December 13, 2017

Technophoria: When You Can’t Tell Web Suffixes Without a Scorecard

But there soon may be, along with hundreds of other new Internet address suffixes like .bible, .blog, .family, .game, .gay and .pizza.

Since last summer, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or Icann, a nonprofit entity that coordinates the Internet address system, has vetted and initially approved 1,574 applications for new “top-level domains” — the letters to the right of the dot. The premise is to give companies and consumers seeking secondary-level domain names — the janedoe in janedoe.com — options beyond the 22 top-level generic suffixes like .com and .biz that are currently available.

“With .com and .net, if you wanted a nice name, it’s all taken,” says Akram Atallah, the president of Icann’s division of generic domains. Icann expects to sign contracts over the next year with companies and organizations to manage the registries for the new top-level domains. The first of these could open for registrations as early as this fall. “The idea,” Mr. Atallah says, “is to provide real-estate availability in the market.”

Google and Amazon have each applied to administer dozens of new top-level domains, including .app, .book, .cloud, .game, .movie and .search. L’Oréal is seeking .beauty, .hair and .skin. Johnson Johnson wants .baby. Donuts Inc., a domain registry company in Bellevue, Wash., filed the most applications, asking for 307 — including .love, .family, .health and .plumbing. Many applicants said they hoped to use the domains as trusted hubs offering authoritative information to the public.

The proliferation of these suffixes seems fraught for both consumers and companies. It has the potential to confuse online searchers: .car or .cars? baby.toys or toys.baby? It could also prompt companies, at great expense, to register bunches of new brand sites defensively as a way to pre-empt cybersquatters, spoofers and fraudsters.

Some technology veterans and trademark experts view the domain expansion as largely unnecessary.

“You are creating a business, like derivatives on Wall Street, that has no value,” says Esther Dyson, a technology investor who served as the founding chairwoman of Icann. “You can charge people for it, but you are contributing nothing to the happiness of humanity.”

There’s a larger issue at stake, however. Advocates of Internet freedom contend that such an expanded address system effectively places online control over powerful commercial and cultural interests in the hands of individual companies, challenging the very idea of an open Internet. Existing generic domains, like .net and .com, overseen by Verisign Inc., a domain registry, have an open-use policy; that means consumers can buy domain names ending in .com directly from retail registrars like GoDaddy. With a new crop of applicants, however, Icann initially accepted proposals for closed or restricted generic domains, a practice that could limit competing views and businesses.

“It’s a very legitimate competition concern,” says Jon Leibowitz, a former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission who recently joined the law firm Davis Polk Wardwell in Washington as a partner. “The public at large, consumers and businesses, would be better served by no expansion or less expansion” of domains.

In its proposal for .beauty, L’Oréal said it intended initially to reserve second-level domain names — like personal.beauty — for itself, eventually opening up the domain to its own business units, selected licensees and partners. Mr. Atallah said Icann would defer moving on certain contracts while it decides whether to allow closed generic domains.

At the end of last year, there were about 252 million domain names globally registered on the Web. Nearly half used the .com or .net suffix, according to Verisign, which manages those two suffixes and reported revenue last year of $874 million. Industry analysts say additional players in the domain market would be welcome.

“Verisign right now is like the Wal-Mart of the domain space,” says Thies Lindenthal, a postgraduate fellow at the M.I.T. Center for Real Estate, where he studies domain names as virtual real estate. “Other big players may be beneficial, just to increase competition.”

Icann charged a processing fee of $185,000 per domain application, but didn’t limit the number of submissions per company. Donuts Inc. forked over nearly $57 million in fees; it now expects to manage at least the 149 suffixes for which no other entity applied. For other suffixes, like .chat and .golf, which had multiple applicants, interested parties will have to negotiate among themselves or submit to an auction run by Icann.

Donuts plans to open all of its generic domains to public registration, each with its own pricing structure. Even professional-sounding suffixes like .architect won’t be narrowly limited to the traditional definition of licensed practitioners, says Jon Nevett, Donuts’ executive vice president for corporate affairs; after all, in addition to building architects, he says, landscape architects and software architects may wish to use to use an .architect domain name.

“We want to be as open as possible,” Mr. Nevett told me. “We don’t want to have a walled garden.”

Likewise, Charleston Road Registry, a unit of Google, has indicated on its Web site that it plans to open certain of its new suffixes — like .ads, .boo, .dad and .how — to public registration. But in applications to manage other generics like .app, the company has laid out a more restrictive approach, saying it planned to employ its own criteria to assess and approve entities seeking to use those suffixes.

