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Summer of ICANN

Zane Bundy —  June 27, 2014 — Leave a comment

On New gTLD Program’s Third Anniversary, Webinar Sheds Light On Progress, Role of Program In The Future of Internet Governance

June marks the beginning of summer, at least in the northern hemisphere – longer days, shorter nights and (depending on your internal thermostat) either life-affirming warmth or misery-inducing heat.

This year, June is also notable for Internet governance milestones: Not only does it mark the third anniversary of ICANN’s New gTLD Program, but it’s the month in which ICANN holds its 50th public meeting in London.

In a webinar entitled, “Three Years Beyond the Dot: A Retrospective of the New gTLD Program”, FairWinds President and CEO Nao Matsukata considers the Program in relation to Internet governance and provides key questions to consider as the governance debate develops at home and abroad.

The webinar is divided into four main parts: Overview, Decision to Launch, Evaluation & Measurement, and Conclusion. In the first section, Matsukata plays a short, animated video about the program to get everyone on the “same page” in terms of what new gTLDs are and how the Internet is expanding.

He compared the Internet of the 90’s, when Google search was born and innovative new business models like Amazon and eBay were founded, to the Internet today. It is, he said, a substantially more global network that must grapple with increasingly complex and pressing governance issues, thanks in large part to the revelations of National Security Agency (NSA) spying made public by Edward Snowden in 2013.

In the second section, Matsukata describes the reasons ICANN decided to launch the program, noting that – as is indicated in slide 13, below – “These [three-, four-and five-letter domain names] are sold at prices that are absolutely out of the reach for most people to participate in… It is more and more difficult for even smaller companies to get certain names that might be helpful to them. So the idea behind expanding the space certainly fits the bill for those who are looking to get into the game at a price that’s much more affordable and manageable for small businesses and individuals.”

Slide describing decrease in the supply of 3, 4 and 5 letter domain names in the .COM space

In the third section of his presentation, Matsukata considers the progress of the program based on ICANN’s own promises in its Affirmation of Commitments and the preamble to the New gTLD Applicant Guidebook, as well as significant outcomes, such as trademark protections offered through the Trademark Clearinghouse and Uniform Rapid Suspension System.

Matsukata touches upon the need for greater public awareness of the New gTLD Program, citing FairWinds’ own research, which suggests that – while awareness of new gTLDs is relatively low – willingness to trust .BRAND gTLDs is high (see figure below). He also suggested that multistakeholderism and the rule of law should be thought of as tools to achieve the U.S. objective of a free and open Internet.

Public awareness statistics regarding new gTLDs

To view the deck on SlideShare, click here.

 

 

Depending on the person, the word auction can bring to mind a dusty, hot structure full of livestock and a fast-talking announcer with a Western lilt to his voice or a cool, quiet room of well-dressed art patrons waiting for the next Impressionist masterpiece to be unveiled in a stately building on the Upper East Side.

Auction

Aside from applicants for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and those in the ICANN community, most people probably don’t think of auctions as a way to resolve what are essentially bids for words – words as they appear to the right of the dot in your address bar.

When more than one company or group applies for the same gTLD, a “contention set” is formed. A contention set can be resolved in one of four ways: community priority evaluation, direct negotiation, a private auction not affiliated with ICANN, or an ICANN auction.

The ICANN auction is considered the “auction of last resort”, even by ICANN, since it means the contention set could not be resolved through community priority evaluation or through an agreement between the parties. Additionally, it means that those applicants who “lose” the auction (i.e., those not being awarded the gTLD) will not receive anything from the winning applicant – such as monetary compensation or compensation in the form of select domain names in the TLD in contention – in return for the future Registry Operator being awarded the string.

Given that applicants only receive a 20% ($37,000) application refund after being unsuccessful in an ICANN auction, a number of applicants have been eager to resolve contention sets through other means, including private auctions, where the party (or parties) not awarded the gTLD is (or are) compensated.

While many corporate applicants have voiced hesitation about entering private auctions out of fear that applicants may drive up the bidding to increase their payout, it is likely that more applicants will find a non-ICANN means to resolve contention sets as the scheduled dates for ICANN auctions approach.

The schedule for ICANN auctions, as our own Stephanie Duschesneau explained in a blog posted earlier this year, has caused some consternation among applicants. In response to feedback from the community about the long timeline (the last contention sets were to settle in 2016, “an eternity in business terms”, Stephanie notes), ICANN adjusted the initial auction rules to allow for the resolution of 20 contention sets a month as opposed to 10, moving up the last scheduled auction to March 2015.

According to the current ICANN auction schedule, only one ICANN auction is planned for June 4 because other applicants in contention have postponed going to ICANN auction. In the meantime, 13 strings – or new gTLDs – were resolved last month through private auctions, according to industry blog Domain Incite. Does this mean that applicants are treating the ICANN auction as a last resort, as ICANN had hoped? Possibly, but it’s too soon to tell.

