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Can ICANN Really Do Alchemy?

Media reports might have you believe that ICANN has discovered how to turn lead into gold, with their decision to create lots of new top-level domains (TLDs) for the Internet. But there could be a lot of fool’s gold in the ICANN treasure chest, based on concerns and questions I heard at their meeting in Paris last week:

  1. Some businesses advocating new TLDs claim they will help to categorize the web, much like bookstores arrange shelves by subject matter. For example, the applicants for a .berlin TLD claim it will help users find websites relating to Berlin. But I have to wonder how that’s more useful than using ‘berlin’ in a conventional web search? The big winner in having millions of new domains is the big search engine that can sort it all out for us.
  2. ICANN will entertain objections "relating to morality and public order" regarding the words or phrases proposed for new TLDs. Sounds like a responsible policy, but will paranoid governments use this policy to oppose new TLDs like .freedom or .democracy?
  3. If a new TLD would create confusion with existing or similar TLDs, ICANN may deny the application. "Confusingly similar" is a good concept, but isn’t something this subjective certain to generate controversy and litigation?
  4. ICANN will have to pick winners and losers when multiple contenders want the same TLD. For example, who gets the .apple TLD – Apple computer, Apple records, or the Washington State Apple Growers Co-op?
  5. Consumers and brand owners are rightly concerned about fraud and cyber-squatting in new TLDs. Is every new TLD going to generate a gold rush for domains that can be re-sold to global brand owners? Worse still, are cyber criminals going to exploit new TLDs to dupe users into revealing personal data or lure them into online scams?

Applicants for new TLDs will have to run a veritable gauntlet of objections and contentions, which could take many months or even years to complete. At the same time, ICANN doesn’t want to keep restive governments waiting on domains that use non-Latin scripts, such as an Arabic and Chinese. So ICANN also approved a fast-track for governments to get country-code domains using non-Latin scripts, but users will be frustrated if this fast-track excludes the global TLDs (.com, .org, .edu ) they’re really looking for.

These are legitimate questions and real concerns that ICANN must overcome to launch hundreds of new TLDs. I can already hear critics claiming that ICANN processes are delaying new TLDs and the resulting gold rush for millions of new domains.

Before ICANN and domain speculators catch gold fever over the promise of newly-minted TLDs, they ought to heed an old proverb – all that glitters is not gold.

Posted by Steve DelBianco