Since the launch of the New gTLD Program in 2012, it has become evident that new gTLD registries overestimated the demand for new Top-Level Domain name extensions.
Furthermore, new gTLD registries did not anticipate the hurdles in raising awareness, not to mention creating adoption for new domains. Even the most pessimistic New gTLD Program critic did not expect such uninspiring results.
It was a wake up call for many in the domain industry. The New gTLD Program currently lacks credibility. No new gTLD has yet to go mainstream to capture the world’s imagination.
Obstacles to New gTLD Success: Competing with .COM, Awareness and Adoption
At the start of last year, Inc. magazine asserted in January 2015 that: “given the challenges facing TLD adoption, it’s unlikely that TLDs will make a huge marketing impact in 2015 unless there is some sort of game changing development.”
At the same time, Forbes agreed with that assessment, warning the domain industry that “in contrast to the slippery territory of the new domains, the existing names are solidly established. The .COM extension has been around for almost 30 years, and every Fortune 500 company has a .COM registration. The top 50 global brands direct customers to a .COM homepage. Almost all educational institutions use a .EDU suffix. And others, like .ORG, clearly stand for nonprofit organizations. People have come to rely on these familiar domains and are more than a little hesitant to incur the costs and uncertainty of venturing into new territory. Not a single leading brand has switched its online identity to one of the new domains, despite all the hype surrounding their introduction a year ago.”
Many in the domain community also had some harsh words about the launch of ICANN’s New gTLD Program.
Domain Name Wire (DNW) has been following ICANN’s New gTLD Program closely since its inception. In January 2014, DNW criticized the launch in a post titled “New TLDs come out with a whimper,” followed by another article in March 2014 with harsh criticism stating that “the launch of new domain names has been anything but smooth. Confusion. Frustration. Incompetence.” Nearly 2 years later DNW reviewed the New gTLD Program asserting that “ wasn’t a break-through year. Hundreds more top level domain names hit the market during 2015. But adoption of new domains didn’t take off, proving what many in the industry have been saying: this is going to be a long, gradual process.”
In December 2015, one of the world’s most successful domainers, Rick Schwartz, predicted that “no extension will have great value like .COM until you see them used in real and long term advertising campaigns. That said, the number of registrations will not determine value. The consumer and end user will decide their fate and therefore value. When you factor in the fact that most registrations are domainers, then you can easily see the collapse coming.”
Dr. Paul Vixie, a pioneer of the internet’s domain name system (DNS), took the criticism a step further according to ZDNet. “I think it is a money grab. My own view is that ICANN functions as a regulator, and that as a regulator it has been captured by the industry that they are regulating. I think that there was no end-user demand whatsoever for more so-called DNS extensions, [or] global generic top-level domains (gTLDs). They’re gradually rolling out, and they are all commercial failures,” he stated. “ICANN is a 501(c)(3) non-profit public charity [under the California Nonprofit Public Benefit Corporation Law], and their job is to serve the public, not to serve the companies… I think that until they can come up with an actual public benefit reason they should be creating more of these, they’ve got no cause to act,” Vixie said.
As one of the biggest proponents of the New gTLD Program throughout the years, I am dissatisfied with the results of the New gTLD Program. Before the launch of the New gTLD Program in 2012, all proponents of the New gTLD Program worked together following a culture of “all for one and one for all” with a shared vision to get the New gTLD Program approved and launched. Unfortunately, those collaborative dynamics quickly changed to the detriment of the New gTLD Program and ICANN.
Michael Berkens from TheDomains made an astute observation in January 2015, stating that “the new gTLD [registries] better not hope it’s a zero sum game where you can win if only someone else loses. Otherwise it could be an everyone loses scenario.”
My opinion is unwavering: new gTLD success is about collaboration and co-operative competition, known as co-opetition, to spur trust and adoption. Co-opetition is defined as collaboration between business competitors in the hope of mutually beneficial results. According to Harvard Business Review, “unlike traditional collaborations, instead of coming together to do something and pretending you’re not competing, co-opetition leverages your competitor’s strength in order to thrive together.”
