ICANN strikes domain name gold (updated)

The registration period for generic top-level domains (gTLDs), names like .google and .nyc, has been open for a short while and it appears that ICANN has won the lottery.

According to Domain Incite, ICANN has received 1,900 registrations so far, well above what they projected. ICANN is expected to provide details on June 13th — hopefully a full list of registrants. We know, for example, that Google has applied for at least three domains: .google, .youtube, and .lol (don’t ask me why).

If we assume $185,000 per registration (the application fee), ICANN is looking at more than $300 million in revenues.

Not bad.

It’s worth noting that this is not some overnight success story; ICANN began heading in this direction four years ago. And it has met resistance pretty much every step of the way.

But now we have entered the next phase of gTLDs.

Here’s an interesting piece on questions raised by generic TLDs. I agree that gTLDs could transform the Internet as we know it. That is, if every major brand has its own domain we could see a clear bifurcation between the domain name “haves” and “have nots.” But I emphasize could because who knows if these big brands will make use of these custom domains.

UPDATE: Here’s the list of all 1,930 domains. Registrants include major brands such as Apple, Microsoft, Bing, Lancome, Kia, Abbott, Hyatt, JPMorgan, NBA, NFL UPS, Walmart — and more than 100 IDNs! 

Speaking of IDNs, here are handy list of IDNs that .com and .net are going to use as they go global.

And here’s a brief WSJ summary.

Who’s going to register .brand? Google, for starters.

This week, ICANN begins accepting registrations for the much-hyped and controversial “.brand” generic domain names. What this means is that companies will be able to register domains that function without any .com suffix.

So what companies are going to register these domains?

Jacob Williams of UrbanBrain writes:

Based on my own personal experience I expect around 40-50 .brand applications to come from Japan. Unfortunately, I suspect that a lot companies will submit applications just to “protect” their brands.

He writes that Canon and Hitachi are the only two major Japanese companies to publicly commit to registering .brand TLDs.

On this side of the Pacific, I see only a handful of companies excited about .brand TLDs. According to AdAge, Google and Deloitte will be registering .brand domains, so we should expect .google and .deloitte at the minimum. Pepsi has stated that it won’t be registering a domain, but most companies have not commented one way or another.

I do expect Facebook to register .facebook.

Most high-level marketing folks see .brand as more of a pain than an opportunity.

That’s not to say we won’t see many high-level companies dive in — and  enjoy plenty of media attention along the way.

But what’s the value to the customer of a .brand TLD?

That is, what’s broken with .com?

Are those four extra “.com” character really so difficult to type?

On a mobile device, perhaps they are. I make heavy use of the .com button on my iPhone, so we’re only talking about one extra button, but the point is that every button matters when it comes to trying to surf the web on a touchscreen device.

Perhaps that extra button is all the justification a company needs to push ahead with a .brand domain.

So despite my  reservations about .brand, I do see a business case for a company registering one.

But I will reiterate here that I wish ICANN would put more resources into supporting and promoting IDNs — domains for which a true value exists to the user. IDNs are progressing along, but painfully slowly and with little in the way of evangelization and education.

So what other companies will be registering .brand domains? I’ll be keeping a running list here. Let me know if you know of others…


US opposes ICANN on gTLD rollout

Just as ICANN preps for the rollout of its much-hyped gTLD program, the US Dept. of Commerce comes along and makes a scene.

I read the Dept. of Commerce letter and it basically says that ICANN hasn’t prepared fully for gTLDs and is now trying to move too quickly to roll them out.

gTLD stands for generic top-level domain; it includes .com, .org, .biz and other “global” domains.

ICANN wants to to add more gTLDs to the DNS.


Here’s what ICANN says is behind the new gTLDs:

Some of the reasons for introducing new gTLDs cited during the policy development discussions include allowing for greater innovation and choice within the Internet’s addressing system, currently represented by 21 gTLDs and over 250 ccTLDs (country-code Top-Level Domains). The program is expected to provide Internet users with new opportunities for creating digital identities, accommodating new ASCII and IDN TLDs. Brand holders and organizations seeking to manage their own name as a top-level domain may have an interest in securing these rights in the early phases of the new gTLD program for future branding purposes. With the limited availability of .com domain names, some companies may opt to become early adopters of new TLDs to satisfy their marketing needs. There will also be opportunities to apply for community and geographic top-level domains, such as .blog, .brand, and .city.

