Recently, I had what is best described as an “aha moment,” where it concerns the release of new gTLDs. Anyone that is in the domain space, that is those who are investors in domain names – these are known colloquially as web addresses – has been well aware, for a number of years, that a cache of new domain name extensions would be made available for users to register new names. A domain name extension is technically called a “generic top level domain,” it is the thing you see to the right of the dot in a domain. Most people are intimately acquainted with .com or .org; many have a passing familiarity with other gTLDs like .net or .info or .biz. Of course, those of us who work in the domain space have been anticipating the release and subsequent impact of the release of new gTLDs for years. With the onset of 2014, many of those new extensions have been rolling out for public acquisition. Perhaps you have seen an advertisement for some of them, such as .club or .gallery or .camera.
What Is The Big Idea About These gTLDs?
The idea behind the new gTLDs, at least according to the Internet Corporation for the Assignment of Names and Numbers, has been to open the internet further, providing new and better choices for people to distinguish themselves online, with the use of one of these new gTLDs. What you may not know is that there has been an ongoing debate about how these new gTLDs will impact the value of the established gTLDs, those that were first purveyed in the 1990’s, during the incipience of the world wide web.
There are those who look to the occasional release of gTLDs like .travel and .pro, during the early 2000’s, and the low registration levels of these extensions, and say the release of new gTLDs today is a fool’s errand. Given that .com has maintained its supremacy on the web, they allege a failure of the more boutique-style domain extensions. In one case, and a very public one, Overstock.com revealed their attempt to use the .co extension, registering O.co, became a dismal failure when they bled an estimated ⅔ of their traffic to the corresponding .com domain, O.com, which they did not own. The damage was chronicled in great detail by Rick Schwartz, one of the world’s first large-scale domain name investors, who not only predicted a disaster but was proved correct in his forecast only 10 months later.
Such a glaring example lends credence to the argument there is difficulty ahead for new gTLDs; however, there is a different angle from which to view new gTLDs, and that is from the standpoint of registry operators today, from the perspective of business adoption, and from the perspective of the post-Millennial generation, those born after Y2K. Those investing in the next generation of TLDs, particularly those setting up the registries to sell domains under these new extensions, are counting on at least two things.
The Bets And The Next Generation
First, proponents of the new gTLDs argue that success of any given extension can not be measured simply by comparing the registration numbers of one gTLD over another. Indeed, they say, .org and .net have been quite successful, even though the registration numbers of .com far outweigh the registrations of .org and .net. In the case of the aforementioned .travel, the registry operator has been financially successful, even though the number of .travel domains is miniscule compared to .com. Moreover, despite the disaster of O.co, the domain is still owned by and forwards to Overstock.com. As for the entire .co registry, the business is doing quite well, though it has required a significant marketing push to make it so.
The second thing registry operators are counting on is business adopting the new gTLDs, and in this is starting to happen to some degree. TheDomains.com, an industry blog and news feed, published a short piece on the adoption of .clothing by existing online businesses, and they cited the example of several companies that are now forwarding their .com domains to the new gTLD, .clothing. Without delving deeply into each gTLD and its current registration numbers, I can announce with certitude that many businesses are adopting these new extensions, even if to forward their existing .com addresses to the new gTLD.
The “aha moment” I had, however, had nothing to do with these first two factors. I am not a registry operator, obviously; and while I had been curious about registering some extensions that fall in line with my company’s business model, I had not yet been willing to either supplant the .com address or forward it to a new gTLD.
Instead, I thought of my nieces, who are just now teenagers, and I looked to my two newest nephews, one of whom just turned one year old in January. The other will celebrate his first birthday in July, two days before my 45th birthday, in fact. Both are the most adorable little munchkins you have ever seen. I am sure every proud uncle or father or other relative says the same thing.
When these boys are old enough, in just a few years, they will be going online for the first time. They will not remember the early days of the internet. For them, it will be ancient history. I hate to think of myself as a member of antiquity, but in the digital age, my age is definitely quite aged, indeed. What will these boys think of .com? When they reach their teen years, will they care at all whether they interact with their friends on a .com or a .chat? Probably not. An “aha moment,” for sure, but it did not end there.
This gTLD thing has the potential to be so much bigger than even the staunchest supporters of gTLDs may be able to imagine … and none of us, not even the most prolific inventors, has a clue about how evolving technology will influence the web in the coming years.
Neutrality No Longer An Option
Suddenly, I am no longer on the fence. Everything that the gTLD skeptics or naysayers have had to say about new gTLDs seems folly to me. We are the old guard. The new gTLDs are for the next generation of internet users, many who many never type a domain name into their browser. We may come to a time when a browser opens up, you speak a command or tell your smart phone or phablet where you want to go, and it finds the domain for you, based upon mounds of data we have yet to conceive. Certainly, as humans with limits, we probably would not even perceive such nuances prior to those data sets being interpreted.
