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The new top-level domains clock is ticking ...

January 12, 2012. That’s the day ICANN will begin accepting applications in its new generic top-level domains program. And that day is just a few months from now -- not a long time, particularly when you consider the need to build an internal team to champion the project, develop a business plan as well as registration policies, and secure funding for the project. You will also need to assemble an external team, likely in the form of a registry services provider partner, like Afilias. Given the short time you have, an experienced partner is going to be your better choice. With that much work ahead in a short period of time, there is a lot of decision making to be done, and to be done quickly.

April 12, 2012. That’s the last day to submit new gTLD applications. There are continued uncertainties about the date of the second round, assuming there will be one. That’s why it is vital that any company considering applying for a new gTLD formulate their plans now, particularly if they belong to certain high-risk categories of applicant:

dot Brand — Many companies from outside the domain name industry are intrigued by the marketing and branding possibilities enabled by their own custom "dot Brand" gTLDs, but may not have a concrete utilization strategy. In these cases, it’s advisable to submit an application in the first round, regardless. This is especially true for organizations with non-unique brands. As an example, should Apple the music publisher be the only applicant for “.apple” in the first round, Apple the computer maker will be forced to use ICANN's objection policy to protect its rights, with no guarantee of success. Similarly, companies that believe their competitors have aggressive dot Brand plans may find it prudent to apply for their own gTLD, to hedge the risk that the second round of applications may be delayed.

dot Niche — Lots of high-value top-level real estate is likely to be claimed in the first application round. Any organization considering an application for a potentially mass-market string such as .web, .blog, or .sport would be well-advised to do so in 2012. These strings can only be delegated once, and competition may be fierce. When they're gone, they're gone forever.

Further, as Alex Tajirian, CEO at DomainMart, recently said, “Although incumbent registries may have a competitive advantage in managing operating costs and in offering a wider scope of TLDs, they may not have marketing competencies for new niche markets. So, don't let incumbents sway you away from new niche gTLDs when you have superior competencies. Thus, applicants for the recently approved launch of new gTLDs should take niche markets very seriously.” Niches he sites as examples include community (like .arab) and industry signaling (like .cars).

dot City — Any organization intent on applying for a string connected to a city or geographic region has an additional hurdle that other applicants do not: they need the written support (or non-objection) of the relevant local government. Applying for a dot City without the support of that city's administration will be rejected by ICANN. And this is not just an academic point, the city of Mumbai (India) recently withdrew its support for a .mumbai domain application from one vendor of registry services. (And that example is also a good demonstration of why the registry services vendor you partner with should have solid, long-term experience.)

Due to the more leisurely pace at which governments often do business, applicants for geographic gTLDs should begin their overtures to the relevant authority as soon as possible, if they have not done so already.

The clock is ticking. The application window closes on April 12, a day that will be here before we know it.

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