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ICANN’s new generic top-level domain (gTLD) Program Committee (NGPC) has finally approved the long-sought and much-discussed Specification 13 – an amendment to the Registry Agreement that accommodates the special trademark needs of brands applying for their own top-level domains.

FairWinds staff on the ground at ICANN 49 in Singapore confirmed the news early Wednesday – to the relief of many corporate and non-profit applicants.

Earlier this month, ICANN Vice President of DNS Industry Engagement Cyrus Namazi published a revised version of the Specification 13 Base Agreement and explained, in an accompanying blog, that “If approved by NGPC, Specification 13 would provide limited accommodations to registry operators of TLDs that qualify as ‘.Brand TLDs.’”

While the number of accommodations may be “limited”, the significance of the revisions to brands that have invested so much time and money into their applications is not.

The incorporation of Specification 13 into the Registry Agreement for .BRAND applications will benefit them as well as consumers. In addressing some of brand owners’ collective concerns with the new gTLD Registry Agreement, Specification 13 will allow .BRAND applicants to move through the contracting process and transition to delegation with greater speed and ease.

And, given the broad consumer base and digital presence of many brand applicants, and the benefits the .BRAND gTLD model presents for improved online security and consumer trust, the incorporation of Specification 13 could speed consumer adoption of new gTLDs.

“FairWinds is grateful to the ICANN staff for its work on this issue, and to the NGPC for reaching an agreement to take into consideration the special circumstances of .BRAND applicants – a group that comprises almost one-third of all new gTLD applicants,” said Vice President for Consulting Services Samantha Demetriou.

Demetriou also acknowledged the critical role played by FairWinds policy experts Lillian Fosteris and Stephanie Duchesneau in recognizing the unique contractual needs of .BRANDs and working to ensure they were incorporated into the base contract.

Much work remains, however, to get .BRANDs over the finish line: The timeline for new gTLD applicants remains tight, and a formal process for requesting the inclusion of Specification 13 has not been announced.

For more information about the next steps for .BRAND applicants, continue to follow this blog or contact info@fairwindspartners.com to learn how you can receive timely and specific consulting guidance as a client of FairWinds.

Linking the Ancient World to the Digital Era, New gTLD Transcends Commercial Expectations

Guru is an ancient Sanskrit word that means spiritual teacher.

It is also the most popular new top-level Internet domain name.

guruSince .GURU opened for public registration of second-level domains on January 29, it far surpassed any of the other 49 new top-level domains launched this year – until .BERLIN opened for public registration last week and jumped into second place.

What makes .GURU so popular? Is it an East/West convergence thing? The serenity of ancient spiritual beliefs? The meditative elegance of Buddha? The magnanimity of the Dalai Lama? Maybe it’s the memory of the Beatles’ 1968 sojourn to the Maharishi’s ashram?

.GURU’s popularity wasn’t even anticipated by Donuts, the registry that owns it. A Donuts official told TheDomains.com that internal projections didn’t place .GURU among the top half of strings expected to get the most registrations. Since Donuts applied for 300 top-level domains, that means the company thought more than 150 others would be more crowd-pleasing.

Seriously? Wouldn’t you expect a sublime performance from a spiritual leader?

Actually, .GURU’s appeal has nothing to do with transcendence. Its popularity is based on a simple rule of capitalism: It is easily marketed. .GURU is a winner of a domain name because it not only implies supreme knowledge but can be appended to almost any word, noun, adjective, verb, or phrase, such as secondmortgage.GURU, goofy.GURU, quit.GURU, or becomeyourown.GURU – all registered domain names in the new extension.

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It seems a tad counterintuitive, however, to link some names to .GURU that people have registered, such as anxieties.GURU, mean.GURU, and rich.GURU. And some of the new domains border on sacrilege, or at least drain the word “guru” of its authority, such as beerdrinking.GURU, voodoo.GURU, and vices.GURU.

No matter. An investment is an investment, and .GURU turned out to be a very good one, indeed. Chances are the domain’s long-term value will withstand the oddities that its flexibility permits, as in twerking.GURU.

I just hope Bob Dylan’s people move quickly to register Workingona.Guru.

singapore49-logo-300x155-02jan14-enThe 49th public meeting of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) opens in Singapore next week, and FairWinds Partners will be on the ground attending formal and informal sessions, meeting with ICANN staff, and working toward solutions on key issues of interest to our clients.

The meeting likely will be abuzz with chatter about the Commerce Department’s decision to hand over control of ICANN to the multistakeholder community. We anticipate nascent discussions to begin defining how ICANN will establish its independence.

Those discussions will be on target as ICANN shifts from its focus on new top-level domains to the broader subject of Internet governance. New top-level domains will continue to dominate the business of stakeholder groups and constituencies. But ICANN’s pivot toward the big picture is reflected in the consolidation of all new top-level domain activities under its Global Domains Division.

The Global Domains Division has plenty of work ahead. Delays in how to resolve conflicting new top-level domain applications and other sticking points need to be resolved soon. FairWinds expects developments on:

  • Name collisions, where a new top-level domain may conflict with an internal domain already in use
  • ICANN auctions, specifically related to schedules and prices
  • Specification 13, which addresses issues of particular concern to brands
  • An orderly process for releasing geographic terms at the second level

To learn more about ICANN 49, new top-level domains, or FairWinds Partners, please check out FairWindsPartners.comBeyondtheDot.com, the Domain Name Strategy blog, @fairwinds,@gTLDstrategy@beyondthedot. Or call Taylor Frank at 202-223-5232.

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.

