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Confab makes sense of dot-everything revolution

Dot-mad, dot-glad, dot-brand, or dot-bland?

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It is more than three years ago that El Reg announced the approval of “customized top-level domains”, following two years of policy debate. “ICANN estimates it will begin taking applications in April or May of next year,” we reported.

ICANN was a little off in its estimates. It took until June this year – more than two years after applications were due to open – for ICANN to finally come up with a date to apply for your own dot-com: 12 January 2012. The revolution of 2008 is finally coming to the Internet in 2013, they (didn’t) cry.

The world’s a big place, though. So while everyone else spent years beating their heads against the wall as one delay and dispute led onto another, it seems that one group at least was blissfully unaware of what was going on online.

This past week, the Association of National Advertisers (ANA), Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB), and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A) have kept the spirit of endless controversy about “new gTLDs” alive by fly-posting furious denunciations of the whole idea all over the press.

They certainly know how to advertise these advertisers, selling people on the idea that this crazed notion has come out of nowhere. Despite the fact that the ANA sent two lengthy responses to ICANN on the matter back in 2008 and 2009.

These aren’t the only controversies still swirling around the program however. Governments have won the right to object to any of the expected 500 applications. Now they just need to decide how they will actually do that, over what, for what reasons, when, and why. Trademark lobbyists likewise won serious concessions and no less than three new mechanisms for protecting their rights. Now everyone just has to decide how those mechanisms will actually function.

But the rules are approved. The “Applicant Guidebook” is locked down. Well, except for the fact that two months after its formal approval, no one has actually seen the final version. Likewise, the starting pistol was fired in June on the communications plan that ICANN has been working for more than two years. The gates sprang open to reveal...a six-minute video of a woman being poked by pastel-colored words. And not much else.

So here’s a simple fact about the process that will change and radically overhaul how we use and view the Internet: it’s going to be a mess. A great big, horrible, confusing, complex, bitter, baffling mess.

But it is still going to happen. Even as we speak, corporate execs are being briefed by despondent general counsels and nervous marketing officers about the idea of spending half-a-million dollars going for their own slice of the Internet. The dot-brand era will soon be upon us.

Meanwhile, ICANN and governments are staring down at the bloody mess that was once a bright idea to create city-based areas of the Internet and hoping they didn’t hurt it too badly. Dot-berlin, dot-paris, dot-nyc still cling to life.

And a whole mini-industry has grown up in order to help those who want to create community top-level domains (such as dot-eco and dot-gay) get through the application process in one piece.

Not to forget the biggest name on the Internet – Verisign – owners of the dot-com registry and the company that actually tells the Internet how to find things. With billions in cash and a glint in its eye, Verisign is poised to wake the sleeping giant of the entire non-English speaking world by encouraging it to apply for extensions that end their own script – Cyrillic, Hindi, Chinese, Arabic, and much else besides.

The whole new gTLD roadshow is an enormous, baffling, confused and messy situation. But it is also one that will have repercussions for every single one of you reading this article online. That’s why next week in San Francisco my company, .Nxt, is running a conference all about it. For three days we will try to make sense of the situation using those closest to the program answering questions from those trying hardest to make sense of it. You are most welcome to come and join in.

We will also have John Perry Barlow keynoting. He has a thing or two to say about all this.

The .Nxt conference will run 24-26 August at the InterContinental San Francisco. See http://dot-nxt.com for more details. ®

Kieren McCarthy is CEO of .Nxt, a former ICANN staffer, former Register reporter, and survivor of the new gTLD program.

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