Face off: Stuart Fuller, director, commercial operations, NetNames
EVER since internet came into being, people typed “.com” or “.org” to visit websites of their choice. It was in 2011 that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) announced a shake-up in the system that millions of people across the world used to navigate the web. ICANN proposed the introduction of a new domain name system that will allow entities—individuals and corporations alike—to create their own top-level domain names such as “.plumber”, “.doctor” or even “.dog”. With the imminent launch of gTLDs or generic top level domain names, NetNames, a UK-based online brand management consultancy, recently published a report in which it put forth a detailed analysis of the trends that are likely to emerge in the new order and also delved on the challenges that the new system is likely to pose for brands. In an interview with FE Brandwagon, Stuart Fuller, director, commercial operations , NetNames, speaks about fragmentation of online audiences, the emergence of communities and the challenges these changes will pose for advertisers. Edited excerpts:
Could you elaborate on how the new domain system will change the internet landscape?
I hope we see a safer environment, one where innovation is fostered and where brand holders built interactions with customers based on user experience rather than just search and the race to the top of Google rankings. Whilst today there is a clear difference between old and new, we expect to see the two become a single experience in the future. Many brand holders and companies will now have the opportunity, potentially for the first time, to register and use the domain names that match their digital assets rather than being forced to take the leftovers of others. Whilst many businesses will still view .com as their key domain name, only a tiny percentage of 4-digit .com domains are available to register today. Compare that with a .group, .website or even a .ninja. That’s where the opportunities of the new domain name program comes into its own.
What are the benefits for internet users in the new domain system?
In terms of end users, the benefits are manifold. Security concerns can be mitigated by those brand holders who made the sizeable investment in their own slice of the Internet, more commonly known as a dotBrand.
Major financial institutions who will be running their own dotBrand will be able to say with confidence, “if it’s not our name to the right of the dot, it’s not us”, significantly reducing opportunities for fraudsters to take advantage of a brand. Communities of interest will make finding content easier. Need a hotel in London? The go to sites, and ones easy to remember could be Hotels.London or London.Hotels. New TLDs such as dotBank, dotBeer or dotFootball are surely more memorable than existing country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) such as dotRo, dotGr or a dotDz?
The internet is already quite fragmented. Your report says the introduction of gTLDs will fragment it further. What kind of new categories or niches do you see emerging post gLTDs?
We see similarities with the changes that occurred in the broadcast space when digital technology became commonplace. You could compare the old, limited numbered, almost state controlled TV channels to the existing TLDs. There is a fair bet that a company that runs a dotSe will be using Swedish language content, whilst some special interest TLDs such as dotJobs, dotEdu or dotGov restrict the content or organisations that can apply and use them. We expect to see communities of interest emerge—sports-content search engines, for instance, that only index websites that use a dotFootball, dotTennis or a dotCricket. Likewise, geographical content and search may grow around the city-based new TLDs.
What impact will the introduction of a new domain system have on internet advertising? Is it likely to get more fragmented or instead more targetted?
I’m not sure on this. We hope that with rapid user adoption there will grow the awareness and consequently customer education on the changes. Internet advertising has always evolved, following the trends – whether that is adwords, Facebook impressions or re-tweets. Organisations will always find ways to change their business models to still grab a lion’s share of the digital marketing budget. It should also be mentioned that a shift to targeted advertising on social media will continue as new channels open up. The likes of WhatsApp, Instagram and Pinterest will all need to start producing revenue streams and they are likely to use demo and sociographic targeted advertising the same way that Facebook has. These will have little or no impact on the new gTLD programme.
Do you see a decline in the use of search engines in the new era? At present, search engines account for the lion’s share in digital advertising. Could that change post gLTDs?
Google may know a thing or two about search but the new gTLD programme has seen them create a new business unit under the name The Charleston Road Registry and apply to run over 100 new gTLDs of their own. That’s a huge endorsement for the programme. Some commentators may suggest that they know something the rest don’t but so far they’ve played questions with a straight bat. Their search mission is to deliver the most relevant search results to the user every time and deflecting any further questions they’ve re-iterated the role of the domain name in search as needing to be readable, relevant and memorable. To this end, new gTLDs could well have some significant advantages over existing TLDs as the choice of relevant domains is far greater today than at any period in the last five years. Will moving into new areas hurt their digital advertising revenues? Perhaps in the medium to long term, although the fact that more people may use apps rather than search is probably more concerning for Google today.