I remember sitting at the very event in 2011 where hands were raised in the air to approve a major change in the history of the Internet: the introduction of the new gTLD programme, something numerous parties had lobbied for throughout the late noughties. While it's been a little while to get everything off the ground, it's great to see the programme now finally coming to fruition this year and to witness the media hype surrounding it.
For those of you unaware of what this is all about, ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), the not for profit organisation that looks after web addresses on the Internet, is currently rolling out a major change to the face of the web. Thinking about your typical domain name, there are a set of commonly recognised endings, more formally known as top level domains (TLDs), that are largely known to most people. The most recognisable are generic top level domains (gTLDs) such as .com and .org, as well as country code top level domains (ccTLDs) like .co.uk and .de.
The new gTLD programme means that over the past year, ICANN has approved 617 new web extensions to go live on the Internet, and will continue to introduce hundreds more over the course of the next 12 months. This has almost overnight expanded the list of web extensions available for use in a domain name.
There are four main categories of extensions to look out for. There are those that represent cities – for example, you may have seen that the .London extension is launching, which becomes generally available to all on 9th September. Well recognised brands are also creating their own top level domains – this includes some household names such as .BMW, .Nike, and .Google. For the first time, we are additionally seeing generic International Domain Names (IDNs) launch, which are gTLDs that contain non Latin scripts – such as .شبكة, meaning '.web' in Arabic. There are also a new set of generic top level domains - .ink, .photography, .wiki and .club are just a few examples of new gTLDs people can use over and above the likes of the normal .com.
So why is the new gTLD programme good news for businesses? The first reason lies in choice. Pick an industry and you'll likely find that the best generic .com domain names are taken – for example in the print sector, printerink.com will have been registered long ago. The arrival of the new gTLD .ink, for example, opens up a new wave of domains for that industry beyond those featuring .com – where printerink.com might not be available to a cool new start up, the all new printer.ink offers the opportunity to own a snappy and memorable namespace online.
The arrival of the .brand TLDs will mean that customers can forge a closer relationship with their favourite companies. For example, a brand such as Nike, which is affiliated to the world of fitness, is now in the position to offer customers personalised pages where they can log a record of their Nike Plus data – think JoeBloggs.Nike. This is something the Nike fitness fanatic would love – it also offers a great opportunity to Nike to learn more about their customers.
The new gTLDs also offer a more representative online identity for a business. Imagine you ran a tattoo parlour called SmithandSmith's – the web address SmithandSmith.ink more readily relates to your industry than the vanilla '.com' extension ever will. Not only does it sound slicker, .ink will also undoubtedly resonate with target audiences by telling them what SmithandSmith's line of business is upfront, before they've even got to the website.
The new gTLD programme represents a tremendously exciting chapter in the story of the Internet. That said, businesses need a carpe diem attitude if they are to make the most out of the programme. When new extensions are launching every month, now is the time to see whether there is a new domain name available featuring one of the freshly launched gTLDs that better represents your online identity. The last thing you want is for your biggest rival to take your dream web address before you!
Ray King is CEO of domain registry Top Level Design.