This month, I had the opportunity to interview Jon Nevett and Mason Cole of Donuts, the largest filer of generic top-level domains (gTLD) applications. While many of you may only know of donuts as the food you try to avoid during morning meetings, Donuts Inc. is a company that filed for 307 gTLDs, including most notably .COMPUTER, .CONDOS, .EMAIL, .ENTERPRISES, .FASHION, .MEDIA, and .NETWORK, to name just a few.
Donuts is on track to operate hundreds of new domains in 2014. Its first batch of domains including .LIGHTING, .GURU, .VENTURES, .CAMERA, .CLOTHING, .HOLDINGS, .SINGLES and .VOYAGE have entered or will soon enter the sunrise period — a time for exclusive access to registrations for trademark holders — with general availability to the public in January 2014. As the largest applicant for top-level domains, I focused our conversation on what digital marketers need to know about the new gTLDs and, in particular, Donuts’ gTLDs.
“At a high level,” said Nevett, “the existing name space is overused and worn out. As new businesses start up, they can’t find what they want in the existing name space so they end up with a crazy mix of consonants and vowels because that’s all that’s available in dot com. So they end up with newyork35avepizza.com instead of newyork.pizza or newyork35.pizza. Small businesses like plumbers or contractors don’t need to be in a domain with the millions of pizza shops, they need to be in the .PLUMBING or .CONTRACTING domain that makes sense for their businesses.”
“When we started this process,” added Cole, “we looked at dot com as a downtown with one primary department store where everyone had their businesses. We decided that rather than just build one store with new gTLDs, we’d build an entire shopping mall.”
Cole described the digital shopping mall as one with anchor tenants and then many boutiques.
“The boutiques might not be successful on their own, but because of the economies of scale we have, they can be successful and provide people more options and choices. We applied for more than 300 and will be able to go deeper in the market as a result of our scalability and really compete with dot com,” he added.
As Donuts prepares for its first sunrise, which began in early November, the company is moving from acquisitions into marketing and sales.
“We will be engaged in consumer marketing and awareness of the new gTLDs focused on the benefits to small- to mid-sized businesses as well as the really big brands,” said Nevett. “We have a sales and marketing team in Los Angeles that is very active working on consumer awareness, but businesses and consumers will still need to go to a registrar like GoDaddy or 1and1 to buy the domains. While the lion’s share of domains will likely be for businesses, many of the top level domains are tailored to individuals looking to differentiate themselves such as .BLOG, .FASHION, .STYLE, .RUN, .SPORTS, .PHOTOS or even .GRIPE.
When asked about search, both Cole and Nevett agreed the gTLD program will have an impact on search.
“The top level domain will be a good indicator of what that site is about or related to and Google has announced they will factor in the top level domain name into the algorithm. The gTLD program has importance and relevance to search,” they said.
Consumer adoption, however, remains a question. While no one has a crystal ball, based upon the accelerating rate of adoption of new technologies in the last ten years, the Donuts team is optimistic about rapid consumer adoption. If registrars like Go Daddy and big brands start marketing new campaigns using the new domains, it’s possible consumer adoption could be relatively quick.
When asked about concerns by the Association of National Advertisers, the Donuts executives replied that they have been committed to helping brands since the beginning.
“We’ve layered on a dozen or so additional protections for brand owners to assure the Internet community that our TLDs are not designed to leverage squatters or infringing sites, but to provide maximum opportunity to anyone looking for more choice and options. As we start operating, everyone will see we are a safe environment and will be handling concerns swiftly and professionally,” said Nevett.
To that end, Donuts added a Domains Protected Mark List (DMPL) for brands to handle brand protection at a fraction of the cost of defensive registrations.
“We encourage brand owners to register their trademarks with the Trademark Clearinghouse and utilize the sunrise periods,” said Cole.
Each sunrise will last for 60 days and during that time trademark owners can exclusively register or block their trademarks in the new TLDs. With Donuts’ domains, they can also elect to watch the domain and decide later if they want it or to block it.
Once sunrise is over, Donuts plans to offer a first come first served approach to buying domains from registrars who have signed contracts with Donuts. Today, that includes registrars such as CSC, NetNames and 1&1.
“Businesses need to pay attention now. We have signed 36 new TLD contracts and expect to be generally hitting the market 60 days later,” said Nevett.
“This is a golden opportunity to help your company succeed by thinking about new options available across more tailored domains to your business,” added Cole.
While there remain a few skeptics about the gTLD program, the digital shopping mall of domains is getting ready for its grand opening. Will a new domain become the thing everyone is talking about? Will dot com no longer be the “gold” but become the “old” standard in digital marketing? For more information on Donuts’ complete portfolio of domain names, go to www.donuts.co.
For further information, visit Trademark Clearinghouse.