BTD-logo-roundWe at FairWinds Partners are abuzz about an industry-defining conference we will host in Washington D.C. on February 19, 2014, at the Newseum. The conference is a chance to examine how new top-level Internet domain names will change the way users navigate, search, shop, brand themselves, target customers, protect trademarks, and remain safe online.

We’re calling the conference Beyond the Dot 2014 – a catchy name that mirrors our new top-level domain educational microsite.  The conference will bring together innovators, policymakers, business leaders, academics, and students to explore what lies beyond .COM, .NET, .BIZ and the other top-level domains now in common use.

This will be the first industry conference to address what new top-level domains will mean to the average Internet user.

A top-level domain is the text to the right of the dot. Twenty-two exist now, including .COM, .GOV, .EDU (but not including extensions for different countries such as .FR). That number will expand by 2,500 percent to 1,400 over the next few years, bringing massive change to our Internet behavior.

“Today, the Internet is undergoing the largest expansion in its 40-plus year history,” said FairWinds Partners’ founders Phil Lodico and Josh Bourne. “The Internet of the future will be far more intuitive and will open vast opportunities for businesses and consumers, alike. We believe bringing together leading thinkers on this subject will help explain to the average Internet user the implications of this titanic change in the Internet domain name space and broaden the conversation beyond the domain name industry.”

Confirmed speakers at the conference so far include Former Ambassador John Negroponte; Akram Atallah, President, Global Domains Division at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN); Dr. Laura DeNardis,
Internet governance scholar and Professor in the School of Communication at American University, the owners of .ECO, .GOP, .GAY, .NYC, .UNO, and many, many more.

We are psyched for this event and to broaden the conversation. Hope to see you there!

Register for the event here. Media, non-profits, student, and congressional staff are entitled to discounts. If you fall into those categories, email info@beyondthedot.com to receive your promo code.

AuctionThe applicant community is working its will on the rules for generic top-level domain (gTLD) auctions published by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). But, as always, ICANN is no pushover.

ICANN posted the new gTLD auction rules for public comment last month after community outcry over the preliminary rules during ICANN’s Public Meeting in Buenos Aires in November. The comment period for the auction rules ends on January 15, with a reply period closing February 4. Auctions are expected to begin in March.

The auctions are designed to resolve conflicts between applicants who have applied for the same gTLD or who applied for gTLDs that were thought to be too similar to coexist. ICANN identified these so-called “contention sets” in February last year and added a handful of additional sets when string similarity objections were upheld by arbitration forums.

ICANN asserts that its auction model is meant to be a “last resort” resolution method. Applicants are encouraged to resolve their differences privately – through an independent settlement, a private auction, or other means.

But when independent resolution is impossible or undesired, the strings in contention go to the highest bidder at an ICANN auction. Losers receive a meager 20 percent refund ($37,000) of their initial $185,000 gTLD application fee. With millions of dollars at stake and hundreds of hours invested in preparing and supporting applications, it comes as no surprise that the auction rules have piqued the ICANN community’s interest.

So what’s all the fuss about? For one, applicants objected to the schedule outlined in the preliminary rules, which would have pushed the last auction rounds to Spring 2016 – an eternity in business terms, given the hefty investments applicants have made so far.

The new proposed rules include some revisions to reflect this criticism by allowing for the resolution of 20 contention sets per month rather than the original 10. An additional restriction that limited applicants with multiple contention sets to participating in only five auctions per month has also been removed. Still, given all the delays that have occurred in the New gTLD Program to date, applicants with late priority draw numbers may be disappointed to learn that their gTLDs will not proceed to auction until January 2015.

The most serious applicant concern unaddressed by the revised rules may be the ambiguity in how so-called “end-of-round prices” will be determined. These prices set the threshold for how much applicants must pay if they want to remain in subsequent auction rounds. The revised rules give designated provider Power Auctions LLC discretion over the “end-of-round price” and, thereby, influence over the pace of the auction.  Most applicants prefer the process used in private auctions where “end-of-round prices” are established by a pre-determined algorithm and communicated to applicants before the auctions are held.

