This week, ICANN voted to expand gTLDs (generic top level domains) so that there are no longer restrictions on the gTLDs that can be registered and used online. A gTLD refers to the letters that come after the last dot in a URL string, such as .com, .gov or .org. Previously, there were a limited number of generic top level domains, but this resolution by ICANN, the body that controls and governs the domain name industry, will open every gTLD as a possible domain name extension going forward. These new gTLDs are likely to start hitting the market in the fourth quarter of 2009.
A companion resolution was also pushed through, which will allow domain names to use non-Roman characters. This means that Chinese, Arabic and Cyrillic characters, for example, will all be able to be used in domain names.
These are historic decisions by ICANN, although there is a lot of debate about what kind of actual impact they will have on the industry. For more details on the specifics of what was announced, check out the announcement here.
Here are some of my initial thoughts:
- This decision is important and will have an impact. Since this announcement, I have heard a lot of people making the case that the only domain name that really matters is .com. Although I agree that the .com domain name will stay the strongest for the foreseeable future, this thinking is really short-sighted. Although technology is advancing quickly, the Internet is still in its infancy. It’s hard to predict what will happen in two years, let alone in 20 years. I think that there is a very good chance that other gTLDs will become important. I’ve seen evidence of this in other countries, and honestly, it’s even possible that the gTLD system could eventually go away entirely.
- It will take awhile for any new gTLD to become popular. People are comfortable with their current domain names and will likely stay with them in the short term. But this decision opens the door for a new site with a new domain name to come in and make a splash. And if that happens, it could popularize a new gTLD quickly.
- This decision does nothing to hurt domain name speculators, it only helps them. The decision does not lessen the value of their current domain names, and it opens the possibility that they might be able to add a whole batch more to their already-valuable portfolios. They’ll be able to use the techniques, tactics and strategies (not to mention automated scripts and money!) that they created in the first round of domain name speculation to continue to round out their portfolios.
- A new energy is going to be injected into the domain name industry that hasn’t been seen in awhile. I expect a lot of creativity, and I think that we’ll be pleasantly surprised by the fun and interesting ways that people think up of capitalizing on this opportunity.
- There are significant trademark ramifications. Here is a good story if you’re interested in that.
- The average man on the street is going to be confused when new gTLDs are introduced. There will have to be some serious marketing and explaining done to help translate this to the millions who are just now using .com comfortably.
- The current alternate extensions are in trouble. I agree with this analysis that .info, .biz and a few other currently existing gTLDs will probably not do as well going forward.
- The biggest impact will be with the companion decision, which is that ICANN is now going to allow non-Roman characters in domain names. This means that countries that don’t use Roman characters in their primary languages (China, India, Russia, etc.) will now be able to register domain names in their native languages. This is the one area that I think that there will be real, meaningful and quick growth. Asian, Arabic, Cyrillic and other scripts will now be able to have domain names – this is huge based on the numbers alone:
“At the moment, there are one-and-a-half billion people online and four-and-a-half billion people for whom the Roman script just means nothing.”
There will be some shakeout on the specifics of this decision in the coming months, and expect a lot of buzz as the end of 2009 approaches.