What does .Google want with 101 new .domains, anyway?

Google's plan for the new top-level domains (TLDs) it gets is unlike most other big tech firms; it wants to offer them up to the public.

It's easy to dismiss Google's big play for a slice of the expanding internet domain universe as just another side project from the Googleplex. Perhaps too easy.

Google, we learned recently, has applied for 101 domains — or, more precisely, 101 generic top-level domains (gTLDs) — and the number itself (surely the 101 Dalmatians reference was intentional) doesn't exactly suggest a new strategy on par with, say, Google+ or Android. The US$18.7 million in application fees alone would hardly raise a single Larry Page eyebrow.

And yet, this is Google, controller of so much of the web's traffic that it's hard not to speculate — which, to be fair, is all anyone can do at this point. Though the International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has revealed what entities are applying for what gTLDS, that's just the start. Now, come months and months of legal wrangling, negotiations and ICANN-sponsored auctions for the many contested names, also known as strings.

Google's domains-for-all strategy

Among the big tech companies partaking in this digital land grab, Google stands out for one key reason: it's applying for a slew of generic strings that, should it win some, it plans to open up so that anyone can register any name, just as one currently can with .com (the shortage of available names notwithstanding).

The other big tech firms aren't doing this. Apple, Yahoo and Microsoft have applied only for names around their trademarks, such as .apple, .flickr, .windows and .xbox (Microsoft's Craig Mundie, the company's chief research and strategy officer, spoke generally about the company's approach here). And while Amazon, which, with 76 applications, is the biggest player of the lot behind Google, has applied for gTLDs far beyond its brands — .you, .free and .play among them — it wants total control of any name registered on its strings, as I wrote about here.

Then comes Google. A Google spokeswoman wouldn't say anything about Google's plans. Nor would she say which strings Google wants to run openly, which it wants for Google's internal use only and which Google would offer with restrictions.

No matter. It's all there on ICANN's website, spelled out in separate applications for each string. It just takes digging. And the results are telling. We've broken them out here, excluding the non-Latin strings: red for Google only, green for open to all and yellow for the restricted bunch. That includes such names as .car, which Google would issue only to sites that "offer content related to cars".

The gTLDs that Google wants to run.
(Credit: James Martin)

So, back to speculating. To play in this emerging world, Google created a new company: a registry called Charleston Road Registry, which would operate any gTLDs that Google wins. The question is how Google would sell domain names to the public. Google has long been an ICANN-accredited registrar, which gives it the licence to sell names to the consumers. But it has never done this. Instead, it has always referred customers to partners, such as Go Daddy and eNom, and it could very well continue to use those partners.

Challenging Go Daddy?

But that could also change. Google could start selling domain names directly to its hundreds of millions of users, in effect taking on Go Daddy, which did US$1.4 billion in sales last year. (Go Daddy's CEO wouldn't comment for this story.) Google could even go further and give names away free. Bruce Tonkin, chief strategy officer for the domain services firm Melbourne IT, says there's nothing in ICANN's guidelines that would prevent Google or a gTLD operator from doing this.

And wouldn't that make sense for Google? Sure, .com dominates, but wouldn't plenty of people grab a .home, or .web or .shop name if they could — especially if it were free? (Sidenote: all those three strings are contested, so they might not end up in Google's hands). For Google, the more websites out there, the better. Those are sites that Google could potentially serve ads to. They're sites that could run Google apps. And so on.

Google has recently been making changes to help people more easily use Google products with their own domains. Just check out this Google blog post from earlier this month, "Easier domain verification", as an example.

Of course, it's too early to know how all of this will play out. And the only on-the-record Google comments have been by Google's chief internet evangelist, Vint Cerf, who has underscored the pet-project thinking in a blog post called, "Expanding the internet domain space". He writes about the need for more dot com alternatives, saying, "We're just beginning to explore this potential source of innovation on the web, and we are curious to see how these proposed new TLDs will fare in the existing TLD environment". Then, in an interview with my colleague, Stephen Shankland, Cerf said, "I think only a few new TLDs will be notably successful, but I could be wrong."

Just in case he is wrong, Google is trying to position itself out in front.


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Im Batman posted a comment   

either 101 dalmatians ... or the Error 101 when you can't get a connection to the website.
There is always something behind Googles numbers of choice

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