This is why I have been one of the biggest cheerleaders of community gTLDs. They are all about expanding the value pie by creating shared valued to all community constituents. The value of the community-based network effect is seen in TLDs such as .EDU, .GOV and .ORG. Registrants involved in U.S. post-secondary education, U.S. government or non-profits will choose .EDU, .GOV and .ORG respectively over .COM because those TLDs stand for something that is trusted and is believable by the general public. Another example is .BANK which is carving out its niche by becoming the status quo for banks following the trust model. However, none of these success stories are achievable without community-based policies implemented, high quality content and usage relevant to those respective communities. Serving a higher purpose provides more meaning than the semantic value of the TLD.
Many new gTLD registries have made a colossal mistake trying to compete head-to-head with .COM under the non-differentiated factory approach of generically “open” TLDs. Most have employed identical marketing launches without offering a meaningful and innovative value proposition to registrants. The marketplace has spoken. By following the same “old school” TLD marketing playbook, the most likely outlook for new gTLD registries are diminishing returns, especially for new gTLD registries that lack the economies of scale and scope competitive advantage. A non-differentiated gTLD competing head on with .COM (which shares all its attributes except the gTLD’s novelty name) is a losing strategy and does not benefit ICANN’s New gTLD Program or raise awareness.
The only successful route for new gTLD registries to compete is one based on “value innovation.” This means to forget competing directly with .COM and making .COM irrelevant by strategically changing the playing field. Malcolm Gladwell’s best seller “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants” elaborates further:
“Davids win all the time. The political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft recently looked at every war fought in the past 200 years between strong and weak combatants. The Goliaths, he found, won in 71.5% of the cases. Arreguín-Toft was analyzing conflicts in which one side was at least ten times as powerful—in terms of armed might and population—as its opponent, and even in those lopsided contests the underdog won almost 33% of the time…When an underdog fought like David, he usually won. But most of the time underdogs didn’t fight like David.”
Bottom line, you cannot beat .COM fighting them under their own generically “open” and non-differentiated rules. .COM will always have a colossal home-court advantage. The reason is simple: .COM has billions of dollars spent in marketing to raise awareness, over 120 million registrations and decades of user recognition. Verisign is fortunate that they do not have to spend a dime in mainstream promotion because they have others — the .COM adopters — spending billions. The .COM adopters are those who prefer the status quo because educating the general public over a new gTLD is difficult, expensive and confusing. The only way to break the status quo is making a TLD the status quo by widespread community adoption.
The only way that a new gTLD can go mainstream is to share some of the same characteristics shared by .EDU, .GOV or other community-tailored TLDs that are aligned with a community-based purpose that would convince registrants to choose a new TLD as their first option over a .COM. Such an objective is insurmountable if a TLD follows a non-differentiated, open approach without any policies catering to their corresponding community. Laying the foundations for adoption is critical for success. It also takes widespread adoption from their corresponding communities for such a feat to happen.
With such an alarming parking page rate, it is no wonder Google established that New gTLDs will not be given any search ranking benefit. On March 2012, Google search quality engineer Matt Cutts stated that “Google will attempt to rank new TLDs appropriately, but I don’t expect a new TLD to get any kind of initial preference…you shouldn’t register a TLD in the mistaken belief that you’ll get some sort of boost in search engine rankings.” Fast forward to December 2014, Google’s webmaster trends analyst John Mueller repeats Google’s position re-stating that “there still is no inherent ranking advantage to using the new TLDs.” In December 2015, John Mueller alerted webmasters of the most important SEO tip for 2016 to emphasize on great quality content. “High quality content is something I’d focus on. I see lots and lots of SEO blogs talk about user experience, which I think is a great thing to focus on as well. Because that essentially kind of focuses on what we are trying to look at as well. We want to rank content that is useful for them and if your content is really useful for them, then we want to rank it,” Mueller asserted.
Some TLDs (such as .EDU, .GOV and .CAT) are preferred over .COM because they are strongly associated with trust, adoption and community-tailored policies. These characteristics foster the optimal environment to create high quality, relevant content.
