Proprietary Top Level Domains: Domain Names For Sale By Owner

Starting this year, ICANN will be rolling out many new top-level domains, and I have a gut-feeling that it will make sense to differentiate between these new top-level domains and the older “generic” top-level domains (which have traditionally been referred to as “generic” in order to differentiate them from “country-code” top-level domains).

The reason why I think it makes sense to put these new top-level domains into a third category has to do with the relatively liberal stance ICANN will now be taking with respect to the type of company that will be allowed to enter the top-level domain registry business. With the traditional “generic domains, only companies that were specifically focused on managing a top-level domain as their core business were considered. From now on, almost any kind of company or organization — provided the company has enough capital and other (mainly computer) resources — will be allowed to manage a top-level domain registry.

A number of companies which are currently swimming in the necessary resources (predominantly cash) will probably soon take over the role of managing many such new top-level domains — which I suggest people might aptly call “proprietary top level domains”, since these domains will in most cases be run by much larger conglomerate companies which simply “own” this business as a small entity in their portfolio of business interests. These relatively humungous companies might operate in other areas of the “tech” sector (such as Google or Amazon), or they might be from entirely different sectors (such as the Catholic Church or Wal-Mart). In many (if not even in most) cases, these larger organizations will themselves be interested in some aspect or characteristic of the top-level domain name (for example: Amazon has an interest in the “song” market, and it is quite probably therefore that it is also interested in .SONG top-level domain names).

In contrast, the companies that manage the “traditional” generic top-level domains (such as .COM, .NET and .ORG) are not themselves interested in any other markets (such as commercial advertising, networking or anything related to organizations). Instead, their sole interest is entirely in registry management. It is not clear whether this distinction would have any influence on the outcome — yet perhaps it simply seems like it might be analogous to the difference buying real estate from the owner (in the case of the new, “proprietary” top-level domains) versus buying real-estate from a broker / real-estate agent (in the case of traditional “generic” top-level domains).

Ultimately, time will tell… — but my gut feeling is that traditional generic top-level domains will function much like broad, wide-open supermarkets (with a very large number of registered domains) and the new proprietary top-level domains will be much more narrowly focused, much more like a small boutique or like a local corner store (with only a small number of registered domains, probably in a specialized, very particular market segment).

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