ICANN unsure if gTLDs will make the internet more confusing

As ICANN begins making its initial approvals of generic top-level domain names, it has admitted that it can't predict whether it will make life easier for users or simply more confusing.
Written by Michael Lee, Contributor

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has released its responses to questions (PDF) raised at its recent April public hearing forum held in Beijing, China, including an admission that it does not know if generic top-level domain names (gTLDs) will make the internet easier to use or just more confusing.

A member from the public had asked whether the new gTLD program would have the effect of making users completely reliant on search engines as a result of confusion.

ICANN repeated that the objective of the program was to encourage competition in the industry and enhance the utility of DNS, but sad that it "cannot predict the outcome of the users, and how this may impact their behaviour on the internet".

"We are excited to see how this broadens the current use and scope of the internet," ICANN wrote in its response.

There is also significant concern from the public around pluralised gTLDs.

The question of how pluralised gTLDs would be handled was also raised at the session by the public, and also by Beijing's Government Advisory Committee (GAC).

The GAC urged ICANN to reconsider its decision (PDF) to allow singular and plural versions of the same strings to be used as gTLDs, stating that it could lead to potential consumer confusion. Similarly, ICANN received five questions from the public in the same line of enquiry asking it to address protection concerns and revisit its previous decision to allow plural strings.

ICANN did not respond to questions about reversing its decision, stating that as the issue was mentioned by the GAC, it would prepare a formal response.

It did, however, respond to concerns about strings being used in gTLDs that are similar to those already accepted or in use. Similar strings are not necessarily limited to those that are visually confusing, but according to ICANN's applicant guidebook, includes any string that, if introduced alongside others, could create confusion for users.

These issues will now be addressed in a post-launch review of the gTLD program, it said, along with other aspects of the program before the next round of gTLDs proceeds.

ICANN has already been issuing initial approvals for the first round of gTLDs, including the application recently put in by the City of Melbourne and the Victorian government. The two governments have obtained approval for the .melbourne gTLD, and if the rest of their application is successful, will mark Melbourne as one of the first cities in the world to secure a gTLD.

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