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The ICANN gTLD Battlefield - The Fog of War

Naseem Javed

Concerning ICANN's new generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) program, why is the Association of National Advertisers whose members spends 400 billion on their 10,000 brands so violently opposed? Bob Liodice President & CEO of ANA recently wrote an article "How to (Unnecessarily) Encumber The Internet And The Economy" in Forbes highly critical of ICANN but clearly missing the mark. This misunderstanding demands clarification, the fog is getting dense so let's explore some facts.

According to Bob's opening comments, the possible salvation to our economic confusion and meltdown is to simply kill ICANN's gTLD program. He says: "Unfortunately, a major, ill-conceived program is about to seriously disrupt businesses and threaten consumers, causing significant and completely avoidable harm to the fragile U.S economy." There's no need to expand on this rhetoric. Let's focus on his other issues that need a granular analysis.

The American Bankers Association has declared its intention to apply for .bank as a gTLD brand for exclusive use for all banks worldwide. A good move, to which Bob acknowledges that citi.bank will not be available to any outside party or spammers. He insists that spammers will attempt to get citi.sanfrancisco, and he is correct. What would it accomplish? "Citisanfransisco.com" is already available for a few dollars as a dotcom. There are already thousands of other citi-based names all over the world, like citi-plaza, citi-college, citi-hotel, citi-center, citi-cats, citi-taxi, citi-this, and citi-that.

Bob has slipped on his advanced corporate nomenclature skills to discuss the minutia of the topic here; the fact that the name 'citi' in isolation has no unique value. It's a descriptive word, commonly available and despite its corruption of the word 'city' by replacing "y" into "i", it still retains the same sound and connotation of the dictionary word 'city'. The word 'citi' is in the public domain. Now one of Bob's member has the trademark on this highly diluted word 'citi' in financial services. The gTLD platform in no way increases or decreases the risk of further dilution or exploitation of the word 'citi' than it already exists.

Citibank was once the best name of the banking industry, but in the name of so called 'one word master branding scheme' the other half of the word has been chopped leaving this word like a lost citi on its own. Now imagine if Bill Gates was suggested to drop 'soft' from Microsoft. Should they be allowed to scream at the cyber-squatting ghosts whenever 'Micro' is used with any other word?

Such name issues are not cyber squatting, they are the liberalized use of a dictionary word. The big fear of advertising associations worldwide is hidden in the fact that most of their client's brand names cannot be stretched on the gTLDs global canvas. The biggest pain comes from the realization that for decades, the trade covered up the shortcomings of their name identities through the excessive overuse of logos and transient slogans. Bold statements demand bold proof. Just open few major trade directories and the dilution factor is right there.

The fuzziness of hundreds of billions that are wasted in life support services for weak and dying names cannot be explained by ad agencies or trademark services; they are the direct beneficiaries in this thick fog.

Here are some facts. A Five Star Standard of Name costs far less in maintenance costs, but diluted names cost ten times more in resources and takes ten times more in time and effort to gain a distinct position if any in the market place. Why are 90% of business names worldwide in this quandary?

Why are all the branding associations so scared of this global platform? What is so disturbing about a shift towards name-identity-centricity as ultimate marketing models? Do the math.

Bob further adds, "Program will throw the domain-name universe into widespread confusion while generating untold costs to domestic and international businesses and harm to consumers."

The domain system will have to advance from its current 200 million domain names to support 2 billion domain names in the near future. This is the natural progression of an expanding e-commerce that knows no bounds; ICANN is introducing gTLD to accommodate this new landscape. Now is not the time to be fearful of this inevitable expansion. To design centric thinking, these advancements appear as noise because they can't hear the nomenclature symphonies.

Bob continues and argues, "Some have estimated that, for a typical company, the cost of acquiring a single top-level domain and managing it over the initial commitment of 10 years could easily exceed $2 million, including expenses for the application process, operations, disputes, legal services, trademark monitoring and protection."

The argument that gTLD is expensive is seriously flawed, especially coming from the same groups that are already joyriding on $400 billion in yearly expenditures. Major organizations all over the world spend millions of dollars a month just to keep their name identities visible. A gTLD is the most affordable compared to what's wasted routinely in off target ad campaigns.

