As many of us are preparing our comments on ICANN’s latest new TLD guidebook, many companies are also trying to determine if they will actually apply for a new TLD if they arrive as scheduled by ICANN in May of 2011.
Even though many of the previously launched “new TLDs” did not bring about a meaningful shift in online consumer behavior, there is a shared concern among digital executives over not knowing what will happen with this launch, or what the appropriate action will be.
Imagine if Facebook is one company that applies for a new TLD in the first round. It might make sense; Facebook has had its fair share of username and security issues and Facebook users spend more time on facebook.com than any other site. The possibility of creating .FACEBOOK domains for each user, such as PhilLodico.facebook, might be interesting to Facebook and it would likely be valued by users as well.
Facebook alone has over 500 million users. That would translate to 500 million new domain names; tripling the number of domain names in existence overnight.
Now imagine adding in other Internet powerhouses like Google, Microsoft and Apple, and big brands like Coca-Cola, Disney and others. These companies have enormous reach in terms of customer touch points, not to mention budgets with which – if they wanted to – they could try to shift consumer behavior.
Between Facebook’s grassroots consumer behavior shift and a possible direct marketing program by brand leaders, there is no question; there is a chance that new TLDs will catch on.
Wouldn’t it be great if we could sit on the side and wait and see what other companies do? To see if Facebook does this? To see if 500 million new domain names are registered and to see what consumers begin to do. It would. But ICANN isn’t necessarily going to allow that to happen.
The biggest risk that new TLDs (if approved) present is that we only know that there will be one window that opens. The last time a window opened was seven years ago. What if ICANN gets overwhelmed with this launch? What if it takes years to process the 500 applications that they are talking about possibly receiving? What if ICANN is prevented from moving forward with another window because of abuse found in the space? What if it is 3, 5, or 7 years until the next window opens?
What happens to the brand owners that decided to wait on the sideline if new TLDs begin to catch on? Those that did apply will have the ultimate competitive advantage while those who didn’t will be sitting on the bench waiting for their chance to play catch up.
While I believe there is still an opportunity to alter if and how new TLDs will be released, this risk of being sidelined is one we all need to take seriously. And as ICANN has shown us, we need to start thinking about this soon.
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