I’ve been involved with the ICANN Business Constituency for many years and, like you, was against the new gTLDs when first proposed. I could go on with reasons why I felt they were not needed and how ICANN has proceeded in approving them, but we now need to take a fresh look for our industry at large.

The new gTLDs are here, and I have resigned myself to them while seeing a silver-lining, which I believe is going to be very helpful to our industry.

In my opinion, domain names are the key to individual freedom and survival for the future Internet. For a small entry fee, domain name ownership gives an individual the ability to own his or her place in the virtual world.

When I was a recording artist, the one thing that would make or break my musical success was distribution. The ability to move music to the consumer was controlled by just a few companies. The Internet is likewise a global distribution network that everyone now has access to. Anyone can move an idea or product to any and all parts of the world. It is incredibly powerful and it allows single individuals to compete on a grand scale previously dominated by large telcos and corporations. It is my opinion that powerful Internet companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, and other “umbrella” corporations, have slowly shifted the perceptions of regular Internet users in regards to direct navigation in order to make domain names less crucial.

The URL is something we all own but is also held captive by those that produce browsers. In 1994, the natural impulse for me was to use the URL to navigate wherever I wanted to. I found colleges were online, and I could simply type Columbia.edu in the URL and their website would pop up in front of me. What power, what freedom, to steer my magic carpet ride wherever I wanted. It was still barren land and it needed individuals with a vision to help build it.

Knowing that replicating the real word into the virtual world would take time, I saw the impatience of the public and businesses which resulted in the Dot Com bubble. Since then, search engines have became very powerful because a user could always find a web page result while a web address did not always resolve to a working website.

After twenty years, almost every brand or keyword now has a viable, trusted website. The problem is that Google and Facebook have become the main way people navigate to these brands. The people of the virtual world bought into services provided by these walled gardens, giving Google, Facebook, and now the U.S. government, much more control of our navigation and information. I see a monopoly that in the past would have been regulated or broken up. I see what appears to be an alliance between the government and these companies that is benefiting them and in turn, controlling the web community. I believe this upends the scales of democracy.

What I’ve noticed:

For many years, Apple’s Safari browser directly defaulted to the dot com when someone typed a keyword into its address bar. Now, after Steve Jobs has passed on, Apple no longer directs keywords to dot com, and those same keywords redirect to search results and advertisers. Steve Jobs understood the opportunity that domain names offered everyone. At one point in the past few years, Google nearly removed the address bar entirely in their Chrome browser in favor of their search bar. They even asked ICANN to consider resolving DNS to just “keywords” (which would have rendered gTLDs unnecessary!). Thankfully, ICANN turned them down, saying it would break the DNS. Instead, Google moved its search bar right next to the address bar, and ultimately took control of the URL. Google was changing the way people used the Internet. Much like CompuServ and Prodigy in the 80s, the Internet is reverting to a series of “intranets” that are owned by large corporations. Individual freedoms and inherent rights are being trampled on. Where are the leaders “for the people” in the virtual world to bring balance?

What now are WE to do?

Domain names empower people. We could say domain names ARE people; they are that important. Everyone should have the opportunity to own a domain name and be unfettered in how they use it. Peer-to-peer (P2P) is liberty, but domain names now need protection from those entities which are diminishing their influence. The domain industry and the ICA have a unique opportunity to take this plight and forge a positive result.

Along with all of the ccTLDs, the new gTLDs make the domain name pyramid much bigger, which gives the domain industry a greater virtual signature. Everyone who promotes the domain industry is an “asset. The new gTLD registries will likely spend millions of dollars to make the public aware of the importance of domain names. They will be doing the heavy lifting, and the more the public talks about domain names, the better the balance between individual users and powerful corporations. We can coalesce to work together.

I’ve suggested to the board of ICA an agreement to the “Understanding of Personal Empowerment” that I believe companies like Apple, Google and Facebook could agree with. It is in their best interests to show that they are helping domain names (i.e. individuals) and not trying to reduce their influence. Power from domain names IS power to the people. The timing is right for the domain industry and the ICA to work together to preserve direct navigation.

If we can’t agree on this protection, then I believe ICA should lobby Congress to put in place regulations that will protect domain name owners. We need numbers; those numbers are also voters. In the future, everyone will need a domain name. What we do now will help the future users of the Internet find greater mobility and advancement.

Best wishes,
Michael Castello