Thoughts on ICANN’s ‘Open’ Domain Namespace

I recently did a brief interview with Tom Sullivan of Fox Business News on the topic of ICANN’s recent move to open up the namespace and create a large number of new top-level domains. I’ve been somewhat distracted by personal endeavours for the past month, so the interview gave me the opportunity to really think hard about what ICANN’s decision means for the industry and where it might leads us in the next three to five years or so.

icann.jpgNew TLDs mean new competition:

New competition is a “really good thing” in this market. For too long the registry management space has been dominated by a very small number of players. Lack of choice hampers innovation. Worse, it has lead to increasing prices for what is otherwise, a commodity product. It may not happen immediately, but I believe that increasing the number of competing TLDs will keep rising prices in check, and possibly even lower them over the longer-term. Further to this, not a lot of innovation is coming out of the existing players. .MOBI, for instance, has done some interesting things, but no one is really going out on a limb and doing exciting things with a TLD. Give everyone the capability to get a TLD and I guarantee you, interesting things will start to happen.

The namespace will finally internationalize and personalize:

Since the origins of the Internet, domain names were limited to ASCII strings. This restriction will quickly evaporate as IDN TLDs come into existence and we will see massive growth in non-English, non-ASCII, top-level domains serving various communities. This is huge by itself! Making it even bigger is that the additional choice will make it even easier for regular people like you and me to get a meaningful domain name that relates to our personal identity. When .INFO opened up, the first thing I did was register rader.info because I had missed out on rader.com, net, org and ca. The mass market represents a huge growth opportunity, but I don’t think that .com, .net, .org, and the others have enough upside left to adequately capitalize on the demand it represents. New TLDs and innovative use of existing TLDs will make it easier to tap into these opportunities.

New TLDs are great for trademark holders:

They just don’t know it yet. Right now, rights holders are rabidly opposed to new TLDs because they believe it will create a nightmare for them in terms of protecting against trademark abuse in all of these new TLDs. On its face, the argument looks valid. After all, it’s tough to protect Tucows’ trademarks and copyrights in a small handful of top-level domains. Creating hundreds, or even thousands, of new top-level domains makes it almost impossible for us to protect ourselves, right? Sort of. The UDRP will still be in place to deal with any inevitable abuse, but there is a real opportunity here for rightsholders that I don’t think has been properly recognized yet.

This announcement clears the way for big brands to create their own top level domains and build trust mechanisms into those domains that will go a long way towards getting the upper hand in the rights battles that are occupying so much of their time. What I mean is, Chase Bank will find it a lot easier to create a trusted online service relationship with their clients if they do it within the context of a .chase top-level domain. It won’t eliminate phishing, but it will raise the bar. Over time, I believe internet users will start finding meaning in top-level domains that doesn’t exist today. The same way an average computer user recognizes the difference between .jpg, .xls and .pdf files, they will also recognize the difference between a .com, .fox and .nike domain extension.

New TLDs will force software developers to deal with security issues:

I don’t necessarily think that new top level domains are going to make it easier for phishers to phish, spammers to spam and scammers to scam. But I think there are enough people that are worried about this that it will force the issue to some sort of a resolution. The first step lies with the browser and email client vendors. Implementing URL authentication and verification tools will take some time and trial and error, but I think it will be a great development for overall consumer satisfaction and safety.

ICANN should, and will, get out of the way:

The Internet is a decentralized, unregulated space. Domain names aren’t. ICANN needs to get out of the way as much as possible and allow the namespace to develop its own characteristics along the same lines as the rest of the Internet. ICANN has been a centralized chokepoint for far too long, mostly at the behest of telco interests. This move clears the way for ICANN to do more coordination and less regulation. Strangely, this development comes at a time when most are calling for ICANN to regulate even more. I don’t think that this is either practical or desirable and will have strong negative effects on the viability of the DNS over the long term if they go this route.

This isn’t really news for .com domainers:

Domain names are a little bit like real estate. Quality domain names will always be quality domain names. Short, memorable, easy to spell – all hallmarks of a great name. Great names with great extensions, like fox.com will always be great. But, for specific purposes, perhaps fox.news is a better name? It all depends on what you want to use the name for and how strong your existing brand is. I don’t think that this necessarily leads to any sort of real negative impact on .com name valuations, but it will create new opportunities for buyers and sellers.

Overall, I don’t think that anyone actually recognizes the true size of the opportunity that is facing the Internet. I’m quite excited at the prospects hinted at by this announcement and look forward to capitalizing on as much of it as possible.

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