Companies ignore web's Big Bang

18 Jun, 2012

Wednesday was, according to Rod Beckstrom, head of the body that regulates internet domain names, "an historic day for the internet".

At a packed press conference in north London, Mr Beckstrom unveiled the applicants for the potential successors to .com and .org. Under a plan that some have dubbed the "web's big bang", Mr Beckstrom's organisation is for the first time allowing companies to apply for their own web suffixes, replacing .com with their own ".brands".

As a result the number of so-called top-level domain names, such as .net or .org, will rise from 22 to hundreds. "The internet," Mr Beckstrom said, "is about to change for ever."

Some companies, however, clearly did not get the memo. While Amazon and Google applied for dozens of domains each, competing for potentially extremely valuable suffixes, such as .cloud and .search, the remainder of Silicon Valley seemed decidedly nonplussed by the process.

Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn did not make a single application. Apple, meanwhile, applied for just one domain – .apple.

For some of the world's biggest consumer-oriented companies, the internet's big bang was more of a whimper.

In total, there were 1,930 applications for new web suffixes. Speaking before the event, Mr Beckstrom expressed surprise that the final number of applications was not higher: "I thought that we would get 2,000, maybe up to 3,000, as this is a very unique opportunity for companies."

There were no applications for .coke, .pepsi or .disney, as many household names decided that the price for their own corner of the internet was too high. One person at a multi-billion-dollar online company, who declined to be named, said it did not take part because of the costs.

"It comes down to return on investment," the person said. "That kind of money is significant and there are other priorities and other things that it can be invested in."

The costs involved in maintaining a generic top-level domain are not small. Applicants must first pay the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which regulates domain names, a $185,000 application fee. If successful, they will then have to pay $25,000 per year to Icann. After that, there is the cost of maintaining the domain, which can run to six figures a year.

"This is not the same as buying a [regular] domain name," said Peter Thrush, executive chairman of Top Level Domain Holdings and a former chairman of Icann. "That's like comparing the cost of buying an airline ticket with the cost of buying an airline."

But fees alone do not explain the apathy among some online groups. One potential danger of not bidding for your own virtual real estate had been that online squatters could claim it. But large online groups seemed confident that malicious attempts to register a trademark or brand name as a domain would be blocked by Icann. "Nobody seriously thinks there's going to be much trademark infringement at the top level," said Mr Thrush.

It is a different story lower down the chain, however. If all the applied-for domains are approved, companies could be looking at an extra bill of between $100,000 to $200,000 per year just to buy up their original web address attached to the new suffixes, according to Charlie Abrahams, a vice- president at MarkMonitor, an online brand protection agency. They will also have to keep an eye on whether their company's name appears with the new .sucks suffix, which had three applications.

Companies with generic brand names, such as Boots, applied for their own domain in any case. "We believe that owning the .boots domain name will allow us to look after our online brand in a stronger, cohesive way," said a Boots official. Boots was one of just 40 UK companies to apply for a new suffix.

Brand protection aside, applicants are reluctant to reveal their plans for the potential domains with the application process still on-going.

While Google's bids for .youtube and .android seem relatively logical, the company will not comment on what it would do with domains such as .lol or .boo.

Others have firmer ideas of what they have planned. Steve Machin, a director at Accent Media, aims to turn the .tickets suffix into a verifiable, fraud-free network of ticket vendors.

"It gives a structural solution that's simple for consumers to understand," said Mr Machin. "The challenge is not the savvy online consumer, who knows where to go. The beauty of .tickets is the simplicity – it makes it easy to identify legitimate websites."

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