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Dot-word domains 'a shakedown, designed to get money out of people'

NamesCon keynotes tell uncomfortable truth

People don't like you – and it's up to you to fix it. That was the unusual message to the domain-name industry during the keynote speeches at NamesCon 2015 in Las Vegas on Monday morning.

The domain-name industry conference, in its second year, is an opportunity for a wealth of organizations and businesses to get together and discuss web addresses. And this year it's seen a sudden increase in interest due to the introduction of nearly 500 new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) such as .book, .ninja and .pizza.

But with power comes responsibility, two keynoters, Fiona Alexander of the US government's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and Kurt Pritz of the Domain Name Association (DNA), pointed out.

"One of the many challenges of this [new gTLDs] program has been the negative public perception of the domain name industry," noted Alexander.

"Accusations of cybersquatting and brand shakedowns through defensive registrations have done nothing to generate trust or good will. Only you all can change that perception."

Pritz has a similar message. "The reputation of the domain name industry needs work," he said. "The DNA's job is to promote good news stories and help eradicate bad behavior."

A third keynoter, Jennifer Wolfe of Wolfe Domain, a digital branding company, reiterated the message, noting that many of the big brand owners she speaks to view new gTLDs as a shakedown, designed to get money out of them, rather than an opportunity for branding online. "There's not a lot of enthusiasm for them," she pointed out.

What's more, the industry only has itself to blame. With very few internet registries to choose from until recently (dot-com, dot-net, etc), the domain name industry has been focused on doing deals and squeezing money from the pool of available TLDs. But with an explosion in new internet registries for all the different dot-words, and a spotlight on the market, it's time for the industry up its game.

"If you are selling domain names or domain name related services then you are direct beneficiaries of internet governance," noted Alexander. "This means the debates and ultimately the decisions made related to Internet governance impact you."

But, she noted, "far too often it seems that many of you are missing in action from these conversations. Conversations that will ultimately have a bearing on what you can or can't do with your businesses.

"I’ve been struck in recent years by how a single ICANN meeting now seems like two meetings in one. One meeting where commercial business deals are being struck and a distinctly separate meeting where policy conversations are happening. Instead of being absent from these and other internet governance discussions, we at NTIA strongly encourage you to show up."

Pritz reiterated a similar message. And in a session immediately after the keynotes, ICANN's COO Akram Atallah noted it too: "A lot of people attend ICANN meetings but don't participate. People shouldn't be sitting on the sidelines – everybody should jump in and participate."

Alexander put it more bluntly: "You have the ability to directly impact decisions and choices that will impact your bottom line. Take advantage of it – show up – or others will make those choices for you."

Whether the industry heard the pleas is not clear. As we toured the halls talking to people, we didn't stumble across a single policy discussion. The focus remains, for the moment at least, on maximizing the amount of money from the limited domain names you have in your possession. ®

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