Take note, Joe Plumber. You're now able to hang your shingle online at www.joe.plumbing, provided some other Joe doesn't beat you to the punch.
The first seven of what will eventually be hundreds of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) on the Internet began rolling out for public purchase on Wednesday, including .bike, .clothing, .guru, .holdings, .plumbing, .singles, and .ventures. They're the first gTLDs that use the Latin alphabet to be released, following a multi-year effort led by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Numbers and Names (ICANN) to dramatically increase the number of available Internet addresses.
Until now, there were 22 gTLDs, such as .com and .org, available to the general public. Much of the desirable Internet real estate -- especially on the standard-bearing .com domain -- was snapped up long ago. Joeplumber.com isn't available, for example; old Joe would have to settle for a less sought-after domain like joeplumber.biz.
Proponents of the new gTLDs say the expansion will make it easier for businesses and individuals to acquire compelling, memorable web addresses, among other benefits. Meanwhile, critics have bemoaned the expansion process as expensive and exclusionary, among other gripes.
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Richard Tindal, COO and co-founder of domain wholesaler Donuts, said he was happy with initial sales on Wednesday, although it was too soon to share specifics.
"We're about 48 minutes into day one [after] a five-year journey to get to here, so we're just starting," Tindal said in an interview. "But we're pleased. We're already receiving orders that are exceeding what we expected to get in the first few hours of business."
Donuts alone will release more than 100 new gTLDs this year via retail customers such as GoDaddy and business-oriented registrars such as Mark Monitor. The firm soon will be joined by other successful applicants who will begin making their own gTLDs available this year, too. Let's look at four important facts to understand about the Internet's ongoing expansion.
1. New domain names will be cheaper if you wait a week
Although general availability of domains such as .ventures and .clothing indeed kicked off Wednesday, your budget might be better served by waiting until next Wednesday before buying new URLs. That's thanks to a "declining price" feature baked into the process in which wholesalers such as Donuts add an additional fee to orders placed during the first week of availability. Because retailers will likely add their own markup, new domains will be considerably more expensive when they first hit the market, declining in price each day until settling at normal retail pricing on day eight. Tindal said the markups vary so it's unclear just how much of a premium you'll pay, though he noted it's a one-time cost, not an annual one.
"These first seven days are really for the highly motivated buyer who's prepared to spend more money to acquire a name that they really want," Tindal said, adding that some retailers don't have that kind of customer in their market profile. Indeed, as of early afternoon Wednesday, domains such as .plumbing weren't readily available for purchase on websites like GoDaddy.com.
Rather, those willing to pay premiums are most likely big brands, trademark owners, and those with deep pockets keen on being first in line for certain names. Budget-constrained buyers are more likely to wait until prices fall, but they stand to miss out as a result. Ultimately, retail registrars determine when to make new web addresses available for general sale. Tindal said he expects all of Donuts' accredited retailers to make the new gTLDs widely available by day eight of their release.
2. New gTLDs will hit the market weekly for much of 2014
Donuts is a venture-backed startup that applied for some 300 new gTLDs during ICANN's application window -- at $185,000 apiece. Donuts alone will roll out new domains weekly for the next 30 weeks or so, Tindal said, as will other successful applicants. A watchful eye is in order for anyone hoping to buy up new URLs. Next up: .camera, .equipment, .estate, .gallery, .graphics, .lighting, and .photography will be released on Feb. 5 and will follow the same declining-price process.
There's no real logic behind which domains will hit the market when. "It's a consequence of the various moving parts of the ICANN approval process," Tindal said. New gTLDs that were uncontested -- meaning only one organization applied for them, which was the case with around half of Donuts' applications -- will lead the way, however. Tindal expects it to take another four to six months for all of the contested gTLDs to be resolved.
3. IT's concern: name collisions
Potential security problems became one of the most prominent issues during the slow-moving expansion process, particularly after certificate authorities such as Symantec and Trend Micro, as well as businesses like PayPal, raised concerns about the potential for name collisions as new gTLDs hit the Internet. In short, such collisions could occur if the namespaces that IT administrators use on their private networks, such as .corp or .home, were to "leak" as a query to the public DNS, creating potentially serious security holes. Name collisions aren't new, but they could pose increasing risks as the number of public domains increases.
According to Tindal, much of the initial security concerns have been mitigated, although not entirely eliminated, as a result of strict controls. ICANN recently published the "Guide to Name Collision Identification and Mitigation for IT Professionals" to support efforts to minimize risks and resolve known conflicts.
"We're not concerned," Tindal said. "It's just something we'll sort out over the next few months, put it to bed, and it won't be something that I think people will be talking about [in the future]."
4. Marketing's concern: brand and trademark infringement
On the marketing side of the house, the new gTLDs sparked a wave of concerns about brand and trademark infringement, domain squatting, and similar issues. ICANN created a Trademark Clearinghouse to help prevent problems, though it favors larger companies that register trademarks -- and hires lawyers to protect them -- and offers less protection for smaller businesses that don't.
The new gTLDs released Wednesday, as well as those in future releases, have already been through the clearinghouse process and are fair for anyone to purchase as a result. "Trademark owners have already had their opportunity to get their trademark names," Tindal said. He added that the new gTLDs offer protections for brand and trademark owners that have never been available for .com names.
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