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The soccer bug has bitten FairWinds Partners – how could it not? – and now we’re eagerly watching how the new top-level domain (TLD) applications for .SOCCER, .FOOTBALL, and .FUTBOL will pan out.

Several applications each for .SOCCER and .FOOTBALL are currently in contention. .FUTBOL has already been delegated into the root zone and thus has a head start. We’ll have to wait and see which TLD of the three will be the most popular by the time the next World Cup rolls around in 2018. At that point, the new extensions won’t be new anymore but a familiar piece of the Internet landscape.

One factor to watch is the potential change in demographics of the groups watching soccer. Different countries and cultures may not only have different words for a sport, but may also have different online navigation preferences and rates of adoption for new gTLDs.

The Economist recently published an article (“A Game of Two Halves“) about the fact that, despite soccer’s global appeal, the world’s largest nations – China, India, and the U.S. – haven’t been deeply involved with the sport. But, as the piece notes, that might change in the coming years. Americans are filling soccer stadiums in larger numbers than ever before. Average attendance is at around 18,600 people per match in the U.S. and the sport is “second only to American football in its popularity with Americans between the ages of 12 and 24.” China is heavily investing in soccer as well, building a major soccer academy in the province of Guangdong. And India’s younger generation is likewise poised to usher in greater support for the sport with the aid of Bollywood actors who are helping to promote the Indian Premier League.

Whatever the future of the sport (and .SOCCER, .FOOTBALL, and .FUTBOL) might be, count us among the millions of people now tuning in to the World Cup – on to Round of 16, Team USA!

Owning It

Yvette Miller —  June 25, 2014 — 1 Comment

SocialMedia

A recent article in AdWeek predicts that, “some key trends will push brands to build social media capabilities into their own websites and own, rather than rent, social interaction with their customers.”

It makes sense for brands to own the raw data about their customers that otherwise would belong to a third-party. Owning data frees brands from changing algorithms and relying on others’ reports. It also makes sense within what looks like a larger trend of companies taking greater ownership of their digital footprints by owning .BRANDs.

Incorporating the best of what social media has to offer on their own websites might be an enticing alternative to remaining at the mercy of social media platforms. Social media platforms call the shots on the algorithms and formats that determine how a brand gets presented to its customers. The platforms also control the data that shows how effective a brand’s campaign was. Finally, it seems as though all social media platforms fall back on advertising: It’s really the advertising that brings brand sales.

Social media sites may have the upper hand because they can integrate brands into a consumer’s other social media activities, like browsing Facebook for the latest in their loved ones’ (and barely-known ones’) lives.

Moving more social media “in-house” might be an involved and expensive undertaking. But it fits into the trend of brands exerting more control over their online presence. For example, more than half of all unique applications for new gTLDs were submitted by brand owners and strategic companies who are now strategizing on ways to communicate with their consumers via .BRANDs and other new gTLDs.

Perhaps a JaneDoe.NIKE Pinterest-inspired page would help customers play with looks that they can then purchase. Maybe universities will offer Instagram-inspired pages like JohnDoe.MIT that offer students a sort of yearbook of classes and events.

Offering authentic products, good security and engaging content – that perhaps draws upon social media features – may be a winning combination for some .BRANDs.

NYC

I’m a New Yorker, born and raised. Proud product of its public schools. My teenage years were spent criss-crossing boroughs looking for the next thrill. People-watching and exploring new neighborhoods are just two reasons I was always thankful to grow up in such a busy city, which in some ways always changes (the restaurants, the exhibits) and in other ways never does (the museums, the crowds).

Life has since taken me elsewhere, but take note: I didn’t say “I was a New Yorker”. Living here for any stretch of time stamps NYC on your heart and it stays there. I am a New Yorker.

Just not one who can own a .NYC.

The rules of the new, geographic, top-level domain say that registrants in .NYC must be:

  1. a person whose primary place of residence is a valid physical address in the City of New York; or
  2. an entity or organization that has a physical address in the City of New York.

After attending college and working in Washington D.C., I moved back to Westchester with my husband where we started a family. My parents still live in Queens, but .NYC rules stipulate that no one with a NYC address can act as a proxy for those outside the city. .NYC will be for those who live or work within the five boroughs.

And you know what? That’s alright with me. Authenticity is a not only a major benefit of new top-level domains. It is a quintessential trait of New Yorkers. At least I will know that anyone with a .NYC website is the real deal.

The “Sunrise” period for brand-owners to get a head start on registrations opened May 5. General Availability, when locals can begin to register domain names, is slated for October.

Maybe one day I’ll be back in the Big Apple. And then I can get my .NYC URL.

Among more traditional, boots-on-the-ground struggles unfolding in the political sphere are power plays happening in cyberspace.  The same control and influence social media affords consumers – taking control of the conversation, providing feedback, making noise when something isn’t right about a brand or a product – has been useful to civilians reacting to issues of state governance.

