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Online Naming Facing Major Change


Prepare for a messy new world of domain names. ICANN, the little-known organization that oversees the Internet, plans to start selling the rights to anything from dot-soup to dot-nuts – a potentially unlimited number of customized new domain suffixes to compete with dot-com, dot-net, and all the other “dots” available.

Industry observers say those domains are likely to take their names from popular subjects, types of businesses, physical locations or even brand names. In other words, get ready for dot-bank, dot-airline, dot-pepsi or dot-whatever.

Companies naturally fear that if they don’t register their trademarks at the new domains, their trusted brand names could get scammed, hijacked or even held for ransom. For instance, as the Wall Street Journal reported, Marriott is said to be considering such new domains as Marriott.travel or Marriott.vacations or Marriott.nyc.

A spokesperson for the Internet Corp. for Assigned Names & Numbers (ICANN) says it has already spent $10 million on software that will spot cyber-squatters trying to grab desirable names and ransom them to real trademark holders. How secure is that software? Will it work? No one knows, yet.

According to Greg Tarallo, of netStride Internet Solutions, a Philadelphia-based web development and web marketing company, ICANN has devised a process for handling the registration process. “It’s very similar to the process you go through to register a trademark for a name,” says Tarallo. “There’s an application process, a formal objection period, a dispute resolution process, and finally the outcome – either the applicant or the objector prevails.”

Even so, a well-known brand name could wind up with thousands of variations of its domain name, at steeply rising costs for filing, maintenance and watchfulness. There are already some 150 million domain names registered around the globe. Dot-com and dot-net registrations are very affordable. Some of the specialty domains are very expensive.

In total, there are currently 21 so-called “top-level” domains, starting with dot-com and extending through dot-info and dot-biz. (Countries have their own domains, such as dot-bo for Bolivia or dot-de for Germany.)

Then again, this whole new scheme could fizzle.

Relatively new domains such as dot-biz and dot-info have never gotten much traction. Most serious players want to play in the big leagues, and that means a dot-com or dot-net name. As the head of Internet operations at a major insurance company put it, “It’s difficult enough to get consumers to visit any domain name that doesn’t end with dot-com.”

So the free market may yet decide. Stay tuned.

Sponsored By: The Brand Positioning Workshop

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David J Castello on June 18th, 2009 said

99% of these new TLDs will fizzle. Contrary to ICANN’s press releases, there is little actual public demand for them. In fact, nearly all of the “public demand” for these TLDs is coming from the parties who will immediately financially benefit from them – registrars, domain speculators and ICANN.

All one has to do is study the doTravel saga. Here was a great generic TLD with millions of dollars in funding that tanked because the public reacted with one huge collective shrug – as they will when these are released.

John Berard on June 18th, 2009 said

After months of reflexive objection, some in the world of brand and trademarks (this post for example and recent comments from the CEO of MarkMonitor) are beginning to move to the central point about the new gTLDs — the market will decide.

The market will decide if there is interest in brand or industry-specific dot-name and the market will decide if there is interest in the names that can be registered there.

Concerns about widening the battlefield for mark holders against cybersquatters has always been a bit of a red herring. With the extensions that currently exist, there are millions of names and millions of ways “bad guys” can do their worst.

The new Internet territory ought to be viewed as ground for new ways to build businesses and strengthen customer relationships.

Gareth S Price on June 18th, 2009 said

Our web development clients are often using top level domains other than “.com” before we begin working with them.

After acquiring the .com version of their domain name and redirecting it to the primary site we notice a significant (10%+) rise in direct traffic (ie. people who are typing the name into their browser rather than clicking a link).

For any brand which relies on non-technical people having to remember and type in a URL, using a TLD other than .com will result in significant loss of traffic.

In addition, I think there is a good case that “.com” should be considered to be a particularly strong brand in itself.

There is certainly a hierarchy of prestige associated with domain names, from “.com” at the top to upstarts like “.biz” and “.info” at the bottom (being cheap, they’re notorious for harboring throwaway spam and fraud sites).

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