Accessing the mobile site for Forex.com, a site that facilitates trading opportunities in forex and other global markets, revealed some peculiar labeling. The image at the top of the mobile page reads "ForexTrader.Wireless," which is confusing for a number of reasons.
Most glaringly, .WIRELESS is not an established gTLD, nor is it even a gTLD that anyone applied for in the New gTLD Program; it does not exist. If the gTLD doesn't exist, the domain name can't exist, which makes navigating directly to ForexTrader.Wireless impossible.
Additionally, Forex doesn't even own ForexTrader.com, making the choice of branding the mobile of the site in this way even more curious. It appears that the use of ForexTrader.Wireless is purely aesthetic, but it certainly raised some questions.
Despite months of troubling news from financially wrought Greece, ICANN’s gTLD Reveal last Wednesday shed light on one Greek company who seems willing to gamble on an uncertain future. In a move that signifies a tradition of innovation, Fage Dairy Industry S.A., makers of the popular Fage Greek yogurt, applied for .FAGE.
What’s more, Fage is not only the sole Greek company to apply, but also one of just three applicants from the foods services industry. McDonalds and Heinz applied for .MCD and .MCDONALDS, and .HEINZ and .KETCHUP, respectively. Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Yum Brands, Kraft, Kellogg, General Mills and other similar brands were noticeably absent from Wednesday’s excitement.
Yet as we take a closer look at Fage’s history, its application becomes less surprising. In under a century, the company has mounted an impressive rise to global dairy-stardom. Founded in 1926 in then-rural Athens, Fage remains family owned and operated. The company began national distribution in 1964, followed by exportation, first to the UK, in 1980. Exports to the U.S. began in the late 1990s, and Fage opened its first American production facility in 2008. In 2011, Fage acheived €385 million in net sales. Theirs is a story of the underdog: a mom-and-pop store that grew to international recognition, and continues to beat out food giants like Kraft and General Mills.
Today, Fage’s toughest competition is the New York based Chobani. Founded in 2005 by a Turkish immigrant, Chobani currently leads the U.S. yogurt market, but it has nowhere near Fage’s experience and it has only just begun branching out into the international market. Neither Chobani, Oikos by Dannon, nor Athenos by Kraft applied for gTLDs, so it is arguably Fage who holds the title of reigning yogurt champ – at least in the digital sphere.
Still, if Fage’s application wins points for boldness, we have to ask the obligatory question: what’s next? Part of the problem for the food industry is that, with the exception of specialty delivery services like FreshDirect and Peapod, purchases are rarely made online. How and in what capacity Fage plans to use its gTLD remains unclear, but we’re willing to guess it could become a powerful marketing tool.
It’s true that Fage could potentially face significant challenges in its Greek production centers and global supply chain, given the economic turmoil. But the company’s presence in the gTLD frontier conveys its willingness to continue taking risks and building its brand.
As we talk with more businesses and brand owners, it is becoming very apparent that there is a significant amount of misinformation about new gTLDs being spread through the business community. Specifically, we have found that many brand owners are confused about what they can and cannot do in regards to new gTLDs. So we decided to set the record straight on some of the most common myths about new gTLDs that we’ve heard in a recent article for the CMO Council’s monthly newsletter, Marketing Magnified. Click through to read the full article, or check out the summary on FairWinds new blog, gTLD Strategy, which is dedicated to delivering accurate information and insights about the new gTLD program.
As many of us are preparing our comments on ICANN’s latest new TLD guidebook, many companies are also trying to determine if they will actually apply for a new TLD if they arrive as scheduled by ICANN in May of 2011.
Even though many of the previously launched “new TLDs” did not bring about a meaningful shift in online consumer behavior, there is a shared concern among digital executives over not knowing what will happen with this launch, or what the appropriate action will be.
Imagine if Facebook is one company that applies for a new TLD in the first round. It might make sense; Facebook has had its fair share of username and security issues and Facebook users spend more time on facebook.com than any other site. The possibility of creating .FACEBOOK domains for each user, such as PhilLodico.facebook, might be interesting to Facebook and it would likely be valued by users as well.
Facebook alone has over 500 million users. That would translate to 500 million new domain names; tripling the number of domain names in existence overnight.
Now imagine adding in other Internet powerhouses like Google, Microsoft and Apple, and big brands like Coca-Cola, Disney and others. These companies have enormous reach in terms of customer touch points, not to mention budgets with which – if they wanted to – they could try to shift consumer behavior.
Between Facebook’s grassroots consumer behavior shift and a possible direct marketing program by brand leaders, there is no question; there is a chance that new TLDs will catch on.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could sit on the side and wait and see what other companies do? To see if Facebook does this? To see if 500 million new domain names are registered and to see what consumers begin to do. It would. But ICANN isn’t necessarily going to allow that to happen.
The biggest risk that new TLDs (if approved) present is that we only know that there will be one window that opens. The last time a window opened was seven years ago. What if ICANN gets overwhelmed with this launch? What if it takes years to process the 500 applications that they are talking about possibly receiving? What if ICANN is prevented from moving forward with another window because of abuse found in the space? What if it is 3, 5, or 7 years until the next window opens?
