ICANN gTLD Plan Begins to Unravel

Oh ICANN, Dear ICANN. Please say it ain’t so!

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is the bureaucracy that oversees the Internet. This committee of intellectuals coordinates IP address space, assigns address blocks, governs standards, administers root DNS architecture, develops internationalization, arbitrates disputes, and perhaps – most ignobly – it sets policy over Top Level Domains.

They do this all under a US government contract which evolved as the Internet grew from academic and military roots to become an all-encompassing network of global public highways. But over the years and throughout the shifting winds of politics and technology, one thing has remained constant: ICANN’s fundamental Raison d’être is to ensure the stable and secure operation of the Internet. Obviously, they cannot ensure the stability and ready access of every web server. The operation, maintenance and connection of equipment is the responsibility of the millions of server owners across the globe. Each GoDaddy, each Google, and each individual user is a node in a vast network that gradually creeps—some pundits suspect—toward consciousness.

Since ICANN manages a public resource, there will always be political components to the organization structure and funding. After all, it is difficult to imagine their responsibilities fulfilled by an entity subject to pure, free market mechanisms. But because they are international in scope, setting standards & policy that affect billions of people in every nook and cranny of our world, they should be depoliticized to the extent possible. Every opportunity should be exploited to move each department and each function toward free market mechanisms.

Unfortunately, in the post-Esther Dyson era, ICANN has turned into a money grubbing hodgepodge of special interests. It certainly appears that they are extorting wads of cash from the public by raising fears of trademark infringement. It’s the only reasonable explanation for their insane and malfeasant decision to create unlimited global Top Level Domains (gTLDs).

If you already operate as Coca-Cola.com, why on earth should you be pushed into buying .Coca-Cola? Simple. Because ICANN will sell it to someone else if you don’t.

In the middle of 2011, ICANN cooked up a cockamamie idea to unleash an infinite number of random top level domains on the world. I tried hard to dissuade ICANN from proliferating gTLDs when it was proposed in June 2011. (I wrote about it here at AWildDuck, when the Blog was created in August). I have a few friends at ICANN, though I suspect I am losing them fast. And so, here is my mea culpa: I told you so…

No—The plan has not yet been fully implemented. It’s slated to go online in 2013. But it’s already beginning to unravel. Today, ICANN announced that due to public dissent and gross technical problems (they called it “unexpected results”), they are scrapping a new system designed to prioritize TLD applications. This is big news to the few thousand applicants who hope to own custom top level domains such as .google, .dance-with-the-stars, or .i_are_an_idiot! After all, they put up US $185,000 each to corner the market for snake oil. They see it as a potentially valuable piece of web real estate.

Dear applicants: It is not. It is smoke up your derriere—an illusion.

Listen up, ICANN: Stop duping the public. Stop profiteering. It’s not in your charter. Go back to square one. In fact, Go a few steps behind square one. you are solving a problem that does not exist. There are already too many gTLDs (.com and .gov and perhaps .org are the only ones that are useful). Everything else clouds the water and invites squatters and profiteers. They only serve to fatten your wallets or stir up trade name disputes.

A better idea: Get rid of all TLDs. Every one of them! Let current .com users own the naked term and stop forcing little guys to repurchase their names. Please ICANN. The current debacle is just the first embarrassment. Run back. Admit the error. Give it up!

3 thoughts on “ICANN gTLD Plan Begins to Unravel

  1. Ellery:

    You are absolutely correct that there is a tremendous bias in both the back-end technology and public consciousness in .com. Dot COM has been king since day one. Thus far, most of the other gTLDs are just a pretenders. That’s not to say there have not been some successful TLD roll-outs that made a dent.But no one has touched .com.

