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Overview of domain names, gTLD timeline and the New gTLD Program

The Internet is an evolving ecosystem. Starting with the Arpanet in 1969, it evolved into E-mail (1972), The World Wide Web (1991), Blogs, Social Networking, Music/Images/Video, Search Engines and Wireless Connectivity (1990+), Social Media, Apps, Mobile Internet and VoIP/TV (2000+).

A domain name consists of three levels, namely a First or Top-Level, a Second-Level and a Third-Level. For example, in the domain name, ‘.org’ is the Top-Level, ‘icann’ is the Second-Level and ‘meetings’ is the Third-Level.

Certain acronyms associated with domains need to be clarified. The abbreviation ‘gTLD’ stands for generic Top Level Domain. Also known as an extension, label, string or suffix, it is a series of characters that make up part of your Internet address. Other acronyms are ‘ccTLD’, which stands for country code Top Level Domain, and ‘IDN’, which stands for Internationalized Domain Name, and is a domain name represented by local language characters, or letter equivalents.

Under the New gTLD Program, the original root TLDs such as .com, .org and .net will be extended to TLDs such as .city, .brand and .acronym. In the Fast Track Program, the original ccTLDs such as .cn, .jp and .ru will be extended to their own national written translations (IDN ccTLDs).

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a complex ecosystem. A person who wishes to register a domain name (‘registrant’) can go to a ccTLD Registry, a Registrar that sells gTLDs and some ccTLDs, or a Reseller. Registrars in turn can deal directly with ICANN or with gTLD Registries who in turn deal with ICANN.

What is a gTLD Registry?

A gTLD Registry is a business with very specific technical requirements. It has a mandatory agreement with ICANN, and is the authoritative, master database of all domain names registered in each top-level domain. It keeps the master database and also generates the “zone file” which allows computers to route Internet traffic to and from top-level domains anywhere in the world. Today, Internet users do not interact directly with the registry operator; users can register names by using ICANN-Accredited Registrars.

What is the New gTLD Program?

The New gTLD Program is an initiative that will enable the introduction of unlimited generic top-level domain names or extensions (both ASCII and IDN) into the domain name space. It is managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). The original domain extensions such as .com, .net and .org were established in 1998 and predated ICANN. The 2000 Round included the .biz and .info extensions. The 2004 Round included extensions such as .mobi and .xxx. The New gTLD Program Policy development came between December 2005 and September 2007. The ICANN Board Policy approval came in June 2008 followed by Public Participation and the Draft Applicant Guidebook. A Communications Campaign was launched on 20th June 2011 along with board approval and publication of the final Applicant Guide Book. There is on-going status reporting on ICANN’s website.

Why Expand the Top-Level?

Expanding Top-Level domains remove existing limitations to ASCII gTLDs which do not reflect growing Internet reality and needs. It creates a platform to innovation in the industry and Internet and opens doors to increase choice and competition in the market place.

ICANN’s Mission and New gTLDs

According to ICANN’s 1998 founding documents, “The new corporation ultimately should… 3) oversee policy for determining the circumstances under which new TLDs are added to the root system.” The ICANN/U.S.A. government agreements “define and implement a predictable strategy for selecting new TLDs” and the 2009 Affirmation of Commitments (9.3) “promote competition, consumer trust and consumer choice.”

The New gTLDs’ Potential Impact on Businesses

The new gTLDs will provide opportunity for investment, more choice and competition. They will provide a platform to innovation, new business model opportunities, brand management and online marketing practices. They will impact industry sectors, security, control and user behaviour. Systems and applications will have to be upgraded to accept new TLDs.

The New gTLDs’ Potential Impact on Governments & Communities

The new gTLDs will see an increase of online cultural, linguistic, and geographical communities. It will be a more globally and culturally inclusive Internet with IDNs, local ccTLDs and geographic names. Internet users will see more choice, innovation and competition, and there will be new ways to find information, goods and services.

gTLDs, Branding and SEO

A business brand and SEO (search engine optimisation) re-evaluation process must also be considered as there is a possible chance that gTLDs can eventually alter how people search and navigate the Internet. As stated by global IP strategist Jennifer Wolfe in a recent blog, search engines are “always evolving in response to changes in user behaviour and the algorithms that users rely upon to find their way around the Internet”. Therefore owning a gTLD grants the opportunity for businesses not only to be more creative with their domain names, but to be as authentic as much as possible. Even though software engineer Matt Cutts disproves the statement that TLD web addresses may not be automatically favoured by Google over a .com, maintaining a gTLD can improve organic search to various websites.

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