According to the Washington Post, many participants learned about the protests in Ukraine “from internet sites like Facebook (49 percent), VKontakte (a Facebook-like social media site that is popular among Russian speakers, 35 percent), and Internet news sites, such as Spilno TV and Hromadianske TV (51 percent)” (survey participants chose all applicable answers for the question). The U.S. State Department has gotten in on the conversation too; Politico reports on the digital dipomacy the U.S. uses to “correct misinformation”, “advance a positive narrative” in the Ukraine, and engage with individuals rather than talking at them.

Twitter played a major role in the Arab Spring and is assuming a similar role in the protests unfolding in Venezuela.  The platform has empowered protesters and allowed retired army general Angel Vivas to provide encouragement, organizational help, and tactical advice to protesters, turning him into the face of the movement. According to Mashable, Twitter is also the only free media available.

“[The Internet] seems to be the last space that the government has not figured out how to monopolize,” Ashley Greco-Stoner of the Freedom House told Mashable.

The Venezuelan government’s limited influence is not through lack of trying: It has established its own presence on Twitter and allegedly sought to increase its standing through subversive tactics such as purchasing followers and using shell accounts to bump up the number of pro-government hashtag mentions.

Nevertheless, the protests continue, and attempts by the government to create manufactured good will online has not taken hold. That’s another lesson brands should keep in mind when registering and using social media handles and domain names: Every portal has to be a genuine representation of your company and your intentions.

The same is true for brands/Internet users and their digital presence: They must follow through on the promises they make on their platforms.

New gTLDs are opening new opportunities for individuals to hone their images. For example, someone might purchase a JohnDoe.PHOTOGRAPHY website to legitimize himself as a photographer, or a JaneDoe.GURU website to establish expertise. Businesses of all sizes also may use .GENERICs to establish a certain image, maybe by registering in .LUXURY. But if you (literally) don’t have the goods to back up the image you’re crafting, the campaign will not be successful.

A slew of new gTLD and domain name events are on the docket for March, and each one has the challenge of bringing new ideas and different discussions to the table. One session that made me sit up and lean in at Momentum Consulting’s recent event in NYC this week was led by Chris Malone, Managing Partner at Fidelum Partners: How to Effectively Utilize Your Brand to Build Customer Loyalty in the Digital Age.

For such a tech-focused title, it really all boiled down to the human touch. How do brands and marketers avoid getting dazzled by the innovations at our fingertips and remain focused on delivering services and products in a way that connects with consumers and keeps them coming back!

According to Mr. Malone, two key factors affect perception of and loyalty to brands: Warmth (how well they achieve the “human connection”) and competency (how well they provide good services and good products).

Technology has improved competence, but perhaps at the expense of warmth. Shopping and communicating online – rather than visiting brick-and-mortar stores and talking with salespeople – appear to be eroding warm interactions.

The proposed solution? Brands must become more aware of how they are perceived and move “warmth” higher up on their priority list. Use available technology to engage with customers but provide that extra kindness and consideration that will turn a purchase or interaction into a loyal customer.

Perhaps that means thanking a follower for a retweet or encouraging customers to share their personal stories on your Facebook page. And maybe with new gTLDs that means giving customers a personalized experience with their own JaneDoe.BRAND page, populated with their favorite products, clothes in their size, or special coupons.  Maybe it means building a community of like-minded thinkers around an open .GENERIC.

As brands reconfigure their digital strategies, they should keep in mind that their success is not just about efficient delivery of information, products, and services.  It’s about the human connection as well.

Learning a Lesson

Yvette Miller —  December 12, 2013 — Leave a comment

Chalkboard New Top-Level Domains (TLDs) promise to open up new business models from those thinking creatively. So perhaps the new TLDs will also lead to new educational models – especially ones that harness the growing interest in online coursework.

Higher education is an enormous business in the United States.  According to Fast Company, we spend approximately $400 billion annually on universities, a figure greater than the revenues of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, and Twitter combined.

But with climbing student debt –  a recent Harvard University poll found 58 percent of college graduates have student debt and 57 percent say it’s a major problem – online degrees, certificates, and courses could be the answer for more affordable learning. As it stands, Forbes notes that there are more than two billion potential secondary students in the world, but only 70 percent can afford higher education.

Online education could also be the answer for increased global access to learning.

Enter MOOCs (“massive open online courses”), which represent a developing market bolstered by traditional universities banding together to experiment with online content. One popular MOOC company – Coursera – offers online classes and verified certificates through a partnership between Stanford, Princeton, the University of Pennsylvania, and the University of Michigan. Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.) have their own partnership, edX, which offers certificates for courses at their universities.

The MOOC experiments are the most visible result of efforts to adjust traditional teaching in a way that works for the online medium. Providers also continue to look for reliable ways to measure the success of online education to better adjust for shortcomings. Some of the biggest proponents of MOOCs, for example, now doubt MOOCs’ viability due to low graduation rates.

The prestige of these degrees, courses, and certificates is also in flux. According to research, 56 percent of employers prefer a job applicant with a traditional degree, whereas 17 percent prefer the online degree. As with any innovation, doubt and failures are inevitable.

New TLD applicants, for their part, are betting on the future of online learning. Entrepreneurs applied for the following extensions, anticipating robust sales for websites attached to them:

.ACADEMY

.COLLEGE

.DEGREE

.EDUCATION

.INSTITUTE

Innovative educators and the companies they create could change the face of education using these extensions, solving financial and other the problems, and pushing the online learning movement forward.

