Is a Dot.Berlin Internet Domain In Our Future?

The era is moving on.  Websites will soon be able to end with anything from “.shop” to “.canon” after the group that manages Internet addresses approved the historic change.  The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which until previously allowed just 22 suffixes including “.com” and “.org,” will accept almost any word in any language.  The move could prevent cybersquatting, the practice of registering domain names and selling them to trademark owners, often for big bucks.  Big business may have to buy addresses to prevent their brands from being hijacked, which costs $500,000 per company, according to an estimate from the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse.

“Today’s decision will usher in a new Internet age,” Peter Dengate Thrush, chairman of ICANN’s Board of Directors, said in the statement.  “We have provided a platform for the next generation of creativity and inspiration.”  Applications for custom suffixes, which will cost $185,000, are not inexpensive and the first of these “top level domain names” won’t go live until the end of next year, said Adrian Kinderis, a member of Icann’s advisory council.  Canon, Deloitte and Hitachi Ltd., are some of the companies that are interested in company domain names, while generic names will be auctioned to the highest bidders, Kinderis said.

“Icann has opened the internet’s addressing system to the limitless possibilities of the human imagination,” said Rod Beckstrom, president and chief executive officer for ICANN.  “No one can predict where this historic decision will take us.”  There is the possibility that several hundred new generic top-level domain names (gTLDs) will be created, which could include such addresses as .google, .coke, or even .BBC.  At present, there are just 22 gTLDs, as well as approximately 250 country-level domain names such as .uk or .de.  According to industry analysts, it’s a price that global giants might be willing to pay to maximize their internet presence.  The money will cover costs incurred by ICANN in developing the new gTLDs and using experts to scrutinize the thousands of expected applications.

Companies and organizations that want one of the new gTLDs will have to meet high technical standards, according to Bruce Tonkin, chief strategy officer at Melbourne IT, a domain registry service.  “You need IT robustness and you need intellectual property protections beyond what is available in the dot com space.  You have to have 24/7 abuse team.  You have to have mechanisms where a trademark holder has first right to get their name,” he said.  The higher standards, Tonkin said, translate to an extremely rigorous application process.  “Using a real estate analogy, it would be roughly the equivalent of getting approval to build a skyscraper.”

Japanese electronics giant, Canon, plans to apply for rights to use domain names ending with dot-canon.  Berlin, Germany, has expressed interest in a suffix.  Other suffixes could organize the Internet by language, geography or industry.  According to Brad White, ICANN’s director of global media affairs, opening the Internet address system will have far-reaching social and commercial impact.  “It will afford a possibility for innovation, creativity, branding and marketing.  We can’t fully predict the impact that this change will have, but we know it will have tremendous impact, in much the same way that nobody could predict social media.  Nobody could predict the popularity of Skype.  No one could predict the popularity of Facebook or Twitter. What we have done is removed a barrier to innovation,” White said.  “One of the biggest changes that this will mean to the Internet is an expansion of the use of non-Latin characters.  So, people who speak Cyrillic, or Arabic or Chinese can now use their own generic top-level domains at the end of an Internet address.  It will vastly, we believe, increase the number of Internet users.”

“Brands need to act now if they want to apply for one of these new domain names as it is not as simple as registering a .com address. ICANN’s application fee is $185,000 USD and the application process is complex, requiring a submission which will run into hundreds of pages. Many companies will engage with a specialist to help them apply and manage their new TLD,” said Theo Harakis, chief executive of Melbourne IT Digital Brand Services.  Sebastian Bachollet, an ICANN board member, expresses confidence with the decision.  “Some people feel that the new gTLDs will cause confusion…I trust we have the tools to ensure the phase of stress will be brief,” Bachollet said.

ICANN’s announcement that it is setting aside $2 million to help developing countries is little consolation for the pay-to-play nature of the process.  According to ICANN, it expects as many as a thousand applications, mostly from recognized companies and brands.  Eric Mack in PC World says that “It appears that the greatest expansion of the domain name system is a big win for big business, amounting to the digital codification of today’s corporate giants.  But won’t it seem a little silly if, in five years, Canon, is part of a merger or undergoes a name change, or disappears from our lexicon for some other reason — and one of the world’s newest domain endings becomes worthless overnight?”