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.

 

 

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 — 2 Comments

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.

ClosedSignAs the New gTLD Program has rolled out over the course of the past few years, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has made a number of program changes along the way. One of these changes disallows closed, generic gTLD applications, such as Amazon’s application for .BOOK.

Now, applicants for closed generics must decide how to proceed: whether to open their generic strings to the public, limit registrations to a defined portion of the public, withdraw the application, or sell it.

While some applicants for closed generics are already considering selling their strings to operators more experienced in running open registries, others are weighing the costs of revising their original business plans and operating restricted registries.

Despite the added work involved, this middle ground can provide as valuable a platform for innovation as closed and open registries.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which oversees the New gTLD Program, announced the prohibition against closed generic gTLDs last October. Earlier in the year, ICANN’s Governmental Advisory Committee (GAC) had identified over 100 generic strings that it said were contrary to the public interest. The ICANN board endorsed the GAC advice but noted it would not apply if an applicant could demonstrate the closed registry would serve the public interest.

A restricted gTLD won’t be the same as one populated by a single-registrant, speaking with one voice. But nor will it dilute the registry operator’s central message, purpose, or intention, the way an open generic might.

The traditional gTLD space is filled with successful restricted registries — .GOV and .EDU are the most prominent examples — so ICANN’s decision doesn’t have to be the death knell for applicants of closed generics. Those applicants can still build an intuitive and meaningful restricted namespace.

The most obvious benefit of operating a restricted registry, as is the case with an open registry, is the potential for profit, though registries will have to carefully weigh potential profits against the cost of running the registry. Of course, determining the potential profitability of a registry is exceedingly difficult, as the market changes constantly. But applicants can take a number of steps to increase their chances of financial success.

Restricted registries can take advantage of options available to all applicants to strengthen their exclusivity. They may, for example, reserve up to 100 names for promotional purposes before going live. They also may reserve any number of second-level domains as “premium names,” which can be sold at higher prices, adding to the proprietary nature of the string.

Operators of restricted registries also must work closely with their registrars to enforce the restrictions they impose. Without enforcement, the restrictions will be meaningless. And the registry operator must understand that a restricted gTLD may not discriminate against otherwise eligible registrants, such as competitors.

The Registry Agreement and Registry-Registrar Agreement are the primary places a registry must clarify its new policies as an open or restricted registry. Clarifications must also be made to the Acceptable Use and Takedown policies.

A registry that makes the necessary adjustments to run a restricted generic may reap the benefits, despite having had to abandon its original plan and adopt a new one. As with other types of gTLDs, association with a successful new string can open new avenues for extending a brand, supporting new business models, and creating unique marketing opportunities.

If a new gTLD is well maintained and provides high-quality, relevant content, the operator of that space may be viewed as a trusted, reliable, and useful source of information, which in turn creates demand, and thus profit.

 

By Jingwei Wang and Madeline Hurley    

The average Internet user is surely familiar with that twinge of annoyance felt when confronted by a red error message after typing an incorrect email address or password. But annoyance could turn to technologically fueled rage if email addresses containing new top-level domains (TLDs) are incompatible with the sites users are trying to access.

The Internet community is predicting a new age of innovation with the advent of 1,400 new TLDs composed of brand names, geographic locations, and generic terms – such as .WALMART, .LONDON, or .TATTOO. In addition to opening up vast tracts of Internet real estate where the public and businesses will be able to buy, sell, congregate, communicate, and learn, in many cases, new TLDs will offer more secure, intuitive, and streamlined paths to the content users are looking for.

Since their introduction late last year, the steady growth of new TLDs, and second-level registrations within them, promises a bright future – IF a few kinks get worked out. One of those kinks is the potential incompatibility between email addresses in new TLDs and websites anchored to legacy TLDs, such as .COM and .ORG.

The number of high-traffic websites and apps still incompatible with the new gTLDs indicates a broad lack of awareness of the potential problem. Social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn don’t recognize new gTLDs, meaning anyone with a new gTLD email address will be blocked from registering an account. Countless other websites and apps risk losing customers and therefore profits if they don’t make the necessary adjustments.

Linkedin

Imagine if a large community-based organization holding a convention tries to make online hotel reservations at a Hilton. The organizer is using a .COMMUNITY address, but after clicking the submit button, gets an error message. Hilton might lose thousands of dollars in potential business. Marriott, on the other hand, which has adjusted its systems to be compatible with new TLDs, could earn a loyal new TLD-using customer.

Hilton

Some of the most popular consumer mobile apps such as Venmo, Uber, Skype and Snapchat lack compatibility with the new TLDs. If you have a new TLD email address, you might find yourself the odd one out while all your friends are snapchatting unflattering selfies to each other from across the room.

Skype

It’s too early to measure the true impact of TLD incompatibility. But it will become increasingly problematic as new TLDs gain in popularity, particularly for business offering their goods and services online.

“A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow,” General George S. Patton famously said. At FairWinds Partners, we agree wholeheartedly, especially when it comes to new top-level domains.

New top-level domains – the text to the right of the dot in a web address – are joining the more traditional .COM, .ORG, .BIZ at a quickening pace, opening up vast new tracts of Internet territory in which companies can promote their products and services and in which they should protect against trademark infringements.

Over 100 new extensions, such as .GURU, .BERLIN, and .CLUB, and close to 800,000 websites anchored to them, are already in use or well on their way.

shutterstock_147597512But, as with any new development, the unscrupulous of the world will try to exploit an expanded Internet for their personal gain. We’re already seeing signs of this in the new top-level domain space.

Some of our clients are receiving emails warning that someone else is seeking to register the client’s company name in a new top-level domain. If the client doesn’t register its name by a certain date, the person sending the email threatens to allow the imposter to proceed. We’ve seen similar scare tactics on Facebook where ads warn that your brand could fall into the wrong hands.

Other clients are bombarded with invitations to register indiscriminately in random top-level domains, whether or not the top-level domain is relevant to their business model. And many companies have been advertising reserved registrations in future top-level domains, even though registrations occur strictly on a first come first served basis.

Don’t be fooled.  Avoid last-minute decision-making and take the time to consider what’s right for your company. Implement a proactive, forward-looking new top-level domain registration strategy tailor-made to meet your business goals.

Any business with trademarks, copyrights, or intellectual property has an interest in defending them in cyberspace.  Contact us for more information on how we can set you on the right course.

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.