ICANN's decision this week to approve a legion of new generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs), alongside old stalwarts like .com and .net, will generate headaches for marketers. The new domains might also bring great marketing benefits, but that's unclear.
The decision to permit hundreds of new gTLDs was reached Monday by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Name and Numbers (ICANN), the not-for-profit corporation that makes sure that domains (like TheCMOsite.com) reach the correct Internet resources.
Danny Sullivan, writing at the blog SearchEngineLand, explains:
For $185,000, businesses or organizations can apply for to run their own gTLD. If Apple, Google or Facebook wanted to have .apple, .google and .facebook names, that now becomes possible. That could be pretty cool for companies that want to have domain names that fully reflect their own brands.
Of course, not everyone will necessarily be granted a top-level domain name. Who gets lucky depends on what ICANN decides. Smaller brands -- which are brands nonetheless -- won’t be able to afford the names. Who gets to have hot generic names like .money or .tickets will be decided, to my understanding, solely by ICANN.
What happens when two companies with the same trademark both decide they want the same top-level domain remains to be seen. Who gets to be .giants — the San Francisco Giants baseball team or the New York Giants football team? Maybe they could play each other. And those are the only organizations out there with a claim to the Giants name, right?
Sullivan is skeptical that the change will be valuable. "It’ll just enrich some new TLD owners at the expense of brands who will now spend even more to fight cybersquatting," he writes.
Indeed, skepticism about the plan is pretty widespread on technology blogs. Lauren Weinsten called the decision disgraceful in a post headlined, "The Shame on the Internet: ICANN Votes to Massively Enrich the Domain-Industrial Complex." Companies will spend billions of dollars protecting their brands or pursuing get-rich-quick scams, money that will flow to domain name registrars and ICANN itself, Weinstein said.
The new gLTDs will certainly create burdens for marketers who will need to protect their brands. Those burdens will be mitigated by ICANN policies; the organization says it will require people applying for the gLTDs to respect trademarks. And the $185,000 entry fee will prevent casual troublemakers from seeking to register, say, McDonald's, just to embarrass the fast food merchant.
On the other hand, ICANN will not give merchants a sunrise period to grab their own brands before throwing the bidding open to the general public, according to an FAQ posted by ICANN. And ICANN won't notify trademark holders of attempts to register their brands as trademarks.
So brand owners will have to take on the burden of vigilance themselves.
Moreover, there's reason to believe all of this is simply unnecessary. Several years ago, ICANN began permitting new gTLDs like .info and .biz; respectable businesses shied away from them. "Haven't we already learned from the failures of .AERO, .TRAVEL, .COOP, .MUSEUM, .MOBI, .JOBS that the world simply doesn't WANT additional TLDs? What is scary is that the failures just mentioned were those that ICANN had previously concluded represented the largest need and demand among netizens," said one observer.
I'm tempted the join the skeptics myself and declare the new plan a fiasco from the git-go -- but not quite. My optimism triumphs on this one.
The new gTLDs have the potential to return meaning to the domain name mess. Regional gTLDs like .nyc and .london would allow businesses to advertise their locations right in the browser address bar. Different categories of businesses would have their own gTLDs, like .food or .cars. And companies would be able to reserve gTLDs for their own use, so every single employee of General Motors or Ford could have an email address ending in .gm or .ford.
The current system of gTLDs is a mess. We don't see it because we're used to it, and have developed duck-tape-and-paperclip workarounds for its problems. It's a survivor of a very different Internet that existed more than 20 years ago, an Internet used primarily for research and government work. Back then, .com, .edu, .gov, and .org actually meant something. Now, .com and .org mean nothing at all. And the current, limited system of gTLDs leads to expensive trademark lawsuits
I don't know if the new ICANN plan will fix any of those problems -- but I'm hopeful. And even if the plan does fix the problems with gTLDs, it'll generate a lot of headaches. So be hopeful along with me, but also get ready to eat a lot of aspirin.
— Mitch Wagner , Editor in Chief, The CMO Site
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