Dossier: “New gTLDs, a new Internet?”
The arrival of the many new generic Top-Level Domains is very profitable for ICANN. But are gTLDs also an asset for the entire Internet community? The new cataloguing system for websites does however seem to create a wholly new Internet.
It isn’t a secret—good domain names are expensive on the Internet. For country code TLDs like .BE or .NL, rates are not so bad, but if you wish to choose a real international domain name, a generic Top-Level Domain like .COM, .NET or .ORG, you have to search assiduously to find something available that is affordable. This is a hurdle for companies in emerging countries, if they want to partake in the new Internet economy. That is why, in 2011, ICANN has decided to completely open up the Internet: everybody who wanted it (and who was willing to spend 180,000 dollars) could apply for a new gTLD.
ICANN’s initiative quickly reaped a lot of criticism. In the end, new gTLDs had already been created in the past few years, like .MOBI and .COOP, but they were not really successful—one even hardly ever comes across a domain name with one of these extensions. So why would the present attempt be successful? ICANN has been outright blamed for acting solely for lucrative purposes, to the detriment of companies that would take the risk to launch one of these new gTLDs. And to the detriment of the citizen, who is used to the .COM and .BE domains of this world and who would only get confused by all those new TLDs.
An Internet with a clearer identity
Now that ever more details are known about these new gTLDs, it becomes clear that their arrival will bring a completely new dimension to the Internet. Now, for the first time, the domain extension really offers companies and organisations the opportunity to make their identity crystal clear. From now on, you will find websites on the Net with a .FASHION extension and know that this is the website of a fashion house, a textile manufacturer, a blog or a magazine related to the fashion world, for fashionistas. In the past, the user was confronted with a ‘genderless’ .COM extension, like four-roses.com, for instance. Is it the website of a whisky brand? Or a dating site? From now on though, the user will intuitively know what he’s dealing with when he visits four-roses.hotel, four-roses.bar or four-roses.garden: he can spend the night at the first, have a drink at the second and probably buy flowers or arrange to have his garden tended at the third. Moreover, some new gTLDs will be protected, like e.g. .BANK, an extension reserved for real banks. If the user surfs to ing.bank, he knows with absolute certainty that he is on the website of his bank and not on some fraudulent site. For users, this unambiguous identity is an absolute plus.
Companies and organisations have more options
The wealth in new domain names (1,900 applications for new domain names were filed) also benefits companies and organisations worldwide. Domain speculators, who try to sell .COM domains for huge amounts of money, will probably not be enthused by this evolution. The new TLDs actually mean that the attribution of names on the Internet will start over with a clean slate. Before, the company Prince, which produces cookies, only had the choice between the ccTLD (.BE for Belgium or .NL for the Netherlands) and the .COM or .BIZ domain extension—AND had to spend a lot of money for both the latter. Now, it can also choose a .LTD, .LLC or .INC domain extension for English-speaking countries or a .SARL for French-speaking countries. With the extension .FOOD, it indicates that it produces food. The company can spread its viral videos on a .PUB domain. Rebates, special offers, etc. can be announced via a .SAVE domain.
And at the same time, the artist Prince can also have his own domain at Prince.music, while the amateur theatre company can obtain its own prince.theatre domain name, without incurring huge costs. The multitude of options not only makes domain names more affordable, but it also provides a clearer identity on the Internet.
Clarity and identity, also at a geographical level
This identity also changes at other levels. So far, a company or organisation only had the ccTLD (country code Top-Level Domain) at its disposal to indicate where it is located or which market it targets. For a company named Prince.be, you know that it sells its products or services in Belgium. But often, a company likes to be even more specific about this identity; ccTLDs indeed cover entire countries, while some regions like to claim their personal identity. This is also why the new gTLD .VLAANDEREN has been created, so that companies and organisations can emphasize their Flemish roots. A gTLD has also been created for .BRUSSELS; only Wallonia hasn’t extended this state reform to the Internet yet.
Abroad, Friesland (.FRL), Catalonia (.CATALONIA) and Galicia (.GAL) (among others) have gained their independence on the Internet, which they actually don’t have politically. Websites with such domain extensions convey a clear message: they belong to a company that is located in this region and their owners are proud of their roots.
Numerous cities now also have their own web domain, like e.g. .AMSTERDAM, .MIAMI, .BARCELONA and .ISTANBUL. Obviously, .GENT, the native city of so many Internet companies, is on that list too. Cities that did not choose to have their own domain can select the .CITY extension as well to build their own identity.
The benefits of all this? With hilton.amsterdam or hilton.barcelona, you immediately know where you’re at. Tourist services can go wild with this extension e.g. to promote museumvangogh.amsterdam or gaudi-tour.barcelona. Besides, these geographical domain names are particularly suited for the production of guides for companies, organisations, things to do someplace: shopping.gent, developers.gent, vegetarian.gent... the possibilities are endless.
At last, IDNs
An important aspect of the new gTLDs must however not be overlooked: IDNs. Those are domain names that are not written with ASCII characters (the A-Z alphabet, the numbers 0-9 and a few special characters). The Internet has been focusing for too long on the western world and other writing systems have been neglected (Chinese, Arabic, Japanese, etc.). Websites did exist in those languages, but the web address still had to be entered into the browser using ASCII characters.
