What the Heck is ICANN Doing?

 

Last week stories broke about a significant change in the way Internet addressing will be managed. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has opened up the process of assigning new top level domains (TLD's), such as .com and .net. Potentially any string of letters could be a TLD -- maybe we'll see www.products.walmart? However there appears to be lots of procedures to iron out before any prospective new TLDs hit the market.

Here's some coverage:

Ars Technica:

http://arstechnica.com/news.ars/post/20080626-confusion-icann-opens-up-pandoras-box-of-new-tlds.html

NY Times:

http://tinyurl.com/5a35kn

Here's a very detailed read from John Levine at CircleID:

http://www.circleid.com/posts/86299_icann_new_top_level_domains/

Clearly nothing is going to happen right away, and the devil(s) will be in the details. Plus there are already at last count 162 million registered domain names, so a lot will be required to produce a new TLD that actually makes a difference. Here's my early list:

  • User adoption -- the old chicken and the egg. An organization with a lot of money and influence will have to invest both to change user perceptions of Internet addressing. It's a steep hill to climb. Combined, .com and .net total around 85 million domains (with .com about 74M of that) and will be the TLD leaders for a long time to come. (Granted both China's .cn and Germany's .de are now bigger than .net)
  • You'll need a solid sales channel. The successful TLD operator will need good connections to the existing base of registars, and a compelling value proposition for registrars to sell the new extension over other, more established ones.
  • Global resolution is a big responsibility. The new extension will have to always work, anywhere on the globe. That means servers and data centers in multiple locations, load balancing, maintenance, etc. etc.
  • Domain names in foreign languages sound very interesting. But as Levine notes these could get hopelessly bogged down in litigation, and many countries particularly in Asia have been forging ahead with their own fully native language solutions while ICANN has dithered over this question for years.

No doubt this will be a very interesting story to follow. If I had to bet my lunch money today, I'd say that the established players in the registry market who already know how to operate and support TLDs will be the main beneficiaries of ICANN's decision. They've made the technology investments and mastered ICANN esoterica. Any newcomer will have to partner with one of them if a new TLD hopes to attract wide spread adoption.

 

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