Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Kieren McCarthy.
So, yes, it’s been a long, drawn-out and dispiriting exercise to get to the point where the structure of the internet will be radically changed forever.
But even if the US government invades ICANN’s offices in Los Angeles, trademark lawyers kidnap Rod Beckstrom, and Marilyn Cade clones herself 100 times, nothing can stop the raw reality that 2011 is the year of the gTLD. It’s happening. So stop sulking and start getting excited about it.
It’s been a long 30 months since Paris in June 2008. Plenty of time to talk and plan and consider the future. The biggest negative impact of this delay however has not been on the process but on the gTLD applicants themselves who have started to persuade themselves they know what they’re doing.
We don’t need a four-month communication period, they cry, we are ready to go. We have been ready to go for two years!
The sad truth however is that you’re not. You’re not even remotely ready to face a brave new world of internet extensions that fit around its users, rather than the other way around.
Sure, you know the rules in the Applicant Guidebook. Well, most of them. And you know how the application process will work (but you don’t though, do you?). But that’s all just paperwork, as soon as you get through the doors of bureaucracy there standing in the brilliant light will be hundreds of thousands of internet users clamoring to hear what you have to tell them, basking in the glory of a new dawn.
Except they won’t.
Instead you are more likely to find yourself coming out of a cinema in a bad part of town just as the sun sets, looking for a taxi and realizing you haven’t got enough cash left to get home.
Make no mistake: new internet extensions are the future of this extraordinary global network. VeriSign doesn’t drop half a million dollars for a one-hour session at an ICANN meeting if it’s doesn’t think it’s critical to its future. But there was a long gap between the invention of the steam engine and the Japanese bullet train. The Wright Brothers took off in 1903 but it took 32 years for the DC-3 to bring air travel to commercial travelers.
The big boys will be fine of course; they have the money and resources to flex and change. But if you are not VeriSign or GoDaddy, how are you going to ensure that your internet dream isn’t just a pipe-dream or, worse still, a nightmare?
The answer is terrifying simple: talk to people.
The fact is that no one knows how the domain name market will pan out in the next few years. There are plenty of ideas, some new, some radical. Some of these will take root; others will fade or fail. The only way to get a sense of what will be a rapidly changing market is to find out what everyone else thinks. You need to talk to everyone, and they need to talk to you.
The other side of this coin is learning from the past. We have had two previous extensions of the internet namespace, albeit much smaller. But those that started up the dot-infos and dot-names were once in the same place as new applicants will be in six months’ time: full of ideas and staring at an uncertain path forward.
The domain name industry, though still maturing, is also not an empty space anymore. There are enough established companies and there have been enough conferences and meetings about that market for relationships to be formed. A status quo of sorts is in place, and a collective sense of how things work has emerged.
Even so, was it only me that listened to person after person in 2010 call ICANN’s economic studies inaccurate and incomplete and thought: “Not one of you has the same idea about the industry you live within.”
How much do new gTLD applicants know or even understanding the different sides of this industry?
If you go to ICANN meetings, you may know some of the politics of it. You may even have grasped some of the multitude of processes that accompany internet infrastructure. But you won’t have got a feel for the sheer business of the internet.
If you come from the domainer industry, chances are you have a sense of the intrinsic value of domains and what makes them move or not move. But even the CEO of Oversee.net, Jeff Kupietsky, said this time last year there needs to be some kind of organized effort to turn what is an ad hoc market into something more stable. Domainers know how auctions work – but not how to build the factory to make the products that are sold.
If you have run a registry in the past, you may have a leg up. But how do you differentiate between useful lessons from the past, and old ways of thinking that will put you at a competitive disadvantage?
How many of those wonderful, market-tested systems have in fact been dangerously patched and cobbled together over the past decade? How will you recognize the market-changing products when they appear?
And, of course, the biggest, the most unknown and yet the most crucially important aspect of new gTLDs: marketing.
In an industry where the epitome of marketing prowess is a woman making double entendres in a tight T-shirt, we all have much to learn from the marketing crowd. When you enter the market alongside 499 other new extensions, you better be damn sure you have a plan to persuade people why they should choose yours.
So what is the solution? Well a big part of one solution is to attend the first ever conference that is dedicated to figuring out this new market.
The .nxt conference on 9-10 February in San Francisco will feature everyone from ICANN’s CEO and the ICANN staff in charge of running the process, to the established players, the visionaries as well as the heretics, the observers and the advisers.
Over two days, you will get a masterclass in what we all collectively know, and are still figuring out, about new internet extensions. It’s the one place where you can check your assumptions and learn about others’. Miss that opportunity and in 12 months’ time you’ll be wondering how you managed to get it all so wrong.
Kieren McCarthy is an author and consultant, formerly ICANN’s general manager of public participation. He is a founder of the Global Internet Business Coalition and general manager of the .nxt conference.