domain, which we declined, but would have made the sale the highest amount ever paid for an emoji domain.
Our sales track record reflects our passion for emoji domains. We love them! We think about them 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. There is no one more dedicated to the success of emoji domains in the long term than Punycode.com.
As such, we have a few things to say to correct the misinformation and lack of education about emoji domains. With this blog entry today, we want to explain three facts that will help you be more informed about emoji domains and make better decisions about them. We learned these lessons the hard way, so benefit from our experience and be up to speed.
FACT #1: Registration of emoji ".com" domains is still plausible in the future
The 33 rare emoji .com domains still in existence that were registered in the early 2000s have been grandfathered in, but currently, no emoji domains can be registered under the .com extension.
But will .com ever be open to more emoji domain registrations in the future? It is quite probable and our explanation below is why.
When ICANN's Security and Stability Advisory Committee (SSAC) published their report recommending that emoji domains not be allowed on May 25, 2017 (the very date of our purchase of the ☮.com emoji domain), it would seem an open-and-shut case for future emoji .com domains.
After all, their recommendation was clear and explicit: "The SSAC strongly discourages the registration of any domain name that includes emoji in any of its labels."
The SSAC's arguments were understandable. Unicode's skin tone modifiers and similar emojis -- across different platforms -- can arguably cause user confusion. Thus, such users would be susceptible to homograph and phishing attacks.
In the above graphic, can you differentiate the middle skin tones if you were presented with their respective emoji domains separately? It would seem quite a challenge to remember the specific skin tone color to be certain you are at the right website address. Hence, that is why punycode is so critical to prevent spoofing and other similar problems.
In the above graphic, can you tell the difference in the various smiling faces if you were presented with their respective emoji domains separately? Like the skin tones, we think an average person cannot remember which is which when viewing or inputting a specific smiling face emoji on the web browser. Again, punycode will be key to ensure users that they are indeed at the right website.
As if that wasn't enough, there are particular emojis, such as the lock emoji, that can be used nefariously:
In the graphic above, instead of being at Paypal.com, a trusted website to make purchases, you could possibly be at xn--paypal-hj64e.com (in its punycode form), which displays a lock emoji and then the letters Paypal.com.
Having said all that, why do we still believe that emoji .com domains will be made available for registration in the future?
First, because there are ways to limit the risks already presented. One suggestion that has been proposed by many people is to exclude skin modifiers. Another suggestion is to exclude emojis that could be dangerous for users, such as the lock emoji.
Second, even without the simple changes above, Unicode has already weighed in on the security risks of emojis, and among their arguments is this one:
According to data from Google the removal of symbols and punctuation in IDNA2008 reduces opportunities for spoofing by only about 0.000016%, weighted by frequency. In another study at Google of a billion web pages, the top 277 confusable URLs used confusable letters or numbers, not symbols or punctuation."
In other words, the top risks of web attacks don't even come from emojis but rather letters and numbers that are currently allowed by ICANN!
So if emojis aren't a top security risk, and the top security risks are already allowed by ICANN, why are emojis singled out to be excluded? There seems to be an inconsistent application of policy by the web governing body.
Unicode's assessment seems accurate in real-world practice. The first emoji domain names were registered under .com in back in 2001 and then later .la, .ws, and .to extensions in early 2010s -- and so for over 15 years, there has been little news of web security attacks that used emoji domains. In short, "nothing blew up and the world didn't end."
Again, punycode has a large part in preventing these attacks, and would mitigate many security concerns that ICANN has. There is no reason why punycode can't continue to be in place if .com emoji domains are open for registration. New emoji domains in .com would be no less safe than the current .com, .net, .to, and .ws emoji domains already online for a good number of years now.
You can find a more technical explanation at Names.of.London's excellent article, "It's Time to Allow Emoji Domain Names." We highly recommend you read it in full. Names.of.London provided an enlightening historical account of why and how emojis were excluded by ICANN in their IDNA2008 standard update.
The very reasoning used in that historical account, along with new developments since IDNA2008 -- e.g., "since Unicode 6.0 there has been a specific definition of Emoji Characters" -- emoji domains could logically be made available again.
FACT #2: You can currently own emoji domains in a variety of extensions, not only in .ws
People who peddle the ".ws" extension will try to tell you that this extension is the "standard" of emoji domains. These people range from the registration purveyors trying to tempt you with cheap .ws emoji domains at GoDaddy for $4.99 to those who re-sell registered .ws domains.
First, what they don't tell you is that you can currently register ".to" emoji domains. (There are also .cf, .ga, .gq, .ml, and .tk extensions under the Freenom registrar, but we don't recommend them due to their lack of support and, like .ws, the meaningless extension names themselves.)
Second, what they don't tell you is emoji domains are so new that barely anyone even knows they exist, much less common enough for a standard to have been set.
And third, what they don't tell you is the renewal fee for those cheap .ws domains with privacy will be at least $44.98:
So be cautious when you see GoDaddy's introductory $4.99 price. Keeping your emoji domain will be 10 times as much next year and beyond.
