Afilias began operations in July 2001 as the registry for the generic top-level domain .INFO, the most successful of the seven gTLDs allocated by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in a round that started in 2001. Today, Afilias supports a roster of TLDs more diverse than that of any other registry services provider. Additionally, Afilias has more experience in supporting successful New TLD launches than any other provider.
Roland LaPlante is the Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Afilias. LaPlante oversaw the marketing and launch planning for .INFO in 2001, and the transition and launch of every TLD supported by Afilias since. During his 30-year career, he has held senior marketing positions at McGraw-Hill, Providian Corporation, Citibank and the Procter & Gamble Company
Mike: How far has .INFO come since its launch in 2001? The Afilias website states that .INFO was the most successful of the seven TLDs launched in 2001. What do you attribute that to?
Roland: How far has it come? Well, it’s come from zero domains registered to being the fourth most popular generic top-level domain in the world, following .COM, .NET and .ORG. Given that those three were established from the start of the DNS, I think that speaks even more highly to the market interest in the .INFO domain. In fact, if you add together all the domains registered today that came out of the ICANN 2001 and 2004 New gTLD rounds — not including .INFO — the sum equals less than the total number of .INFO domains currently registered.
A big part of the success of .INFO is the name itself. .INFO addresses are intuitive. The word “information” is consistent in Latin languages. People around the world know they will find information, rather than sales pitches, on a .INFO site. Addresses with .INFO are also universally appealing; .INFO domains have been registered in practically every country.
Mike: Can you provide examples of some of the top websites leveraging the .INFO TLD today?
Roland: .INFO has become the centerpiece for the online presence of millions of companies and individuals — any entity that needs to put information online. For example, the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (www.mta.info) uses a short, intuitive name to reach its millions of riders every day with up-to-date information on how to maximize the value of public transportation in the city. Other great examples are the Albert Einstein Archives (www.alberteinstein.info), www.how2recycle.info and the PGA — Professional Golfers’ Association at www.pga.info.
Mike: In 2010, Afilias acquired the registry for the .MOBI domain. What impact has Afilias had on .MOBI since that time, especially considering the growth of mobile devices in the past several years?
Roland: As the use of mobile phones to access the internet has grown, so has interest in the .MOBI domain. Registration and renewal numbers for the domain continue to grow steadily. For mobile, the issue of search and discovery is paramount. One interesting result of that is seeing how many developers use a .MOBI domain to point the way to their mobile applications. With a .MOBI site, developers help potential customers discover apps on a mobile, a tablet or on a standard desktop computer, even if the app isn’t featured on the front page of the iTunes App Store or Google Play.
Mike: You also support several other gTLDs. Can you tell us about some of those and in what ways you support them?
Roland: As a registry, Afilias manages the policy, administration, financial, marketing, sales and all other functions for three gTLDs — .INFO, .MOBI and .PRO — as well as all of the technical elements.
For our clients, Afilias is the registry services provider for “back end” technical operations. This includes a diverse group of TLDs including .ORG, .AERO, .ASIA, .XXX and .POST as well as ccTLDs like .AG (Antigua and Barbuda), .BZ (Belize), .GI (Gibraltar), .IN (India), .LC (St. Lucia), .ME (Montenegro), .MN (Mongolia), .SC (the Seychelles), and .VC (St. Vincent and the Grenadines).
With the introduction of New gTLDs, our customers have asked for support in all phases of a TLD launch and lifecycle; that’s why we recently launched Afilias Managed Registry Services. Now, Afilias offers services for key periods in the development of a customer’s TLD: Pre-Delegation (Bid Analysis and Advice, Trademark Clearinghouse, Evaluation Support plus Policy and Business Advice to help prepare for the launch phase) and Post-Delegation (where Afilias helps run the launch and ongoing management of a domain.)
Mike: What is your involvement in the New gTLDs going live in the months to come?
Roland: Afilias itself has applied for approximately 30 New gTLDs such as .PINK, .BLUE, .BLACK and .VOTE, among others. Also in that list are Internationalized Domain Names like .INFO and .MOBI in Chinese script as well as domains aimed at specific markets like .KIM for Korea and .SHIKSHA (“education”) for India.
Afilias is also the registry services provider for more than 250 New TLDs that will be used by brands, businesses and organizations, and geographic entities. For these customers, Afilias provides a range of services, including technical “back end” services, so the new registry operators can focus on promoting their domains instead of focusing on technical concerns.
Mike: What impact do you see the New TLDs having on the Internet and business as a whole? Should businesses try to secure a domain with the New TLDs in their industry? How will existing TLDs be impacted?
Roland: I see New TLDs as having a positive effect on the Internet, since site owners will have a better opportunity to use addresses that are focused more closely on their site’s subject matter. And they will also be better served by the ability of search engines to create more sophisticated search and categorization options.
Should businesses try to secure a domain with the New TLDs in their industry? Absolutely. New gTLDs are nothing but good news. A New gTLD — especially a “dot Brand” TLD — offers significant marketing and security benefits that may help brands, especially those which are plagued by counterfeiting on the Internet today.
With a dot Brand, the owner decides who can use a dot Brand site and how they can use it. Violators can be removed from the Internet at the discretion of the dot Brand owner. So just as consumers in the physical world trust brands, a dot Brand extends this concept to a trusted space on the Internet.
Businesses and organizations that missed this initial round of New gTLDs should start strategizing now as to how they’re going to meet the competitive challenge of brands that will soon be going live with their own domains. And, of course, they should be planning on how they’re going to apply for their own gTLDs in the next round.
As far as heritage domains, I don’t think they’re going away but I believe, in the years ahead, a dot Brand domain will become the primary way into a brand’s Internet presence since it helps businesses emphasize their branding. I suspect, as a result, “.COM” and “.NET” addresses will be considered supplements rather than primary “doors” for business websites.
Mike: What advice do you have for domain investors when it comes to New TLDs vs. existing TLDs?
Roland: Domain investing is a unique activity and I’m not involved in that aspect of the domain business. I’d rather leave any advice on that to the people who participate in it. But I will say that the next few years are sure to be an interesting time for investors, given the wealth of domains that will be going live.