The Fight For Domain Supremacy
Alright, I'm talking NFTs again. But not the digital art NFT variety. This is about the future of web domains. I think there's a big reason why many normal, non-crypto-type people haven't taken to NFTs yet and that's because of the learning curve. I was having a drink with my dad a couple weeks back and I was explaining my approach to NFTs. It took probably 20 minutes, but he finally got it. For me, the digital art component is interesting if I like the art. I have almost no interest in avatar projects, however. What I am very bullish in the NFT space is IP and domain usage. Before we get to why I'm so high on domains, I want to give you guys a baseline understanding for the current analog.
Without getting too into the weeds from an IT perspective, if you have a business or run a website this will be much easier for you to understand. Right now the internet operates on DNS. That's the Domain Name Service. To get to my website, Faybomb.com, or any other website that you might visit, you're utilizing DNS without realizing it. The actual addresses of websites are confusing. Websites are stored on servers with IP addresses and are just a bunch of numbers. What DNS allows is for users to access the websites by getting routed through a more understandable name. Like "barstoolsports.com" or something like that.
This is an important part though; even though I paid for and operate faybomb.com, I don't actually own the domain name. I lease it from a web-hosting service like GoDaddy or NameCheap. I forget exactly how much I paid for my site name but these things generally cost like $10-20 or so a year. If I want to use my website to sell a product or a service, which I do, I need to have other layers or "widgets" that allow for me to conduct business. Previously, I've used a PayPal widget (I don't anymore). I could easily set up a Stripe widget if I wanted to (I don't). Both of these are examples of intermediaries that could help me facilitate a transaction with standard payment rails. Now... this whole thing is getting disrupted.
Let's start with the obvious. Substack is different, but on my website, I'm only doing business with crypto going forward. Why? Well, for one, it's far cheaper for us to transact with something like Litecoin than it is for us to use a traditional payment processor. If you subscribe to my Substack for a year, you're paying $100. Of that, I'm getting roughly $85 of it and I have to wait several days to get the deposit. Substack and Stripe both take nice service fees off the top. Now I'm not saying don't subscribe via Substack, please do! It’s the easiest way for you to subscribe and that’s important to me. But, if instead, we decided to handle membership through my website directly, you could buy $100 in Zcash on something like Coinbase. Coinbase will take $3 of it right away. So you'll be down to $97. Then you could take that $97 and send it to my Zcash address for a less than a penny. And I'd get all of it in a matter of seconds. So even though it seems counterintuitive, I actually get to keep more of the payment if we transact in crypto. I'm getting to the point, trust me.
In order to send me the Zcash, you would need to have my Zcash wallet address. That address is this: t1e9XtiWUuh7Yc6NU9TrgZE5HEicMv3cFZu
Confusing right? It's a long string of numbers and letters. Nobody has time for that and, frankly, it's easy to screw it up. This is where we have new technology trying to solve a problem. Like DNS for the web, Ethereum Name Service (ENS) and Unstoppable Domains are trying to build out systems of unique identity domains for payments. While ENS is focusing on the .ETH naming convention, Unstoppable Domains offers .crypto, .coin, .dao, and numerous other options. There are other differences between the two that I'll get into shortly.
I own the domain "faybomb.crypto." I bought it from Unstoppable Domains about a year ago. While I could actually also use that domain to host my website rather than faybomb.com, currently the function of faybomb.crypto is to router crypto payments in the same way DNS routes web traffic. That Zcash address above is actually linked to faybomb.crypto. So if you have a popular cryptocurrency wallet like Coinbase Wallet, Gemini, or Atomic, instead of typing in the string to my Zcash wallet, you can just type in "faybomb.crypto" and your wallet app will route it to the correct address. The best part is faybomb.crypto can also route to my Bitcoin, Ethereum, Dash, Litecoin, and Monero wallets. I've set all that up through Unstoppable Domains. There are literally dozens of other cryptocurrencies that I can route through the faybomb.crypto domain if I wanted to. But I think I'm good with the few that I've picked.
Again, ENS is doing something very similar but with a .ETH naming convention rather than .crypto or .coin. Here is where there are some key differences between ENS and Unstoppable Domains:
ENS is a protocol not a centralized company like Unstoppable Domains
ENS sells .ETH domains for $5, Unstoppable Domains vary from $20-100 depending on the convention. It's $40 for a .crypto
Despite being a protocol, ENS actually requires domain renewal. Whereas Unstoppable Domains sells the domain to you outright
ENS mints on Ethereum while Unstoppable Domains has shifted to minting on Polygon from Ethereum to combat gas fees
The renewal is very important for two reasons. First, while it might seem like a no-brainer to go with .ETH over .crypto simply because of the price variance, bear in mind that if you plan to use these things for any foreseeable length of time, eventually the renewal fee becomes the more expensive option. For instance, while .crypto is $40, .nft is only $20. If I wanted to mint faybomb.nft, I'd own it and that'd be the end of it. If I wanted to mint faybomb.ETH, by year 5, it has become more expensive for me to route payment via ENS. That's not even the biggest concern though.
