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Ready to apply for a gTLD? No, you’re not. Not even remotely

Kieren McCarthy, January 11, 2011, 11:57:30 (UTC), Domain Registries

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.

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Comments (6)

  1. theo says:

    The whole vertical intergration will make sense ….IF… lol.

    You dump alot of new gTLD’s on the market .. Are the registrars going to jump thru the hoops ? nah .

    They going to apply when they can sell the damn thing.
    That means if they can sell the gTLD to their end users they will jump in. How is that gonna work ? lower pricing or equal pricing compared to the registry who is selling to the end user directly (new setup).
    Nothing is really changing imo.

    Example .ST selling to the end user already.
    If you can sell .ST as registrar super easy to get lower prices then the Registry is offering..

    Registrars deal with the end user market already.
    That is their strength atm. A new gTLD good luck with your fancy extension.. If GD decides to offer your gTLD your in the up.

    If not.. good luck selling your gTLD .. you willbe in the same boat as the ccTLD .ST 😉

  2. gpmgroup says:

    @Theo

    I couldn’t understand the thinking behind some of the loudest voices for VI. I Hope it wasn’t the thought of getting $10 a name rather than $6 or $7.

    @Kieren

    Seriously; I don’t think ICANN can move forward I think they need to throw the whole process back to the GNSO rather than try and out point the GAC.

    The whole proposal two years after the first DAG is still just as fundamentally flawed as it was then. All that has happened in the intervening period is millions of dollars have been squandered.

  3. Joe says:

    Saw this scrolled on http://www.OceanfrontDomains.Com and wanted to suggest that absolutely nothing is gonna happen after the gTLD’s get introduced.

    Yep, nothing.

    See any .AERO’s, .JOB’s, .MUSEUM’s, .COOPS, .PRO’s, .BIZ’s, .MOBI’s or .TRAVEL’s lately? Nah, me either. All major fails. What makes the gTLD owners think theirs will be any diff? Keep in mind that the reason these TLD were originally chosen is because ICANN’s surveys determined that those represented areas with the biggest need.

    I respectfully submit to you that the new gTLD’s will fail in a similar fashion with a loud thud.

    Seems obvious to me that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

  4. theo says:

    gpmgroup
    i actually do not support the thing.. But watching ICANN for a long time … it seems we always end up with some kind of compromise everyone can live with ..

    The entire proposal sounds to me like a compromise all in all. But that how it’s been for since ICANN took over .
    and it sorta works .. Not happy bout it. People are not happy how google does things .. k time to adjust ..

    To Joe. you are right . In the old system these tld’s will never sell big.

    allow them to sell to the end user .if it takes off registrars will kick in if the registry in question can make it fly.
    No grocery retailer is gonna kick pepsi cola out .. If there are enough people for dr pepper.. Registrars will embrace it and sell it also ..

  5. gpmgroup says:

    @theo

    The problem is the whole proposal is riddled with fundamental flaws. A quick example.

    What happens if Microsoft secures .search?

    How does Google or any startup search provider for that matter feel about it?

    Microsoft may be happy to allow Google to register google.search if they can point video.search and news.search to Bing.

    If there is a wholesale migration to the right of the dot then yes this matters because once users come to perceive entities to the right of the dot as superior we have managed to create a series of private monopolies in perpetuity in every vertical in the world.

    This allows a contracted party to use the implicit branding of the DNS to compete against all others in their market who are forced to compete from
    the second level.

    Trademark law doesn’t allow such advantage nor should ICANN

  6. Marble says:

    I agree that the whole gTLD concept is conceptually flawed and will most likely be a huge .FAIL

    If no one wanted the TLDs mentioned earlier which consisted of areas uniquely identified as indistried needing the additional TLD support…how is this new program supposed to happen? They may actually manage to push it through, but I agree that it’s going to come crashing down with a loud thud.

    Keep renewing those .COM’s. Your grandkids will thank you. Besides, where do you think the intended visitors of the new gTLDs will accidentally end up?

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