Domain names will persist, to be sure, because telling someone to go to 123.456.012.227 is just stupid. That is the reason the domain name system was first created. That happened when I was a mere 17 years old, still programming COBOL into a Sperry-Univac mainframe that had just about one-megabyte of memory. I might just as well have been carving heiroglyphs into the walls of pyramids.
My revelation happened about two weeks ago, shortly after seeing a local – it is somewhat local, as I live in Fort Lauderdale and not Boca Raton – production of “42nd Street” at The Wick. The juxtoposition of the theater experience and the “aha moment” is bizarre, and it is likely only coincidental. Carl Jung may have a different analysis, but I have no way of reaching him in the afterlife.
The AOL Keyword Inspires The gTLD Email
This sudden revelation I had was taken further when I pondered the first days of the internet. I was thinking about America Online and how it once dominated so much of the online activity of U.S. residents. Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan even starred in a love story in which AOL was a central influence in their relationship, “You’ve Got Mail,” a title inspired by the voice message most of us received when we first would log onto AOL. I shared my thoughts with Mike Berkens, another large-scale domain investor. Mike also is partnered with Monte Cahn, founder of Moniker.com, in the gTLD venture RightOfTheDot.com.
I wrote, “Hey Mike, Great seeing you and Judi the other night at the show.
“I just had a thought, and tell me whether you think it’s valid. In 1994, when AOL was the biggest and baddest thing online, the browser used to just let people tap an AOL Keyword to reach a domain. You didn’t have to know ‘pancakes.com’ because you could type “pancakes” and get there fine. The browser did the work. Most people didn’t get ‘.com’ anyway, unless they were more geeky. Eventually, though, people understood what it was. AOL became a dinosaur. Still is, in my opinion.
“The thought I had is that in 20 years we may have come full circle, with a ‘dot’ added into the middle of the key word of [sic] key phrase. ‘eat.pancakes’, for instance. It’s an incipient thought, so I’ve not delved deeply into the nuances or other factors, be they enduring or ephemeral, but as it popped into my head, it suddenly hit me that this gTLD thing has bigger potential than any one of us – even you or Frank – may realize.”
Frank is Frank Schilling, who is another of the world’s large-scale domain name investors, also runs Uniregistry.com, which is sinking tens of millions of dollars into the domain space, betting on the long-term success of gTLDs. I did not share my thoughts with Frank, because I do not have his email address. If I did, I would have added him to the recipient list, obviously. Maybe he will read this, not that he will learn anything from it. He is way ahead of my little learning curve.
Mike’s reply was quite direct and almost understated. “That’s what I’ve been talking about for over four years; unfortunately, I couldn’t get any of our old buddies to pony up some money to go [into] the registry business, so we’re still trying to make money registering domain names instead.
“I don’t know if your revelation would qualify as something that more than Frank considered …”
Mike went on to explain how much Frank Schilling has invested, and our email exchange became a bit of a miniature thread. I always enjoy talking to Mike, but I also usually feel very outwitted. He is brilliant.
gTLD Madness! Team Schwartz Versus Team Schilling
Frank Schilling and Rick Schwartz, and those who agree with their respective viewpoints, went head to head in a lively and civilized debate about gTLDs during one of the T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conferences in late 2013, in Fort Lauderdale. The debate roundtable was called “Team Schwartz Versus Team Schilling.” Since I am the audio-visual director for the show, I had the pleasure of seeing the debate live. I also produced the video presentation of the debate that now appears on YouTube. Now, here is an interesting thing: I did not write YouTube.com. I do not need to. You know what I mean.
This is exactly what the post-Millennial generation is going to do. They will know the destination by the name, and they will have something that takes them there, be that an app, a bookmark or other hotlink or a piece of wearable tech that simply follows their eyeball or blinking or breathing. The .com will not become irrelevant, but it will not dominate the same way it does today. In fact, with the coming explosion of augmented reality, already going through many trials and shakeouts, it is quite likely, as I mentioned previously, that typing will become as arcane to the next generation as handwriting is to the Millennials today.
All of this consideration leads me to believe, as I wrote Mike Berkens, that this gTLD thing has the potential to be so much bigger than even the staunchest supporters of gTLDs may be able to imagine, including this convert. But I may be mistaken. After all, I saw my first website in 1995, but I did not register my first domain until 2001. I am a bit of a late bloomer. And none of us, not even the most prolific inventors, has a clue about how evolving technology will influence the web in the coming years.
What a dynamic time to be alive! I sure envy my nephews.