The second issue is that renewal cost is just one input in total cost. The actual minting of the domain after you've purchased it requires "gas." On the Ethereum Network, gas is out of control. If I wanted to mint faybomb.ETH, for 1 year, it would cost over $100 dollars in gas.
As of 12/21/21
And if I decided to renew after a year, I'd have to do the same thing over again. Since Unstoppable Domains moved to a layer two solution for minting, that company is taking on all minting fees over the Polygon network. This means that you could by your name as a .crypto NFT through Unstoppable, own it outright, and pay no gas fee - all for $40. But if you wanted to buy your name as a .ETH NFT, you're going to be in for $100 in gas alone. And to justify that gas expense, you're probably going to be buying more than just a 1 year lease. Which means minting a .ETH can get very expensive very quickly.
Anthony Pompliano did a really interesting podcast comparing ENS and Unstoppable Domains a few weeks back. If anything from this post has been interesting to you thus far, I'd invite you to listen to the podcast here as well. In the recording, Pomp interviewed Brantley Millegan from ENS and Matthew Gould from Unstoppable Domains.
There were some points that were made by Brantly Millegan that I found interesting. Brantley's desire is for ETH domains to have a true use case and not just be a speculative asset like other NFTs. I think we're actually seeing the opposite happen. If we analyze some of the data for each entity from Opensea, we can draw some interesting theories.
As of 12/21/21
The first thing that jumps out to me is the floor price in the ENS names. At 0.014 ETH, we're talking roughly $55 at current Ethereum prices. By itself, this doesn't give us too much information because we don't know what the term is on the domains that are listed at that floor. But we can see that the floor price on ENS is 7 times higher than on Unstoppable Domains.
As of 12/21/21
Unstoppable Domains has significantly less traded volume too. Actually, if we do some math, we can get a handle on what the secondary markets for these domain names look like through Opensea. I don't want to dig into this like I did the Webzee's World collection over the weekend because we're talking about 100's of thousands of NFTs as opposed to just 438. But if we make some assumptions, we can take a stab at a rudimentary theory. Floor price isn't a great metric to judge the real value of all domains. At 1.1k ETH volume traded against 319 thousand domains, Unstoppable Domains' traded value per NFT is 0.00134 ETH. That's about $12 traded per NFT. There's a key point here: this exercise isn't an attempt to assign value per NFT. It's an attempt to quantify the market per NFT. With 10.9k ETH volume and 443.8 thousand domains, ENS has an average traded value of 0.024 ETH, or just under $100 traded per NFT.
So what does this mean? It's up to your own personal interpretation how you view that market behavior, but to me, it seems like the speculative fervor is in ENS not in Unstoppable Domains. Creating a speculative frenzy is not what Brantley Millegan's mission is for ENS. But speculative behavior is only one part of the domain story. Something else Millegan mentioned in the podcast above is that he wants usage, not squatting. Are ENS names being used for squatting? Maybe. But it seems like to a far lesser degree than the squatting on Unstoppable Domains. With 64.4k owners and 319.1k domains minted, the average Unstoppable owner is holding 5 domains. That number is only 2.3 domains for the average ENS owner. This would indicate more potential squatting on Unstoppable Domains.
If you think there's something to domains as a payment router and digital identity, for me, it's kind of an obvious choice to go with Unstoppable Domains. I checked out ENS a while back even before the gas fees made it cost prohibitive to get one. At that time, I couldn't be swayed to buy an ETH domain. After going the .crypto route first, I just can't see why anyone would want to lease when they don't have to. Ultimately, I can build a website and route payments through a .crypto domain that I own outright. No more paying for a web host. And potentially no more intermediary taking a huge piece of my transactions with readers. I want to actually use my domain NFT, that's why I want to own it not lease it. I don't want to have to pay gas multiple times just to secure a payment router. And here's the thing; that squatter figure is important. Speculative frenzies come and go. The squatters seem to be betting on Unstoppable Domains over ENS. I would know because I'm squatting on several. For $20 to $40 bucks and no gas, I think Unstoppable Domains is a really asymmetric bet.
Disclaimer: none of this is investment advice. NFTs will probably all go to zero. If you’re interested in Unstoppable Domains, use my referral link and you’ll get $10 off. This should go without saying, but I am not being paid by Unstoppable Domains for this post.