Brands prep for gTLD digital land grab

Generic top-level domains could benefit global brands as well as local businesses: Melbourne IT

Generic top-level domains (gTLDs) may well prompt a digital land grab by the world’s biggest multinational brands when applications open this week, but new gTLDs such as .food, .health and .sport may also open up the internet to more consumer choice and small business opportunity.

Read more on generic Top-Level Domains and ICANN

According to Melbourne IT chief, Theo Hnarakis, whose hosting and services business has already picked up 105 local clients keen to secure their slice of the new domains, gTLDS present an opportunity to address the saturation of .com addresses, rather than an opportunity for ICANN to cash in on the huge branding opportunities of the new internet addresses.

“If you tried to go out today and tried to get any sort of new brand in the .com space it is impossible to register it as basically everything is registered,” he told Computerworld Australia. People have tried to use hyphenated names, and even the misspellings are registered.

“What ICANN [the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers] wants to do is open [domain registration] up to innovation and allow greater choice and flexibility.”

This choice and flexibility, Hnarakis said, would come from the release of alternatives to .com, such as .web, and the release of community names such as .bank, .music and .sport.

“One disadvantage with .com and to an extent .com.au is that one size fits all. Basically if you are a big business – a Microsoft or even down to a small business or not for profit, everyone fits into the same space. With everyone using the internet today to make decisions, book holidays, online purchases, be it the relevance of the [domain] name is becoming more and more important.”

In October, the NSW and Victorian governments moved to begin securing their new gTLDs including .sydney, .melbourne and .victoria.

Commenting on the prevalence of domain name cybersquatting for .com addresses, Hnarakis said a lack of regulation and enforcement around domain names was not to blame, and that new gTLDs were needed.

“I think it’s more that the genie is already out of the bottle,” he said. “.com in particular has been around for more than 30 years. No one then, or even 15 years ago, would have thought that we could go out and buy a name — social.com, gambling.com or casino.com —and have it be worth millions of dollars today.

“It is only in the last decade that the internet has become so big, and even five years ago big retailers were pumping along doing really well in the offline world. Now we have Gerry Harvey saying he won’t open anymore stores in Australia and online is a real threat. We are seeing great brands — Billabong and others — embracing the internet and asking what their [online] branding strategy is. They weren’t saying it five years ago, but they are saying it today.”

While demand for domains such as .food and .health would be fierce, the increased choice of gTLDs over .com addresses would help curtail a new wave of cybersquatting and also help address issues of saturation, Hnarakis said.

“It will be impossible for everyone to register every possible name, so there will be more choice,” he said. “Intuitively you know a tetsuyas.food will be a restaurant, if you have just flown in from Japan. Plus, there are also city names like .sydney, .nyc… so you are more likely to get a tetsuyas.food.sydney than a .com.au address if you have come late to the game.”

“For a small business that is associated with a Melbourne or Sydney, do you really want .com or a .com.au address? There will be that opportunity for them.”

On top of city and topic names, new addresses would also be offered using non-Latin alphabets such as Japanese and Chinese scripts, Hnrakis said, as well as brand-specific domains such as .coke or .ford.

“Brand owners are deliberately being very quiet about it as they don’t want to alert their competitors, but we are seeing financial services, automotive, and media companies in particular take a significant interest in this,” he said.

“Not only are they applying for their own brand, but also a Ford motor company, for example, could apply for .cars as a great traffic driver and to close that name to be used only for themselves.

“The land grab already occurred back in the late '90s when everyone grabbed the generics and .com. What this does is give choice again for large companies that are now embracing the internet to get involved and take advantage of the opportunity.”

gTLDs have not been without their critics. In the dying days of 2011 a group of U.S. representatives asked ICANN to delay the roll-out of new generic top-level domains due to concerns with the new system.

Critics have also suggested that ICANN’s plan will force businesses and non-profit organisations to spend significant money to register domain names on the new gTLDs in an effort to protect their brands.

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