.Com has become synonymous with the Internet. Everyone company, organization and blogger – anyone online – seems to need a .com. There are of course those other dots, like .org, .gov, .net and .edu, but they just don’t have the cache of .com. Well soon there may be a lot more dots to choose from – possibly a thousand more – and maybe, just maybe, some will be as coveted as .com.
ICANN, the Internet body in charge of naming and numbering (essentially the systems that make the Internet interoperable and seem so seamless), was in Doha this week to discuss a new initiative that will open-up the generic top-level domain (gTLD) naming system (the part that comes after the dot). It will no longer be just .com, .gov, or .net, but it could be .Brian, .mercedes, or even .Doha. Touting it as one of the biggest changes in Internet history, ICANN President and CEO Rod Beckstrom shared details of how his organization would start accepting applications for new gTLDs and encouraged organizations in Qatar to consider applying. As he said, ICANN is “opening up the right of the dot.”
The potential marketing and branding benefits of having your own gTLD seems enormous. With the ever increasing scarcity of .com’s left, we have all had to settle for a less than ideal URL. Having your own gTLD opens up an immense pool of ways you can creatively use the domains. Have a campaign? Create a URL using your gTLD like www.summer.pepsi. Are you city with a great festival coming. Well how about www.tribeca.doha. As Beckstrom said in his talk, the new gTLD initiative is developed to allow for creativity and innovation on the Internet and no doubt there are many ways these could be used that we aren’t even imaging right now.
So what should companies in Qatar know if they want to apply? First, it’s expensive! Applying for a gTLD, requires a $185,000 non-refundable application fee. Steep, but ICANN doesn’t want anyone and everyone to have control of these domains. Beckstrom said protecting the security and integrity of the Internet is their first priority, so any company or organization applying for a gTLD must have the resources to manage that domain. They will need to operate like a registrar, finding ways to manage the distribution of the domains, and likely developing a business model around this. Clearly this is much more involved than securing a second level domain, like Brian.com (which btw I don’t own) – this is far more serious business!
Second, companies and organizations should know that the window for application is short. The application process only goes from January 12, 2012 – April 12, 2012. The application itself is intensive – Beckstrom said a successful submission would likely require at least 100 pages of information. He also said that ICANN has no plans to make the timeframe longer, so interested parties should act fast. He cautioned that ICANN was unlikely to have an open application process for gTLDs for many years.
Other things to consider if you want to apply for a gTLD is whether you have clear rights to a name. For example, the rights to something like .Mercedes is pretty clear, but what about .Music or .Art? All gTLDs that are applied for will be shared publicly so objections can be filed and if a valid objection is filed, ICANN may decide to reject the application – bye-bye $185,000! Also, there may be cases where multiple parties apply for a gTLD. In this case, ICANN will give preference to a community group over a private organization if there are no clear trademark rights. This means, if a community group in Doha wanted .Doha, and so did a private tourism enterprise, the community group would be granted the rights if all were equal. Yes, disputes over gTLDs could get a bit complicated, and here is a decent chance your application might get rejected.
The new generic Top-Level Domain Names certainly are an interesting change to the Internet and I will certainly be watching to see how this change might impact the web. Already cities have expressed interest in gTLDs, such as New York (.NYC) and Berlin (.berlin), and undoubtedly many major companies will apply as well. The earliest we will see these go live on the Internet though would be early 2013. I’m not sure this is “one of the biggest changes in Internet history,” but it is certainly one that has the chance to encourage some great marketing and branding creativity over the Internet.