The overwhelming majority have launched their gTLDs in the same traditional manner assuming that demand would be created by the registrar channels alone even though none of the new gTLDs have become truly mainstream. There are some key questions most gTLD registries failed to answer: How can a new gTLD registry effectively differentiate itself to effortlessly convince the most appropriate registrants (i.e. the communities generally-associated with each gTLD) to register, develop and market those new domains as their official website and email address online? This is the only way to ensure that usage and compelling content from new gTLDs become more prevalent and eventually go mainstream.
While some isolated domain name success stories with new gTLD are expected, such outliers do very little to increase awareness for the New gTLD Program helping all new gTLD registries as a result. Jeff Davidoff, Donuts chief marketing officer stated that “pop culture usage is really going to accelerate the movement. Nothing beats the power of pop culture to drive a movement.” Such an assessment is precise but a few select movies and studios using a new gTLD will not impact nor change the widespread perception of new TLDs as “wastelands.” However .MUSIC can help raise awareness and generate buzz for other new gTLDs just like the new Star Wars movie achieved, boosting other movies at the box office. The big question is will .MUSIC domains make the Internet better or just more of a crowded wasteland? Isolated new gTLD success stories do not constitute adoption because of their limited reach and longevity. Ongoing marketing and community adoption is paramount to success.
How Awareness, Adoption and Differentiation Can Be Achieved
The only way to spur mainstream awareness of ICANN’s New gTLD Program is widespread industry adoption of a new gTLD that would create the multiplier network effect that would virally spread across all marketing channels fostering an environment of high quality, relevant and trusted content to increase exposure through higher search result rankings.
The only remaining gTLD that can accomplish this is the .MUSIC community-based gTLD. DotMusic is the only .MUSIC applicant that has followed unified principles, ideals and Mission aligned with the community-based purpose that the Community subscribes to, such as:
- creating a trusted identifier and safe haven for music consumption;
- protecting musicians’ rights and intellectual property;
- fighting copyright infringement, supporting fair compensation and music education; and
- following a multi-stakeholder approach of representation of all types of global music constituents without discrimination.
To accomplish this objective, DotMusic developed its Mission and Registration Policies using a consensus-driven, bottom-up methodology via feedback and universal principles collected in its ongoing, extensive public global Music Community communication outreach campaign launched in 2008.
These principles and community-tailored policies to which the entire global music community subscribes to is the underlying reason why DotMusic has amassed the largest global music coalition ever assembled to support a music cause, including organizations with members representing over 95% of global music. It bears noting that the multi-stakeholder .MUSIC Governance Board is comprised of the most trusted and globally recognized organizations associated with music.
DotMusic is expected to qualify as a “community” because it exceeds the required Community Priority Evaluation (CPE) criteria consistent with previous prevailing EIU determinations for .OSAKA, .HOTEL, .RADIO, .ECO, and .SPA. Thus far, DotMusic has received over 2,000 letters of support, more than all of ICANN’s ALAC (ALAC has 140 members “representing the views of individual Internet users” totaling nearly 3.3 billion) and NCUC memberships (NCUC has 462 members representing billions of noncommercial users) as well as all CPE applicants combined. DotMusic has also been supported by highly influential featured artists and the International Music Organisation (IAO) that represents featured artists globally. Such adoption would make .MUSIC a driving force for ICANN’s New gTLD Program. Popular artists that have voiced support for the .MUSIC community initiative include Radiohead, Marillion, Imogen Heap, Travis, Sandie Shaw and many others. This unprecedented level of awareness resulted in monumental support before the .MUSIC gTLD has even launched.
DotMusic’s value-based innovation for a .MUSIC community-led initiative is one of creating differentiated value and making a difference that truly matters. Many in the domain industry obsess over volume as the prime determinant success. The strongest Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for new gTLDs are reach (e.g. unique visits), engagement (e.g. bounce rates) and sentiment (e.g. social sharing). Another important KPI is Parked Page percentage. According to nTLDStats, the vast majority of new gTLD domains, an astounding 71.35%, are parked (as of January 3rd, 2015). For example, DotMusic does not allow parking pages. This unique policy for .MUSIC is one of the most innovative restrictions in the New gTLD Program because it mandates website development, usage and higher quality content. Legal music content and usage is king. Furthermore, .MUSIC can be the first TLD with copyright protection provisions and enforcement. These ensure .MUSIC is a safe haven for legal music consumption and licensing and to increase consumer trust and safety. These include policies to stop domain hopping, takedown policies in the case of mass piracy, authorization provisions, permanent blocks, privacy and proxy provisions, true name and address mandates, trusted sender complaint policies and many other enhanced safeguards.