As a symbolic gesture, ICANN has put a couple of IDN TLDs at the top of the list when it determined the order in which the 1,900 new applications would be handled. This means that the first new gTLD to go live will be شبكة., which is pronounced “Shabaka” and means “Web” in Arabic—a language spoken in 20 countries by 40 million people. Three other IDNs that will probably go live quite soon are: онлайн (Russian for “online”), сайт (Russian for “website”) and 游戏 (Chinese for “game”). The arrival of IDNs will finally make the Internet a place for everyone, regardless if one speaks Chinese, Russian, Japanese, Thai or any other language.
A very wide array
Besides the geographical, commercial and IDN TLDs, there are many other categories that will make the Internet clearer for Internet users and more attractive for companies. Cultural gTLDs for instance, like .IRISH, .ISLAM, .LATINO or .GAY. Food & Drink or Restaurant-related TLDs like .MENU, .VIN or .VODKA. Professions and crafts like .FARM, .TATTOO, .JEWELLER, .CAR or .ADULT. Tech TLDs like .CLOUD, .WEBCAM, .HOST, .EMAIL. But also extensions that can be used to emphasize the image of a product, like e.g. .COOL, .SEXY or .HOT.
An opportunity for operators
These new TLDs are a huge asset for users and registrants (the companies who chose a domain under the new TLDs), but also for the companies who will be managing them. They had to pay 180,000 dollars for their application to be taken into consideration, and after that, they will have to pay a fixed yearly fee to ICANN for the privilege to continue to manage their gTLD. But on the other hand, they will be able to reap great benefits if a gTLD is successful. They are indeed free to set the price that registering a domain in this new gTLD will cost and will be able to count on a fixed income year after year.
But who are those companies that dived into this adventure? Well... for starters, the Internet giants. Google, for instance, applied (through the company Charleston Road Registry) to be allowed to manage 101 new TLDs. Amazon has requested 76. But it is the company Donut Inc. that takes the proverbial biscuit so to speak, as it submitted no less than 307 applications through partnerships with several companies!
You can see how very desirable extensions like .app or .cloud elicit competition, and that their management rights are disputed by several companies, in what are called “contention sets” – applications for identical strings. For a total of 230 new domain extensions, multiple applications have been submitted: for instance 13 for .APP, 11 each for .HOME and .INC, 10 for .ART, 9 each for .BLOG, .BOOK, .LLC, .SHOP, etc. Via auctions, it will now be decided who will become the new manager of these new apps.
Limited vs open
These auctions however evoke another aspect of the new gTLDs: will only the wealthy companies use or even abuse the opening of domain names? The fact that a gTLD with a contention set will be sold through auction indeed implies that who has the most money will prevail. In many disputed cases, two large Internet actors are among the applicants: Google and Amazon. And they have deep... very deep pockets.
In addition, there is the fact that both companies want to use certain domain names almost exclusively for their own products, and will allow no registration by other companies. Google is a tad less selfish, and applies this restriction in a few cases only, like for .DRIVE. Amazon, however, wants to keep all the new gTLDs it acquires for itself, including .CLOUD, . FAST, .APP, .BOOK...
Limiting a generic string, a word that has a general meaning, to use by one single company has led to several GAC Early Warnings—protests by a Governmental Advisory Committee. In certain cases, the trial seems justified. After all, why reserve .APP to Amazon, while various other companies and operating systems also offer apps? In other cases, the answer seems more nuanced. The fact that .BANK can only be attributed to real banks goes without saying. But does .RADIO have to be entirely open or, like EBU (European Broadcast Union) requested, stay restricted to official radio stations and registered broadcasting amateurs?
We await the decision of the committees who have to assess the replies to the GAC early warnings.
As part of this, here’s a little anecdote… So Internet giant Amazon wants to claim a lot of generic strings and reserve them for its personal use. The gTLD .AMAZON however, will slip through its fingers, as the inhabitants of the Amazon region advance cultural claims to this domain name...
Lost your .bearings?
With 1,900 requested gTLDs, the offer may become really opaque. Companies therefore choose to wait and see—providing they even know about this evolution at all. And the average Joe certainly doesn’t seem to have an inkling of this Internet revolution. Fortunately, there are a few companies—Ghent-based Combell in the lead—who undertake initiatives to reveal this far-reaching change to the business world and the public at large.
On the website, all gTLDs are presented, from .APP to .ZONE, with some information and a mention of possible restrictions that apply, like e.g. .BANK being available for registration to official banks only. The new gTLDs are also divided into categories, to help you find the correct category for your company or organisation.
Moreover, you can already pre-register a domain name in the new gTLDs; this means that Combell will follow up on the procedure for the new TLD to go live, notify you when registration is open and let you know what the price will be for registering a domain name for this gTLD. If you express your agreement and if the domain name is still available, it will be registered for you.
Everybody’s a winner
The new gTLDs herald a new era for the Internet. Identity becomes clear, not only from a commercial viewpoint, but also where cultural and geographical identity is concerned. The fact that IDNs are now finally available for registration means that the balance that was so long overdue on the Internet will be more attainable. It’s a good thing for civilians. And operators could be sitting on a gold mine. ICANN will get additional income too, which will be spent on the further development of the Internet. It’s a winning situation for everybody, but most of all for the bakers of Prince cookies, the Prince theatre company and Prince, the artist.