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New TLDs come out with a whimper

Those hoping for a “big bang” of new TLDs are surely disappointed in how the rollout is taking place.

I’ve talked to a number of new top level domain name applicants who believe new TLDs need to come out with a “big bang.” A bunch of great domain options backed by big marketing budgets need to come out early on to make a big splash and give the program momentum.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that this isn’t going to happen. Instead of coming out with a bang, they’re coming out with a whimper. There are two main reasons for this.

1. The registrars aren’t ready.

Although 222 registry contracts have been signed with ICANN, and many domains are heading into sunrise, many registrars aren’t ready.

When it comes to sunrise, most registrars aren’t aren’t promoting it.

When شبكة. went into sunrise, I’m not aware of a single registrar that was accepting sunrise registrations from the get-go. It didn’t matter much, since only a handful of companies submitted Arabic strings to the Trademark Clearinghouse. But now the sunrise period for seven Donuts domain names ends later this month, and relatively few registrars are offering sunrise registrations.

Although many of the larger registrars are, they are making it fairly difficult to find the sunrise option. I spent time this morning searching for the option at many registrars. It’s buried and confusing.

It could be that registrars decided there’s not as much opportunity in sunrise registrations this time around, compared to previous TLD launches. They probably also figure anyone who has submitted to the Trademark Clearinghouse will take the initiative to find the sunrise options, where they exist.

Looking past sunrise, many registrars aren’t ready for the general availability period.

As of Monday, only 21 registrars are certified by IBM for the Trademark Clearinghouse database. Being connected to the database is a requirement for offering domains during the initial months of general availability.

Some of Donuts top level domains are entering general availability within weeks, and many registrars aren’t ready. Some of the mid-sized registrars (especially those outside the U.S.) haven’t even signed the 2013 RAA, so they can’t sell new TLDs at all.

It’s true that some large registrars have been aggressively promoting new TLDs, pre-orders, etc. But many are behind, and that’s especially the case outside the United States. It’s worth pointing out that may TLDs are specifically targeted to people outside the U.S.

2. The process is holding up many of the best domains for last.

There are a lot of things holding up the “best” domains. GAC advice resolution, objections, and most importantly, contention sets.

If you assume most of the best domains attracted more than one applicant, then many of the best domains are nowhere close to coming to market.

Relatively few contention sets have been resolved by private means. Google and Amazon haven’t resolved any. Some of the most contentious are still subject to community objections. I bet others will end up being held up by lawsuits.

There’s a glimmer of hope: ICANN’s auction-of-last-resort schedule will place auctions according to the best prioritization number, not the worst. Still, we’re months away from the auctions even starting.

What does this mean for new TLDs overall?

I’m not arguing that this initial “whimper” means new TLDs are doomed. But if you prescribe to the “big bang” theory, then you are likely disappointed in how this is playing out.

It seems that new top level domains are going to seep out onto the market rather than hit it with a big bang. In the eyes of consumers, there won’t be a big event where all the sudden they view that they have a lot of choice.

Will that hamper the more popular extensions that are a long way off? When they come to market, if the earlier extensions haven’t caught on, will people dismiss the better ones, too?

Or will the slow seep of new domain choice, as opposed to a big bang, not have any effect on the success of new TLDs?

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  1. Rick Schwartz

    Well done and good questions to ask.

    I think we can agree and it is obvious on the face to it there was no thought to a strategic rollout whatsoever. And on more than one level.

    And then the logical mind would ask what other things are not well thought out and on how many levels? What else is not ready?

    My answer is standby and watch because potentially there can be a calamity of things to come. I don’t wish it, but I sure as heck see it coming down the track and that track.

  2. Rick Schwartz

    The rest of that sentence was: I don’t wish it, but I sure as heck see it coming down the track and that track has the power to derail more than one car in the pile up. I think that is reasonable to point out especially since it has a high potential of happening thru no fault of their own. Just like a pile up on the Interstate. Some are involved that were not really involved.

