Internet branding: prepare for new era of domain names

ICANN approves a new Website naming system that substitutes for the 'dot-com' suffix. But securing a new name will be more costly and require jumping through more hoops. Plus, registration will only occur within a three-month window.

We're about to see the largest "land rush" since the dawn of the commercial Web almost two decades ago. But unlike the dot-com craziness of the 1990s and 2000s -- when anybody could register anything for as low as $25, and cybersquatters soaked up prime names such as "walmart-usa.com" -- this will be a highly controlled, very expensive land rush to join. Small businesses need not apply.

Name your domain, but show us the money: ICANN meeting, June 21, 2011. Photo: ICANN

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) -- which oversees Internet domain names -- just announced that will start accepting applications for domain names in January 2012. The domain names will end in a suffix of the entity's choosing -- such as ".train," or ".beeswax." Not every ordinary Joe will be able to grab these new domains, however: there is a fee of $185,000, along with proper documentation, and applications will only be accepted during a limited three-month time frame.

During a special meeting in Singapore on Monday, the ICANN board approved a plan to dramatically increase the number of Internet domain name endings -- called generic top-level domains (gTLDs) -- from the current 22, which includes such familiar domains as .com, .org and .net.

"New domain names will change the way people find information on the Internet and how businesses plan and structure their online presence," ICANN predicts. "Internet address names will be able to end with almost any word in any language, offering organizations around the world the opportunity to market their brand, products, community or cause in new and innovative ways."

The decision to proceed with the gTLD program follows many years of discussion, debate and deliberation with the Internet community, business groups and governments. The Applicant Guidebook, a rulebook explaining how to apply for a new gTLD, went through seven significant revisions to incorporate more than 1,000 comments from the public.

ICANN will soon begin a global campaign to tell the world about this change in Internet names and to raise awareness. ICANN says it will also hire an army of consultants to assist with the vetting process. (Applicants will have to shoulder these costs, by the way.)

Applications for new domain names will be accepted only for a limited three-month period, from January 12, 2012 through April 12th.  Why this limitation?  According to Josh Bourne, managing partner of FairWinds Partners LLC, which advises companies on domain name purchases, this helps ensure confidentiality around company plans to secure and build brands around the names. Bourne, quoted by Reuters, also advises companies on the fence to register, even if they don't plan to use the domain name in the immediate future. A domain name that bears too similar of a resemblance to another may not be accepted by ICANN, he warns.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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