Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a little known entity that controls the naming system on the Internet, just got $347 million richer this year. And it appears to be only the beginning.
The money came from application fees for the new “generic top level domain name,” or gTLDs. Currently, there are only 21 top level domain names, such as the well-known “.com”, “.org”, and “.edu”. The proposed ICANN program will permit applicants to claim virtually any word, generic or branded, as a top-level domain name (the word after dot). In June, ICANN revealed that it received 1930 applications in the first round. You can see the full list here.
This is clearly shaping up to be the biggest digital land grab in the history of Internet. Name grabbing is nothing new – fortunes have been made in earlier years – only this time, the landscape has opened much wider. Among applicants many are “registration” companies created for the sole purpose of profiting from owning desirable domain names.
The most active applicant in the first round is Bellevue based Donuts.co, which was created to take advantage of the specific opportunities with the opening of gTLDs. According to its website, the company has raised more than $100 million in venture capital funding, and applied for 307 domain names, which is almost 16% of the total number of applications received by ICANN.
A quick look at some of the names Donuts.co has applied for indicates its strategy to dominate generic categories with the largest potential audience, for example: .movie, .news, .now, .online, .video, .phones, .book, .sports. It also applied for names that represent generic services including .pizza, .property, .restaurant, .sale, .security, .services, .shopping, and .vacations.
The obvious anticipation is if gTLD catches up with the internet user community, then small business owners will have every incentive to establish presence under domain names such as .restaurant and .pizza. It is not clear what donuts.co will do with .school and .university names it has applied for. In the spirit of the wild west, it has also staked claims for .place and .world. Surprisingly, there was no application for .universe yet.
As expected, multiple applications compete for the same highly sought after domains names. Among the most popular are “.app” which had 13 applicants, “.art” had 10, and “.book” had 9.
Among large internet companies, Google seeks more than 101 top-level domains including .android, .youtube and .search. Amazon applied for 76 domains names, including .amazon, .kindle and .video. Apple has only applied for one top-level domain: .apple.
Largely missing from action are communities, non-profit organizations, and internet users in general. Not surprising, considering the cost of application is $185,000 per domain name, plus $25,000 a year if successful.
ICANN’s move has been controversial. According to PRNewswire, Eighty-seven major national and international business associations and companies have joined forces to form the Coalition for Responsible Internet Domain Oversight (CRIDO) to oppose the rollout of ICANN’s top-level domain expansion program.
While it is clear that companies like Donuts.co seek rights for new domain registration as a potential license to print money, others (such as Apple) play a more defensive role. Still, there are major corporations, such as Facebook, which are missing from action.
What do you think of the new domain name opening? Is it a money grabbing scheme unwelcomed by the user community, or will it lead to new innovations and usher in a new era of the internet? Like it or not, a new chase in the Wild West has already begun.