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.

Geeks in Love

FairWinds Partners —  February 13, 2014 — Leave a comment

What warms the cockles more than Geeks in Love?

Yes, fellow Netizens, Valentine’s Day is almost here, and some of us geeks are still deciding how best to express our love for our better halves.

Roses and chocolates? Pretty old school.

No – we’re holding out for something really epic that says, if not “I am an alpha geek”, then at least “you have the QR code to my inner domain.”

For the beta-baby who stole your heart, how about a monthly subscription to LootCrate, which will deliver to your door the latest, funnest products, such as a Minecraft 2014 calendar or a Star Wars Galactic phrase book?

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If he is dapper grey matter – who under the age of 50 wears French cuffs? – you can buy a pair of silver cufflinks that disguise a USB with 2GB of storage and also serve as a wifi hotspot. He’ll never be out of touch again.

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Speaking of wearable tech, for her you can buy geektastic Bluetooth smart jewelry, say, a necklace or earrings that light up when she gets a phone message.

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Or you can reinforce your synchronicity with a social network for two.

But the most awesome gift for your sweet geek would be a domain name, such as ILoveRipley.com or BenedictLoves.me. Even better would be a website in a new generic top-level domain.

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That would certainly cement your geek chops. Imagine:

Marleyis.SEXY

Paisleydeserves.DIAMONDS

ErinandIare.DATING or

DexterandFawnarein.LOVE

Let your inner geek run amok. Or, as Lemon Demon sings it:

When they see us on the street, they wish that they were geeks in love.
And when they hear us trick-or-treat, they wish that they were geeks in love.
As we lock arms and skip away, they wish that they were geeks in love.
And you can almost hear them say they wish that they were geeks in love.

Make it so.

A Different Idea

FairWinds Partners —  February 7, 2014 — Leave a comment

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Conferences. Conferences. To go or not to go?

Sure industry conferences can be fun, especially if they are held in cities like Las Vegas or New York, where the food and entertainment are unsurpassed.

But conferences can also be a waste of time, with the same old speakers regurgitating the same old ideas in front of the same old attendees – all for an exorbitant fee.

FairWinds Partners has a different idea. As host of the Beyond the Dot 2014 conference – to be held in Washington D.C. on February 19 – FairWinds is striking a new note in terms of speakers, topics, and, not least of all, fees!

For starters, Beyond the Dot 2014 will be the first conference ever to discuss the impact of new top-level domains – the text to the right of the dot in a web address, as in .COM – on Internet users, companies, brands, and individuals rather than on industry insiders.

Beyond the Dot 2014 will also be the first conference on new top-level domains to be held in Washington D.C. – which ranks up there with Vegas and New York in terms of food and entertainment and surpasses them in terms of civics and history.

Beyond the Dot 2014 will blaze a new path in terms of speakers. For example, the keynote speaker will be Jim Messina, who managed President Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign and innovated voter targeting through high tech computer programs.

Beyond the Dot 2014 also will have a number of panels discussing topics that few have paid attention to, such as how new top-level domains will erase geographic and linguistic boundaries on the Internet and how corporate managers will introduce their new online properties. Most unusually, the last panel of the day is entitled “What Lies Beyond the Dot for Internet Users?” Who? Oh yeah, the people who will determine if a new top-level domain succeeds or fails.

Last but not least, Beyond the Dot 2014 is good value. The Momentum Digital Marketing and gTLD Strategy Conference in March will set you back $1,500. The Digital Marketing SuperSummit in April costs $1,800 – and then you will have to pay more for workshops. NamesCon in January was somewhat more reasonable at $780 per ticket. But Beyond the Dot beats them all with a ticket price of  $495.

Clearly Beyond the Dot 2014 is a different breed of conference. Register today for an experience that will add concrete, substantive meaning to your business strategies.