    But all the drivers towards .com are subject to change. You give some great examples:

    Why is .com so relevant and important?
    ◾It’s the domain browsers add automatically (press “Ctrl-Enter”)
    (there is even a key for it on the Android text-entry keyboard)
    ◾Domains that end with .us resolve to .com, even without .us
    ◾Search engines are biased to present them first

    Since Microsoft, Yahoo and Google, among many other huge pulbically traded corporations, appear to be committed to the new extensions, it won’t take long before they start pushing traffic to the right of the dot. The concept that Google will start providing a algorithmic bump for website users that are searching for “car insurance” to the new .insurance gTLD isn’t so far-fetched. In fact, it would be consistent with everything Google says about what it wants to display for organic search results. If Google creates a bias to new gTLDs for certain types of brand and industry segment search queries, it won’t take long before companies start looking to the right of the dot as well.

    And if you want a real game changer think about this. Right now the market for domain names is asked dreamily limited. The vast majority the market are people and companies doing something new. No one wants to try and move their.com website to a different domain and risk losing back links or suffering some other algorithm penalty. I know I am not in a move my entire website to a new domain anytime soon. But what if Google decided to create a system by which I could move my entire website to a new domain without losing any organic search. Now the market for domain names is anyone who wants to launch a new website or move their old website to a new address. The point is this. Just because .com has been king for a long time doesn’t mean it will be king forever. One little change in incentives can change everything.

    That does still leave the problem of consumers. Everyone’s looking for .com. Again, it isn’t so far-fetched that major corporations including Google start doing brick-and-mortar advertising pushing their new gTLD’s. When Nike starts advertising on the Super Bowl and pushing people to its domain Nike.shoes, you are creating possibilities that never existed before. As huge marketing budgets start pushing people to the right of the., it seems not only possible but likely that people will start looking for something that is not “.com.” The concept that .com could become the ugly end of the Internet neighborhood is certainly a possibility. Consider that the vast majority of domains on.com are being used by anybody, show no website or otherwise junky paper click ads. Consider that allowed the world spam comes through .com.

    Generally, I’ve been in favor of the new GTL the roll-out for one reason beyond all others. There are few words left with both trademark availability and available as a.com registration. Moving brands and market niches to the right of the dot makes perfect sense.

    Enrico Schaefer

    • Hello Enrico,

      I acknowledge your reply and respect your opinion. But, mine is unchanged…

      Incentives certainly lure traffic, but in the end, humans think of companies, products and brands; not an artificial hierarchy crafted by us Geeks. Unnatural constructs rarely triumph over straight talk. That’s why I liken .com to owning the word or phrase to the left of the dot.

      While I acknowledge that the choice brands & words are already taken (with .com), it is no surprise to me that given a few years, they almost always shuffle to the most well-known rights owners–and without legal intercession. That’s how a free market works. That’s how it is supposed to work.

      Suppose that you push the Coca-Cola company to buy .coke, .Coca-Cola and a dozen fractionalized domains like .coke.soda, .coca-cola.soda, .coke.drink, .coca-cola.drink and the thousand permutations for all of their other brands and flavors.

      What you get is market confusion, squatters & scam artists, and frustration over creation and profiteering of meaningless real estate. In the end, even this frustration will abate. Once again, .com will reign (or no tld at all), and the world will forget that the ICANN tried to invent a plethora of parallel universes.

  2. It’s been 6 years. Time to look back…

    In the beginning, there was .com, .net, .org, .gov and domains that end with the two-letter country (.uk, .tv, etc). But, in 2011, ICANN signaled that they would grant top level domains (TLDs) to anyone who puts up $185,000. And so now, you could visit coca.cola or sprite.coca-cola instead of sprite.coca-cola.com.

    I wrote the article below as a follow-up to my original 2011 article, urging “Just toss out TLDs altogether”.

    In the words of Sarah Palin (or was it Tina Fey?): “How’s that workin out for ya?!” Six years later, the new global TLDs are a complete mess. Not being one to brag “I told you so”, here is one analyst that claims gTLDs are a success. Yeah, sure! Successful for spammers and registrars who bully companies into purchasing up their own trademarks.

    Despite the very positive spin from that special interest Blog, I can summarize my original prediction: Spot on!

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