New gTLDs: Will Application Developers be Ready in time to Secure User Confidence?

Last week I pointed out a potential problem with the user experience, if, as envisioned, a large number of new gTLDs are added to the root at the same time. The problem I was referring to has nothing to do with the new gTLDs themselves. Rather, it’s about the lack of any updated procedures and communication campaigns to application and software vendors. The objective would be to alert them in time and equip them to swiftly update their programs (email, form fill and the like) to recognize and handle new gTLDs, such that the user experience is consistent with existing TLDs.

To date, I received 10 comments that confirmed that the problem does in fact exist. Some comments focused on whether a company, or for that matter, an application or even a service provider, has the right to block certain TLD extensions. That is in fact a different question. Companies, service providers and potentially even some governments, if they have their way, do and will continue to block certain TLD extensions and even web addresses. That’s a conscious decision and targeted at specific extensions. The problem I’m concerned about is software and application providers who, as a result of lack of information and updated procedures, would unwittingly end up blocking a slew of new gTLDs.

The other issue I mentioned was about the incentive “for application developers to update systems and applications in a timely manner.” By “timely manner,” I mean within a timeframe to coincide with the launch of the first batch of new gTLDs. Within days or even months of the launch of a new TLD, there will likely be very little content behind the domain names registered. Many registrants will not have configured their nameserver or updated their MX records. All this means there is very little resolution compared to an established TLD.  So trying to make a case to the application providers based on user needs will ring hollow, at best. Plus, they will have to incur the cost of any development and Q&A, not the new registries.

So my challenge remains: “What is the most efficient way to communicate the changes and their timing to the application developers soon enough so that the first registrants of the new TLDs and their associated registrants and end-users will have the same experience as they have now using a well established TLDs?”  Seems to me and some of the commentators, that one option is for ICANN to coordinate a program within the “Four Month Communication Window” to communicate the upcoming changes and implications to the software and application developer community.  But there is also a need for an updated set of clear and efficient procedures.  Is this something IETF can and should cover? If not, then who?

If new gTLDs are to be launched by next year, there isn’t much time.

And lastly, what are the right incentives for the developer community to follow-through within the timeline that best corresponds to the launch window? Would the incentives be designed to offset cost? Target the largest applications? Or reward the “early adopters”?  And who should provide the incentives?

Having clarified the problem as an unwitting omission of most new gTLDs, as opposed to a conscious exclusion of specific TLDs, I hope it’s clear that the problem is about preserving the credibility and confidence of registrants and end-users in all of us as an industry. It will neither be seemly nor sufficient to point fingers at software and application providers when it becomes apparent to the end-user that many of the new gTLDs simply will not work the same way the existing ones do.

Given studies that demonstrate that the first few months of a TLD launch are critical, this is just one of the many hurdles (and one of the relatively minor ones) that new TLDs will need to address to raise their odds of success. While it’s encouraging that my previous posts caught the attention of many industry insiders, the next year may find many new teams in the TLD marketplace. Do they have the bandwidth to foresee such issues? For those hoping this new TLD frontier is the land of plenty, we should not only hope, but also prepare.

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