When the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) held its “big reveal” June 13, it may have appeared to have mapped out the general contours of its proposed Internet of the future—one with potentially unlimited generic top-level domains (gTLDs). In the first round of its New gTLDs Program, it received more than 1,900 applications and almost $360 million in application fees. ICANN also faced mounting pushback and criticism from industry insiders, government stakeholders, interested parties and observers, not to mention a long and still somewhat unclear process ahead of it to evaluate those applications, sift through the comments and objections, resolve the contention issues over which applicants will own the contested domains and, eventually, delegate new domains into the Internet. And now, more than two months after the big reveal, ICANN has “fishtailed” all over the road, predicted significant traffic jams ahead and is, by its own account, already at least six months behind schedule.
While the map remains somewhat unclear, one thing is certain: this is not the time to set your calendar for next May (when ICANN says it might have completed the initial evaluations) and put your company on autopilot. Even if your company decided against applying for a TLD (or a gTLD) some of your competitors or other industry participants may have. Even if you think you and your company are just casual observers or uninvested bystanders, ICANN’s gTLD program may have a significant impact on your business and your bottom line. You can’t wait until the map of the Internet of the future is already drawn, or your company may be left with little room to maneuver. Regardless of whether your company is a stakeholder or an observer, you can and should stay informed on the process and consider whether and how you might want to influence the outcome.
Not surprisingly, 40 percent of the applications were from big brands like Volkswagen, State Farm, American Express, Nike and Macy’s, among others. Before the big reveal, industry commentators expected consumer brands merely to secure brand-related terms. For example, Travelers Insurance applied for .redumbrella and Nationwide applied for .onyourside. Many applicants with well established brands also applied for multiple generic TLDs, some within and some outside their existing business areas. In fact, these applicants looked to acquire generic words such as .lol, .talk, .mom, .dad and .cloud, the ownership of which could provide economic value beyond their brand. Clearly these companies see opportunities to profit from control over generic spaces both related and unrelated to their current businesses. Some applications are already drawing negative commentary from competitors and the public, such as that the applications are anti-competitive and give the applicants an unfair business advantage.
Why it matters