The world got its first look at the folks who were able to fork over $185,000 each to apply for control over new generic top level domains. The top level domain name is what is currently the “.com” part of the internet address. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit organization that manages this part of the Internet’s infrastructure, has been preparing for this broad domain name expansion for almost ten years. Based on the applications received, it looks like addresses will be available for a whole new proliferation of domain names with extensions like .pizza, .carinsurance, .baby, and .books. Nearly 2,000 applicants were able to come up with this kind of money and the list of folks who want to control the “new internet” had a lot of familiar names–Google, Amazon, Wal-Mart, Chrysler, and Apple, just to name a few.
Several potential top level domains have more than one applicant vying for ownership. The hottest properties were .app, .baby, .baseball, .blog, .money, .pizza, .web and .vip. If the applicants can’t agree on who should control what, the name will go up for auction and many of these coveted domains are expected to go for many millions of dollars.
While ICANN is very excited about this process (after all, they took in more than $350 million dollars from the application process alone), others are not so thrilled. Many consumer groups are understandably worried about a system that would allow our wealthiest and most powerful companies to own access to a generic domain, a situation which could result in the lucky owner shutting out its competitors. While this is a great deal for the owning company, the companies that are excluded and, ultimately, consumers, do not fare so well under such a system.
In addition, brand owners are understandably worried about this process and “new frontier.” Whereas a brand owner had to worry about competitors, scammers, cybersquatters, and counterfeiters acquiring confusingly similar domain names on .com, .net, and .org (which was bad enough), they may now have to fight on several new fronts. These policing efforts are expensive and fraught with drama and–given that many brand owners don’t think we need these new domains in the first place–are of questionable cost effectiveness.
Will consumers even care? Are people so used to searching for what they want using .com that these new top level domains will have the same relevance as the .info and .biz extensions? No one knows yet. But many companies with the cash to gamble are hoping that consumers will care and that these new domains are marketing game changers. Brand owners have no choice but to stay tuned, pay attention, and increase their policing and enforcement budgets.