As if the online world wasn't already challenging to navigate, ICANN, the company that regulates Internet names, this week ushered in a sweeping new change to the "dot" convention that could result in a virtually endless stream of new web addresses.
While familiar extensions such as "dot-com," "dot-net," and "dot-org," will not go away, added to the mix will be dot-just about anything. The current 22 gTLDs (generic Top Level Domains) will be expanded to unlimited possibilities since any person or company will soon be able to apply for a name ending in, well, you name it.
The move "usher(s) in a new Internet age," said Peter Dengate Thrush, Chairman of ICANN's Board of Directors. "We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration."
True, but ICANN has also provided a platform for what could amount to "the dawn of a chaotic new era with companies and other groups expected to battle over suffixes," according to Reuters.
Here's the way it will work. Beginning in January 2012, ICANN will start accepting applications for new domain names. An applicant will be required to pay a fee of $185,000 for a new name and must prove their worthiness. ICANN will use hundreds of consultants to adjudicate the claims. It is unlikely, for example, that anyone other than the Coca-Cola Company would be allowed to purchase ".coke."
If an applicant is approved, they'll have to pay around $25,000 annually to maintain the domain name and potentially upwards of $50,000 per year for technical functions, according to Josh Bourne, managing partner of FairWinds Partners LLC, a company that advises clients on domain name purchases. Bourne points out that decisions regarding awarding names will get dicey when two companies file legitimate claims.
"If you're talking about Unilever and Mars ‚ who's going to jump on .dove first?" asked Bourne. He was referring to Dove soap and cosmetic products (Unilever) and Dove chocolates (Mars). Bourne also said applicants won't be known to each other, so brand marketers could be secretive about their naming plans. Approvals of names should start by the end of 2012.
Obviously, the high price point and the strict application process for new names is intended to keep name usage legitimate. But with gray areas, such as in the ".dove" example, brand name and trademark disputes could result in an online nightmare.
According to The Wall Street Journal, the new rule "could also cause anxiety and disputes among governments, companies and other entities in safeguarding their brands and identities in cyberspace. ... For companies, even those that are happy with dot-com and aren't interested in adopting a new domain-name suffix will have to monitor the process to head off any potential trademark or brand-name infringement from other applicants, Internet experts said."
New York City, for example, has already secured .nyc, as heralded in a press release that stated, "This is a fantastic opportunity for the New York City establishments that will now be able to secure their online presence with a top-level domain name, and for the City of New York, which will benefit from the millions of dollars in revenue dot NYC will generate."
Brand marketers and Internet analysts are already debating the value of the new names. Josh Bourne told Reuters, "What can you do with .coke that you can't do with coke.com?" Shiv Singh, PepsiCo Beverages-America's head of digital, told the Journal, "I am keen to see how other brands adopt it, because this will only succeed if it has critical mass adoption among companies."
But Jeff Ernst, a principal analyst at Forrester Research, told Reuters, "For brand presence, why be subservient to dotcom? Starbucks (Corp) might want want to create a community of coffee lovers at .coffee. It's going to enable a lot more customer intimacy for companies."
James Gregory, chief executive of CoreBrand, a corporate brand consultancy, may have said it best when he told Reuters, "It's going to make the Wild West look positively civilized."