The day the internet changed forever

At 1pm BST next Wednesday, 13 June 2012, ICANN, the organization responsible for the domain name infrastructure in the world will make an announcement that has the potential to change the online world forever.

The event, dubbed as the “Big Reveal” will detail who has applied for what new Top Level Domain (TLD) strings and will potentially become the .com, .net and .xxx of tomorrow.  Of course it wasn’t as simple as just sending them an email and saying “I’d like to run .money”.  The process was long, costly ($186,000 per TLD string just to make an application), full of controversy and incredibly complex.  After a number of technical issues delayed the closure of the application window and the subsequent glitzy reveal date, ICANN have opted for a much lower key announcement this time around.

But even after the reveal there is still plenty to do.  The initial estimation for the number of applications was around a thousand.  Whilst few companies have come out and said they have definitively applied for a certain TLD string, we can be sure that there will be over double that original one thousand estimation.  And that means some order needs to be brought to the chaos.

Quite how we were left with the best option to decide who goes in which was essentially the basis of hundreds of childhood computer games I do not know.  In the run up to the Olympics I fondly remember the joystick wangling of Daley Thompson’s Decathlon for the Commodore 64 where you had to build up speed by rhythmic movement backwards and forwards of your controller before a perfectly timed press of the button to jump or throw.

Yet in the past 28 years it seems the world has stood still as that is exactly the method ICANN will use to determine how quickly any particular new TLD will be dealt with.  Well, without the joystick wangling anyway.

“Digital Archery” it the term they use these days, although the concept is still the same.  Companies will determine how quick they can get their new domain name suffix to the market on the press of a button, getting as close to a prescribed timestamp given to them by ICANN.  More worryingly, how quick their competitors get their domain name to the market will also be decided by the same button press.  The whole process has thrown up so many unanswered questions.

“What if my connection crashes?”

“What impact does my location have?  What if I am located on same continent as ICANN’s servers?  What if I am not?”

“How do I know by which time to set my clock by?”

“What if I don’t want to be in the first batch but in the second?”

Many of the biggest domain name registrars, including NetNames, have expressed concern at the Digital Archery methodology and asked ICANN to reconsider other options, but it seems as I write they will press ahead.

It is anticipated that ICANN will be able to deal with 500 TLD strings every six months, which means those applicants who miss the timestamp by the most will be in batch 4 (or 5) and thus their domain suffix may not see light of day for up to two years.  In the meantime their competitors could be stealing a march on them.  As in the highest levels of real archery, the minutest deviation from the bullseye can determine so much such as the 2008 Olympic Men’s Gold medal which was decided by less than 1mm after a six day competition.

So what will next Wednesday tell us?  It will show firstly exactly who is applying for what.  It will tell us what organizations are so serious about their brands that they want to immortalise them in Internet history.  It will give us an understanding about what communities are trying to do, and more interestingly, it will show us which organizations will be on a collision course with identical applications or confusingly similar ones.

The fallout from the “big reveal” will be felt across the whole internet.  In boardrooms and committee rooms across the world there will be some angry executives who will have seen some of their competitors’ applications and wanting to know why their brands are not being mentioned in the same way.

As with the whole process so far expect a lot more controversy, confusion and clarification before we see our first .horse, .lol or .sucks.

Written by Stuart Fuller, Director of Communications Group NBT.
NetNames is a part of Group NBT Limited.

6 June 2012