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Berlin the Latest New TLD Battleground?

Michele Neylon

If you've been following the new Top-Level Domain (TLD) process within ICANN over the last year or so you will have probably been aware of how slow and tortuous development has been. To recap, ICANN, which oversees domain names globally, announced that it was "opening up" the internet so that "anyone" could get the domain extension they wanted. Of course it's not really "everyone" and the process to date has been far from smooth.

ICANN's processes and policies work on the basis of reaching consensus, however that is easier said than done when the actors involved have such disparate views.

Fortunately for those wishing to apply when it all opens up (whenever that is), the ICANN board has come out in support of the latest compromise proposal - EOI. EOI, which is yet another "lovely" acronym to add to the collection, is short for Expression of Interest. The idea being that if people know who is planning on getting a new TLD then it will be much easier to address the issues that those potential TLDs present.

So at least on the ICANN side of things there is some progress. But what of the applicants themselves? You may remember a few months ago there being a debacle surrounding .food. Since then there have been several other minor controversies including one potential applicant for .sport wanting to block ALL sport related domain extensions ..

The latest battleground, however, may come as a surprise to many observers.

While there are many ICANN observers who may have thought that the "City TLDs”, such as .nyc, .paris, .london etc., were going to be less contentious, developments in the last couple of days may have changed that.

Minds and Machines have announced another new TLD project that they are backing - .berlin, under the banner of "Unite Berlin”. (I thought the wall fell 20 years ago, but what do I know?) While that may appear at first glance to be "non-news" a more keen observer may recall that there is a pre-existing .berlin initiative.

What makes it all the more interesting is that the pre-existing .berlin project has been around for the thick end of 6 years!

So what are Minds and Machines playing at?

Is this merely a push from their backers, Top Level Domain Holdings, or is it a project that is being actively backed by the city of Berlin?

While it's not clear from the new .berlin website who is actually supporting them at this juncture, one would have to assume that a company like Minds and Machines wouldn't launch a campaign for a new TLD "just for fun".

So why are they pursuing a TLD which has an existing well established initiative in place? Or are they seeking to take advantage of this in their bid?

Apparently the city of Berlin has not made any formal commitment or announcement to back anyone yet, so it remains to be seen how they intend to handle the management of .berlin. Without support from the city of Berlin, it is unclear that an applicant would have any chance of being awarded the opportunity to operate the TLD.

By Michele Neylon, MD of Blacknight Solutions. More blog posts from Michele Neylon can also be read here.

Related topics: Domain Names, Registry Services, ICANN, Top-Level Domains

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Comments

.berlin wants to exist because they cannot get their domain under .berlin.de (and because of $$$$) jeroen  –  Dec 21, 2009 4:29 PM PDT

The whole DotBerlin thing is quite simple:

.berlin wants to exist because they cannot get their domain under .berlin.de

None of those proposals is 'supported' by the city of Berlin (lets assume they mean the one in Germany) as the city already has berlin.de for itself and logically does not want to share it's domain with local-cokedealer. The fun examples are always 'bakery.berlin.', this is especially fun when you consider that Germans write German, not English ;) The IDN wars are not won yet either, thus a lot of words would have to include sweet little umlauts and other such stuff, and still even if you got it right, bakery.berlin or pizza.berlin will not bring you to the closest pizza store around the corner which didn't pay loads of money to get into that site. Google will do that for them though…

The whole concept of these special new TLDs and especially that of city-TLDs is broken: A city exists in one country, the country already has a CCTLD, under that the city can have a place. DNS is for hierarchies, putting a city on the top would break that hierarchy. But there is a lot of cash in it so some people of course want it, because they are just free virtual dollars out of thin air.

Jeroen With all due respect we'll have Michele Neylon  –  Dec 21, 2009 5:03 PM PDT

Jeroen

With all due respect we'll have to agree to disagree.

While the city of Berlin has not made any statements on the matter that I am aware of, other cities have, such as Paris, where the .paris initiative is fully supported by the city leaders.

Your argument about ccTLDs is true to a point, but only to a point.

In the case of Barcelona (.bcn), for example, the Catalans wouldn't identify themselves as readily with .es, which is "their" ccTLD.

Regards

Michele

Hey Michele,I think you make a great Constantine Roussos  –  Dec 21, 2009 6:11 PM PDT

Hey Michele,

I think you make a great point here. Not sure what the Minds & Machines .berlin initiative is about but it seems that they will have some competition in regards to their other initiatives such as .eco. I am not sure .nyc is a Minds & Machines initiative as well but that one will be interesting too. The cities are the ones in control of the situation it seems, so when it comes to it, the final decision will be from the city and who they will back as their TLD manager.

I think the city TLD space is certainly different than the generic space because they require city backing/approval/consent to move forward, while the generics do not demand that. It is interesting because even if you were Dirk's 6 year .berlin movement, it is the city's call in the end. The advantage to all city applicants is that once the city decides, all competition is out and no money is wasted by competitors. There will only be one application in the end - the one the city supports. Pretty much a slam dunk.

Will be interesting though to see other initiatives materialize from the underground and compete in the open. I think the EOI is effective as it will force the "hide and seekers" to come out and address the public or internet stakeholders if they have any.

I feel for Dirk's initiative spending 6 years on this, then having some competition. However piggybacking the 6-year .berlin initiative (or any city initiative for that matter) is not as dangerous financially/legally as generics because the potential winner is determined before the application process and awarded by the city, since it is mandatory to have city approval. Generic gTLDs though will be different because piggybacking others in the last moment would involve financial and possibly legal risks depending on the approach.

I personally would love to see more initiatives to come out of the framework and compete head-to-head in a transparent manner. Unfortunately last thing I heard was that many prospective applicants just got tired of the ICANN process and bailed out.

Happy holidays Michele and have a great new year 2010!

Constantine Roussos
.music
.music on Twitter
.music on Myspace

I have seen the work done by Patrick Vande Walle  –  Dec 22, 2009 1:44 AM PDT

I have seen the work done by Dirk and his folks over the last 6 years, as you mention. They have invested a lot of work and resources, financial and other, into this. It is sad to see a latecomer capitalizing on someone else's efforts to build a community. This is predatory capitalism at its worst. I am afraid we will see a lot of me-too's with big pockets in the final run to the EoI, trashing the work of pioneers.

I think this exemplifies one of the major failures of the new gTLD process. It is not because you pioneered a concept and invested a lot of resources into it that you benefit from any priority. The vultures are coming along.

If anything, stealing someone else's business concept only shows the lack of imagination from this community.

Patrick Vande Walle

.Sport:  The Top Level domain for the Sport Community

PatrickIf Dirk et al have done all Michele Neylon  –  Dec 22, 2009 3:15 AM PDT

Patrick

If Dirk et al have done all the groundwork, why hasn't the city of Berlin made a clear declaration, as was the case in Paris?

Michlee

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