Opinion over the merits of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ (ICANN) generic top level domain name (gTLD) plan has been mixed from the very start. While many businesses and organizations have welcomed the opportunity to register new domain name suffixes – giving them more freedom to build their brands online – others have questioned the merits of this latest internet overhaul. Bodies such as the Association of National Advertisers have been extremely critical of ICANN’s plan to broaden the web’s domain name base, raising concerns over the potential of new gTLDs to add any value whatsoever to companies operating online.

But regardless of such concerns, companies and organizations are now being given the opportunity to apply for their own generic top level domains. From the end of this year, they will no longer be restricted to a narrow range of 22 gTLDs – including the likes of .com, .net and .info – plus a range of country code top level domains which are overly limited in scope. ICANN is set to approve a whole new range of gTLDs, instantly creating a massive new pool of potential internet addresses for web users to select from. By welcoming gTLD applications, the corporation has sought the views of internet stakeholders from across the globe – and the response received by the watchdog, in terms of volume of submissions, suggests internet stakeholders welcome the opportunity they have been given.

ICANN received 1,930 different applications for a gTLD during its drawn-out application window between January and May 2012. This high number of submissions gives a clear insight into the attitudes of businesses and organizations towards online marketing and the importance of building strong brands in cyberspace. These applications were not free to make – each submission came at a cost of $185,000 with no guarantees of success. As such, those entering the process needed to be convinced of the potential benefits of operating their own domain name registry. Except where the wealthiest of organizations are concerned, few of these gTLD applications will have been made speculatively. Businesses are genuinely eager to capitalise on the launch of new generic domains, to build a stronger presence in their particular market sector.

Some applicants are sure to be disappointed, with a number of gTLDs sought by multiple parties. Businesses and organizations now face the prospect of an auction process for the likes of .cloud and .app, which is sure to be a test of their reserve and the level of their financial resources. The fight for particular gTLDs, particularly those relating to major growth sectors such as cloud computing and mobile working, is sure to be hotly contested, with several organizations desperate to gain control. ICANN has a difficult job managing this process, with some stakeholders sure to be extremely disheartened as and when they fail to secure their gTLD of choice.

Business leaders realise they have been given an unprecedented chance to broaden their reach online, by launching domain name suffixes which could appeal to the wider market. Companies, particularly start-ups, do not want to be paying huge sums for .com domain names related to their activities and brands. And the launch of new gTLDs will help them establish a firm foothold on the internet, allowing more companies to take advantage of the booming ecommerce economy. Regardless of the claims of the anti-gTLD lobby, those firms able to secure in-demand generic domain names should be able to position themselves at the centre of this industry. With digital revenues growing all the time, their online marketing strategies may start to deliver a real return on investment – one which dwarfs the $185,000 application fee paid to enter their name into the hat.

Until the new gTLDs launch and have been operational for some time, it is difficult to say just what the impacts will be on the domain name industry. At present, there are just as many questions as answers, for instance will firms still wish to pay millions of dollars for premium dot com addresses? And will companies be able to manage the new registries with the necessary levels of competence? While many people are looking forward to ICANN’s gTLD launch, there are still a number of dissenting voices with concerns about the principle and the practicalities of managing thousands of new domain names.

ICANN has taken a brave decision, attempting to open up the internet to a wider user base – it has a vision for the future of the web and is sticking to it. Businesses have embraced the process, as demonstrated by the high number of applications, but now the real work begins. ICANN must gradually sift through the list, separating the wheat from the chaff, and use all its experience and expertise to guide applicants towards the launch of their new generic domain names. For sure, the industry is venturing into the unknown, but despite the concerns raised in some quarters, it remains a hugely exciting time for the domain name sector.

New gTLD launch: Now the real work starts for ICANN

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