What happens to the brand owners that decided to wait on the sideline if new TLDs begin to catch on? Those that did apply will have the ultimate competitive advantage while those who didn’t will be sitting on the bench waiting for their chance to play catch up.
While I believe there is still an opportunity to alter if and how new TLDs will be released, this risk of being sidelined is one we all need to take seriously. And as ICANN has shown us, we need to start thinking about this soon.
Despite the mayhem that could result from the release of unlimited new TLDs, it is undeniable that there are some pretty interesting possibilities. I was thinking the other day about how cool a .APP extension could be – if done properly of course. It could dramatically enhance the market for mobile applications.
As an increasing number of brands introduce mobile apps, having a .APP TLD could be quite useful. Consumers looking to find a brand’s app offerings, or wondering if a brand even has an app, could simply type in BRAND.APP (example: facebook.app). If Apple, Android, BlackBerry, and others teamed up to sponsor this TLD, they could ensure that all registrants used the extension to point to legitimate apps. In fact, they could require all links to point to applications within the various approved mobile app stores. So, if I were searching for a way to read The Wall Street Journal on my iPhone, I could type in wsj.app, click the link for the app in iTunes, and download the appropriate application.
I certainly acknowledge that if a more ill intentioned group were permitted to control this extension, unofficial and potentially harmful downloads could be propagated. It’s certainly a risk for which brands must be vigilant. But, I hope that ICANN would be very discriminating in granting TLDs because, with the proper restrictions, this TLD could be useful to consumers who are looking to navigate the thousands upon thousands of apps currently offered. Additionally, it could help protect consumers from links that are possibly harmful by regulating what content can be posted in the extension. However, the free-for-all approach that ICANN is taking with the release of new TLDs could easily mean that this extension would get lost in the shuffle.
And therein lies the problem: if so many new extensions are released, it seems that the likelihood of consumer adoption would decrease significantly. Without the proper marketing (or with marketing overload, depending on how new TLD owners proceed), consumers will not change their Internet search habits and will revert to the omnipresent .COM extension. If released with careful thought and deliberation, new TLDs have an incredible amount of potential. However, it looks as if these appealing opportunities may get lost among the pandemonium.
Yesterday I was an in-studio guest for the Kojo Nnamdi Show on WAMU 88.5 American University Radio. Every Tuesday, Kojo covers different tech-related topics, and yesterday’s show focused on new top-level domain names and what they will mean for Internet users. Tina Dam, ICANN’s Senior Director of Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), and Evgeny Morozov, a visiting scholar in the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University and Contributing Editor at Foreign Policy Magazine also appeared on the program with me.
Much of the discussion centered around new IDNs, and the benefits and risks associated with expanding the domain name space to include extensions in non-Latin scripts. We also talked a good deal about new generic TLDs (gTLDs) and the impact they would have on both businesses and everyday Internet users, including increased opportunities for cybersquatting. I also broke the news to Kojo that a third party owns KojoNnamdi.com, much to his disappointment.
Overall, I thought it was a good discussion; I did butt heads a few times with Tina Dam, but the conversation was productive. I’m thankful to have had the opportunity to go on WAMU to discuss some of these issues, although I would have liked to talk a little bit more about ICANN transparency and accountability before time ran out.
One thing that stuck out to me during the interview was a comment that a local listener had sent in over email during the show. She runs a small business and owns her business name in .COM, but is concerned that with the flood of new gTLDs, she will have to spend a lot of money registering her domain across new extensions. Tina Dam just brushed off this woman’s concerns, saying she already had her piece of the Internet and really wouldn’t have to worry about new TLDs. Clearly Dam doesn’t understand the extent of cybersquatting and the importance of defensive registration, especially for smaller businesses that likely do not own trademarks. But what was more upsetting was that her response is really reflective of ICANN’s attitude toward small businesses – they continue to overlook the interests of the little guy, not only small business owners but Internet users as a whole.
UNICEF appears to be in the market for its own TLD. The UN organization dedicated to providing humanitarian and development aid to children and mothers in developing countries recently announced a Request for Information from potential vendors to help acquire and operate .UNICEF.
Back in October 2009, the Universal Postal Union (UPU) entered into an agreement with ICANN to operate .POST, making UNICEF the second UN organization to pursue its own TLD. I’m curious to see what will happen going forward – will even more UN organizations follow suit and apply for eponymous TLDs? Moreover, I wonder why the UN is so interested in owning TLDs and why these organizations feel they need these kinds of labels when they have .INT all to themselves and there is no fee for registering an .INT domain.
I’m also wondering who will be next – maybe the World Health Organization with .WHO?
