Today, ICANN “revealed” the contenders for its new class of “generic top level domains“( gTLDs)—the purported salvation for everyone unable to buy, beg or steal a coveted “dot-com” domain, and also hawked as a brilliant new way for brand marketers to further “own” the mental shelf-space of customers.
What are they? In a nutshell, the new gTLDs are a way for potentially anyone to create a “dot-anything” internet domain. Dot-company, dot-brand, dot-country, dot-religion… literally, dot-anything. We wrote extensively about what marketers need to know about the new generic top-level domains back in January in our What You Need To Know About The New Top Level Domains.
Many pundits are hailing this as the new internet “gold rush”—an opportunity to stake a claim in cyberspace that your customers will come to know and love, your competitors will find impregnable, and will solve your SEO worries, forever. Many obviously believe this, as we can see in the number of well-known organizations who’ve registered just to be considered for their own dot-whatever domain (at the incredibly bargain price of $US185,000, not counting the money spent on paperwork, legal fees, infrastructure requirements and many other costs).
In all, various organizations ranging from well-known internet players and consumer brands to governments to obscure holding companies requested more than 1,930 new gTLD “strings” (the word/phrase that will come after the “dot” in the new domain).
Count us solidly skeptical. I’ll go into why below, but first, a bit more about what actually just happened.
Applications were received from 60 countries, with 911 from North America, 675 from Europe, 303 from the Asia-Pacific region, 24 from Latin America and 17 from Africa. For the first time, ICANN also considered “internationalized” domain names written using non-Latin alphabets. 116 of the applications were for internationalized domain names, in alphabets using Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic and other character sets.
Here’s a look at some of the more interesting applications.
Google: Looking For Love, Mom & Wow
Google was one of the most active bidders, submitting more than 100 applications for new gTLDs. Not surprisingly, many bids were for Google’s own trademarked terms, including Google, YouTube, Gmail, Android, etc. But the big G also submitted some goofy string requests, including “love,” “dog,” “foo,” “mom” and “wow.”
The company didn’t bid directly, instead using a subsidiary called “Charleston Road Registry Inc.,” though the primary contact person listed has a corporate Google.com email address. Much of Google’s main headquarters campus is located along Charleston Road in Mountain View, California.
The full list of strings that Google bid on: È°·æœ, Ã¿Ã‚“ãª, Ã‚°ãƒ¼ã‚°ãƒ«, Ads, And, Android, App, Are, Baby, Blog, Boo, Book, Buy, Cal, Car, Channel, Chrome, Cloud, Corp, Cpa, Dad, Day, Dclk, Dds, Dev, Diy, Docs, Dog, Dot, Drive, Earth, Eat, Esq, Est, Family, Film, Fly, Foo, Free, Fun, Fyi, Game, Gbiz, Gle, Gmail, Gmbh, Goo, Goog, Google, Guge, Hangout, Here, Home, How, Inc, Ing, Kid, Live, Llc, Llp, Lol, Love, Mail, Map, Mba, Med, Meme, Mom, Moto, Mov, Movie, Music, New, Nexus, Page, Pet, Phd, Play, Plus, Prod, Prof, Rsvp, Search, Shop, Show, Site, Soy, Spot, Srl, Store, Talk, Team, Tech, Tour, Tube, Vip, Web, Wow, You, Youtube and Zip.
Microsoft: A Few, Mostly Non-Search Bids
Unlike Google’s prodigious, wide-ranging set of bids, Microsoft limited itself to just 11 strings, and only one specifically search related: Bing. Google bid on the string “search” but Microsoft did not. The 11 strings it bid on were Azure, Bing, Docs, Hotmail, Live, Microsoft, Office, Skydrive, Skype, Windows and Xbox.
The Other Players
According to a CNN Money Tech blog post, by far the biggest participant in the bidding process was a company called Donuts Inc., a Web registry founded in 2011 (ironically, a company that couldn’t apparently secure its own “dot-com” name as its website is “donuts.co”). You won’t see Donuts Inc as an applicant for any of the 307 top-level domain names it applied for, as the company used wholly owned subsidiaries with computer-generated names to bid for each string, according to CNN.
