The new "dot-anything" domain extensions or "gTLDs” have been a major point of debate in the domain community for years now — ever since they were just a glimmer in ICANN's eye — and it's all come down to a few very important dates over the next six to nine months.
Beginning this summer, about 20 new gTLDs are supposed to be released into the Internet every week, but in the months leading up to that point, expect a lot of action and changes to take place. Mark these key dates on your calendar to stay on top of the new gTLDs' progress over the next few months:
December 17, 2012: New gTLD Prioritization Draw
One of the biggest debates over the past year involved selecting a process to determine which new gTLDs would be introduced first. After talk of "Digital Archery" and "Metering," ICANN announced during its latest meeting in Toronto that it has settled on a Prioritization Draw slated for December 17th in Los Angeles. Representatives of each new gTLD applicants are gathering in person to be assigned randomly-drawn numbers that will determine the order in which their initial evaluation results are released. It's important to point out that this does not necessarily determine the order in which new gTLDs will be introduced, but the order in which ICANN will release the results of their initial evaluation for each application. Aspiring registries that draw a low number and have met all of ICANN's requirements for being able to manage the registry will be assured a swift introduction to the Internet; but registries whose applications are not in order will be delayed, no matter what number they draw on December 17.
To attend and participate in "the Draw," applicants must purchase a $100 ticket for each application, the proceeds from which will be donated to charitable organizations in California. Based on California laws, ticket purchases must be made in person by a representative or proxy. Because of the fairly low cost but cumbersome process behind participating in the Draw, it will be interesting to see which companies participated, and which chose to cede priority to other applicants. It will also be curious to see what happens if big companies like Google and Amazon that hold multiple applications end up with several of their applications at the top of the pile and several at the bottom.
Interestingly, ICANN plans to give applications for Internationalized Domain Names (IDNs), domains comprised of non-English language characters, priority over other applications. These make up only about 5% of the new gTLD applications (around 90 applications), which won't make much of a dent based on the rate at which ICANN plans to begin releasing the new gTLDs. Even if all 30 new extensions are released first, it would only take about a week and a half for that to happen.
In summary, the Draw will be done in four phases:
• Drawing 1: IDN applications for which a ticket has been purchased
• Drawing 2: Non-IDN applications for which a ticket has been purchased
• Drawing 3: IDN applications for which a ticket has NOT been purchased
• Drawing 4: Non-IDN applications for which a ticket has NOT been purchased
Results of the Draw will be available on the ICANN website, here.
December 18: Cramton Associates Applicant Auction Conference
Another big point of discussion from the Toronto meeting was how to handle "String Contentions" — situations where more than one application was filed for the same (or very similar) new gTLDs. Peter Cramton, a Professor of Economics at the University of Maryland and an expert in auction theory and practice, is holding a meeting on December 18th to further outline how these String Contentions may be resolved.
The current prevailing solution is that String Contentions will be resolved through separate private auctions involving the new gTLD applicants for in each string. Cramton Associates plans to conduct two string contention auctions in March and September 2013 and plans to discuss the details on how his company will run their auctions at the December 18th meeting. Other organizations like Right of the Dot — a top domain consulting services and auction provider — will also be offering String Contention services, with variations on how their auctions are run.
Regardless of which provider (if any) new gTLD applicants select to help resolve their String Contentions, it will be interesting to see whether any conflict still remain following these private auctions. If they do, these contentions will go to ICANN's aptly-named Last Resort Auction, which is expected to be much more costly and time-consuming for everyone involved. If a contention goes to a Last Resort Auction, the proceeds are not distributed among the "losing" parties, but make their way instead into ICANN's coffers, so it's in every applicant's best interest to resolve their contentions in advance.
March 13, 2013: Objection Filing Period
Although it has been kept private and therefore fairly quiet up to this point, ICANN also built an Objection Filing Period into the new gTLD application process. The objection period runs from now until March 13, allowing anyone with legitimate grounds to file a formal objection to any of the existing gTLD applications. There is a price associated with filing these objections which varies depending on your objection grounds, but the fee in part meant to discourage fraudulent or unfounded objections.
Applicants are understandably very nervous about this date. Historically, strong objections have shown to be a source of heavy delays in bringing new gTLDs to market. The adult-targeted .xxx extension, for instance, was delayed around seven years due to objections around its pornographic nature.
Because there is a lot of uncertainty around who is filing objections, and what grounds will be considered valid when they're reviewed, Google and other big companies have been vague about their plans for new registries up to this point. After the weight of the objection period is lifted off their shoulders, however, these companies may reveal more about their plans for the new gTLDs they secure.
March-June 2013: Evaluation Period
The second quarter of 2013 will be a period of great anticipation for those involved in the new gTLD process. Formal objections will be reviewed and substantiated or rejected. The first Applicant Auctions will determine which companies will win the most hotly contested extensions. ICANN will publish results of its evaluations and determine which of the new gTLDs will be released first. Companies will begin marketing and promoting their new gTLDs and vocalize their public plans. Brands and consumers may begin lining up to register their desired domain names.
When all's said and done, it will be an exciting time not only for applicants, but for businesses and consumers across the globe too, culminating in the release of the first new gTLDs — and signaling a giant shift in the way we navigate the internet forever.
By Kathy Nielsen, Director, Strategic Alliances at Sedo
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