I just finished a conversation with a contact who is still at the ICANN meeting in Brussels. He attended the ICANN Public Forum and let me know that in his opinion it looks like the .XXX gTLD, an extension dedicated to hosting adult content, should be approved soon. Overall, he said, there was very little objection from the forum attendees. In fact, the discussion lasted only about 20 minutes. I can’t say I expected much more – many people who attend ICANN meetings and participate in the ICANN process are, generally speaking, either interested in selling more and more domain names (like registrars), or are totally oblivious to the ICANN community’s bias toward selling more names.
On the other hand, I heard the discussion over whether or not ICANN’s Chairman of the Board should earn a $75,000 salary lasted a full 45 minutes.
George Kirikos wasn’t the only one who raised really interesting and challenging points at the ICANN meeting. There are two more people who made comments and asked questions that I think are important and that I’d like to talk about here.
The first is Zahid Jamil, who hails form Karachi, Pakistan. The port city in the past has reclaimed land from the sea, and the idea of a mass reclamation project was proposed not long ago. While the initiative had many potential benefits (increasing the amount of land would lower housing prices for citizens and generate revenue for the government), it was widely agreed that the economic impact of such a project needed to be assessed. Eventually, the geological and environmental analysts determined that there was not enough information and hard data to thoroughly measure the environmental impact of the project.
Zahid compared this process to ICANN’s new gTLD rollout, pointing out how ICANN is pressing forward “without enough hard statistics, feasibility studies, and analysis, etc.” He went on to say, “Here I would caution against a wholesale launch of new gTLDs in the context, similarly, of the root scaling study and economic studies, and the cautions that have come out in the recommendations, such as recommendations for surveys, etc., and the fragility and the risks to the Internet we heard all about at Nairobi.”
Another great contribution came from Bertrand de la Chapelle, the Representative from France to ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee (GAC). Betrand made a spot-on analogy that compared the Draft Applicant Guidebook (DAG) to the process of drafting a parliamentary law. When drafting a new law, a huge amount of preparatory work is involved that results in, as Bertrand quaintly put it, a pile of documents “as high as the Eiffel Tower.” The resulting law, however, must be understandable and concise. In this case, the DAG is equal to the preparatory work – long, dense and unrefined. Bertrand went on to suggest that the DAG, along with all the comments and work that have gone into it, should be reworked into a much shorter and more user-friendly document of around 20 pages or so.
Both Zahid and Bertrand’s comments get at a common sentiment that I’ve been hearing, both at the meeting and in other conversations: that ICANN is nowhere near ready to launch new gTLDs. In fact, it has only really begun to do its homework on the matter. For example, aside from releasing multiple versions of the DAG, ICANN only just released an analysis of the economic impact of new gTLDs last week. That kind of study should have been conducted years ago, when new gTLDs were first being discussed.
Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), ICANN doesn’t seem to want to hear from anyone warning them to slow down. In response to Zahid’s comments, Kurt Pritz, the moderator of the New gTLD Update session, basically said that ICANN was moving forward with new gTLDs because that has been the direction of ICANN’s policy – without any greater justification.
While in Brussels, I had the chance to participate first-hand in one of ICANN’s international meetings. One of the sessions I attended yesterday was the “New gTLD Program Update.” George Kirikos, who many in the ICANN community know and appreciate for his knowledge and commitment to improving ICANN, submitted a question via remote participation about an important paper Tim Berners-Lee wrote back in 2004 about the detrimental costs of new gTLDs (at the time, .MOBI and .XXX were among the group of proposed extensions). Berners-Lee is an engineer and computer scientist who is credited with inventing the World Wide Web (the system that links hyertext documents over the Internet, not the whole Internet itself – Al Gore would be very offended if I didn’t make that distinction). The paper is very insightful, and especially applicable today, as ICANN is on the verge of opening up the domain name system (DNS) to an unlimited amount of new gTLDs. The paper is not very long and completely worth reading, but one of the most salient points I took out of it is the following:
“Our first instincts, then should be not to change the system with anything but incremental and carefully thought-out changes. The addition of new top-levels domains is a very disturbing influence. It carries great cost. It should only be undertaken when there is a very clear benefit to the new domain. In the case of the proposed .mobi domain, the change is actually detrimental.”
A big thanks goes out to George for showing me this paper, and also for pointing out how ICANN has ignored its existence. To my knowledge, George has not heard from anyone at ICANN after he sent a message about the Berners-Lee paper and linked it to the current environment. They also dodged his question during the session, so I wanted to shed light on this subject:
According to Kirikos, the DNS is a tree structure with a single root, and it was widely agreed that such a structure was an improvement over the previous “flat space” of host names. Infinite new gTLDs would be a movement backwards into that flat space. ICANN is basically on its way toward institutionalizing this backward movement, and in turn, cause widespread instability and harm.
In my view, ICANN’s proposal for how to roll out new gTLDs will create needless chaos and instability in the DNS. New gTLDs could potentially be interesting to brands and to the greater Internet community, but ICANN is not creating an attractive environment for businesses to invest in. Rather, brand owners will spend money in order to protect themselves from infringement, but that spending does not equate to an “investment” in new gTLDs. It is likely that many brand owners will view new gTLDs as a financial burden, instead of an economic opportunity.