The ICANN new gTLD 'Big Reveal' - one of the greatest moments in history?

The greatest moments in history are often over in the blink of an eye.  People will always look back on some of these moments with a clouded view of what actually happened.  "Was that it?" is a question that marks some of these events.  And Wednesday 13th June 2012 was one of those moments.  The day that the Internet changed forever.

The moment had been years in the planning.  Originally the actual moment of history was to be a huge fanfare, with a rumoured party planned in a swish Las Vegas hotel, overlooking a strip of land that still today promises dreams but often delivers disappointment.  Quite an apt venue considering the prizes on offer.

But instead there was no luxurious venue, no fanfare, no flutes of champagne, no canopies, no go-go girls.  Instead over a cup of coffee and a rich tea biscuit, ICANN, the organisation that has more influence over the "open-source" world wide web than any other body, told the waiting world who had paid for the privilege to change the Internet.

After a tortuous application process that was beset with controversy, security concerns and general confusion, most people in the room found out exactly who had applied for what new domain suffixes by reading it on a photocopied handout.  The feeling of anti-climax in the room will be the memory that people present will take away.  "Was that it?" asked the gentlemen next to me.  History will glamourise it in years to come, but for those who were in the room, behind Kings Cross station in London, the moment was over in a blink of an eye.

There was no curtain drop, fireworks or even some music from 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The suntanned ICANN Director of Global Media Affairs, Brad White asked the audience "Do you want to see the applications?", the room murmured approval and then he said that the list was now live on ICANN's website, and "If you haven't got access to that, we have some handouts here".  The meeting went into a 15 minute recess where everyone scrambled to find the list.  Unfortunately timings are not ICANN's strong point - the original meeting scheduled for 12pm UTC (i.e British Summer Time) actually kicked off at 1pm as someone thought it was GMT.  The list wasn't live so queue a scramble for the photocopies.

The room was hushed as people scanned through the list of 1,930 applicants, virtually all who had paid $185,000 for the opportunity to run their own domain suffix.  Every so often there was a groan as someone realised either that they had a competing application, or that their decision not to apply for something was going to lead to some difficult questions from their boss.

As people digested the contents of the list, the same questions were being asked.  Who are the Charleston Road Registry Inc who had applied for over 100 new Top Level Domains?  Why have Amazon chosen to  make their applications via their European subsidiary? Isn't the acceptance of a .sucks suffix just a moneymaking scheme against trademark holders and brands who would have to defensively register their name? And why would someone put an application in for the likes of .goodhands, .gripe and .horse?

It wasn't hard to see who the winners and losers could be.  HSBC who had been so critical of the process and publicly stated their opposition to it in the past couple of years had applied for .hsbc after all.  Charleston Road (based on the fact they were applying for the likes of .google and .youtube and that Google's HQ is on Charleston Road we can safely assume it is the web giant) would be going head to head with Amazon on a number of generic names such as .music, .movie, .play and .show.  There was only one application from Apple (.apple) and none from the social media giants Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin.  For some reason someone was applying for .dotafrica (thus making any domain name xxxx.dotafrica).  There would be quite a few losers for the most contested strings such as .app, .home and .inc.

But the real winner is undoubtably ICANN.  They had initially stated that they expected about 1,000 applications, so to get nearly double that number will have made their bank manager smile.  Questions were asked when the room reconvened about the huge amounts they were now sitting on.  Rod Beckstrom, the outgoing CEO, and Kurt Pritz, SVP Stakeholder Relations, explained the money would be used to defend any legal claims.  A question from the BBC asked about the data protection issues of revealing the applicants email address caused some uncomfortable squirming in the seat but was batted away in a manner that a front bench MP would have been proud of.

Beckstrom had opened the meeting with the comment that "the internet was about to change forever".  By the time I left at 3pm I had the feeling that Pandora's Box had been opened and that the Internet would never be the same again.  It was like that moment on Christmas Day when you stand among the chaos of wrapping paper and packaging and realise that you had been given the same pair of socks and talc that you got last year. We should all embrace change, but when change is driven by purely financial objectives, the concept of a free and open online society dies with it.

Blog post written by Group NBT's Director of Communications, Stuart Fuller