Icann Reveal Day on New generic Top-Level Domain Program - What's in a Name?

By Peter Bernstein June 13, 2012

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (Icann), who administrates domain labels for Internet websites worldwide, is out with the first results of its generic Top-Level Domains (gTLD).

gTLDs are main name extension on a URL such as the familiar .com, .net, or .org.  For years there have been only 22 generics and 280 country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs, for things like .uk, etc.), and Icann devised a program to accommodate growing demand for more flexibility TLDs given the importance many place on them for branding purposes.

This initial round of applications began January 12 this year and closed on May 30, and has been an interesting exercise as its complete list demonstrates. Applicants had to pay a $185,000 fee to take part in the program and will be subject to a minimum $25,000 renewal fee should they get to use the suffix. 

The application fee is trivial, though, compared to what could amount to billions of dollars of brand value that can be created, along with the mitigated risks of giving potential domain squatters a reason to look elsewhere. Plus, Icann can use the money.

A nice posting on the applications and applicant interests appeared on the BBC website. As might be expected there were multiple entities applying for ones that could definitely drive traffic such as .sex and .home. Interestingly, the one that drew the most duplication was .app. 

What was most interesting for this round is who of the big name global brands participated heavily (Google), and who did not (Coca-Cola and Kellogg’s were cited for their lack of interest). In fact, the Internet giants dominated the application process with Amazon applying for 76 names, Google 101 and Microsoft jumped in on 11. Facebook, Twitter and a few other companies might have been thought of as obvious suffixes, but have thus far stayed on the sidelines.

Icann said it received 1,930 requests, of which only 166 were for alternatives to the Latin alphabet. 

What’s next?   

Icann looks to make the first batch of 500 names go live by March 2013. Sounds too good to be true, right? Of course there are a few catches. The first is that anyone who has an objection to any of the claims filed now has seven months to file a complaint. How Icann will resolve contention over who gets what should be fascinating, and is fraught with all kinds of potential for litigation. 

In addition, as with everything these days, the program is not without its critics. On the corporate side several big names were vociferous in their abstention questioning everything from the price to the fairness of the process. A fear here is that rather than promote innovation and fairness as Icann believes, instead the winners of coveted gTLDs will have distinct and possibly permanent competitive advantage. However, this really seems more like the motto of the New York State lottery of a few years back that you need to be, “in it to win it.” Domain names are a scarce and valuable resource and it does seem logical that everyone in the process should have an opportunity to monetize the potential value and pay for the privilege.

It should also be noted that Icann itself has been the subject of criticism over the years, and as the article points out Brazil, China and Russia believe its independence from governmental oversight is dangerous and that at a minimum as world body like the United Nations ought to be in charge of the allocation of such a valuable global resource. While it is problematic as to if, when or how, Icann’s considerable influence might be altered, because of the impact on commerce.

This is not unlike the history of maritime law where there have always been disputes over country and private rights and interests regarding the use of the ocean outside of their defined territorial interests. The Internet it could be argued makes this even more of a challenge. As world events have shown in the past few years defining geographical boundaries and rights, along with enforcing policies and rules, in a virtual world is tricky to say the least.

While naming and addressing may sound boring, don’t be fooled. This is big business for big business and who gets matters. Plus, one wonders how long it will take for a winner to decide that the real value of the domain is not for its brand, but is generic enough that it could fetch a nice price in the aftermarket. Not being an expert on Icann procedures, I do not know what “winning” means in the context of ownership, e.g., whether the winner can sell or lease to another entity its gTLD. Creative types no doubt will test the limits on this although Icann has at least set the price to play relatively high to dissuade average citizens from attempting to mine this gold. 

Keep an eye out. This is likely to go from being under the radar to viral in a hurry.

Edited by Braden Becker
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