Exclusive new top-level domains: background and examples

On October 23rd 2013, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) began steps to unlock over 1,000 new top-level domains (TLDs).  Since then, a large share of modern domain endings have been handed over to various awarding bodies (domain name registration providers) and made available for public use as planned. These registrars also define the conditions that are associated with the registration of each new TLD. Anyone can apply for a web address with the majority of new domain endings – the only conditions apply to length and use of authorized characters. But some domain registration providers try to create exclusivity for their new top-level domains, either by defining very strict standards of use or by targeting specific groups directly. We’ll present a selection of these exclusive domains as examples and reveal what the criteria are for a successful application.

Why are some top-level domains exclusive?

There are many reasons as to why some new TLDs are reserved for particular communities or companies. The best way to demonstrate these reasons is with a brief look at the different types of exclusive top-level domain available:

  • Geographical TLDs: Many of these new top-level domains are directly related to the geographical location of their respective websites. There are some that define a particular place (like .boston), while others that define a region or a state (like .colorado). As a rule, domain registrars will only offer these top-level domains to people and firms who can prove that they operate from the corresponding location.
  • Topic/industry-specific TLDs: The majority of new top-level domains being offered by registrars relate to the particular industry or general topic of the website. Examples of these can be split into categories, like health (.doctor, .fitness), industry (.cars, .hotels), commerce (.deal, .discount), or sport (.golf, .hockey). These domains are restricted to website operators who have clear and specific ties to the topic or industry.
  • Brand-specific TLDs: These new top-level domains are the most exclusive of all domains available so far. They refer to particular brands so the website in question has to have a direct connection to the brand in order to use one. ICANN shows preference to these top-level domains because they are specific and exclusive. The global online retailer Amazon has secured several brand-specific TLDs, including .amazon, .audible, .kindle, and .prime.

This list demonstrates the strength of these new top-level domains; they allow companies to build a more unique and insightful web address than the previous options available. Traditional, generic TLDs like .com (company) or .org (organization) have long since lost their original status and so don’t offer any added value for a homepage. Country-specific domain endings like .co.uk, or .ca do give users an idea of a website’s general location but are still considered commonplace. And due to the often relaxed registration requirements for these domains, many addresses have already been snapped up.

But the arrival of these new top-level domains doesn’t just mean that internet addresses can be organized into more specific categories; it also opens the door to completely new domain combinations.

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New TLDs stand for exclusivity

Around a third of applications for new top-level domains are made by brands or trademark owners. ICANN has already approved over 600 of these requests and reserved the domain endings in question. These new TLD owners now have access to the entire inventory of potential second-level domains, and they have the right to exclusive use of the newly acquired TLD internally. This means that companies like Apple or Microsoft can increase brand awareness in the future by using a URL that identifiably belongs to them. The most exclusive TLDs will remain closed to much of the internet forever. We’ve collected a few of these here for you:

.rich: ‘the world’s most exclusive address’

When it comes to this new top-level domain, the name is key. .rich is targeted at anyone who is proud of their earnings. The I-REGISTRY Ltd., who have offices in London and Berlin, have reserved this TLD and want to make .rich a symbol of status for the elite circle of well-off personalities online. People who use diamonds and luxury cars to show off their status in the real world can acquire an exclusive .rich domain and a corresponding @.rich email address. But the exclusivity of this top-level domain isn’t protected through some rigorous vetting process for noble heritage: it’s simply done through the price tag. It costs around $2,000 a year to become part of this high society TLD, which has been available since January 2014.

.swiss: the domain name for Swiss enterprises

Since April 2015, Switzerland’s Office for Communications (BAKOM) has had official control over the distribution of the new top-level domain .swiss. In an initial, restricted application phase, companies, individual business owners, associations, and foundations, both on the commercial register and public organizations, could apply for an address with the new domain extension (provided they were from Switzerland). In January 2016, the registration operator BAKOM made .swiss completely free for business use, meaning that it’s since been possible for associations and foundations with no trading record to apply. But a public release for private users isn’t currently planned. More information on this new Swiss top-level domain can be found in our article on .swiss.

.nyc: make the Big Apple part of your web address

On March 20th 2014, ICANN offered the TLD .nyc to the New Yorker Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT), which has since been responsible for distributing them. As this is a city-specific new domain ending, the individual person and company/organization applying has to be able to prove that they have a New York address. A .nyc address costs between $25 and $40 a year and is one of the most popular city-specific top-level domains in the world. Offering this registered domain to a third party is strictly prohibited.

Will it be .cafe or .restaurant: the ‘not com’ revolution from Donuts Inc.

The internet startup Donuts Inc. was founded in 2010 with the aim of purchasing the rights to as many new top-level domains as possible. Today, this company is responsible for the registration of over 300 different domain endings for a variety of topics, including .academy (since March 2014), .cafe (since July 2015), and .wine (since January 2014). Even if there are no particular restrictions for some of these TLDs, Donuts Inc., together with affiliated registrars, tries to achieve exclusivity by addressing the targeted clientele directly. Gastronomy operators or gourmet food bloggers may therefore be offered the ending .restaurant, while informative sites may receive an offer for the .fyi (for your information) domain ending.

.islam and .catholic: the battle for religious domain endings

The fact that top-level domains like .islam or .catholic target an exclusive user group should come as no surprise. But the religious nature of these domain endings has proved problematic so far, with neither of the TLDs being released by ICANN at present.

  • .islam: the Turkish company Asia Green IT System has been well placed for a long time as the potential future registration operator for the Islamic faith. But objections from India and the United Arab Emirates have ensured that this plan has been put on ice. While India points to the lack of representation of the entire Muslim community and the tension that could come from that, the UAE’s complaints have mostly stemmed from the fact that the Turkish applicant, Asia Green IT System, is a commercial company.
  • .catholic: the rights to .catholic were awarded to the Pontifical Council for Social Communications, a department within the Vatican. The council reserved the new TLD according to pre-formulated registration conditions that would allow them autonomous control over which Catholic institutions would have the right to register a .catholic address. On similar grounds to the Islamic domain .islam, The United Arab Emirates interjected with the view that this couldn’t possibly represent the entire Catholic Church, insisting that the Russian and Oriental Orthodox Churches would be excluded. Even though this argument was rejected by ICANN, the conclusion of the contract agreement with the Vatican is still pending.

New top-level domains: a sign of things to come

The release of new TLDs through ICANN is already in full swing. The case studies listed above are just examples of the future opportunities (and potential future problems) associated with control and distribution of these exclusive top-level domains. Since registration operators have different aims and agendas concerning TLDs, future conditions for them remain difficult to predict. And even though these new domain endings demonstrate individuality, expressiveness, and exclusivity, they’re still currently living in the shadows of the World Wide Web’s address system. But some modern endings certainly have the potential to represent particular groups, industries, or topics in the long term. Whatever happens to these new top-level domains, they have already helped increase variety and cause great debate among the internet community.