A new wave of change is coming to the Internet. It is not the subtle change caused by the rise of the mobile application ecosystem or the cloud redefining the nature of data. It is more practical than that, and it will affect everyone who uses the Internet on a daily basis. Early next year, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers will release the first batch of new generic top-level domains. In addition to .com or .net or .org, and a plethora of national designations, users will find hundreds of new abbreviations after the dot. Some observers have called the shift a gold rush, while others herald it as the Net’s next evolutionary step.
Law firm Loeb & Loeb issued an infographic that gives a good overview of the results of ICANN’s application process for new generic top-level domains, or gTLDs. The organization received more than 1,900 applications for new domains. Of those applications, 40% were redundant as companies vied for domains such as .app (13 applications), .blog (nine applications) and .art (10 applications).
About 40% of applications were for specific brands such as .Amazon or .Volkswagen. This is a testament to two factors within the gTLD process: the need for brands to protect their high-level domain names from cybersquatters and the marketing benefits of owning a gTLD.
Several companies applied for a significant number of domains. Google (under the name Charleston Road Registry) applied for 101 generic domains while Amazon applied for 76.
Despite some early hiccups, ICANN’s review has commenced. It will be interesting to see how and why certain domains will be awarded. From a high-level perspective, what is the difference between Google or Amazon owning a particular domain? Both are huge companies that have ample funding to develop such domains.
A bigger question is, how will companies created solely for the purpose of applying to gTLDs fare? These companies, such as Donuts Inc. and Top Level Domain Holdings Limited (TLDHL), help their clients handle the work involved in applying for a gTLD. Donuts Inc. had the most applications for gTLDs with 307 (106 more than second-place Google). The company has been overlooked by people analyzing the review process because each application listing is under a different name and email address. Donuts Inc. utilizes a Colombian (.co) top-level domain and each application uses a different email address. The co-founder for Donuts Inc. is Daniel Schindler and the company operates out of Bellevue, Washington. It has raised $100 million to administer gTLDs (which it will operate through registrars like GoDaddy). Donuts Inc. spent $56.8 million in ICANN fees to lodge its 307 applications.
Beyond that, little is known about companies like Donuts Inc. or Top Level Domain Holdings Limited. In many cases, the companies are working on behalf of third parties. But with so many applications between the two (TLDHL submitted 70 applications, fourth behind Donuts, Google and Amazon), each company likely will be awarded several, perhaps dozens, of domains. It is reasonable to trust companies that are well known to administer gTLDs, such as Google and Amazon, but it is curious to see these shadowy corporations applying for so many domain names.
Donuts, TLDHL and their ilk make many pundits think that ICANN’s new gTLDs will cause a gold-rush land grab for premium property on the Internet. It is understandable for Amazon and Google to be heavily invested in gTLDs, and there are reasonable expectations of what each company would do with its allotted share of domains. On the other hand, it is difficult to ascertain exactly what will come if the mysterious newcomers win a significant number of domains.