The momentum for a second round of the new gTLD program is slowly building. Whilst ICANN’s view may be that it needs to complete such due diligence as the Security and Stability Review or the audit of the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) service, it doesn’t determine the agenda. The whole foundation of the governance for the Internet is a multi-stakeholder model, meaning the domain name community at large is essentially setting the pace.
There’s certainly still some work to do in round one. Not every TLD has an owner yet, for example dotWeb and dotMusic, with a number of applications in contention; and a number of TLDs are for one reason or another still in dispute. These include domains such as dotAfrica and the ongoing saga of the closed generics such as dotHair and dotBeauty. ICANN would certainly prefer to have every application resolved, every registry operator under contract, every TLD delegated into the root zone by IANA, and of course every suffix launched. Based on numbers as of mid-June 2016, we still have some way to go – although, in an effort to get things moving, ICANN is waving the sanction stick at those TLD operators who have delegated but show no signs of launching.
So let’s fast-forward to a point in the near-ish future. All the gTLDs from round one have launched, and the general online community has seen the light and is as comfortable using a dotNinja as a dotNet. The Internet hasn’t collapsed, nor has the delegation and use of any domain name caused ‘a clear and present danger to human life’ – one of the core concerns before round one under the ‘name collision’ scare, and one of the main reasons why the Stability and Security Review was necessary. The second round application window has opened and closed without any dramas, and now we’re ready to see who has applied for what strings.
Nobody really correctly guessed the number of applications in round one, nor will any surveys or straw polls give us a guide at this stage to the overall number, but let’s again divide potential applications into the same buckets of Generics, Brands and GeoTLDs. It’s almost impossible to think about the breadth of opportunity for IDNs, but it’s fair to say there’ll be more than the 100 or so this time around, as the number of Internet users whose primary language isn’t ASCII-based continues to grow.
So what might we see?
Generics. There’s an overwhelming danger that, without some changes to the Application Guidebook, we’ll see a raft of proposed new gTLDs where an ‘s’ is simply added to an existing application to make it a plural. DotBikes, dotCameras, dotFlights, dotHolidays. ICANN has been so inconsistent with its handling of the conflicting plurals in this round that far too much ambiguity exists today. DotReview and Reviews, dotCareer and Careers, dotCar and Cars. All acceptable, yet dotHotel and Hotels or dotWeb and Webs were deemed to be confusingly similar and one of the applications had to be removed; allowing so many potentially confusing applications could bamboozle the general Internet-using public.
The existing rapid growth of the new gTLDs may give rise to hundreds of other applications, but we need to understand the fuel behind that growth. Aggressive price promotions that have seen some new gTLDs being sold below cost price may have boosted registration numbers, but it’s unlikely that the vast majority of those domain names will ever be actively used. With some registrars selling new gTLDs such as dotXYZ and dotTop for less than the price of a newspaper, there’s little speculation risk for ‘investors’ who buy one or two hundred at a time, dumping them on renewal if they’ve had no interest from the secondary market. With virtually every one of the top 20 new gTLDs by registration volume offering price promotions to some or all of the registrar base, it’s not hard to see that offering a low-cost model and a relatively memorable generic keyword TLD is the recipe for success. So I’m going out on a limb here by suggesting we will see multiple applications for dotFirst, dotTrain and dotThriller.
Brands. There’s already a fair amount of dotBrand envy out there, with some companies already worried about the competitive advantage their rivals are getting by owning and operating their own slice of the Internet. Part of the growing momentum for round two is being driven by these companies, desperate to get into the dotBrand Country Club. In round one, approximately 600 companies applied for a dotBrand, and I’d expect around the same number to apply again – possibly more if there’s overwhelming empirical evidence that shows Google et al are treating dotBrands more favorably when it comes to search. Now we’re into a regular cycle of companies launching their first dotBrands, and some of the pioneers such as Monash, Barclays and BNP Paribas looking at further innovation online.
Someone within the first round applicants will change the way we think and interact with the Internet and set the bar for others to try and beat. Financial services firms have led the way so far in launching their dotBrands, and if they get show the security of running their own infrastructure is significantly better than today and that there’s a higher level of consumer recognition, then we’ll see more banks and financial institutions joining the club.
If we look at Interbrand’s Top 30 brands for 2015, then I’d suggest that the nine that could have applied and didn’t back in 2012 will do so next time around. There was great surprise that the likes of Disney, Ikea, Coca-Cola, American Express and Facebook didn’t apply, but I think we can be pretty sure they will in the second round window – as too will some of the well-known social media brands that rely on unique usernames, such as Twitter, Pinterest and Vimeo.
GeoTLDs. London, Paris, New York, Barcelona. Four of the most visited cities in the world, and all with their own TLDs. Most major capital cities in the Western world applied for their own GeoTLD. Some notable exceptions included Rome (although there was an application for dotRoma, it didn’t have the necessary backing of the relevant body to proceed), Dublin, Warsaw and Washington DC, but the applications in the second round will come from secondary cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow, Dallas, Sao Paolo and Mumbai.
One aspect of the existing program that has been disappointing has been the adoption of any dotMoves – domain names where the dot is moved from the end of a keyword to within it to create an Exact Domain Match (EDM). Google is keeping tight-lipped on the relevancy of EDM in search, but the logic says you can’t get a more relevant domain name result than by utilizing every element of the keyword search. Great examples of this can be found within the existing program: Philips’s use of office.lighting and home.lighting; Netnames.domains; and, at a brand level, Sports.Direct. The application from Dutch banking giant ING got us all excited that we could start registering domain names like think.ing or eat.ing, but as of yet it’s very unlikely that such open registrations will be allowed. However, it could be possible that we see applications along similar lines in the second round – for example, dotIon, dotAble or dotAge.
Of course, this is all just speculation. For all we know, the unknown unknown could delay a second round for years, or the slow process to user adoption of the existing round will simply stifle any compelling reason for anyone else to apply. But that great thing is we can all speculate to our hearts content until the talk becomes reality.
PS Hands off dotComedy; that’s mine!