Dust to Dust

FairWinds Partners —  March 6, 2014 — Leave a comment

Maybe it was the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance program. Perhaps it is Google’s Big Brother approach. Or it could have been one massive data breach too many.

shutterstock_135169079Most likely a combination of the three is bumping up against the trend of connecting more devices to the web in order to share more data. There appears instead to be a growing appetite for software, devices, and services to help consumers erase their digital footprints and keep their communications and information out of view – whether from governments, crooks, or history itself.

One of the benefits of new top-level domains is that brand applicants will have greater control over the security of their information. But what about the average consumer? A number of new products are being designed to protect their information, as well.

Everyone’s heard of Snapchat, the photo-messaging service that vaporizes pictures, videos, and taglines you send to friends within second of receipt.  Although it’s been around for about three years, the app burst into the public consciousness last year when its owner turned down a $3 billion buy-out offer from Facebook. That’s a company banking on serious future growth.

More recently, the evocatively named Cyber Dust– a Snapchat for texts – promises your messages will “disappear forever and cannot be traced.” Bitter experience inspired this product, developed by entrepreneur Mark Cuban, who described his inspiration to Jay Leno on the Tonight Show. Cuban said he was sued for inside trading by the Securities and Exchange Commission in 2008, and the government’s case relied in part on his emails. He was acquitted last fall, apparently learned a lesson, and monetized that lesson into Cyber Dust. He may have even written the company’s slogan: “Every spoken word isn’t recorded. Why should your texts be?”

For serious privacy buffs, the Blackphone is now available. Yes, black phone, as in blackouts, black sites, black markets, and black boxes. But this is no longer cloak and dagger fare. “Keep the Internet from looking over your shoulder,” urge the phone’s creators, or at least its marketers, with “world class cryptology built into every Blackphone app.”

The Blackphone also comes with additional privacy programs, according to The Verge: SpiderOak, which provides 5GB of “zero-knowledge encrypted data backup,” and Disconnect, a VPN-based search provider “to anonymize internet queries through regular search engines like Google or Bing.”

Others are launching their own versions of a black phone. The Wall Street Journal reported that aerospace giant Boeing is developing Boeing Black for government defense and security workers only, not the general public. Harking back to the 70s TV series Mission Impossible, the Boeing Black will self-destruct if tampered with.

Privacy protecting search engines are also seeing an increase in use.  Duck Duck Go, for example, prides itself for not storing IP addresses or collecting personal information.

Of course, privacy and anti-hacking tools have been around for a while. Edward Snowden, deployed a number to hide his tracks as he prepared to leak millions of NSA documents exposing the extent of U.S. cyber spying.

The granddaddy of anonymity on the web may be the award-winning Tor, free software that provides layers of encryption not just for data but also for the destination IP and then routs the data through more than 5,000 relays, making it difficult to track. Tor receives 80 percent of its funding from the U.S. government, according to Wikipedia, which probably means the USG accounts for 80 percent of Tor’s usage. In 2012, Foreign Policy magazine placed its founders among the Top 100 Global Thinkers “for making the web safe for whistleblowers.”

shutterstock_102346009On the other hand, The Economist described Tor as a “dark corner of the web” because it is used by criminals to commit identity theft, credit card fraud, copyright infringement, drug sales, illicit distribution of sexual content, and the like. Ironically, both crime networks and law enforcement use Tor at cross-purposes[FP1] , Wikipedia says, sometimes at the same time.

Despite these gadgets and gizmos, there is really no such thing as 100 percent security. So, if Big Brother hasn’t found you yet, don’t worry, he will. And we don’t necessarily mean the NSA.

Last month, Google paid $3.2 billion for Nest Labs, maker of a smart thermostat and a smart smoke and carbon monoxide detector, which will collect all sorts of information such as when you are home and when you aren’t. And don’t forget Google Glass, which will be able to tell where you are, what you’re doing, and who you’re doing it with.

Who knew that when Google promised to “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful,” they were talking about your information?

Perhaps the privacy tool industry will eventually figure out a way to make you invisible to Google Glass.

“Spectacular execution of a wonderful event.”

That was the assessment of one participant at the Beyond the Dot 2014 conference Wednesday at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

366A1772The conference focused on the effect of new top-level domains on average Internet users and drew a capacity crowd of over 150, several well-received speakers, and multiple media stories.

In Washington D.C., #beyondthedot was even trending on Twitter yesterday afternoon.

Guests came from as far away as the west coast and Europe and included applicants for new top-level domains, brand owners, marketers, lawyers, and industry insiders.

Over the course of the day, skilled moderators led seven panels in lively discussions about how Internet governance is evolving, exactly what the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) does, and how brands are crafting digital strategies to accommodate the revolution in the domain name space.

New top-level domain owners, including luxury brands owner Richemont and storage giant Extra Space Storage, said they originally applied as a hedge to protect their brands but came to realize the opportunity new top-level domains hold.

Google’s so-called “gTLD guy” Jordyn Buchanan said Google realized the security benefits of a new top-level domain after a number of its sites in country code top-level domains – such as .IN for India or .PK for Pakistan – were repeatedly hacked.

Erwin Cruz said industrial supply company Grainger applied for .SAFETY to create a community for safety professionals.  And Melissa Madigan of the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy gave four reasons for their .PHARMACY application: Legitimacy, trustworthiness, security, and safety.

“You guys thought of (every) detail and put (together) an agenda that was extremely relevant,” said Shaul Jolles, owner of .UNO, which aims to be the Spanish version of .COM “I have yet to be (at) a conference that absolutely everybody felt was well done. Well, here it was the consensus. Well done.”

In the mean time, reach out to us to have a conversation about what you need to know to adapt your own digital strategy, and keep your eye on this blog for video clips of the event.