gTLDs: what your business should know about new domain names

Web names

New generic top-level domains are set to shake-up the way businesses pick names for their websites. We explain how they work

The starting gun has been fired on the biggest land grab in the history of the web. Beginning today, thousands of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) will be unleashed, giving businesses the opportunity to be more creative with their website addresses.

No longer will businesses be restricted to .co.uk, .com or the slightly more esoteric likes of .net or .tv. Instead, they’ll be able to put their brand name in front of gTLDs such as .play, .secure, or .app.

For a brand-holder, it’s an absolute nightmare – knowing when to apply, how many to apply for

They might choose to "dot move", allowing the insurance company Claims Direct to switch from www.claimsdirect.co.uk to simply claims.direct, for example. They’ll also have to keep a close eye out for their brands being tarnished on more derogatory domains such as .sucks and .adult, both of which are in the initial batch of gTLDs to be released in the coming months.

Although the plan to release these gTLDs has been on the table for many years, awareness is still low. Many businesses may switch on just in time to find that the domains they crave have already gone. We’re going to give you a heads-up on the new gTLDs to make sure you’re not caught out by this fundamental shift in the way websites are labelled.

The new gTLD system

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. If like Barclays, Del Monte or Hermès, you liked the idea of landing your own top-level domain name, you’re already too late – for the initial batch of releases, at least. Although considering you’d need $185,000, alongside a host of expensive infrastructure requirements, it’s unlikely most SMBs could afford to get involved in the first place. This doesn’t mean you should write off all chance of landing a prestigious new domain name, however.

There are three main types of gTLD being released: closed, restricted and open. Most closed registrations are brand extensions, where a company has bought its own name and plans to use it for its own purposes internally (reviews.pcpro, for example). Restricted domains are only open to applicants who meet a certain criteria – companies applying for a .london domain will have to be based in the city, for example. Open domains will accept applications from anyone, in much the same way anyone can buy a .com domain today.

The application process has, predictably, been mired in controversy. "A number of organisations didn’t apply in the spirit of the programme, and applied for what’s known as 'closed generics'," says Stuart Fuller, director of commercial operations and communications at corporate domain-name management firm, NetNames. This means in addition to applying for their own company names, some firms have applied to close off non-brand-specific domain names, too. "Amazon, Google and L’Orèal all applied for generic terms. L’Orèal applied for .hair, Amazon applied for .book. There’s been a huge uproar."

Around 600 open domains are expected to be released in the first batch of around 1,900 gTLDs, starting today. The order in which the domains will be released has already been set, after the governing body ICANN held what was possibly the world’s most expensive – and dullest – raffle. All of the gTLD applicants had to buy a $100 ticket, and a seven-hour-long draw at ICANN’s headquarters decided in which order the domain names would be released. The running order is published on ICANN’s website, and as you’ll notice, many of the domains are in international, non-Latin script. This allows for Cyrillic, Hindi or Japanese iterations of
.com, for example, which are foreseen to be in high demand.

Many of the domain names are being sought after by more than one applicant. The .play domain, for example, is part of a three-way tussle between Amazon, Google and Famous Four Media (a fourth applicant has already bowed out). In such circumstances, ICANN wants the parties to meet and come to a private arrangement – no doubt involving a large cheque or other form of bartering. "There are lots of small companies making bids for domains such as .app or .music, making a calculated bid that they’ll be paid off," says Fuller. "They’ll say 'give me 300 grand to walk away'."

If the parties can’t agree a settlement, ICANN will hold a private auction, with the highest bidder taking the domain, and the proceeds going to the losing parties. ICANN executives told PC Pro that around 10% of contended names have been settled already. "As we get closer to the auctions, the light will become clearer, and we’ll see how many settle and how many go to auction," says Akram Atallah, president of ICANN’s generic domains division.

Registering a new domain

The first open domains could already be appearing on the market. Before an open domain reaches general availability, there will be two crucial periods, called "sunrise" and "landrush".

The 60-day sunrise period will see registered trademark holders notified and given the option to purchase domain names using the new gTLD. This is designed to prevent opportunists registering coke.web, for example, and then attempting to hold the drinks firm to ransom. But given that around 20 new domains will be released every week, it’s a headache for well-known companies. "For a brand-holder, it’s an absolute nightmare – knowing when to apply, how many to apply for," says Fuller.

Read more

Analysis