  3. Domains

    Great post.

    I’m not sure how you are able to stay on top of this subject so well. 🙂

    I really don’t have an idea what the best strategy would have been but the Big Bang idea makes sense.

  4. Paul Stahura

    I have to disagree somewhat, Andrew. Its been a well known fact for a very long time (years) that the new TLD program was engineered to specifically NOT produce a “big bang”. All of the factors Andrew sites, and others, have been in the program for a long time. IDNs go first, un-contended TLDs in the root before more valuable and popular auctioned TLDs, a sunrise that registrars may not participate in, using the TLD program to get registrars to sign the 2013 RAA, the required TMCH intermediary step to sunrise, GAC advice which can be a slow process, and a mandated gradual rollout of no more than 1,000 TLDs in the root per year. Anyone who has been expecting a big bang may have misread the program’s plan for finally emerging to market. That being said, *all* of the large registrars that represent more than 99% of the channel have signed a Donuts RRA, many of them *are* performing sunrise applications, and Donuts has received millions of dollars in orders since we launched our first sunrise, and we are pleased with the market reaction so far.

    • Andrew Allemann

      Donuts is definitely on top of its game with sunrise, as all the registrars I visited offered Donuts domains (which is good, since I count 38 Donuts domains in active sunrise).

      I think there are several unexpected things just in the last 9-12 months that are making this a slower rollout of big strings than many expected:

      1. A lot of players unwilling to participate in private contention set resolution
      2. A lot more GAC advice than expected, covering a lot more domains (including entire categories of domains) is slowing down/halting contracting for some domains.
      3. Objections taking way longer to resolve than expected (albeit for a relatively small number of strings)

    • Robbie

      Domainers are not lining up to pay 4-5 figures for keyword.whatever… They are on the sidelines, most of these operators are hoping to seek additional funding after launch, unless they registar the names themselves, no investment will be forthcoming, and soon we will see them go extinct. The average business owner could careless, and has been blackmailed into the wall after .xxx.

      Outside this small community, people have businesses to run, employees to pay, they could care less about .nothing.

  5. Silver Surfer

    IMO, the big bang is a big failure. The only bang that will be heard is a thud as they all go down for the count.

  6. Steve

    When is ICANN going to set up their “dropping TLDs” auction process / platform as these things go belly-up?

    Inquiring minds want to know.

  7. Kassey

    Great piece of investigative work, Andrew. Since Godaddy is the dominant registrar, it’s the one I’m watching.

  8. domo sapiens

    Andrew,
    Refreshing to see great unbiased commentary and analysis,
    The New gTLD program has brought a lot of non-sense noise and baseless foretelling from other quasi-bloggers ( aka Big new gTLD players’ ARSE kissers)…

    The harder they try to sell the “Snake Oil” the more evident their desperation has become…

    Can you smell it?

  9. Constantine (.MUSIC) (@mus)

    My opinion is very close to Andrew’s when it comes to new gTLDs and I am one of the biggest new gTLD proponents on the planet. However no-one was expecting a big bang right now. Also most of the gTLD releases were commoditized gTLDs mainly from Donuts. Their goal is ROI not a big bang.

    Most will fail or have no relevance. I disagree with the Donuts or general portfolio ROI approach of commoditizing gTLDs and hoping the registrars will do all the marketing and people buying gTLDs based on a novelty name. Creating a factory model for gTLDs as the main value proposition does nothing to bring about community (not domainer) adoption. Does wonders for Donuts or Famous Four ROI because they would get their investment back.

    I see the community gTLDs doing very well when they win out. It would be in the new gTLD program’s best interest to hope that the right team with focused ideas and appropriate policies prevail in the case of each gTLD.

