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Will future generations look at June 19, 2011 as one of the most important dates in the internet's history? They just might.
That's because yesterday, Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body which governs the internet's domain name system, voted to allow the creation of new generic top-level domains.
Move over .com, .net and .org. Soon, you may see everything from .aardvark to .zyxt.
According to ICANN President and CEO Rod Beckstrom:
"ICANN has opened the Internet's naming system to unleash the global human imagination. Today's decision respects the rights of groups to create new Top Level Domains in any language or script. We hope this allows the domain name system to better serve all of mankind."
But what does it really mean for individuals and businesses operating on the internet?
With an application for a new TLD costing $185,000, one thing is certain: only large brands will be able to participate in the gold rush.
How many of them do so, and how many put their .brand TLDs to use remains to be seen. Sure, Coke might register .coke, but would it rebrand MyCokeRewards.com to rewards.coke? That doesn't so likely, right now at least.
For individuals and smaller companies, there will almost certainly be opportunities to purchase new TLDs, and ICANN is permitting broad, generic registrations as well (think .auto and .forum).
But here, it's worth considering one of the biggest gripes about introducing new TLDs: that they may cause consumer confusion, particularly amongst individuals who aren't as tech savvy.
Just about everyone recognizes .com, so the value of a new TLD from a marketing and branding standpoint seems somewhat questionable, even if domain speculators do manage to cash in on some of them.
Will new TLDs have an impact on SEO efforts? Probably not. Search Engine Land's Danny Sullivan expects that soon, we'll be seeing "all types of SEO claims about the new names," but they're almost certainly not going to be valid. He explains:
...the new names will almost certainly mean nothing special to search engines. They won’t have any super ranking powers. If you managed to get .money, that doesn’t mean you’ll rank tops for money-related terms any more than people with the existing .travel domains do well for travel — because they don’t.
Go do a search for “travel” now or any popular travel-related term on Google. Count the number of times you see sites coming up with .travel in their domain name. You won’t need more than one hand. You probably one need more than one finger. You probably won’t need any fingers at all.
Not surprisingly, many expect .brand TLDs to create a flurry of .brand headaches. But will that actually be the case? Given the $185,000 cost of an application, and the scrutiny that is supposedly going to be applied to applications, it seems unlikely that an unauthorized party would be able to register .vodafone or .bbc.
Obviously, there could be issues where two companies in two different jurisdictions with the same name duke it out over a TLD, and there will almost certainly be fights over actual domains registered.
As potentially hundreds or thousands of new TLDs become available, you can be sure that the most foolish speculators will think it's a good idea to register trademarked names in some of the new domains which permit registrations by members of the public.
This said, short of spending exorbitant sums of money in a futile attempt to protect one's brand across every TLD, most companies will have to live with the fact that somebody might register yourcompanyname.something, and use ICANN's existing dispute resolution process in the most egregious cases.