He insists "proliferation of top-level domains makes it easier for online felons to cloak themselves in the names of trusted brands."

Another phobia. Good corporations have good policies to administer their brands and protect their consumers. If a few banks are robbed a day, we mustn't closed down a ten thousand branches or park a tank in front of each entrance. There are millions of very cheap domain names available today where each may be easily construed as 'passing off' someone else's mega brand. Should we shut down the entire internet? Maybe we should stop selling domain names period. ICANN has also already addressed the ANA directly regarding this baseless argument. The real fear is not here, it's hidden in the half knowledge of the global business name identity problems.

There is no correlation between the inclusion of a customizable gTLD with the supposed increase in online scams and phishing. This is the same ridiculous line of thinking that would have been fearful of allowing credit card transactions from taking place online for fear of an increase in scamming and fraudulent activity. Every major online innovation accommodates these risks at various factors. Internet crime will always be a threat regardless of the environment while the stringent rules of gTLD application will preclude such petty thefts.

Here is where Bob overstretches his argument. "Harm to non-profit charities. Sadly, for each major natural disaster or security event that we have faced in the Internet age we have seen instances of online frauds. After Hurricane Katrina, it was reported by Charity Navigator that there were some 4,000 bogus websites for online donations. Following the 2005 Indonesian tsunami, fake charitable requests appeared online, for example a Portland, Oregon, man was arrested in January 2005 who falsely claimed to be an employee for the charitable organization Mercy Corps. In 2010, Forbes even reported on how to spot dubious online Haiti charity pleas."

Keeping the weather reports aside, there is no direct or indirect link to gTLD here. There is no need to drag here the daily fraudulent happenings from Main Street to Wall Street or political mismanagement from Big House to Whitehouse. Bob thinks that by killing this program in its infancy, there will bring an end to frauds, and create a climate of tranquility while bright rainbows will arch across the United States.

In fact, gTLD would actually work in favor of non-profit charities, under the right combination; a national or global charity organization could lock up a gTLD brand like dot.bank, and distribute its controlled sub-domain-name usage across the world's smallest communities, garnering presence and accessibility for fundraising, with 100% secure control of their dot.brand.

He raises his concerns, "The objections of governments, non-profits, and industry sectors most affected have not been adequately addressed. He further adds If ICANN's new program proceeds, the full damage to brand equity and trust in Internet transactions will be incalculable. As security vulnerabilities and phishing spread across hundreds of new top-level domains, consumer confidence in online financial transactions will greatly diminish."

The entire world of branding agencies and their association have taken up arms against it. But they have yet to articulate the opposition in granular details. The fact they must face is that the brand equity of any weak and diluted name will continuously erode on the ever-expanding cyber name platform that is inevitably going to take place.

What are the other key points that Bob should have discussed? Primarily, gTLD offers global exclusivity to a master root of domain name with unlimited usage and sub-domain-name expansion, it is the cheapest and fastest mechanism to reach hyper visibility on global scale, and if harnessed properly it will shake the branding tradition and create new global marketing rules and language. Furthermore, if we recognize current domain name system as the prime engine of e-commerce, then we must allow ICANN to take it to the next level with colorful multilingualization and open dynamics gTLD platforms.

What if the unique technology based game changers that pushed the traditional sectors over the cliffs like Skype to long-distance, Amazon to bookstores, Napster to music, Craigslist to classified ads should have never been allowed? Is gTLD that hidden game changer for global marketing and branding services?

If ICANN's mandate is to continuously develop advanced global cyber name management systems for one internet, one world consisting of 3 billion plus online users, then obviously the future of the global name management will fall towards domain name registries and on ICANN platforms. Along the lines of what Google created, replacing hundreds of old mass communication models and blending them into one simple global platform to connect buyers and sellers. The ICANN gTLD topic is getting hotter by the day and the time has come for the giants and midgets of the industry to have a head on debate on this. The great Lee Iacocca use to say, "Lead, follow or get out of the way."

By Naseem Javed, Expert: Global Naming Complexities, Corporate Nomenclature, Image & Branding. He is the founder of ABC Namebank, author of 'Domination: The GTLD Name Game', syndicated columnist, keynote speaker and specialist on global naming complexities.

Related topics: Cybersquatting, Domain Names, ICANN, Multilinguism, Top-Level Domains

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