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As hundreds of new internet domain names prepare to roll out across the world, a handful of Aussie brands are waiting to see theirs go live. Lucy Clark discovers what it means – and the implications for brands that did not apply

“This will probably be the most significant change to the internet in our lifetime – yet no-one knows about it.”

ARI Registry Services’ Adrian Kinderis’ (pictured) observation is no exaggeration. As those that applied gear up for implementation, and those that didn’t watch with growing interest, generic Top Level Domain Names (gTLDs) are about to be rolled out – and the internet as we know it will be no more.

By the end of 2013, the .coms, .orgs and .nets will have company. Big company.

Almost 1,500 new gTLDs will roll out in the coming months. Domain name extensions like .shop, .bank and .auto, as well as geographic locations, such as .sydney, and brands’ own gTLDs will be introduced.

.nab, .auspost and .afl are among the Australian brands seeking approval for their own gTLD, along with the likes of .macys in the States, .loreal in France and .lipsy, .bbc, .next and .boots in the UK.

The US-based Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is in the middle of assessing applications for gTLDs, the first of which have passed the approval phase and will now undergo testing before the first successful gTLDs go live from next month. 

Of the hundreds of applications from around the world – from businesses, big brands, and entrepreneurs looking to cash in on owning gTLDs like .web, .movie and .music – 41 were from Australia, and 30 of those were brands.

Some names are in contention. For example, there were about 10 applications for .web. Those in contention will undergo an auction process and are likely to be rolled out in 2014.

Those that have applied are working behind-the-scenes on how they are going to integrate it, once approved.

What is behind the gTLDs?

Innovation, authenticity and marketing are among the reasons behind the gTLDs.

Bruce Tonkin (pictured left), chief strategy officer at domain name registration company Melbourne IT, says: “If you think back 10 years to the days of .com and .com.au, some brands were at the leading edge and registered their domain names early, while other companies were followers and gradually it rolled out after the leaders.

“The kinds of companies that have already applied for their own Top Level Domain Name are those that lead the way. Most of the leading tech companies – Google, Amazon, Cisco – have applied. And most of the big banks have applied. Those that have applied are the ones that want to innovate and try new things.”

Of the big four banks in Australia, Westpac was the only one not to apply.

“It’s going to be really interesting to see how Westpac responds,” said Kinderis, CEO at ARI Registry Services, a subsidiary of AusRegistry which specialises in domain name registry services. 

He continues: “The marketing department is probably one of the big winners out of the generic Top Level Domain Names, as the names create a much more succinct message – especially for brands, such as banks, that care about being trusted online. ANZ will now be able to tell its customers, ‘if the name doesn’t end in .anz, it’s not us’. That’s really powerful.”

Kinderis explains that the way consumers interact with brands online is about to be completely overhauled.

“The gTLDs will help with succinct navigation, and will lead to a return to the navigation bar,” he says. “We have got far too familiar with search. With this, navigation will be much more intuitive.

“How we interact with brands online is also going to change significantly. I know, from talking to brands who are preparing for this, they all have different ideas.

“Ideas such as getting everyone their own personal domain name, so for my banking I might be going straight to adriankinderis.anz. It’s great for brands – it will create more loyalty and more of that important stickiness.”

And Tonkin adds: “I think there will be a lot more marketing around web and search terms. Words you would naturally search for, like ‘cheap flights’ or ‘Sydney flights’ will be matched to domain names. There is a lot of advertising potential in this.”

He says the new gTLDs will also help with online authenticity and security: “It’s a controlled space. For example, NAB will be able to warn their customers that if they get an email from a .com address, they should not trust it.”

But what if you didn’t apply? Kinderis admits the rolling out of the new gTLDs is “daunting”.

“We have now got potentially 1,400 new domain names and brands have got to look and work out which one is best for them,” he says. “Say I am Bank West, who did not apply, do I go for bankwest.bank, or bankwest.finance, and so on?

“Anybody who has not applied for a new domain name needs to take a look. There is nothing compelling them to change anything, but some of the new domain names might make sense.”

Brand protection

ICANN launched a new tool last month, the Trade Mark Clearing House, enabling any businesses to protect their trademarks from being used in domain names. The clearing house will protect companies’ trade marks from other companies trying to register a website using them.

As Kinderis outlines: “The knee-jerk reaction is ‘I’ve got to protect my brand’. ICANN has set up the Trade Mark Clearing House for that. Companies can enter any marks they own into the clearing house. So, if I am Nike, I enter ‘nike’ into the clearing house. Then if someone registers nike.bananas, or whatever, I will be notified.

“It’s an extra level of protection for mark holders that brands should be looking at.”

Tonkin adds: “Medium to large companies should have a look at which trademarks they own and then lodge them with the Trade Mark Clearing House – that will give them brand protection.”

And last year, Melbourne IT published a discussion paper calling for ICANN to tighten safeguards around the new gTLDs.

Following this, ICANN has extended the period after a name goes live when an applicant must ensure they are not going to infringe any trademarks. That period has been extended from 60 days to 90 days.

What next?

The first gTLDs to roll out will be those in languages other than English.

Tonkin explains: “The view was that the internet community is well serviced by existing English names like .com and .com.au, so priority is being given to non-English names, such as those in Chinese or Arabic. Towards the end of the year we will start to see English names rolled out.”

One year after the launch of the new gTLDs, there will be a formal review. Anyone that didn’t apply will now have to wait until this review is complete before ICANN accepts a second round of applications for gTLDs. Kinderis concludes: “If I was a brand, I would be watching closely and getting the wheels turning.”  

 

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