Archive for August, 2010

ICANN’s Tokyo meeting provides a little more clarity on the New gTLD Program.

Friday, August 27th, 2010

By Tony Kirsch

New gTLDs continue to be a major topic of discussion within ICANN circles, and the regional meeting currently underway in Tokyo has revealed some interesting updates for potential applicants.

ICANN’s Chief gTLD Registry Liaison, Craig Schwartz, delivered a great presentation on the progress being made behind the scenes at ICANN and provided the attendees with an insight into a couple of key changes that are likely to be seen in the Final Applicant Guidebook. As many of our readers would be aware, we have been waiting in anticipation for the new gTLD Final Applicant Guidebook to be approved at a previously unconfirmed meeting of the ICANN Board. The date for is meeting was today announced as 23rd-24th September.

Like many others in the industry, we’ll be actively watching for the outcomes of this Board retreat where the focus will be on the new gTLD program’s remaining unresolved issues. In particular, the Board’s willingness to address the complicated Vertical Integration topic (given the inability of the VI Working Group to reach consensus) will be of interest to the many applicants likely to be affected by the outcome.

On another interesting note, one very important topic that has been flying under the radar is Registry Transition, namely the current requirement for new gTLD applicants to provide both a backup Registry Services organisation and a financial instrument sufficient to guarantee a minimum of three years of Registry operations in the event of the TLD owner being unable to operate it.

Obtaining a backup Registry Services provider is not particularly difficult. However, for many potential applicants (in particular smaller community-based applicants) the requirement to obtain a letter of credit from a financial organisation is an enormous burden and a significant additional cost.

Acknowledging this today and noting that the protection of the Registrant is paramount to this process, Schwartz said that ICANN had invested significant time and will further expand the recent concept of Emergency Backend Registry Operator (and yet another acronym, EBERO) whereby qualified applicants (i.e. Existing Registry Operators) could tender to ICANN to provide ‘temporary’ Registry Services in the event of critical failure of the Registry Operator to operate the gTLD.

This is a great initiative and should be welcomed by the community for two key reasons:

a) It has the potential to remove the requirement to name a pre-organised backup Registry Service.

b) It has the potential to reduce the level of financial guarantee to ICANN from applicants.

Other interesting points worthy of note from yesterday’s session:

Communications Plan – This is being worked on by ICANN currently but won’t be rolled out until the Final Applicant Guidebook is approved, almost guaranteeing that the earliest date for applications will be March or April 2011

DAGv4 Summary of Analysis – This won’t be released to the public until after the Board’s retreat, which is a surprise given that the public comment finished quite some time ago

IDN ccTLD Fast Track – ICANN have 33 applicants, representing 22 languages, currently under review as this program continues to drive the expansion of the internet provide across the globe.

All in all, these small yet important pieces of information represent yet another positive step forward in the new gTLD process. I for one can’t wait to see what the next few months will bring.

Click here to see the presentations from the Tokyo meeting as provided by ICANN.

The Window of Opportunity for ccTLDs

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

By Jon Lawrence

The announcement that .co has already achieved over 450,000 new registrations since the opening up of the second-level a month ago demonstrates that there is strong demand in the global domain name marketplace for quality new domain spaces.

Though .co is the country-code Top Level Domain (ccTLD) for Colombia, the second-level registrations (ie company.co) are available on a global basis and it is being pitched as a direct competitor to the dominant .com gTLD. Google has altered its algorithm to increase the relevance of search results in the .co domain by treating .co as a gTLD and allowing .co website owners to specify the geographic regions they are targeting.  Though .CO Internet has the freedom enjoyed by all ccTLDs of not having to operate under ICANN’s policy framework, they have elected to adopt policies that very closely match that framework, including the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).

The launch of second-level registrations under .co therefore represents, to all intents and purposes, a new gTLD launch, and appears to be a popular alternative to .com for both large corporations and small businesses, at least at this early stage.  Overstock’s purchase of o.co for US$350,000 shows a high degree of confidence in the new .co brand, and Twitter has also joined their list of high-profile anchor tenants, launching t.co as a secure URL shortening service.  Anecdotal evidence also suggests that small businesses are taking the opportunity to secure names within this new space that they had been unable to register in .com or other spaces.

The .co launch is just the latest in a long line of examples of the opportunistic repositioning of ccTLDs to compete in the global market against the ‘official’ gTLDs.  Colombia, like Montenegro (.me) and Tuvalu (.tv) and a number of others are simply leveraging their luck in the two character assignment lottery by opening up their ccTLD to the world.  Both Colombia and Montenegro have however tried to maintain the best of both worlds by reserving third-level registrations (such as .com.co and .co.me) for local entities, thereby providing trusted and dedicated domain spaces for the domestic market, while reaping the benefits of having a desirable ccTLD extension by opening up the second-level to the world.

Despite the fact that they are globally-focused and effectively gTLDs, the success of .co and .me highlights the market opportunity that currently exists for other ccTLDs that are yet to establish a clear market position.  Of course, the vast majority of countries do not have the opportunity to reposition themselves as gTLDs to chase the global market, and in most cases there will be a clear preference to focus on the needs of the local market.

A report (PDF) released by Eurid (the .eu Registry) in June highlights the power that well-established and effectively managed ccTLDs can exert in their local markets.  In Sweden, for example, the local .se ccTLD scored nearly 100% in terms of awareness and 49% for preference, compared with only 34% for .com.  Similar rankings are likely to be enjoyed by other well-established ccTLDs, and we’ve seen similar numbers in relation to the position of .au in Australia.

Many ccTLDs however face a raft of challenges that are preventing them from achieving anything like this sort of local market position.  These challenges can include the absence of local control, legacy systems, inefficient registration processes and restrictive policies, as well as a general lack of local capacity.

When ICANN’s new gTLD program finally comes to fruition (likely towards the latter part of 2011), there will be a dramatic increase in choice for prospective domain name registrants across all regions and language groups.  Those ccTLDs that are yet to position themselves as the pre-eminent domain space and default choice in their local markets therefore have a finite window of opportunity in which to do so, to ensure that they are not consigned to relative obscurity in the face of dozens of new Top Level Domains.