In June, the Association for Competitive Technology, an advocacy group representing more than 5,000 app developers, filed an objection with Icann, arguing that Google’s plan to vet developers seeking an .app domain name could curb competition. The concern, says Jonathan Zuck, president of the advocacy group, is that Google might market the .app domain to consumers as a seal of approval for certain apps, including its own, leaving a mistaken impression that apps not marketed on the domain were inferior.

“We are simply raising public-interest concerns,” Mr. Zuck says. “We’d prefer .app to be wide open, like .com.”

Google declined to comment on its application for .app. Mr. Atallah said an Icann committee was reviewing each objection.

EVEN so, the Internet address oversight body may not have considered deeply enough the larger linguistic and societal ramifications of setting off a land grab for new virtual real estate like .love or .home, says Jacqueline Lipton, a professor at the University of Houston Law Center.

“It’s a private body,” Professor Lipton says, “that is dabbling in this very delicate balance of commerce and expression online that is fraught with pitfalls.”

Article source: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/18/technology/when-you-cant-tell-web-suffixes-without-a-scorecard.html?partner=rss&emc=rss

Media Cache: An Explosion in Universe of Web Names

PARIS — One of the biggest changes in the history of the Internet could be set into motion Monday. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing remains open to fierce debate.

At a meeting in Singapore, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, which oversees the Internet address system, is expected to approve a vast expansion of the range of addresses available. The group wants to make it possible for Internet users to create their own extensions like .com, .net or .org.

So, get ready for Web sites that end with the names of cities or brands, like .berlin or .canon, to name just two entities that have expressed interest in the proposed system. Crafty entrepreneurs are busy thinking up sites like iwant.beer or whatsfor.dinner.

Icann envisions hundreds of new extensions, and that is just in the first round of applications. The overall range of Internet addresses on offer would increase exponentially.

Icann has been working on this for years. At a meeting in Paris three years ago, its board recommended going ahead. Since then, however, final authorization has been delayed several times, even as Icann has gone ahead with other expansions, including the use of non-Latin alphabets in domain names.

This time around, Peter Dengate Thrush, the chairman of Icann, said he thought the board would give the go-ahead. “We’re feeling reasonably confident at this stage because of the feedback we’ve been getting from all the players,” he said.

Such a vote would be a personal triumph for Mr. Dengate Thrush, given that the meeting in Singapore is set to be his last as chairman. Icann says the expansion would give Internet users vastly greater choice, leading to innovations in online marketing, among other things.

Yet critics of Icann question the need, saying existing suffixes provide plenty of choice. They say Icann wants to railroad the plan through without addressing their concerns.

Owners of corporate brands and other trademarks — who remember the cybersquatting that marred the early days of the Internet, when profiteers claimed brand names and then resold them to their owners — say the expansion would open the door to a new round of intellectual property abuses.

“It’s an unproven idea that has been handled very poorly from a project management standpoint,” said Alan C. Drewsen, executive director of the International Trademark Association.

The primary beneficiaries of the change, critics contend, will be the registrars that maintain Internet addresses; unlike Icann, a nonprofit organization, many registrars are commercial entities.

“The more domains they have out there, the more names they can register and the more money they take in,” said Josh Bourne, president of the Coalition Against Domain Name Abuse, a Washington-based lobby group.

Icann plans safeguards to thwart cybersquatters and other opportunists. The price of the new extensions has been set at a steep $185,000, for example, with a further $25,000 annual fee to maintain them. Trademark owners would be allowed to claim their names for use in addresses during “sunrise” periods following the rollout. These protections have been strengthened since the proposal was outlined.

“My expectation is that people will look at this in a fairly commercial way,” Mr. Dengate Thrush said. “My hope is that they aren’t going to waste a lot of time and money applying for names that don’t stand a chance.”

Mr. Dengate Thrush acknowledged that there were still unresolved issues around implementation. But he said these could be resolved after a vote to go ahead. Icann plans a four-month communication period before applications for addresses will be accepted.

During that time, trademark owners will have to wrestle with some big questions. Should they apply for the new suffixes? Should they register their names for use with other new extensions? Or should they do neither? A lot of money hangs on the decisions.

Mei-lan Stark, senior vice president for intellectual property at News Corp.’s Fox Entertainment Group, recently told a U.S. congressional committee that the change could cost her company at least $12 million in the initial stages alone.

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=e12631269681d2a28980d8dbf662f387