    The .BANK gTLD will do very well to create value just as long as the community bid prevails given theit appropriate policies. Same applies for .SPORT or .GAY or ECO or .MED. What many are missing here is that community applicants are more likely to create an industry standard and adoption than a meaningless open gTLD that some are envisioning because their policies are already supported by their corresponding communities. None of the community applicants have focused on begging Godaddy to put them on their shelf. The focus has been getting their community on board. Direct to community adoption approach vs direct to begging a registrar retailer who will treat your product as a commodity with hundreds of new gTLDs in their shelf space approach? That is the community vs portfolio applicant approach in a nutshell. Which one is more likely to succeed?

    If I were Donuts or the rest of the portfolio folks I would be hoping the right people get the right strings because it only helps their cause. This concept is called “shared” value. The faster they get this the better it is for the new gTLD program. You lose a bit in a gTLD while it increases the value of the rest of your portfolio. In the end ALL new gTLDs will be begging for success stories. Diversifying is important because some will surprise you with their execution.

    But I do agree on the basic premise that the direction of the new gTLD program will be a failure since beyond the community priority policy that ICANN has, the only factor that matters is winning an auction with deep pockets.

    If I were a domainer or ICANN or a portfolio applicant, I would be hoping the right companies with the most appropriate visions and policies run gTLDs in a focused manner to create value and aid corresponding community adoption.

    I see a lot of bashing against community objection decisions against communities. Do you guys really think Famous Four and Donuts would do a better job with .SPORT or .MUSIC than our initiative or Sports Accord? If you like the factory approach by some that have no specialty in music or sports then that is your answer. If you are looking about initiatives that the actual communities support and would be conducive to adoption then there is your answer.

    Look at the big picture and support those that would actually bring some real benefits and focused approaches. For example our approach is different. My team for .MUSIC is nearly just as big as the Donuts team. We handle one gTLD (.music), Donuts handles 300+ gTLDs. We are focused on value and our community, they are focused on ROI and their investors. Different approaches, different results. No doubt Donuts will make their ROI. This is a business after all for most.

  10. M. Menius

    Historically, none of the gtld registries have invested in significant marketing. The most impressive effort ever was dotmobi, and that was unsuccessful because the demand was simply not there within the larger business community. Without huge, persistent, wide scale marketing dollars being spent in major venues to promote new tld’s, there will be no adoption. Watch.

    • Tom G

      Marketing dollars by GoDaddy who will present everyone that searches for a name with relevant and catchy Not-com options. 50% of the market will get exposure at the point of sale. Watch.

  11. Allehandro

    Agree. No big bang = no success. To have stupid tld’s be the first one out the gate will result in the entire program failing. I do not see a happy outcome ahead for gtld sponsors. I see no difference between these and .mobi. All will soon die.

  12. Constantine (.MUSIC) (@mus)

    So what do folks think of .EDU? Is that a failure? Under 10,000 registrations but yet one of the most trusted gTLDs. Another one is .GOV.

    The new gTLD Program is not merely about ROI. I think the issue is value and adoption. Marketing dollars spent does not equal adoption in most cases. The focus should be on those communities affected. Niche gTLDs will get tens of thousands of registrations and if lucky hundreds of thousands (looking at .XXX, .TRAVEL, .PRO and others as guidance and as a reference point).

    In regards to auction value I would probably rank .WEB as the most valuable of these new gTLDs but my assessment is that it will not go over $10m in an auction since from an ROI perspective it is a risky move given the competition of similar names and the pricing competition issue. The risk is that you will be only competing with price when competing with .COM, .NET and not have billions of dollars behind you to get the word out globally to market a .WEB to make it a household name i.e branding. You can lower the price but at some point your profitability suffers.

    The .CO extension – which is brilliant in my mind – barely made it to 1 million with Super Bowl commercials and some major marketing (e.g the Twitter shortener t.co). So even imagining an open .WEB at 1 million registrations is quite a stretch even with a low price because of the branding, pricing and alternatives (demand and supply).

    New gTLDs will bring profits for registries if they are careful with their investments and make their marketing worthwhile without wasting resources or auction monies that could be used for operations and marketing. Relying on registrars alone will not cut it given the limited shelf space. My guess is .COM will still be the #1 option on the shelf space. You just can not compete with that.

