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  • ICANN's New Plan: Clearly, They Can -- But Who Will Benefit? Jun 23, 2011

    ICANN's New Plan: Clearly, They Can -- But Who Will Benefit?

    Earlier this week, ICANN, the international body charged with the regulation of assigned names (domains) and numbers (IP addresses) on the Internet, threw caution to the wind and announced that in January, 2012, they would begin accepting applications for new generic top-level domain names or gTLDs. So, in addition to the familiar .com, .org, .net and .edu, we can expect a slew of new suffixes, such as .coke, .bmw and .vacation. Domain suffixes using foreign language character sets would also be supported.

    Unlike our current crop of 22 generic TLDs, which are made available to all comers by ICANN-sanctioned registrars, the new crop of domain names will be entirely controlled by their owners, who will pay ICANN $185k per name for the privilege of filing an application. Where there are multiple applicants for the same TLD, ICANN may adjudicate based on existing intellectual property rights, or the name may be put up for auction.

    ICANN claims that their move will unleash a flood of creativity, but who will benefit? Large corporations will surely spend the cash to secure branded domain names over which they have total control (.ibm, ,gm, .apple, .sony). Others will spend the cash defensively to ensure that neither competitors nor critics can sully their brands with domain names like betterthan.rolex. Still others will spend big bucks to control the names of entire classes of products, services or customers. Think .cars, .travel or .kids.

    In addition to corporations seeking to extend or protect their own turf, we can expect existing domain registrars like GoDaddy.com and Network Solutions to speculate in hot suffixes like .deals, .movie, or .sex, and then charge high prices to register a domain in these premium neighborhoods.

    For smaller organizations -- anyone with less than $200k to burn -- there may still be some opportunities. If you've been stuck with a long, hard-to-remember domain name, you will want to watch the new TLDs carefully as they come onto the market -- you may find one that's a perfect fit for your business . On the other hand, if you're a .org that is already perfectly satisfied with your name, you may find yourself shelling out unbudgeted dollars to protect your identity from poachers when the .assoc domain suffix becomes available.

    In the short run, all this is likely to work out well for ICANN, established domain registrars, intellectual property law firms and speakers of languages with alternate character sets. Whether it will be a boon to the rest of us is an open question. Especially since, by most accounts, Internet users are now less likely to type in a domain name and, instead, will go straight for their favorite bookmark, phone app or search engine to take them to the website they seek.

    And with voice recognition search and QR code scanning poised to replace keyboard search, will people be more or less inclined to memorize the domain names of their favorite vendors and brands? In other words, after scads of dollars have been spent, will the new TLDs make any difference at all?

    Hang on, we'll find out next year.