I have no great insights into the forces pushing for and against gTLDs. Clearly, ICANN stands to make a great deal of revenue if every major corporation wants its own top-level domain. Imagine .sony, .apple, .ge etc.

I’ve got nothing against gTLDs. It might be nice to enter http://apple and go to the company home page.

My issue with gTLDs is that I’m rather concerned ICANN is taking its eyes off of internationalized domain names (IDNs).

This has been a big year for IDNs, with more than 20 receiving ICANN approval.

But approval is just the end of the beginning, as they say.

There are a whole host of technical obstacles yet to be overcome for IDNs to go mainstream. Try inputting an Arabic IDN into any browser and you’ll see what a complete disaster IDNs are with bidirectional scripts. There are real and perceived security issues — which ICANN can play a lead role in mitigating. So many questions are going to arise as IDNs become more common. For instance, does your input form accept non-ASCII URLs? And how do these URLs get parsed internally? Sorted? Searched? Lots of nasty bugs are just waiting to be discovered.

I’d like ICANN to be more focused on IDNs which offer significantly more usability improvements for the world at large than gTLD. Let’s get IDNs running smoothly before moving on to all shapes and sizes of gTLDs.

But that’s just me.

UPDATE: ICANN quickly responded to the US with the gTLD Economic Study Phase II report. Will this be enough?

UPDATE 2: ICANN has delayed gTLDs again, but only for a few months it appears. Like them or not, gTLDs are coming…

Chinese IDNs have arrived

ICANN gave approval to Chinese IDNs — for China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.

This is a significant development — particularly since China was one of the major forces pushing ICANN to support IDNs.

To give you an idea of how these new IDNs are poised to change the Internet as we know it, I’ve overlayed the approved IDNs onto my Country Codes of the World map.

You’ll notice both simplified and traditional script IDNs for both China and Taiwan.

Here’s my running list of all IDNs that have passed string evaluation stage.

The dawn of a new URL

ICANN announced today that its first full-length IDN has gone live.

Here it is: http://وزارة-الأتصالات.مصر

Give it a test drive.

I just did (on the Mac) and Firefox, Safari, and Chrome all worked fine. Here is Safari:

Safari is unique in that it left the URL as is instead of converting it into its “punycode” equivalent shown below:

Firefox, Chrome, and Safari all manage and display IDNs a little bit differently. I have my two cents on how they “should” handle IDNs and I’ll be writing about that shortly.

In the meantime, I’m just thrilled to see a real live full-length IDN.

This is the beginning of the end of the last two roadblocks to a truly multilingual Internet.

A few updates:

Here’s the BBC take.

And as “F Wolff” noted in his comment, this URL above is not the first full-length IDN ever; ICANN has been testing full-length IDNs for some time here. But my point here is that IDNs are now publicly available — in Egypt at least — with many more to come.

And, to clarify, partial IDNs have also been around for years. It was the supporting of IDNs at the top level that has finally enabled the creation of fully non-Latin domains.

So here is Egypt’s IDN:

If you look at the first browser screen grab above, you’ll notice that this string is on the far  left, not on the right, as it is a bidirectional script. But when a bidirectional script gets displayed as punycode, in the second sreen grab, the entire text string is flipped back to left-to-right order.

I find it interesting that the first batch of IDNs to go live also happen to be among the most challenging to support — not just in browser windows but across so many other software applications. But for those working in software globalization, these are exciting challenges!

ICANN approves IDNs for China, Taiwan, Thailand, Sri Lanka…

A few weeks back I asked Where is China’s IDN?

ICANN not only answered my question about China, but also about a host of additional countries (and territory) that had applied for fast-track IDNs.

Here are the most recent IDN (string evaluation) approvals:

  • China (cn): 中國 (traditional); 中国 (simplified)
  • Hong Kong (hk): 香港
  • Palestinian Territory (ps): فلسطين
  • Qatar (qa): قطر
  • Sri Lanka (lk): ලංකා (Sinhalese); இலங்கை (Tamil)
  • Taiwan (tw):  台湾 (simplified); 台灣 (traditional)
  • Thailand (th): ไทย
  • Tunisia (tn):  تونس

For the full list of IDNs now in the ICANN pipeline, I’ve created a page here. It also explains why you may not be able to view all of the scripts on this blog post.

ICANN says it has given preliminary approval for IDNs in 19 countries across 11 languages. Note that this means that these IDNs have passed the string review, which is arguably the most difficult phase. But there is still one stage left before those domains can go live. And don’t get me started on the challenges that some of these domains will pose to existing web browsers — that’s the topic of a future post.