    Not sure what everyone was expecting with new gTLDs. A big bang was not what everyone was expecting. It will be a gradual rollout and it is in everyone’s interest there are some success stories. But for those to happen there needs to be community adoption and focused marketing. Registrars are only limited in regards to what they can do marketing-wise.

    • Sam

      .edu and .gov are backed and protected by the US Government. Only universities accredited in the US can register for .edu and only government entities within the US can get .gov. That is why they are trusted, because you know only legit entities can get those domains. .bank has the same potential *if* they are only given to established banks.

  13. pophalos

    Many people arn’t even aware of what the new gTLDs are…yet. They will be as a momentum builds up.

    The Geos like .London will kick off with a bang as major, mainstream media coverage propels them into a wider stream of awareness.

    Those companies focusing on such domains will be the biggest winners here.

    • Andrew Allemann

      The Geos will get the most press, thanks in part to city support. They will also need to find different registration channels than typical registrars.

      Some registrars will use geo data to offer local domains, but .geo domain registries should consider their own registrar offering.

  14. thelegendaryjp

    In my mind if the new extensions are not splashed everywhere, in the face of the consumer 24/7, enough to forget dot com, than they are dot dead.

    Can they be, will they be, NEVAH!

    • Rubens Kuhl

      Remember that .brand TLDs have massive communication capabilities and will splash everywhere something.brand that doesn’t end in .com. They also own brand.com for sure, so they don’t run the infamous Overstock risk… but for those that notice that it wasn’t .com but .brand, they will knew it’s not only .com out there.

      • Andrew Allemann

        I suspect .brands will roll out much later. So much prep work will have to go into making that switch for those companies that choose to. Most will wait and see what others do.

    • Henry

      I am not so sure about that. That will be exposing themselves to competitive pressure that may hurt down the road because of relevance or lack thereof. Facebook may have something up its sleeve about search and Google giving them room will be a terrible mistake and not to mention Bing which is gradually gaining exposure.

      They need to seriously thread lightly.

  15. Chris Hughes (@chrishughesuk)

    I think some domainers need to get their heads around the fact that Google is not one of the largest buyers of TLDs because they fancy a bit of a laugh. TLDs will profoundly impact search, engine and social.

    The current domainer concensus that .com (the ultimate generic) is the default means to achieve optimised search is plain wrong. It is not correct for the current state of play and is less likely to be so in the future, when it is competing with better-defined TLDs that potentially better-serving businesses can be operating from.

    A huge portion of the domainer community need to get their heads out of the sand. The future will be very different, no matter how much they (and the value of their portfolios) would prefer otherwise.

  16. yashswey

    They probably also figure anyone who has submitted to the Trademark Clearinghouse will take the initiative to find the sunrise options, where they exist

  17. Neha

    Google is not one of the largest buyers of TLDs because they fancy a bit of a laugh. TLDs will profoundly impact search, engine and social.

  18. Tom G

    “In the eyes of consumers, there won’t be a big event where all the sudden they view that they have a lot of choice.”

    Actually probably not true, it just hasn’t happened yet.

    By the time consumers and users first learn about this expansion there may be hundreds of generics in GA and probably many brands using theirs. If the first time consumers and users are effectively exposed is when Google launches a major product or changeover, then it will appear to most as a ‘Big Bang’. It’s a matter of the timing of first exposure and awareness.

    The ‘Big Bang’ for many of us waiting years may have been when the first gTLDs hit the root. But for consumers and internet users, that will be delayed until something happens that affects them.

    When we launched dotbigbang.org we approached TV stations and the common response was ‘This does seem like it will be a really important story to cover – when something happens that matters to our audience.’

    Just yesterday our local Fox station covered Bitcoin for the first time because Overstock started accepting it. The reporter herself was struggling to understand it. Now, most of us here know exactly what bitcoin is and have for some time. But it took a real world event that touched the lives of the common man for it to become a ‘story’.

