About that $3,800 emoji domain sale…



The debate over the age of the emoji domain name ☮.com may have been settled. It probably is as old as it was claimed to be.

You may recall that last week I blogged about the €3,400 ($3,816) sale of the domain to an end user. It wasn’t a big sale or a big story, but it’s so rare to see an emoji name sell I thought it was worth a few paragraphs.

It had been claimed, and I reported, that the name was 16 years old, having been registered in April 2001.

Later that day, ICANN principle technologist Paul Hoffman, who was co-author of the IDNA2003 standard that governed how non-ASCII domains were represented in the DNS, questioned whether the name could possibly be that old.

Under IDNA2003, IDNs are encoded with the “xn--” prefix. While applications may render ☮.com as the “peace” symbol, in the DNS it is in fact xn--v4h.com.

Hoffman told me that the prefix had been picked more or less at random in March 2003, so there was no way a speculator could have known in April 2001 how to register a domain that would have no meaning for another two years.

In addition, the Punycode standard that converts non-Latin characters to ASCII was not finalized until 2003 either.

It seemed more likely that the creation date in the Whois record was incorrect, so I updated the original blog post with the new information.

That kicked off a bit of a debate in the comments about scenarios in which the creation date was correct. Some commenters wondered whether the original buyer had registered many domains with different prefixes with the hope of getting lucky.

What none of us considered was that the domain itself changed between 2001 and 2003. Given new information Hoffman supplied over the weekend, that now strikes me as the most plausible scenario.

What most of us had forgotten was that Verisign launched an IDN registration test-bed all the way back in December 2000 (archive.org link).

That roll-out, controversial at the time, encoded the domains with Punycode predecessor RACE and used the bq– prefix.

However, after the IDNA2003 and Punycode standards were published in 2003, Verisign then converted all of the existing IDN .com domains over to the two new standards. Names beginning bq– were changed to xn--, and the encoding of the subsequent characters was changed.

So ☮.com very probably was registered in 2001, but in ASCII it was a completely different domain name back then.

We seem to have a rare(ish) case here of the creation date in the Whois being “right” but the domain name itself being “wrong”.

There may be as many as half a million .com domains with similar issues in their Whois.

I hope this clears up any confusion.

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