Some of these names are just bizarre, like Atomic Maple, Extra Dynamite, and Just Goodbye. Most of the strings the company bid on are popular keywords like “bet, vote, spa” and so on. It seems pretty clear the company is engaging in a classic domainer’s arbitrage play, getting into the game early and then selling later to someone willing to pay much more when and if the initial bet plays off.
In the search area, Yahoo bid on its own name and Flickr, but nothing else. Apple, Baidu and Yandex bid for their own names, but nothing else.
Several players other than Google bid on the “search” string, including the Donuts Inc. subsidiary “Bitter McCook.” Interestingly, another major player wanting “search” was Amazon. The fourth bidder for “search” was dot Now Limited, apparently a subsidiary of Famous Four Media, which describes itself as “a global provider of services to the gTLD industry with operations in London, New York and Gibraltar (global HQ).”
Amazon was the third largest bidder, with requests for 75 strings, including its brands (Amazon, Audible, Zappos) as well as more generic terms like book, cloud, game and video.
The Impact On Marketers
The reality is that the new gTLDs will do little to nothing to help anyone other than ICANN (who collects the rich registration fee), domainers and registrars (who as they always have will profit handsomely by trading and arbitraging “valuable” domain names) and lawyers (who just benefited from one of the most generous “jobs programs” in history, thanks to the inevitable bickering and lawsuits that will be filed over who has the “right” to own the words associated with the new gTLDs).
There’s little need for marketers to be concerned in the short term, and probably not in the long term. First, today’s “reveal” just marks the conclusion of the initial application process. ICANN has said that the evaluation process to decide who actually gets the to run the new gTLDs will take months, if not years. Once up and running, it will take even more time for the new domain spaces to gain credibility and authority with the search engines, regardless of how well-known or admired the organizations running them.
And finally, there’s the issue of user behavior and habits. This isn’t the first time ICANN has allowed new gTLDs. In both 2000 and 2004, ICANN introduced a number of non-dot-com gTLDs, including some created for particular types of organizations, such as “.aero” and “.museum.” It also created others, like “.biz” and “.info” haven’t really caught on with internet users. Bottom line: the odds are against the new gTLDs gaining much traction with the world at large, at least over the next decade or so until there are literally no more affordable dot-coms and/or people have become accustomed to finding what they’re looking for using hundreds or thousands of “dot-whatever” names.
The exception to this is for groups that already have strong affiliations, and want to create mechanisms to connect more closely. For example? Religious groups. Ethnic groups spread across disparate regions. Other groups that may feel a need to bond or that they are disenfranchised from traditional culture.
But with all of these examples, marketers will need to think very carefully about how to reach out and connect appropriately without unintentionally alienating group members. So again, this is a problem that for now is really non-existent and how it’s to be approached in the future is largely unknowable.
A Boon For Lawyers?
Many big brands and trademark owners didn’t bother registering for a new gTLD, because ICANN has make it explicitly clear that it will not grant rights to new gTLDs to anyone other than the intellectual or legal owners of those “strings.” Notably, huge brands such as Pepsi and Coke are missing, though there are applications from Fedex, Acer, DuPont, Samsung, Sanofi and others.
But that didn’t stop people from bidding on popular “generic” terms such as “art,” “book,” “dentist” and so on. More than 230 names were requested by two or more applicants, the most popular being “app” (though surprisingly, Apple was not among the 13 bidders for rights to the string). Despite ICANN promising a “rigorous” review process, the legal profession will undoubtedly benefit greatly as companies dispute who the “rightful” operator of these new gTLDs should be.
The legal skirmishes between Google and Amazon should be particularly entertaining to observe—the companies both bid on 20 identical strings: app, book, buy, cloud, dev, drive, free, game, mail, map, movie, music, play, search, shop, show, spot, store, talk, wow, and you.