DotAsia, the Registry Operator for the .ASIA generic top-level domain (gTLD) recently submitted a proposal to ICANN to allow the sale of one- and two-character second-level .ASIA domains. The proposal seeks to amend the registry’s original contract with ICANN, approved in 2006, which explicitly restricted the sale of all single and two-character domains. If approved, the new proposal will mean yet another, albeit familiar, headache for businesses: a sunrise period during which trademark owners will have the opportunity to register their marks before the general public. Given that .ASIA has failed to take off with Internet users, for those brand owners primarily known by one and two character monikers like GE and GM, registration with .ASIA will most likely amount to a defensive maneuver.
According to ICANN’s data, domain registrations in .ASIA have steadily declined from a high of 250,000 registrations in the spring of 2009, to under 200,000 in June 2011. Compare that to .COM, which is pushing 100 million registrations. DotAsia’s proposal to expand its domain space into single and two-character domains isn’t likely to generate a significant number of new registrations or vastly increase .ASIA’s market opportunities. However, the sunrise period for trademark holders will guarantee DotAsia a small, but fresh revenue stream as companies move to protect their names.
.ASIA’s struggles are a sign that not all gTLDs are created equal. The newer gTLDs (released after 2000) like .ASIA, .JOBS. and .TRAVEL, have historically faced an uphill battle to gain footing among Internet users because they lack daily relevance and are too broad to convey an immediate understanding of what they offer. Combined, those three gTLDs total just 261,847 registrations—that represents just 0.27% of .COM domain registrations. The success of gTLDs is a particularly relevant concern as the application period for ICANN’s New gTLD Program draws closer. Organizations applying for a category-term gTLD need to consider the appeal of their potential new string and also have a clear vision for how they plan to use it.
While narrower in scope, branded new gTLDs, such as .CANON (Canon, Inc. has publically expressed interest in acquiring a new gTLD), bring with them the force of their brands as well as immediate consumer understanding. Because branded gTLDs will likely be closed to outside registrations, their success will not depend on the number of domain registrations sold. Rather, evaluations of branded gTLDs will focus on how they are leveraged to add value to Internet user experience. Category-term gTLDs, meanwhile, will need a solid outreach campaign in order to attract and retain domain registrations—or else risk joining .ASIA in the ranks of languishing, irrelevant gTLDs.