Domain name applications reveal little

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Last month, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers announced that companies and organizations applied for more than 1,900 generic top-level domains—domains such as .SAP and .insurance. The gTLDs that are ultimately approved will greatly expand the 22 domains, such as .com and .net, already in existence. ICANN's event was referred to as “Reveal Day,” itself a bit ironic since few applicants revealed anything specific about their gTLD plans. Nonetheless, Reveal Day did show that many b-to-b marketers, including Dell Inc. and Symantec, took steps to secure their .brand gTLDs. What those companies will do with them remains to be seen. Reveal Day also brought to light the so-called .generics, such as .app, .build and—believe it or not—.sucks. Many of the organizations that applied for these gTLDs have a simple business model: starting new domain name registries to entice (or frighten) enough companies to purchase domains so that the registrars can make a profit on their $185,000 application fee. The .sucks gTLD seems emblematic of the potential problems the Association of National Advertisers envisioned when it complained bitterly about the application process. If the .sucks gTLD is ultimately approved, domain name experts said it's hard to imagine that marketers of all kinds wouldn't acquire all of the .sucks domains related to their brands as a defensive strategy. “Some top-level domains will be very valuable and productive,” said Dan Jaffe, the ANA's group exec VP-government relations. “We never said there was something magic about 22 top-level domains. What we felt was that an unlimited approach and throwing open the doors without having all of the kinds of checks [we thought necessary] was imprudent.” Observers aren't certain the intellectual property rights protections in place will give marketers the security they need. “There were 22 top-level domains; now there could be more than 1,000,” said Scott Bain, chief litigation counsel for the Software & Information Industry Association. “It's unclear whether these registrars will protect IP [intellectual property] or if this might be an invitation to cybersquatting.” While .sucks and other .generic domains appear to be cynical in their business models, others that have applied for .generic domains seem to be intent on creating new business models that may help marketers. Minardos Group, for example, applied for .build, .construction and .expert. “I'm ecstatic,” said George Minardos, CEO of Minardos Group, in the wake of Reveal Day. “We got .build in the clear. We have one competitor [each] on .construction and .expert.” Minardos hopes to use .build as a domain registry for companies like architects and contractors in the construction industry. “There's the angle of how a good gTLD could be used to create a community,” he said. Among the marketers that applied for their .brand domains, few revealed specific plans. For many—and hundreds of marketers did apply—the application process seemed to be primarily defensive in nature. Fred Felman, CMO of MarkMonitor, a digital brand protection company, said 77 technology companies reserved .brand gTLDs, more than in any other industry sector. Seventy-two media companies, 71 financial services companies and 56 manufacturing companies applied for .brand names. Alexa Raad, founder of Architelos, a TLD consultancy, said the act of applying for the name isn't as important as the ultimate strategy behind it. “It's not the name,” she said. “It's the business model.” For instance, AOL Inc., which applied for .aol and .patch, issued the following statement: “AOL looks forward to the possibilities of building its brand in this expanded domain space.” The statement, devoid of details, was typical. Josh Bourne, co-managing partner at FairWinds Partners, a domain name strategy consultancy, acknowledged that many applicants made this first move simply to protect their brands. “They were thinking about getting out early with the name, and [they will] proceed from there to figure out what they were going to do with it,” Bourne said. Industry observers said one potential pathway for b-to-b technology marketers could be to reserve the .brand gTLD for their distribution partners. Xerox Corp., for example, applied for .xerox. That name could be used by Xerox's channel partners to provide authorized distributors with a strong brand tie to the company and reassure customers that a distributor with a .xerox gTLD was not selling gray market or counterfeit products, Bourne said. “It could be powerful from a trust standpoint,” said Daniel Bennett, exec VP at Melbourne IT, a digital brand consultancy. Also in a potential bid to build trustworthiness for its customers, Dun & Bradstreet applied for .duns, which may eventually lead to interesting business models, Bourne said. For example, D&B could offer its customers .duns websites that would vouch for their financial stability. “I love that,” Bourne said. It will be a while before any .duns website or any other new gTLD hits the Internet. After Reveal Day, there will be a 60-day public comment period. There is also a seven-month window for companies or organizations to file objections against the current applications. It will be at least 2013 before any of the gTLD applications is approved. And it may be another five to 10 years before another round of gTLD applications takes place, according to industry observers. In the meantime, observers are trying to ascertain whether the gTLD expansion will ultimately be a success for anyone but the domain registrars that will soon have more cyber real estate to sell. “There are some modest benefits [to the gTLD program],” MarkMonitor's Felman said. “The question we all have is: "At the end of five years, will the benefits exceed the downside?' ”
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