Dot dot dot... Observations from the first two years of ICANN's new gTLD programme

Article  \  17 Sep 2015

It's been about two years since the first of hundreds of new gTLDs began trickling out. New Sunrise Periods continue to open, and new registries are still being delegated by The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). To date, more than 300 alternatives to .com have launched.

It's fair to say new gTLDs have not displaced .com as the top-level domain of choice. Uptake has been patchy, especially for some of the more 'niche' extensions like .tattoo and .coupons. Many registries have attracted only a few hundred registrants, a disappointing result after paying ICANN's fee of US$185,000 to apply to run a registry, and not even a drop in the bucket compared to the more than 106 million .coms out there.

Easy as .xyz?

New gTLDs are catching on in some areas. Google recently announced that the online home for its new company Alphabet LLC would be, lending instant credibility to the .xyz registry (even though it's not one of the many gTLD registries that Google owns). According to some online sources, the .xyz registry has more than 869,000 domain registrations, although those figures are controversial because a large number of .xyz domains were given away for free when the registry launched.

Google has also recently said that it will treat new gTLDs the same as traditional ones like .com for the purposes of search result rankings, so that there will be no disadvantage in terms of search engine optimisation for registrants of new gTLDs. But there are still a number of reasons why consumers may be reluctant to engage with these new domains.

Lack of clarity an obstacle

Trying to obtain reliable information about new gTLDs is tricky, for several reasons.

Each privately run registry operates on its own, and contracts with different registrars to sell its domains to the public. Because different registries contract with different registrars, there is no single centralised list of prices and dates where you can check what is available and what's coming up. It can also mean you have to sign up with a variety of different registrars to get hold of different domains, which can be inconvenient if you are trying to manage a portfolio efficiently.

It is also difficult to get accurate information about the number of new gTLDs that have been registered. In some cases, the company that owns a registry will buy up large numbers of domains itself, or give thousands away for free, artificially inflating numbers. So if you want to get an idea of how popular a registry is before you buy up any online real estate there, it can be difficult.

Registries call the shots

Even if you know the specific domain you want to register, finding out how to do it and how much it'll cost you is not always straightforward.

Some registries have specific criteria applicants must meet to qualify to register a domain. For example, the .organic registry requires applicants to have certification from a qualified organisation that they make or supply organic goods or services. Failure to complete the verification process within the allotted time, or supply the right documentation, could see your domain lapse.

Registries are entitled to charge what they like for domains, as are their resellers. Registries are also entitled to put any domain they like on a 'reserved' list, or a 'premium' list which attracts a heftier price tag. The lack of any objective, centralised information source makes it difficult to find out if a domain is actually available and if so, how much it will cost. The name might be listed as 'reserved' by a registry, but actually available for sale at a premium fee, or it might be 'reserved' and not available at any cost. If it is reserved, it may become available at a later date, but only through certain registrars. And so on.

Buying your own .brand

Some new gTLDs, often referred to as '.brands', have been purchased by companies solely for their own use. Marriott hotels and Barclays bank have both recently announced they will be switching their range of .com websites to the .marriott and .barclays spaces (and having paid US$185,000 for the pleasure of applying to own the registry, they would probably feel a little silly not to use them). But for the average business or other domain name owner, switching to a new gTLD may well be more trouble than it is worth.

New applications on the horizon

Time will tell which new gTLDs have staying power. ICANN is already planning to open a second round of applications so even more new registries could be on the way. And why wouldn't it? ICANN took in just under US$60 million from auctioning off contested gTLD registries (including $25 million from Google to secure .app), and about US$357 million in total application fees. Much of this money has been used to fund the roll-out of the programme, and ICANN is now taking public proposals on what to do with the auction proceeds.