“I know the price of success: dedication, hard work and an unremitting devotion to the things you want to see happen.” Frank Lloyd Wright
There will come a point in the history of the new gTLD program when we have to decide whether it was a success or a failure. The criteria for success have never been clearly defined, but we can use a number of milestones and initial objectives to rate whether we can give it a thumbs up or thumbs down.
If we look back at some of the reasons why the program was created by ICANN before the launch of the application phase back in 2011, we could then make some judgements based on whether it has achieved those.
It has certainly brought some innovation to an industry that had been relatively conservative for some years. The concept of creating the opportunity for almost any suffix to be created will bring up around 600 new generic Top Level Domains (TLDs), as well as even more single registrant or dotBrands.
Some new TLDs have built robust and secure infrastructures, creating new platforms that provide trust and security such as, well, dotTrust and dotSecure, as well as dotProtection. The launch in May of dotInsurance to go alongside dotBank will provide a safe and secure environment for consumers to transact with financial institutions, removing the complex and expensive burden on brand holders to focus on secure platforms rather than their core business.
Rights Protection Mechanisms, such as the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) and the Domains Protected Marks List (DPML), were developed in response to concerns from the brand and trademark holder community that their intellectual property needed to be protected in the program. The success of the TMCH is clear to see, with over 90% of all potential infringing domain name registrations against trademark holders being abandoned once the claims notice has been served.
The worries of the side-effects of name collision, which delayed the launch of the program, have yet to become reality, although the issue of gTLDs being used for nefarious purposes, including spam, malware and cybersquatting, is still a huge concern. A recent report by The Spamhaus Project suggests that over 60% of the domains its system has seen in some of the new gTLDs are being used for “bad purposes”, including over 80% for the dotDownload Top Level Domain alone*.
Some will point to the number of registrations in certain gTLDs and use that as the yardstick for success. The fact that dotXYZ, the most registered new gTLD, has sold three times as many as dotWin, the fourth most registered gTLD, and nearly ten times as many as in 14th placed dotOnline, surely makes it a success – but is the number sold a good measure to use? After all, dotTK is the second most registered Top Level Domain in the world today, only surpassed by dotCom, but the fact that the registry gives the name away free of charge surely clouds the issue.
The fifth most registered new gTLD is dotClub, which has over three-quarters of a million registrations. In a recent interview with Domain Name Wire**, CEO Colin Campbell revealed that the TLD lost about $1m last year; the main reason being spend on marketing at around $5.75m.
“I am confident .Club will break even this year and begin to move to profitability in 2017, making us a truly viable new domain extension and, more importantly, a global brand,” Campbell told Domain Name Wire.
Of course, it’s hard to determine the profitability of each and every new gTLD registry – few will be as open as dotClub – but we can assume that many of the costs they incur will be uniform across the industry. Registrar promotions have proved to be very successful for many gTLDs, pushing registration numbers up significantly, such as the launch last week of dotVIP, which was being sold by a number of Chinese registrars for less than £2.50 for the first year. This has certainly been the story for many of the current top ten new gTLDs, ranging from dotTop (currently in second place and available to register for just 27 pence per annum with some registrars) to dotScience in ninth place.
Whilst low registration prices have significantly driven up demand for new gTLDs in 2016, with total registrations growing by nearly seven million names in just five months to 18.1 million today, actual usage of those registered names is another story – and perhaps one of the key criteria we should be using to determine the success of each TLD and the program as a whole. Currently, over 65% of all new gTLDs registered have no A-record***, meaning they do not resolve at all, whilst just 4% redirect to a live website.
Some of the new gTLDs currently have most of their registrations resolving to either a parked page or not resolving at all – for instance, over 99% of dotXin names fall into this category, whilst nearly 93% of dotWang names tell the same story. In terms of registrars, Chengdu West Dimension Digital Technology, which has registered more domain names than any other registrar, has over 93% of its new gTLD registrations resolving to non-live content.
So if we consider usage as a key criterion for success, many of the most registered gTLDs would not currently be ticking the box, and that leads onto the most important measure – customer perception. If registrants are not using their new gTLDs, then confidence and perception of the program will continue to be low. We are now slowly but surely beginning to see new gTLDs in the wild, whether it be dotBrands such as www.home.barclays or www.study.monash, or generic registrations such as www.meantime.london or www.lewesfootball.club. The more the new gTLDs appear in everyday digital life, the more the general Internet user will accept them as part of their online experience – and that is the single most important measure of success for the program.