Internet governing body ICANN approved custom gTLDs yesterday, making it possible for sites with too much cash looking to be too cutting edge to blow $185,000 per gTLD + $25,000 annually on vanity TLDs and domains like bmw.car, nike.shoes or pepsi.cola.

With such a steep price tag only the very rich will be able to afford these custom gTLDs, AKA generic top level domains, which will hopefully minimize their release into the wild. I have three major concerns:

  1. Usability: Internet users are entrenched in their .com ways, or their .ca or .co.uk ways. Whatever the primary TLD is for a country, the majority of internet users will try to append it to whatever URL offered them. Trying to get users to your supercool new hot.wings domain? They’re probably going to stick .com on the end of that and end up somewhere else.
  2. Brand: For big brands, the only ones who could reasonably afford this vanity service, why oh why would you risk confusing customers and prospects with the scenario above? Most brands are still trying to master marketing and transactions on their primary .com web site. Adding a vanity TLD to the mix sounds like an expensive recipe for #fail.
  3. Trademark Violations: If any word can be applied for as a gTLD, brands will have a harder time protecting against trademark violations. For example, with Nike’s brand strength it should pretty easy to prevent anyone but Nike from registering .nike as a gTLD. But would it be permissible for me to apply for the .shoes gTLD and then put domains on it for nike.shoes, adidas.shoes, etc. Afterall, shoes.com has the right to create a nike.shoes.com subdomain on their own shoes.com domain. Should the laws be different if the domain is nike and the TLD is .shoes instead of .com? ICANN’s site makes reference to this thorny area:

ICANN does not accept reservations or pre-registrations based on trademarks. But registries will be required to operate sunrise or intellectual property claims services for the protection of trademarks.
gTLD FAQ

The registry operator must implement, at a minimum, a Sunrise period and a Trademark Claims service during the start-up phases for registration in the TLD, as provided in the registry agreement. These mechanisms will be supported by the established Trademark Clearinghouse as indicated by ICANN. The Sunrise period allows eligible rightsholders an early opportunity to register names in the TLD. The Trademark Claims service provides notice to potential registrants of existing trademark rights, as well as notice to rightsholders of relevant names registered. Registry operators may continue offering the Trademark Claims service after the relevant start-up phases have concluded.
gTLD Applicant Guidebook (PDF)

Let’s get back to the branding and usability questions, though, because that’s where the “SHOULD a company do this?” question comes into play. Let’s say for example that Pizza Hut registers hot.wings because they really REALLY want to underscore that they have wings in addition to pizza, and they are the default name in hot wings just as they are a leader in the American pizza world. This, as indicated by a super-amazing-awesome-cutting-edge microsite dedicated to the explosive awesomeness of their hot wings and their ownership of a spicy new custom generic TLD. They’ll have to train their audience not to add the .com, but it won’t work, customers will .com anyway. Which means these customers primed for an explosive microsite reward would instead see:
So Pizza Hut would also have to purchase wings.com, create a “hot” subdomain, and 301 redirect it over to hot.wings. If they don’t, their customers will get lord-knows-what kind of experience on someone else’s domain, especially when the owner of wings.com realizes what’s happening and decides to take advantage of the free traffic to promote something else. Or just this …

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