Starting today (Jan. 29), the first seven of hundreds of new generic top-level Web domains—the suffixes that appear to the right of the dot in a domain name address—will go live on the Internet. If all goes as planned, hundreds of new domains will roll out all year representing the largest domain name expansion in the history of the Internet.
What's rolling out?
Donuts, the largest registry for new gTLDs is introducing: .bike, .clothing, .guru, .holdings, .plumbing, .singles and .ventures. The registry, which applied for more than 300 gTLDs, plans to roll out an additional seven on Feb. 5: .camera, .equipment, .estate, .gallery, .graphics, .lighting and .photography.
Who will take advantage of the new domains?
Anyone can register names in the new gTLDs, from businesses and entrepreneurs to organizations and individuals. Brands and other trademark owners may have secured names during a sunrise period. We could see, for example, Schwinn.bike or LandsEnd.clothing.
What does it all mean?
The Internet may never be the same. Before the expansion, there were only 22 top-level domains dominated by .com, .net and .biz. By the end of the year, hundreds more could be in play. Icann, the international organization that is managing the expansion, has 1,930 in the pipeline.
"There are now almost five times more generic top-level domains than there were only a few months ago and that translates to greater consumer choice," said Akram Atallah, president of Icann. "We are as eager as everyone else to see what type of innovation these new domains will usher into the online world."
What will marketers do?
Some companies with big brands, like Google, Amazon, Microsoft, General Motors, McDonald's and American Express, applied for TLDs. Other companies will need to defend their brands against cyber squatters. Icann offers a trademark clearinghouse where brands can register trademarks, but it's limited to an exact match. (Donuts also lets trademark owners purchase domain-name protection for five- and 10-year terms.) The other option is for companies to take advantage of the registrar's required sunrise period before it makes registrations available to the public. All of that can get very expensive. "Defensive registrations don't get you the protection," said Yoav Keren, CEO of BrandShield, a new company that uses software technology to monitor brand identity on the Internet. "You can register some names, but you have to monitor the rest."
Why are marketers still nervous?
Last week, Icann announced that 100 new top level domains were delegated into the Internet's root zone, a final step before registries, like Donuts, can make them available for companies. But before registries can begin to roll them out, those 100 go into a trademark protection process, which most marketers feel doesn't go far enough to protect their valuable trademark brands. Companies like Verisign and PayPal are also worried about domain name collisions. "While [Icann] made some changes in providing more protections, we felt they were far from sufficient or adequate," said Dan Jaffe, evp of the Association of National Advertisers, which continues to push Icann for more trademark protections. "It's premature to assume we won't be facing some very severe problems. We'll cross our fingers and pray."
Will consumers get it?
That's the big question. The hope is that the addition of new generic top-level domains will spur innovation and marketing on the Internet. If a business wishes to drive traffic to the new domain, consumers will need to know about it.