For that same $45 price, you can register ".to", a more intuitive extension at Register.to. Because .to is a newer extension for emoji domains, you would more likely have a wider selection of emojis to choose from. And instead of GoDaddy enticing you to register and then nickel and diming you on the basic domain features, Register.to includes all those features such as privacy and URL and email forwarding in their single $45 price.
(In case you are wondering, we have absolutely no affiliation with Register.to, nor do we profit from their sales whatsoever. We simply like their straightforward dealings and clean website interface.)
In comparison, Website.ws charges $15 a year for privacy and $49 a year for URL and email forwarding:
If you add it all up, you would end up paying a whopping $99 a year to keep one .ws emoji domain!
To us, Register.to is more upfront and transparent with you regarding their simple pricing than GoDaddy and Website.ws, which reflects how intelligent they view their customers.
We expect most people who already registered the 21,000 emoji domains cheaply under .ws will not renew next year. In contrast, the people who registered for $45 this year at Register.to are more likely to keep their emoji domains next year, because the price is exactly the same next year. Register.to also offer discounts for multiple-year registrations, e.g., there is a 20 percent discount if you register for five years.
In addition to the .to extension, you can also purchase registered emoji domains in .com and .net. The extensions .com and .net are a necessity for companies to maintain their reputation and leadership position. In practice, .ws is unprofessional and lacks prestige. The .ws indicates to an online user that the company cannot afford a proper extension like a .com or .net. The .to is much more palatable with their "go to" connotation, especially for redirects in marketing campaigns on social media, which large corporations (Amazon, NBC News, Uber, etc) have employed for many years.
In the future when more extensions open up (as presented in Fact #1), what do you think will happen to the value of .ws emoji domains? We firmly believe the value will be significantly diminished as it already has after .to came out in mid-August 2017. Values for .ws single-character domains according to recent auctions have gone down 75 percent from just three months ago. That is why we at Punycode.com don't recommend owning .ws because, ultimately, people would be unhappy owning them over time.
FACT #3: Emojis are used by virtually everyone, not only young people
When people think about emojis, they automatically think of teenagers texting silly cartoon faces to each other. However, according to Adweek magazine, 92 percent of all users online use emojis. Even dictators in rigged elections can't achieve that high of a percentage!
Thus, research shows that age is not a factor in emoji usage. Almost anyone who has ever received text messages from his or her parents can attest to this.
So why is there such a massive proliferation of emoji usage by both young and old? The mobile revolution. Smart phones since 2014 have eclipsed both laptops and desktops combined:
In other words, emojis are popular partly because inputting emojis on mobile phones is a breeze -- emojis are built into almost all smart phone keyboards.
Not only are there more mobile phone users online, but also people on average spend more time on their cell phones online each day (71 percent of total daily online minutes) than on other connected devices like computers.
Therefore, critics who focus on emoji domains being difficult to input on computers seem unaware or forgetful of this near ubiquitous mobile trend that is happening all around them for three years now.
Losing market share to mobile, manufacturers of laptops and desktops are now under pressure to somehow include emojis within their keyboards, so don't be surprised to see them in future computer models.
Since emojis are accessible and readily available on mobile phones, emoji domains are more valuable than those with other Unicode symbols. We at Punycode.com have received numerous inquiries on domains containing non-emoji symbols, with their owners erroneously thinking they were emojis.
For example, see the following two Unicode characters, but only one of them is an emoji on your smart phone:
✔.com :: punycode xn--gci.com (emoji)
✓.com :: punycode xn--fci.com (non-emoji but Unicode character)
As a result, ✔.com (xn--gci.com) is more valuable than ✓.com (xn--fci.com).
Regardless, since emojis are inherently compelling, people are more willing to go out of their way to use them, as evidenced by the six billion text messages with emojis sent every single day, according to Swyft Media. It is also evidenced by the dizzying frequency of emoji usage on Twitter, which is best illustrated here.
Emojis are so compelling that the most valuable corporation in the entire world, Apple, is not only committed to emojis but doubling down with animated emojis, called animojis, a key feature and selling point of their upcoming iPhone X:
Apple isn't stupid obviously. Based on their customer data, they apparently know that emojis are tremendously popular among iPhone users.
Apple isn't the only major technology company that caters to emojis. Google has allowed emojis as inputs in searches as well as in the search results themselves. Microsoft in their most recent update fixed emoji issues that were problems before. The reason why these otherwise competitive companies are in alignment on emojis is because they are full voting members of the Unicode Consortium, the origin of emojis as we know them today.
So if emojis are good enough for all the major companies that bring us the web, wouldn't it make sense for us to pay attention as domainers, and to consider emoji domains in our portfolios?
In summary, the future for emojis and emoji domains is bright. Many domainers have embraced domains related to esports, cryptocurrencies, and virtual reality. To then ignore the huge opportunity presented by emoji domains, especially in .com, would seem not very discerning and astute. After all, the last time we checked, domainers are a rather discerning and astute bunch.