The Way We Were
Years ago the general public was aware of three primary generic top level domain extensions (gTLD): .com, .net and .org. There was a huge "land" rush as the dot-com bubble grew and organizations were willing to spend absurd amounts of money to get the .com extension for their business, even building the massive cash outlays into their business plans. Then search engine marketers (snake-oil salesmen) and web development gurus (hacks) started to push organizations to get the .org and .net versions of a domain for assorted reasons.
As ICANN moved to provide more gTLDs, many of which didn't make sense to the average user and gained little traction, we saw extensions like .aero and .museum appear. Registrars hopped on the bandwagon and promoted every new TLD as a requirement to branding your site.
Then countries got into the business by selling access to their ccTLDs, such as Tuvaloo with .tv marketed to to the television industry, and with enough advertising behind it, users started to accept them. The explosion of Twitter and the need for shortened web page addresses further promoted otherwise ignored TLDs, and services like bit.ly helped put the Libyan TLD on the map. Some of us are still curious to see how .xxx pans out.
How It Has Changed Again
As of today, ICANN has approved a process to allow organizations to apply for a TLD of their own (read the PDF press release [and you thought UDRP was complex]). If you are Google, for example, you might want .google. Apple might want .apple. It is conceivable that you could see addresses for search.google, maps.google, ipad.apple, iphone.apple, and other unlikely but possible combinations. Apparently the 22 gTLDs already in play don't offer enough variance for the web.
The process itself may be relatively straightforward. ICANN will make applications available (get the May 2011 draft of the Applicant Guidebook) from January 12, 2012 through April 12, 2012, giving companies time to develop a marketing plan and come up with justification to pay the $185,000 application fee and, if approved, the annual $25,000 fee.
With those numbers you can see the potential for a small set of players who want to give it a go. From ICANN:
New gTLDs will change the way people find information on the Internet and how businesses plan and structure their online presence. Internet address names will be able to end with almost any word in any language, offering organizations around the world the opportunity to market their brand, products, community or cause in new and innovative ways.
If my favorite "cause" ponies up that kind of money for a TLD, I can assure you I'll re-evaluate whether that cause really needs my money.
Given how inexpensive it is to obtain a domain name using one of the current TLDs, I am not sure how ICANN expects companies to justify the expense. The limited window implies that this is just an experiment, but is probably also designed to get organizations to move before they lose their chance. Whether or not the public will understand, and use, these is a different story. Instead, I see value in an existing company (with some cash) to consider finding a two-character gTLD, that is not already assigned through the ccTLDs, and rolling its URL own shortener service.
What is also not clear is what happens when two valid organizations in different spaces apply for the same gTLD. If Champion (spark plug makers) and Champion (t-shirt makers) apply for .champion, how is that sorted out and is the application fee lost for the loser of that decision? Here's ICANN's answer from the FAQ:
It is not feasible for two or more identical strings to occupy the Internet space. Each name must be unique. If there are two or more applications for the same string (or confusingly similar strings), the String Contention procedures would come into effect. Refer to module 4 of the Applicant Guidebook for more detailed information regarding the String Contention procedure.
Module 4 defines two methods in the String Confusion Dispute Resolution process to address this (with the presumption that the parties at odds with one another weren't able to sort it out on their own):
- Community priority evaluation,
The first one only applies to community-based organizations and an unspecified deposit is required to participate. The second one, the auction, isn't allowed when the extension is for a geographic name. The document then goes into detail outlining the concept of an auction along with general rules (currency, defaulting, etc). At that point, it truly is a pay-to-play scenario.
Given how many users still type a web page address into Google search, will the new gTLDs really matter? I'm not sure I understand the problem hat ICANN thinks it is solving, or the business case to justify the purchase, but I am also not privy to the players on the board or the pressure they might be getting elsewhere.
The video below shows the vote — well, it shows the vote for the change, but pans away so you don't see how many voted against this or abstained (13 for, 1 opposed, 2 abstentions).
- New gTLD FAQ
- ICANN Approves New Top-Level Domains, So Prepare For .Whatever at Mashable
- ICANN Approves Generic Top-Level Domains: New Era of Innovation or A Flood of Spam? at Read Write Web
- Web expands as ICANN approves new domain names at New Scientist
- Libya's Terror Plot: Link Rot (Linkpocalypse?), October 11, 2010 at this site
- .XXX Domain Approved: Now Begins The Era Of Meaningless TLDs, March 20, 2011 at ZDNet
Mashable, a resource I generally consider good for quickly covering stories but not so good for providing much depth, has taken some time today to review the ICANN guidebook for the new gTLDs and put together the post 9 Things You Need to Know About ICANN’s New Top Level Domains. It's not terribly detailed, but it does provide a good, quick overview if you need to know something right now. You know, because January is right around the corner.
Update: June 13, 2012
ICANN has announced the list of requested gTLDs. I provide links and list some my favorites at the new post ICANN Announces Requested gTLDs.
Update: May 8, 2013
The marketing manager for names.co.uk guest-writes a post at .net Magazine ("Google sets precedent for new gTLDs to be open") detailing how Google may be opening up any of the new gTLDs it acquires, instead of restricting their use to just Google brands. The writer hopes others will follow Google's lead.