DotMusic has created a strong, trusted brand for itself over the last decade and has raised unprecedented support and awareness in both the domain and music industries that will be leveraged by DotMusic to become the first new gTLD to be community and industry adopted and to go mainstream. This feat cannot be achieved at such a scale under a .MUSIC gTLD model that lacks community-based policies serving the music community and has no multi-stakeholder governance structure. The semantic value of a new gTLD alone cannot convince an entire community to adopt it.
The semantic value of new gTLDs is currently the most prevalent value proposition to register a new domain. Semantic value, usage and general awareness will increase steadily over time for new gTLDs but more is needed to catapult that growth rate. It is a win-win situation for all players involved: ICANN will have more success stories to convincingly vindicate the launch of its New gTLD Program and to demonstrate that it has served the global public interest and increased competition, diversity and consumer choice. New gTLD registries (especially portfolio TLD registries) will also benefit because raised awareness and mainstream adoption of new gTLDs will persuade registrants to choose new gTLDs over .COM because the risk of confusion and lack of awareness of the existence of new gTLDs will have decreased. As more gTLDs are used and marketed globally, the growth of new gTLDs will increase dramatically given the multiplier effect benefiting all constituents involved.
The Way Forward: Collaboration and Co-opetition
The way forward for the domain industry is co-opetition, in which new gTLD registries act with what all stakeholders recognize as partial congruence of interests. This approach of co-operative competition based on shared mutually-beneficial interests would be similar to the culture adopted by the new gTLD applicants before the New gTLD Program was launched. Sharing a similar purpose ultimately convinced ICANN to launch the New gTLD Program. Today, the challenge is convincing the general public to register new gTLDs and proving the New gTLD Program’s critics wrong. As one of the biggest advocates of ICANN’s New gTLD Program, it is my belief that the only way to achieve this is through genuine co-operative effort, collaboration and working together to figure out how we can accelerate new gTLD growth and awareness.
The Business Ethics Journal Review emphasizes the benefits of cooperation:“Globalization has not just led to greater competition but also to an increase of cooperation. A successful business in times of globalization is not merely a good market actor but also an organization that is able to cooperate. It is should be noted that from a theoretical point of view cooperation is a non-economic mode of social interaction (in opposition to exchange and competition) that, however, is highly relevant for concrete business practices since it might lead to positive economic consequences.”
It has been adequately proven that competing directly with .COM is an unsustainable, losing battle. For long term success, growing profitability and sustainability, new gTLD registries will eventually have to collaborate to re-align their interests and business strategies under a shared value model in a manner that is beneficial to all parties in the domain value chain. Creating this indirect competitive advantage is ultimately the only way to compete with .COM: One for all, and all for one.
.MUSIC Will Go Mainstream Benefiting New gTLD Program and ICANN
We believe that a community-based .MUSIC launch will propel ICANN’s New gTLD Program to new heights benefiting all parties involved: the global music community, ICANN, new gTLD registries, registrars and society as a whole. A widespread, community-adopted .MUSIC has the highest chance of any gTLD to achieve the goal of a new gTLD going mainstream and becoming industry adopted to raise unprecedented new gTLD awareness with the general public.
As Diffuser.fm points out, .MUSIC “could be the biggest thing to happen to the web” and live up to the expectations voiced in December 2015 at Techcrunch Disrupt as a “game changing” new gTLD and to become a “global home and first-of-its-kind database for the music community” as disclosed recently in Billboard magazine.
DotMusic is in a prime position to jumpstart the New gTLD Program and create the necessary momentum to raise public awareness about new gTLDs. The domain community has a lot of positive developments to look forward to in 2016.