If you don’t know what a gTLD is, you need to find out. The future of your company could depend on it.

gTLD stands for generic top-level domain, and it refers to the “last word” part of an Internet address or URL with three or more letters, such as .com or .org. (Two-letter codes are reserved for countries — .us, .uk, and so on.) The problem is that the existing TLDs — particularly .com — are filling up (.com had more than 111 million registrations as of April 2013). Consequently, it’s harder for people to come up with new website names that don’t include long strings of letters.

Having additional gTLDs might actually make it easier to find things on the Internet. The most obvious example is the attempt to set up a .xxx domain in December 2011 for pornography (and, ostensibly, to keep all the pornography there and away from the rest of the Internet). In response, a number of universities bought up phrases associated with their university — such as “hoosiers.xxx” for Indiana — to keep someone else from doing it.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which governs the assignment of domains, has been working for a couple of years to set up a program to define a new batch of gTLDs — such as .club, .build, and .pink. Companies paid up to $185,000 per TLD just to create a new generic gTLD — with actual costs, including legal and so on, amounting to more like $1 million per TLD. This allows them, in turn, to register new Internet addresses within those domains.

Starting next week, the first batch of new TLDs will take effect. That means you could register for Internet addresses on about a hundred new domains, ranging from .academy to .wien (for Vienna). In addition, people will be able to register for domains in non-Latin alphabet systems, including Arabic and Chinese. Over the next few months, more gTLDs will be released — about 20 per week, according to NetNames, which will bring the total gTLDs to around 1,400 in all, for now.

Existing organizations such as Amazon and Google have applied for a number new domains (Apple has applied for just one: .apple), while other companies, such as Donuts and .xyz, have formed specifically to set up and manage new domains. A number of existing registrars, such as GoDaddy, are also taking registrations for the new domains. Donuts has signed up for hundreds of TLDs, while .xyz has registered for .xyz, .now, and .college. .xyz is currently competing with several other potential registrars for the .now extension.

Registering for addresses in the new domains often comes at a premium over today’s domains GoDaddy, for instance, is currently charging $12.99 for a .com domain, $39.99 for the new .estate domain, and $24.99 for the new .photography domain. The price for a new .build domain is $99. And a number of the registrars are warning –perhaps it’s only wishful thinking — that the prices are only going to go up.

So what does this mean to you? There are a number of advantages and disadvantages to the new system, and depending on your business, some are more important than others.

  • If your URL contains your company name, nothing prevents a competitor or a spammer from registering that same name with a different domain. Think that’s not a problem? Imagine your customers, faced with dozens of potential URLs for your company (including .sexy). How are you going to help make sure they find the right one?
  • In addition, if your URL contains a trademark, you may find yourself in a position where you have to take a competitor or a spammer to court to protect your trademark. This “cybersquatting” costs trademark holders more than $1 million per brand per year, according to NetNames, which goes on to warn of a number of other potential brand issues. Protecting against this can be arcane, to say the least — and expensive. “Companies can either capitalize on the opportunities the new program presents by securing and properly managing a portfolio of domains in these new gTLDs, or they can sit back and watch all the important names relevant to their company be registered,” says Grant Carpenter, general counsel for .xyz, which, admittedly, has a vested interest in encouraging people to register new domain names with them. “Before the rollout of the new gTLDs is complete, there will certainly be horror stories of brand-hijacking and cyber-squatting causing major consumer confusion.”
  • If your company is in a particular vertical industry that has its own gTLD, such as .plumbing, you might want to be there because your competitors are. Carpenter recommends that companies prioritize their domain name registration by at least registering relevant names in the domains that match a company's business.
  • Another potential issue is name collisions, which refer to system confusion that can take place when a new gTLD string matches an existing string used on an internal network, such as using mail.xyz for its internal mail service, Carpenter says. “While this sort of problem has always been around, it will increase significantly with the release of 700+ new domain extensions,” he says.

This all said, some of the fears over the new gTLDs may be overblown.  Leo Mirani and David Yanofsky in Quartz have noted that — other than with organizations registering prophylactically — the .xxx domain hasn’t gotten a lot of attention. “Ten years ago, Registrants predominantly used .COM .NET and .ORG domain names but I still remember the buzz around these ‘new’ domain names: brands and other webmasters just HAD to grab one,” agrees Jean Guillon in CircleID about the batch of domain names released in 2003. “I grabbed a .INFO and my family name as a .NAME. I remember there was a fear of allowing someone else to register your family name and stealing it away from the rightful owner: smith.name and johnsmith.name had to belong to Mr. Smith.”

Only you can know whether you need to protect your company and its good name by going out and registering your company URLs for all or some of these new TLDs. You need to keep one thing in mind, though: This is only the beginning.

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