DataIn early August, ICANN published a commissioned study from Interisle on domain name collision (covered in more detail in this blog entry here) that put into question the timeline to delegation for a number of applications. This week’s report sets up a path forward for those applications and lifts some – but not all – of the uncertainty.

In the original proposal accompanying the Interisle report, new gTLD applications were sorted into three categories, with the following mitigations ascribed:

  1. “Low risk”: these applications could proceed to delegation, though applicants would have to wait 120 days after signing the Registry Agreement before they could activate any domain names in their gTLD
  2. “Uncalculated risk”: these applications were prevented from proceeding to delegation until ICANN could conduct further studies, estimated to take 3-6 months to complete
  3. “High risk”: two strings with exceptionally high rates of collision, .HOME and .CORP, were put on hold indefinitely

Applicants identified as presenting “uncalculated risk” were placed in a timeline limbo.

ICANN published a revised study that provides two potential paths forward for all applications except .HOME and .CORP, including those initially identified as posing “uncalculated risk.”

Option 1: Applicants can choose to follow ICANN’s plan to mitigate risks, which will be developed on a per-gTLD basis.

ICANN has proposed to look at each gTLD on an individual basis, figure out what second-level domains (SLDs) are causing potential domain collisions, and provide the applicant with that list and the suggested mitigation initiative for each SLD, which may include a permanent block, a temporary block, or mandatory test delegation. The 120-day hold period initially proposed will still be required.

Outstanding issues? It will take ICANN some time to evaluate each gTLD to identify problematic SLDs and to propose mitigation tactics. So, the timeline for this option is still unclear.

Option 2: Applicants can delegate their gTLD now, if they block all problematic second-level domain names.

Outstanding issues? ICANN has not developed this comprehensive list yet; the data that will be used to identify SLDs of concern, and how this will be applied on a per-gTLD basis, remains to be seen.

The timeframe for developing the mitigation proposals outlined above remains unclear. However, applicants now know that they will not have to wait those 3-6 months for future studies, as ICANN originally indicated.

The path forward will depend largely upon each applicant’s business plans, as well as upon the lists of problematic SLDs that ICANN puts forward. The full range of implications of mandatory blocking and other proposed mitigations remains to be seen.

Beyond the Dot

Yvette Miller —  October 10, 2013 — Leave a comment

beyondthedot

A new website – Beyondthedot.com – has launched to educate the public about the coming expansion of the Internet in the form of new top-level domains, the text to the right of the dot in a web address.

Beyondthedot.com explains everything one might want to know about new top-level domains in an easy-to-understand, fun, and practical way, answering everyday questions as well as those posed by people more familiar with the program, perhaps in search of who applied for what.

Later this year, the first of the new top-level domains will begin to launch, increasing by 2,500 percent the number of extensions that will anchor thousands of new websites. Currently, about 22 top-level domains are in common use – such as .COM, .ORG, and .NET.

Our research shows that many people are still unaware of this coming expansion, but with just a little education and information, they also catch on to new top-level domains quickly. We knew we could help Internet users sort through the confusion and help them understand not only how the Internet is changing but also the implications of these changes and the benefits they will bring – and so we created BeyondtheDot.com.

Check it out, and let us know what you think!

The Latest on GAC Advice

Yvette Miller —  October 4, 2013 — 1 Comment

ICANN is now allowing applicants for generic-termed top-level domains (TLDs) – unbranded extensions such as .MUSIC or .SHOP – to move forward if applicants are willing to sign the current Registry Agreement (RA) “as is”. But there’s a catch.

Because the RA includes a clause that prohibits generic-termed TLDs from operating as  “closed” registries – which will not sell second-level domain names to the public – only those applicants willing to operate “open” gTLDs can sign the contract as currently written. The path for “closed” generic applicants who want their gTLDs to remain closed continues to be unclear.

These are the results of the most significant resolution  passed during ICANN New gTLD Program Committee’s latest meeting on the Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) Advice issued following the Spring ICANN conference in Beijing.  With this resolution (which you can view here, on page 5), the New gTLD Policy Committee (NGPC) lays out the following three options for applicants whose closed generic applications were specifically singled out in the GAC Advice:

  1. Applicants willing to sign the RA in its current form may do so. But given Specification 11 (the clause prohibiting generic termed TLDs from being “closed”), applicants for closed generics will likely encounter problems and difficulties during the contracting process.
  2. In this resolution, the NGPC asked the ICANN Staff to prepare a proposal for how to implement the GAC’s Advice for closed generics that plan to remain closed. Those applicants can choose to wait for that proposal before moving forward.
  3. Since there is no deadline for signing the RA or moving forward, applicants may continue to wait and see how this issue progresses or they may open up a process to negotiate their RA with ICANN.

So, closed generics willing to open up have a clear path toward delegation, whereas closed generics that wish to stay closed remain in limbo or can play the odds. The question that remains unaddressed with this latest resolution  is exactly what qualifies as “closed” versus what is “open enough” to be considered “open”.