INTERVIEW: The Public Interest Registry on how new domain names will change the internet

Public Interest Registry's CEO, Brian Cute

The internet is about to get much bigger. In a historic expansion, ICANN, the body responsible for managing domain names, is introducing 1,400 new top-level domains, moving the web away from .com and .org to new suffixes like .book, .app and .google. And this move could not only radically change the way people navigate the web, but also throws up commercial opportunities to create and control domain names. Here, Brian Cute, CEO of the Public Interest Registry, which currently operates the .org domain, discusses the impact these changes will have on both businesses and consumers.

¤ What impact will the domain name changes have on the internet?

It’s a lot of new names coming out; 1,400. On one hand, that creates a lot of choices for consumers and a lot of new and interesting ways that if you have a brand, you can present yourself to your customers or your audience. Brands like Nike and BMW have applied to have a .nike and .bmw, while communities could build up around say .gay or locations such as .london and .paris.

The most interesting thing will be to see once the dust settles which of these new addresses have taken hold. You are going to see some interesting niche successes where the community that uses that address is the focus. Trying to offer tools and create a dynamic environment for that community becomes the definition of success.

¤ Are there concerns that someone like Amazon could buy .book and shut it off to competitors?

There are other people asking the question about that control over unique resource by a single entity. I don’t have the answer for you. I know that there’s concern.

¤ But doesn’t it run counter to the idea of the internet as open and accessible to all?

Not necessarily. For example, we’re applying for .ngo for non-governmental organisations only. And we’ll create a verifying stage and confirm that you are an NGO if you want to join up. We interact with that segment of our community and we know that by making that addressing space known by users and donors as being a trusted space where they’re dealing with a bona fide NGO, there’s value there.

¤ What effect do you see this having on the way people navigate the web?

We’re already seeing a trend where people use search instead of identifying the domain address. But one of the net effects of this new round of domains names could be to bring focus back to the domain name because you have interesting addresses like .book or .gay. They won’t all be successful, but I think it will bring some focus of the internet back to creating specialised websites with specialised attributes, enabling users to present themselves to their audience in a way that’s clearly defined.

The other thing we know is important is that while there’s lots of great social media platforms out, there’s nothing like a website to present your brand to your customers and audience. A website is an environment where you control the address, the messaging, the way you interact with your customers.

We’ve done some surveys on trust on the internet and websites are still on the high end of that data. Twitter is at the low end. Websites continue to be the best controlled environment for a brand owner to present themselves. And all these new addressees are going to bring some interesting curiosity about that specific name and address – and the community dimension to it.

¤ What do you make of firms like Donut that are buying up domain names and trying to make money out of the move?

It’s a commercial opportunity. ICANN made a decision to have an open top-level domain round where anybody could apply and, assuming they met certain criteria, they could get a name. It’s intended to be open. The assumption is that the market will decide who the winners and losers are.

¤ What should companies be doing to prepare for the changes?

Clearly a large number of companies felt this was a unique opportunity to create a platform for them to interact with their customers. There are over 600 applications from brand holders like .nike. I’m very interested to see what they do with that space. Given what you see on the internet in terms of interactivity and social media, you want to make you new address interactive.

For others, the fundamental thing is identity first. The internet offers so many different platforms that having a clear, unique, identifiable identity is critical. And then just think about brand message, what you want it to be.

There’s also the question of how to protect intellectual property rights, and trademarks. A really important issue here is ICANN’s trademark clearing house mechanism. So before any one of these new addresses is launched, the trademark holders have the opportunity to register their intellectual property rights. Then there’s a second mechanism, called the uniform rapid suspension system, where if someone’s trademark is registered by a third party there’s a quick takedown mechanism.