Internet’s New Extensions Are More Than Just New Names

As the internet expands, so does the nomenclature of website domain names. ICANN’s Baher Esmat on what it means to go beyond the usual .com and .org and how that helps.


In the early 80s a group of engineers involved in building and operating what we now call the internet, realized that a universal naming system would be mandatory for the network to scale and grow. After a few years of technical research, the Domain Name System (DNS) became operational, and the very first internet domain name was registered in 1985. The initial DNS included a few generic top-level domains, or gTLDs (.com, .edu, .gov, .int, .mil, .net, org, in addition to .arpa which was reserved for technical infrastructure purposes). Shortly after, county-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) - these are two-letter country and territory codes taken from the International Standards Organization’s ISO 3166 list – were introduced.


As the internet was expanding globally, and to ensure the DNS remained secure and stable, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was established in 1998. It was mandated with introducing and promoting competition in the domain name space while ensuring the security and stability of the DNS. Accordingly, ICANN introduced two further rounds of new gTLD applications in 2000 and 2003. The result of these two rounds was the introduction of a few more gTLDs (.aero, .asia, .biz, .cat, .coop, .info, .jobs, .mobi, .museum, .name, .post, .pro, .tel, .travel, .xxx). While the internet continued to grow, the domain name space continued to become more saturated and limited in its range. As a result, ICANN launched the third round of new gTLD applications in 2012, but this time, the DNS was ready to evolve from a limited space of a couple of hundred TLDs to one with over 2,000 names.


The introduction of new gTLDs brings about a wide range of names from industry related brands, to community and geographic names. What does that mean? Simply put, more choice, better context, and new opportunities for businesses, communities, and individuals. It also means that names can be shorter and more intuitive. For example, a new online startup whose name is likely to be taken under .com and .net can get its name under .online or .website. A bunch of other new TLDs such as .cars, .fashion, .photo, etc. can cater for vertical markets and open a whole new space for people interested in these markets. City specific domain extensions such as .dubai and .istanbul were launched to assist local businesses to thrive, market and promote tourism, and spread the dynamic image and brand value around the world. Governments and local municipalities can create portals that provide information and services for residents and visitors alike. Generally, local businesses, restaurants, cinemas, entertainment and sports events, and touristic destinations can benefit from a city TLD as they all target people who are physically present in the city.


Many global brands have also seen the insurmountable value of having their own brand online. They are introducing their own gTLDs, seeing it as an opportunity to enhance their brand and boost trust in their customer relationships. Over 50 top brands like Aramco, Nokia, Toyota, STC and many others, have acquired their TLDs but are yet to reveal how they will unfold them to the public. Last year, Barclays, the leading UK bank, was one of the first brands to make the move to its new home (, and experts expect other brands to follow suit and launch their TLDs in 2016.


New gTLDs also offer names in a variety of languages and scripts to make domain names available in languages other than those based on the Latin script.

Internet users in China, Russia, or the Arab world no longer have to register and/or use domain names in Latin characters. Today, a small business running an Arabic website and targeting Arabic speaking customers can have an Arabic website address under (????.) or (????.).


It is worth noting that domain names are only one of many products service providers offer to their customers, and normally the business of selling domains does not thrive in the absence of a healthy internet ecosystem. One should not expect this business to flourish around places that lack the basic building blocks of the ecosystem. A recent study conducted by EURid on the DNS market in the Middle East found that domain name registrations would continue to be low in countries that are struggling with infrastructure, high prices, slow speeds, and low penetration rates. The study concluded that the potential for the domain name market in the Middle East is still strong, but multiple actions need to be undertaken, both in the broader internet ecosystem as well as the narrower domain name environment, in order to generate rapid growth. In the broader ecosystem, areas like access, local hosting markets, and ecommerce services, all need to be further developed. In the domain name space, ccTLDs can play a key role in driving the industry forward, but they ought to have clear strategies, revisit their policies, and open the market for competition. 


So far, over 900 new TLDs have been delegated with more than 12 million domain names registered under those new extensions. ICANN is currently capturing the experience and lessons learned from the current round to better evolve the next round when launched.  ICANN launched the New gTLD Program Reviews webpage, which is the online home for information on the sets of reviews and activities that are anticipated to take place with respect to the New gTLD Program. The upcoming 55th public meeting of ICANN which was held in Marrakech, Morocco from 5-10 March, 2016, featured important discussions on the next steps and lessons learnt. These reviews are well underway but timing for a next round is yet to be determined.


The internet is expanding, and with it, new opportunities of innovation and creativity present themselves. As the internet continues to reinvent itself, expect to see the innovation coming with new business models, from different regions. The potential for the domain name market in the Middle East is strong, but work has to be done to capitalize on the new opportunities on hand for sustainable digital growth and a healthy contribution to the digital economy.


About Baher

Baher Esmat is Vice President of Stakeholder Engagement at ICANN Middle East. In his role, he is part of the advance guard of Internet proponents for a free, open and affordable Internet within the Arab world.

He joined ICANN in 2006 after a four-year tenure at the Egyptian Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. Baher is a former member of the WSIS Working Group on Internet Governance, and served as Chair of the Egyptian IPv6 Task Force. He is currently serving on the Internet Governance Forum’s Multistakeholder Advisory Committee, and the Working Group on Enhanced Cooperation of the Commission on Science and Technology for Development.


He has a Bachelor’s degree in Electronics and Communications Engineering and a Master’s degree in Computer Science.



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