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Says brands will use it to swallow online criticism

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A new company is planning to operate .sucks as a top-level internet domain, and its CEO says he expects big brands to embrace the concept.

Vox Populi Registry is one of several companies to today announce that they have paid domain name gatekeeper ICANN a $185,000 application fee to try to get their hands on a new gTLD.

The .sucks suffix, should ICANN approve it, is about creating “valuable dialogue”, not just about ripping off companies that want to protect their image, according to CEO John Berard.

“If some people think this is just a way to get registration money out of corporations, then those people are either unaware or are being short-sighted about their marketing effectiveness,” he said.

Vox Populi is a wholly owned subsidiary of Momentous, a Canadian domain name registrar group best known for Pool.com, which quickly registers expiring domain names and auctions them.

Berard himself has a background in public relations. He's also been a member of the board of TRUSTe and the International Association of Privacy Professionals.

The rationale for .sucks came to him, he said, during a conference, when he heard a marketing professional boast about having a quarter of a million customers criticising his company on Facebook.

“I've worked for companies that spend a lot of time and money trying to run down dodgy internet bitch sites, and also heard from marketing teams that are looking for ways to collect the criticism to help approve the effectiveness of their communications,” he said.

The proposal is unlikely to be well-received by the intellectual property interests that make up a good portion of ICANN's community. Freshly miffed about the adults-only .xxx gTLD – seen as a must-block for brand-conscious companies – .sucks may not sit well.

But all applications under ICANN's new gTLD program have to agree to run mandatory “sunrise” periods when they launch, giving trademark owners first dibs on their brands. So if you're thinking about buying starbucks.sucks or bt.sucks, chances are the brand owners will get there before you.

It's not entirely clear yet whether brands would be forced to use their .sucks domains to engage with customers, or whether they could just defensively block them.

Berard said that Vox Populi's application specifies “certain guidelines” that would forbid registrants for, for example, setting up a porn site on disney.sucks.

While he refused to go into specifics – the policies will be revealed on June 13, when ICANN publishes large portions of all the applications it has received – Berard indicated that the guidelines would try to ensure that .sucks sites facilitate two-way dialogue between brands and their customers.

“Our goal is to create an exchange,” he said. “This is designed for creating useful dialogue.”

Vox Populi's .sucks application is the first to be publicly revealed, but it may not be the last.

ICANN said last night that it had received over 1,900 new gTLD applications one hour before it closed its four-month-long application window; other .sucks bids could be among them. All will now enter a lengthy evaluation and object process that is not expected to end for a couple of years.

Other Momentous subsidiaries are also applying for .design, .rip (yes, it's to memorialise dead people) and .style.

Market-leading registrar Go Daddy announced that it has applied for .home and .casa. Other companies have announced bids today for .cloud, .hiv, .global, .web, .bank and .insurance.

ICANN will reveal all 1,900-plus applications on June 13. ®

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