June 20, 2011 – the day big corporations were allowed to take over the Internet
On Monday, the Internet Corporation for Assigning Names and Numbers (ICANN) approved the creation of generic top-level domains (gTLDs) for brands, organizations, hobbies and pretty much anything else.
After six years of planning and a 352-page guide (link to PDF), essentially any word in any language can be used as an Internet address suffix. That is, if you can afford it, because the application fee is $185,000 plus $25,000 a year to maintain it plus additional fees that may be required for individual applications. Besides the $185,000 application fee, individuals or organizations will have to show a legitimate claim to the names they are buying. ICANN is taking on hundreds of consultants to whom it will outsource the job of adjudicating claims.
Applications will be accepted between January 12, 2012 and April 12, 2012. The evaluation process can take anywhere between nine and twenty months, depending on the application, legitimacy of the claim, especially when trademarks are involved, proposed usage, and other issues. During the first approval period only 500 applications will be accepted and subsequent rounds will be limited to 400 applications. Most likely, we won’t see the first websites with the new gTLDs until 2013. The application fee is so high because it cost tens of millions of dollars to write the 352-page guidelines document, plus the cost of reviewing applications and resolving disputes.
The change is seen as a big opportunity for brands to gain more control of over their online properties and supposedly approach the Internet more “innovatively” and “creatively”. High-profile entertainment, consumer-goods and financial-services companies will likely be among the first to apply for the new suffixes to protect their brands. Canon and UNICEF have already indicated interests to claim domain names ending with .canon and .unicef respectively.
Organizations such as cities, communities and groups of small businesses or non-profits are also expected to apply. GTLDs such as .nyc, .london, .bank, .flowers, .sport, .food could provide opportunities for many smaller businesses to grab names no longer available at the .com level — like bicycles.london or indian.food. This could also be an opportunity for non-profits to use .eco, .health or .blood. (I am not sure how I feel about an NGO that would pay $185,000 for a URL. Actually I know, they obviously don’t need my monetary help). These gLTDs also bring up issues with copycat names such as coke.paris or google.london.
Once a new gTLD is granted, the owner essentially becomes a registrar, which means that he or she can sell domain names with that gTDL. Alternatively, the owner could limit the use of the domain.
An example given of how the new gTLDs can provide opportunities for brands is Canon which could acquire .canon and even .camera and create photo-sharing sites and communities within those domains. But, what stops Canon from do that now with a .com TLD? Instagram would have been a great project for Canon. Plus, what happens if in five or ten years Canon is acquired by another brand or changes its name? The .canon gTLD will be worthless and, more importantly, useless for ordinary people. Or why wouldn’t Nikon be able to use .camera?
ICANN was always supposed to expand the number of available web suffixes. Today, just 22 gTLDs exist: .com, .org and .info are a few examples, plus about 250 country-level domains like .uk or .ly. This is often a problem for new businesses and organizations since they have to buy long URLs. After the change, between 300 and 1,000 new gTLDs are expected to come into existence, of course, assuming that ICANN can handle applications in a timely manner.
This is the biggest change to the Internet addresses system since it was created in 1984, yet the proposed solution is expensive and doesn’t really solve the problem because it allows only major brands to drive the future of the Internet. What happened to “we are all contributors to the Internet?” How does ICANN expect non-profits to take advantage of this so-called opportunity? The fact that $2 million is set aside to assist applicants from the developing world isn’t very encouraging (if you can’t do the math, the money allows for only 10 applicants). This solution is a big win for today’s corporate giants because you can play only if you pay. As Eshter Dyson, the founding chair of ICANN’s board, says: “Nobody’s creating new value here […] They’re just selling words.” Expensive words.
It would have been much better if ICANN adopted a smart system of extensions that can benefit real people and real organization today and ten years from now, rather than corporate giants in one moment in time.