This year the web is going to get a brand new look, and not everyone is happy about it. Ever since The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced that it was going to lift the restrictions on New Generic Top Level Domain Names (new gTLDs), there has been no end of debate. Can consumer browsing behaviour be changed? Who will apply? What extensions will get approval? Which won’t?
The simple answer is that we don’t know. The questions might be endless, but until the new gTLDs are signed into contract later this summer and go live, we won’t have any concrete answers. What we do know is that some of the biggest brands in the world have lined up to register their interest in acquiring a domain extension. Many, such as .Youtube and .Microsoft have passed the initial evaluation stage and many more are expected to follow. In fact, it is expected that the decision to lift restrictions will see the number of gTLDs multiply by a factor of ten.
This rapid increase and the possible implications of the new gTLDs have ruffled more than a few feathers. From the Author’s Guild and the Association of American Publishers up in arms about Amazon’s application for generic book-industry terms such as .book and .read branding it ‘anti-competitive’, through to warnings about the "billions of dollars" it will cost for brands to protect themselves, hasn’t everything got a little bit out of control?
Despite the US Association of National Advertisers telling Bloomberg that the new gTLDs bring with them "major trademark concerns" it is unlikely that they will indeed cost brands "billions of dollars." The assertion seems to stem from the belief that in order to protect their IP companies will need to apply for every possible domain iteration of their name in order to protect their brand. At $185,000 a pop, yes that does sound like a rather expensive measure to take. Not to mention really rather extreme.
Somewhere along the line everything seems to have gotten blown out of proportion. So, I’d like to undertake some myth busting. At the moment there are 20 or so generic domain names on the web. And I can’t think of a brand that has registered extensions across all of these. Far from it. The most recognised are .com, .co.uk or .net. They are known and trusted by users and as a result that is where brands have invested. Certainly they haven’t previously been compelled to ‘own’ all equations of possible existing domains, so why worry now?
Despite all the scaremongering, the fact is that you don’t have to register a .anything domain name. Other domains like will still be searchable in all browsers and search engines. Your company won’t be in ‘tier two’ of the Internet if it doesn’t establish a new .anything domain.
Existing domains will continue to resonate with consumers and hold their value. A recent awareness study that we undertook found that 63% of small to medium sized business owners weren’t even aware of the new gTLDs. And the US domain consortium found that the same can be said of consumers, with many not knowing of their existence! Whilst the technology industry might be abuzz with the developments, the fact is that consumers remain largely unaware of their upcoming launch. Certainly big brands such as Google and Amazon will undertake high impact marketing campaigns once their new domains are launched, but it will still take time to migrate consumers over.
Companies that are worried about any trademark infringement, should contact The Trademark Clearinghouse. Established by ICANN it is a global repository for trademark data, the first of its kind in the domain space. The Trademark Clearinghouse offers two types of protection. Firstly to help companies claim domains during the "sunrise period" of new extensions and secondly, to alert consumers if they’re about to register a domain that includes a registered mark. It will also make the case for when brands should defensively register domains, register their mark with The Trademark Clearinghouse, or do nothing at all. The Trademark Clearinghouse will ensure that the new domains registered are done so in a transparent and inclusive manner, so enterprises don’t need to work about their online real estate being compromised.
With all the worry and panic it would be easy to forget that the guiding principal of the new gTLDs is to make the web more accessible to more communities around the world and underpin innovation. In Kenya, for example, where the internet is at the centre of a vibrant ecommerce economy, or in whole countries that want to get online using their own language rather than .com.
It is also hoped that with technology rapidly changing how we interact with those around us, from smartphones to wearable technology, that the new domains will inspire new innovations. In short, new gTLDs mean new opportunities. As consumers increasingly customise the media they consume, companies should welcome the ability to engage and interact with their audiences in new and compelling ways, rather than getting lost in the crowd.