    The fact that nobody knows yet may actually reinforce the ‘Big Bang’ concept. So we’ll keep the ‘Dot Big Bang’ branding for now. Unless something else happens that catches traction enough to switch.

  19. Hina

    When purchasers and clients first research this development there may be many generics in GA and presumably numerous brands utilizing theirs. In the event that the first run through purchasers and clients are successfully uncovered is when Google dispatches a real item or changeover, then it will seem to most as a ‘Huge explosion’. It’s a matter of the timing of first presentation and mindfulness.

    The ‘Enormous detonation’ for a large portion of us holding up years may have been the point at which the first hit the root. However for customers and web clients, that will be deferred until something happens that influences them.

    When we dispatched we approached TV stations and the basic reaction was ‘This does appear as though it will be a truly essential story to blanket – when something happens that matters to our

  20. @Rubhi

    effectively exposed is when Google launches a major product or changeover, then it will appear to most as a ‘Big Bang’. It’s a matter of the timing of first exposure and awareness.
    The ‘Big Bang’ for many of us waiting years may have been when the first gTLDs hit the root. But for consumers and internet users, that will be delayed until something happens that affects them.
    When we launched dotbigbang.org we approached TV stations and the common response was ‘This does seem like it will be a really important story to cover – when something happens that matters to our audience.’
    Just yesterday our local Fox station covered Bitcoin for the first time because Overstock started accepting it. The reporter herself was struggling to understand it. Now, most of us here know exactly what bitcoin is and have for some time. But it took a real world event that touched the lives of the common man for it to become a ‘story’.
    The fact that nobody knows yet may actually reinforce the ‘Big Bang’ concept. So we’ll keep the ‘Dot Big Bang’ branding for now. Unless something else happens that catches traction enough to switch.
    Reply

  21. pranay

    The .BANK gTLD will do very well to create value just as long as the community bid prevails given theit appropriate policies. Same applies for .SPORT or .GAY or ECO or .MED. What many are missing here is that community applicants are more likely to create an industry standard and adoption than a meaningless open gTLD that some are envisioning because their policies are already supported by their corresponding communities. None of the community applicants have focused on begging Godaddy to put them on their shelf. The focus has been getting their community on board. Direct to community adoption approach vs direct to begging a registrar retailer who will treat your product as a commodity with hundreds of new gTLDs in their shelf space approach? That is the community vs portfolio applicant approach in a nutshell. Which one is more likely to succeed?

    If I were Donuts or the rest of the portfolio folks I would be hoping the right people get the right strings because it only helps their cause. This concept is called “shared” value. The faster they get this the better it is for the new gTLD program. You lose a bit in a gTLD while it increases the value of the rest of your portfolio. In the end ALL new gTLDs will be begging for success stories. Diversifying is important because some will surprise you with their execution.

    But I do agree on the basic premise that the direction of the new gTLD program will be a failure since beyond the community priority policy that ICANN has, the only factor that matters is winning an auction with deep pockets.

    If I were a domainer or ICANN or a portfolio applicant, I would be hoping the right companies with the most appropriate visions and policies run gTLDs in a focused manner to create value and aid corresponding community adoption.

    I see a lot of bashing against community objection decisions against communities. Do you guys really think Famous Four and Donuts would do a better job with .SPORT or .MUSIC than our initiative or Sports Accord? If you like the factory approach by some that have no specialty in music or sports then that is your answer. If you are looking about initiatives that the actual communities support and would be conducive to adoption then there is your answer.

    Look at the big picture and support those that would actually bring some real benefits and focused approaches. For example our approach is different. My team for .MUSIC is nearly just as big as the Donuts team. We handle one gTLD (.music), Donuts handles 300+ gTLDs. We are focused on value and our community, they are focused on ROI and their investors. Different approaches, different results. No doubt Donuts will make their ROI. This is a business after all for most.

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