Another issue left unaddressed by the revised rules is how proceeds from the auctions will be used. If the results of recent private gTLD auctions provide any indication, ICANN’s new gTLD auctions will generate tens of millions of dollars or more.

The multi-stakeholder model may well resolve that question too, since Dr. Stephen Crocker, Chair of the ICANN Board, has suggested that the application of any auction proceeds would be subject to community consultation. Suggestions so far include providing refunds to applicants whose applications do not prevail; creating subsidies for a future round of new gTLDs to expand the geographic diversity of the DNS; or donating the funds to one or more charitable organizations.

It remains to be seen how responsive ICANN will be in heeding community concerns over the auction process. Given its limited responses to previous comment periods, and overall pressure to move forward with auctions, it seems unlikely that the comment period will result in a sweeping overhaul of the proposed rules.

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.

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.

.BRAND New Language

Stephanie Duchesneau —  December 9, 2013 — 2 Comments

ICANN is out with proposed language for the New gTLD Registry Agreement (RA) that specifically addresses the concerns of brand applicants.

The draft language, put forward as Specification 13, covers a number of concerns regarding the baseline RA related to the unique needs and interests of brands as future Registry Operators.

The draft language proposes the following contractual modifications for .BRAND gTLDs:

  • An exemption from the Registry Operator Code of Conduct;
  • Permission to use a preferred and trusted registrar or registrars; and
  • The ability to oppose the transition of the registry for a two-year period following the termination of the RA and access to dispute resolution proceedings in the event that ICANN deems that transition is necessary to protect the public interest.

The language would be available for use by registries that meet ICANN’s definition of a .BRAND gTLD.

The proposal represents a positive step in supporting the diversity of business models that ICANN ushered in through the New gTLD Program. The language results from considerable effort and attention on the part of ICANN and brand advocates across the ICANN Public Meetings in Durban and Buenos Aires.

The language is now subject to a 42-day Public Comment Period, after which the draft language may be subject to further revision and analysis by ICANN Staff or be put forward to the New gTLD Program Committee (NGPC) for approval.

Applicants who support the modifications are encouraged to voice their opinions through the Public Comment Forum.

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

Buenos Aires Brief

FairWinds Partners —  November 26, 2013 — Leave a comment

buenosaires48-logo-328x140-12sep13-en_0_0ICANN’s 48th Public Meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, marked an important transition point for the organization and for all members of the ICANN community.

Community members as well as ICANN staff have focused for the past several meetings on the successful implementation of the New gTLD Program. But by the close of the Buenos Aires meeting, it was clear that ICANN leadership had turned a corner and is beginning to focus on new initiatives beyond the New gTLD Program.

An important milestone in this transition has been the delegation of new gTLDs. The number of delegated gTLDs surpassed the number of legacy gTLDs like .COM, .NET and .ORG shortly before the Buenos Aires meeting opened. Before the first new gTLD, there were 22 top-level domains in the root. Now there are 31 newly delegated gTLDs, and dozens more could come online before the end of 2013.

A second indication of ICANN’s transition is President and CEO Fadi Chehadé’s drive to involve ICANN in the emerging global discussion around Internet governance. ICANN supported the September Montevideo statement on expanding the global nature of Internet governance. And Chehade and the ICANN Board of Directors made news in Buenos Aires through their involvement in upcoming global meetings on Internet governance.

Such a shift of focus is hardly surprising given ICANN’s broad mandate. However, many applicants are concerned that this transition comes too early and well before ongoing programs, such as the New gTLD Program, are fully and successfully implemented. For example, while the Public Meeting in Buenos Aires fostered positive progress on the .BRAND Registry Agreement, the continued delay of ICANN’s auctions has left hundreds of contention sets unresolved. Moreover, the lack of a finalized plan to mitigate name collision risks has left many gTLD applicants in a state of limbo.

More than ever, applicants must navigate a more complicated environment in completing the new gTLD process. ICANN’s focus has changed at the very moment applicants must begin considering ICANN a regulator.

What remains constant, though, is the fact that ICANN will continue to exert significant influence over brand owners’ new gTLD activities, and so brand owners must continue to keep a close eye on the organization in order to extract the most value from their new gTLD investments.