As FairWinds Senior Consultant Lillian Fosteris explained, “Some applicants are eager to move forward and want assurance that the string is theirs. Consequently, they elect to resolve the contention, if possible, sooner, rather than later. Others, including brands that applied for closed generics, are still trying to figure out their next steps. Still others are set on proceeding to ICANN auction, whether it is later this summer or as late as 2015.”

Fosteris also noted that, in the most recent version of the New gTLD Auction Rules, ICANN reserves the right to postpone an auction at its sole discretion and that – in the event of a tie (following the winning bidder being declared in default after the conclusion of an auction) – ICANN will use a random number generator to award the gTLDs.

Private auctions may actually resolve an entirely different question: If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is a word worth? Judging by what applicants may have already paid for strings like .YOGA, the answer is in the millions, at least to Minds +Machines (now the proud owner of .YOGA). Whether Internet users deliver traffic to websites in .YOGA is another matter, but given that yoga is a $27 billion industry, it may not be a bad bet – or rather, bid.

Coffee houses have long served as places where individuals come together to discuss ideas and exchange information – from current events and politics to the latest innovations and inventions. This tradition made Busboys and Poets a natural venue for “The Impact of the New gTLD Program,” a panel discussion hosted by The D.C. Chapter of the Internet Society (ISOC-DC) and FairWinds Partners.

Coffee HouseAfter welcoming everyone to the event, Elizabeth Sweezey of FairWinds Partners pointed out that the words on the coffeehouse wall – Waiting, Watching, Dreaming – might resonate with those who’d been eagerly following the progress of new generic top-level domain (gTLD) applications.  Taylor Frank, also of FairWinds, provided a helpful, straightforward description of the program and the important role of corporate applicants.

Each of the speakers/panelists then touched upon a range of possible implications of the New gTLD Program, including the potential for domain name collisions, the challenge of managing defensive registrations in new gTLDs, the need to involve the southern hemisphere to a greater degree, and the marketing of domain names in new gTLDs.

Following these remarks, Moderator David McAuley, of BloombergBNA, led a lively panel discussion. Fortunately for those “waiting, watching, and dreaming,” the discussion made clear that the waiting is (almost) over: users will begin seeing new gTLDs in their search results, address bars, and advertisements in early 2014.  For the most part, the panelists agreed that new gTLDs represent significant opportunities for corporations, smaller businesses, and individuals to create and innovate on the Internet.

Screen Shot 2013-12-19 at 5.34.45 PMNow that the watching, waiting, and dreaming is almost over, it’s time to dramatically increase efforts to educate end-users about what new gTLDs can offer.  As Frank explained, “marketing [for domain names] in 2014 is going to look very different than marketing in 2013 by virtue of the number of organizations and the types of organizations involved. It’s not going to solely rest in the hands of a few registrars to spread the word, to increase popularity, and educate people. It’s going to rest in their hands [and] in the hands of corporations. It’s going to be all across the board.”

If you want to learn more about new gTLDs, visit www.beyondthedot.com – a fun and educational resource. To watch the webcast of this panel discussion, please click here.

FairWinds would like to thank ISOC-DC for giving it the opportunity to co-sponsor this discussion, as well as the esteemed panelists for participating in and ensuring a lively, balanced discussion on this cutting-edge topic.

The Hack of Your Life

Zane Bundy —  December 5, 2013 — Leave a comment

Jennifer Hudson may have gotten skinny using WeightWatchers.com, but according to the Washington Post, that doesn’t mean that the original online weight management program isn’t feeling the heat from free or inexpensive apps like Nike+ and devices like FitBit.

Exercise

In fact, the Internet itself contains a wealth of weight loss content, from websites that help you calculate calories consumed to online trainers who guide you, in real time, through exercises via video messaging.

In addition to weight loss information, just think about the amount of lifestyle, career, general health, and self-improvement content you encounter each day – and then consider the channels through which you’re digesting that information.

Probably via television channels like HGTV and the Food Network, online news websites like the New York Times Health section or Yahoo! news stories, or a blogger’s review of fitness apps that your friend shared on Facebook. Don’t forget lifehacker.com, one of my favorite rabbit-hole websites devoted to tips and advice on everything from more efficient computer use to the optimal length of a nap.

Screen Shot 2013-12-03 at 6.02.31 PM

This sort of self-improvement content is readily available, easily digested, and deceptively productive – and it’s about to get even more powerful, perhaps more personal, thanks to new gTLDs.

How? Because new gTLDs are the next step in connecting online identities to communities – and the relationship between identity and community is key to achieving fitness and weight loss goals, as was recently demonstrated in a study of weight loss success stories that involved social media.

Given the powerful connection between identity and community (not to mention identity and brands), will future fitness trackers link to [yourname].FITNESS? Will Oprah’s favorite life coaches buy domain names on the recently approved .GURU? Will Martha Stewart snag marthastewart.LIVING?

