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While you have been going about your everyday lives, a group of tech geeks from around the world met in Singapore – and agreed on a plan that will radically change the face of the Internet forever. ICANN, the organization that oversees the Internet’s addressing system, voted to expand the list of legacy domain extensions we all grew up with (like .com, .net and .org) by adding potentially thousands of new top level domains (nTLDs) – from keywords to community names to brand names and beyond.
Just imagine it, in the future, companies will be able to brand their products, services, companies and communities with .whatever-the-heck-they-like!
Why we’re so happy about nTLDs
We’re not just excited about the introduction of nTLDs – we’re SUPER excited about it!
We believe that the onslaught of nTLDs will give .CO a huge competitive lift in the market place. Given the fact nTLDs will result in lots of new competition for .CO, it’s not exactly an intuitive position to take. Let me explain our reasoning.
Two of the biggest challenges that we face in launching and building the .CO domain are: gaining consumer awareness and, to a lesser degree, gaining credibility. These two challenges don’t apply to .CO alone – they make it difficult for nearly every other new domain extension that has launched (or will soon launch) to succeed against the long-reigning domain king – .COM.
Awareness is a Bitch
Everyone is aware that .COM exists. But if you’re operating an nTLD – or one day plan to – no one will know that you do…
The .COM extension has been the key beneficiary of a 25 plus year economic cycle that has changed the world. From the very birth of the Internet until today, we have gone from the ".COM Boom,” to the “.COM Bubble,” to the “.COM Bust” and well beyond. There are nearly a hundred million .COM domain name registrations and tens of millions of active .COM websites built. Billions of advertising dollars have been spent to promote those websites with billboards, banners, television and radio ads. And collectively there have been gazillions of conversations and digital communiqués referencing friends, fans, family members and colleagues to websites or email addresses ending in .COM.
It’s the perfect example of a network effect. People started to use .COM, the retailers pushed it hard – and with few viable competing options for consumers to choose from – it became ubiquitous. Arguably, the moniker "COM" is one of the most recognized brands in the world – a fact that is particularly notable because the company that runs it didn't have to spend a dime to create it. Others did.
Let’s face it, it’s not easy to compete with ubiquity. I’m sorry to report, but never again will a domain extension have the benefit of growing to epic proportions merely by historical accident -- the way .COM did. As we have learned through the launch of .CO (and the companies planning to launch nTLDs will soon learn), if you want to have a viable registry business, you have to create massive awareness for and interest in your product in the market place. And creating awareness is a bitch – an expensive one at that!
In the year since we launched, we’ve gained awareness by implementing aggressive consumer marketing campaigns, a Super Bowl ad with GoDaddy, billboards in Times Square, event sponsorships, contests, print ads, viral videos, and more. And even with a million domain names registered by people in 200 countries worldwide in less than a year, we haven’t yet scratched the surface.
Close the Credibility Gap
Then there's the issue of credibility. All the people in the world can know you exist, but if the perception is that your product is lame – well, you may as well have remained an unknown.
In addition to building the .CO domain on state-of-the-art technical platform – we have worked hard to ensure that .CO domains are built to the highest standards of stability, security and performance. We have also implemented internationally accepted and well-recognized best practices in trademark and IP policy to ensure that the rights of our registrants and end-users are protected.
Beyond technology, policy and infrastructure, the credibility of any domain is demonstrated by showcasing viable use cases. Each case of a credible end-user building something valuable on a .CO domain offers social proof to the masses that will help to grow the base.
From the start, we have had a special relationship with entrepreneurs – with impressive early adopters like Angel List, Top10, BZA and The Sociable starting to build on .CO straight away. We have also been fortunate in attracting several major brands early on, including Overstock, Politico, Twitter, Cisco and Amazon, who have built or extended their brands by leveraging .CO domain names.
In the year since we launched, we’ve gained a great deal of credibility in the market place – but there is still a lot more to prove. Our work is just getting started.
Enter new TLDs
While indirectly, imagine a flood of companies combating the same two issues above. Imagine CANON advertising on every billboard and every TV spot to check out its cameras at cameras.canon. Imagine the Ford Motor Company advertising on every billboard and every TV spot to check out the new Explorer at explorer.ford. Suddenly, a few large corporations who kindly spent billions of dollars on free advertising for .COM will be spending those dollars to build and reinforce their their own brands.
Confusing? Yeah, for a little while... But the consumer will undoubtedly learn that there is, in fact, something other than .COM.
So how is any of this good for .CO?
Well, not every company can afford their own TLD and even if they could they wouldn't want to deal with the hassle of operating one. That means businesses large and small will continue registering domains at their favorite registrars for purposes of branding themselves online. Only that this time around they will have seen advertising by the likes of FORD or CANON and maybe even used those websites themselves. Suddenly, the prospect of using and registering an alternative to .COM is perfectly plausible - "Hmmm... What's the perfect fit for my business? Should I go with .CO, .SHOP, .INFO, .HEALTH, .HOTEL, or should I try to buy the legacy domain: .COM (probably at a steep premium)?
In this new context, we think .CO will perform extremely well. It's shorter than .COM, shorter than any nTLD, it means Company in the largest internet markets in the world, major brands are using it, and guess what: its available! Pretty exciting stuff.
The flip side to all this good news is that the competitive landscape will get really ugly. Imagine 100 new real contenders (at least!) in the space vying for limited distribution options. Real product marketing - features, innovation, differentiation - will be required for existing and new TLDs to be successful. Relying on the likes of GoDaddy.com or Network Solutions, who are TLD agnostic, will not be sufficient to make it in this business.
In general, everybody wins: registrars make more money; the tide rises for existing registries like ours; lawyers (unfortunately) will have more cases; even Verisign (the registry operator for .com) will win big – as they will gladly provide new services to hundreds of companies interested in the nTLD process.
Most importantly: consumers will win – as they will have more options – and benefit from enhanced innovation in the market place. There's no arguing that.