ICANN's plan to expand available Internet addresses is finally coming to fruition. Learn more about the plusses and minuses of the new generic top-level domain names.
He acknowledged, though, that the Trademark Clearinghouse primarily serves large organizations that register their trademarks -- and then hire armies of corporate lawyers to defend them. Smaller companies might not benefit all that much from the clearinghouse, though Atallah pointed out a different upside for them: It will be easier and less expensive to find a good domain name once the number of available addresses increases. Atallah believes that will benefit small businesses suffering from long, unmemorable URLs today. New businesses, too, deal with a lack of viable domain-name inventory unless they're willing to pay top dollar for a more marketable URL on the secondary market.
Not everyone entirely agrees with that perspective; some have pointed to the possibility of confusion among consumers conditioned to assume a .com suffix. Atallah said that ICANN will undertake some public awareness efforts, but ultimately the marketing responsibility for new domain names will lie in the hands of registrars and website owners.
"They're going to be able to go after their market much better than we can," Atallah said. "Just having a good [domain name] is not a guarantee for success."
On the technical front, Atallah encouraged IT departments to audit their networks now to ensure minimal risks of leaking to the public DNS as a result of internal naming conventions. An ICANN study of the issue identified only two domains, .home and .corp, as high-risk, though 20% of the applied-for strings remain "uncalculated," meaning ICANN has set them aside for further study. Atallah said that the leading certificate authorities have agreed to revoke security certificates for internal names within 120 days of delegation to the public DNS, and that that will provide plenty of buffer to minimize related security threats -- the lag time between delegation and going live will likely take at least that long, anyway.
Another parallel between online and offline real estate: the Internet has had its fair share of speculators, those individuals and organizations that buy up domain names in hopes that they'll be able to resell them later for a higher -- and sometimes a much higher -- price than what registrars typically charge. While it remains to be seen how well-received the new gTLDs will be, it seems reasonable to assume some people will snap up new domain names simply in hopes that they'll be fetch a fatter price in the future.
"Speculators will speculate -- I cannot predict what's going to happen and how the market will play out," Atallah said. "Just remember that by providing a large amount of choice, the [increased supply of domain names] will drive prices down. Even if there are speculators, they will not be able to command the same price they are commanding today because of limited [availability]."
Domain registrars like 1&1 Internet are already encouraging users to "pre-reserve" addresses with the new top-level domains, at no cost or obligation, for extensions like .app, .food, .hotel and many others. A ticker on the firm's site said recently that more than 2.6 million pre-reservations have already been made, although it's unclear just how much good the pre-reservation does. In its FAQ, 1&1 notes: "Unfortunately, we can't promise that your chosen domain will be registered, although of course we'll do our best!" GoDaddy, another large retail registrar, enables customers to "watch" new domain names that they want, but that ultimately amounts to an automated notification when that particular gTLD becomes available for public sale.
For now, the lengthy gTLD expansion project inches less toward completion, but to the starting line. What effects, large and small, it will eventually produce remain guesswork.
"I believe we're going to see a lot of innovation in this space and we're going to see new ways of marketing and using the Internet," Atallah said. "It has a lot of promise. There's a lot to keep an eye [out] for. It's a change in the industry and I look forward to seeing all of these new initiatives take place."
Atallah half-joked that anyone who knows for certain the outcomes shouldn't be making predictions; they should be writing business plans. But he pointed to areas like search, security and local business -- the new gTLDs include extensions such as .nyc -- as areas where the new domains could shake things up.
"Like any opportunity to innovate, it provides for disruption," Atallah said. "This disruption is what attracts smart people and innovators and I'm looking forward to seeing the results of it. All we can do is to provide the choice and the ability to innovate, and then we have to wait and see what happens."
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