But wait, there’s more! Though some of the following gTLDs will be restricted or closed, I’m pretty confident that whoever is behind any of these gTLDs is betting that our society’s fascination/obsession with well-being, lifestyle, and fitness will pay off in a big way (especially given that the total revenue of the fitness industry reached $21.8 billion last year):

.SPORT
.SPORTS
.YOGA
.DIET
.LIFE
.LIFESTYLE
.RUN

FairWinds’ own Phil Lodico, an avid runner, uses a Garmin to track his fitness and progress.  Phil is, in fact, so dedicated to running that he recruited employees for the recent Washington D.C. Ragnar Race.

I don’t really, um, run – but I can say that the race has increased the amount of bonding in the office and that, not surprisingly, our digitally savvy staff has embraced all that the Internet has to offer them as they train – from apps to websites to Ragnar fan pages.  Maybe if I just find the right app and tracked my stats on Facebook – I, too, could run through the night with my colleagues and swap race stories in the office. Until then, I’ll just focus on optimizing my nap times…

Fun Fact: if you search for the term “gym” in ICANN’s new gTLD application database, the result is the application for “.PIZZA”…?!

Pizza

One of the most promising and exciting aspects of the New gTLD Program is the potential for regions, cities, and communities around the world to develop dedicated spaces for the exchange of information, problem solving and relationship-building. With the first new gTLDs poised to launch, FairWinds traveled to Munich for the New Domains 2013 Conference on New gTLDs to learn more about the multiple and varied ways applicants, particularly geographic TLD applicants, plan to develop these spaces to the “right of the dot.”

Munich1On Monday, the opening keynote speech was given by ICANN President Fade Chehade.  After discussing his ongoing efforts to promote multi-stakeholderism around the world, Fadi surprised attendees by having leaders come to stage to sign the .BERLIN and .WIEN (Vienna) contracts (although, according to Kevin Murphy of Domain Incite, the latter was actually a prop contract and the original was signed later in the week). The CEO of Digital for Aigo, a major Chinese electronics company, gave a presentation on its application for .AIGO, declaring that his company is ‘confident’ in its new gTLD and that the company applied for a new gTLD for many reasons, including brand protection, consumer protection, and Internet marketing cost-effectiveness.

During a panel discussion specifically related to community applications, Colin Campbell of .CLUB noted that there are more than 10 mill .org SLDs already registered and said “wherever there’s a passion, there’s a .CLUB.”

Jordyn Buchanan, who leads Google’s efforts to launch the search giant’s new gTLD registry, took the stage on Tuesday morning. The majority of the information he provided confirmed what has already been said by or about Google’s new gTLDs, including that Google decided to apply for .GOOGLE to obtain a totally secure site. In response to the usual questions about whether gTLDs will help search engine ranking, he said “Probably not,” and referred participants to Matt Cutts’s Plus post.

Munich2Other panel discussions on Tuesday included a presentation by Ken Hansen of Neustar on .NYC and Shaul Jolles of Dot Latin on .UNO. Hansen described the process of working with city leaders to develop the TLD and the exciting possibilities for New York City neighborhoods and businesses to have an online presence associated with the Big Apple. Jolles explained that .UNO will be “the Internet in Spanish” and a TLD in which companies can more effectively reach millions of Spanish speaking customers and communities around the world.

Not only was the conference well attended and very well-orchestrated, but the wide-range of presenters and attendees made it extremely valuable in terms of gathering new gTLD industry ‘intel.’ Ultimately, this conference reaffirmed that integrated, community-focused marketing efforts will help, initially, to raise awareness and drive traffic to new gTLDs – but that great content will keep consumers coming back for more.

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) released the results of this year’s Most Innovative Companies survey last week.  The survey is conducted by BCG as follows:

As in past surveys, the 2013 results reveal the 50 companies that executives rank as the most innovative, weighted to incorporate relative three-year shareholder returns, revenue growth, and margin growth. The list has its share, as always, of well-known technology innovators (especially among the top ten), but automakers also show a strong surge, a trend that began last year and gathered strength in the current results. This time, we also asked respondents to identify up-and-coming companies at which innovation is driving rapid growth.

Since one of the “next big things” in technology is the introduction of hundreds of new Top Level Domains (TLDs) to the Internet, we decided to do a little research: What percentage of these successful, envelope-pushing companies applied to run their own new gTLD?

And, it turns out, over half of the most innovative companies -28 out of the 50 – invested in new TLDs. Of these,16 applied for more than one new TLD.

A whopping seven of the top 10 innovative companies applied for a total of 194 new extensions, including Apple’s .APPLE, Amazon’s .IMDB and Google’s .CHROME.

It seems that the most innovative also invested the most: BCG’s third most innovative company – Google – applied for 101 new TLDs while the seventh most innovative company, Amazon, applied for 76.

“This isn’t a coincidence,” said Taylor Frank, VP of Strategy and Development at FairWinds Partners. “Tech, search, e-commerce and automotive companies are going to do very well with their new gTLDs, whether they applied for their .BRAND, a .GENERIC, or both.”

Frank went on to explain that these new extensions are fertile ground for new business models and innovative approaches to community engagement, brand protection, human resources, and product development.

“The more interesting question is not whether there’s a relationship between being the most innovative and having applied for a new gTLD but whether companies that didn’t apply for a new gTLD will hold their ranking come next year.”