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On Saturday, you were probably enjoying a quiet morning, sipping your coffee as you consumed headlines about news from New York to New Delhi. The headlines related to Internet business were probably much different than what you would have seen 10 years ago. Then, there were just 20 million domain names in use, ten percent of what is now our domain universe. But ten years ago, many of us in the industry weren't enjoying an easy morning with our coffee; we were harried from a sleepless night of poring over hundreds of pages that would constitute the first new TLD bids submitted to ICANN, ever.
On October 2, 2000, 47 applications were sent to ICANN in response to its first-ever call to open up the domain name space. At that time, there were no specific rules about eligibility (anyone with $50,000 could apply), intellectual property protection (e.g., "has the proponent considered intellectual property interests?"), ensuring stability (e.g., "minimize unscheduled outages"), or criteria for winning (this was the "proof of concept" round). Strings were proposed from .INFO, to .MUSEUM, to .ZIP.
While we all showed up to the "beauty contest," no one knew who would be prettier or more fit to win. In fact, we didn't even know if there would be one bid crowned or if more than one of us would get lucky. In the end, seven strings were approved (info, biz, name, pro, aero, coop, museum).
While October 2, 2010, was a more pleasant morning for most of us, there remains striking parallels in the new TLD process of today. There are still questions about consumer need, technical feasibility, IP protection, and even how many new TLDs ICANN will award. More fundamentally, there is no empirical evidence of what constitutes the best new TLD string.
But we do know some things now that we didn't know 10 years ago. For example, we know what it takes to run a stable and secure registry system to support a new TLD. Registrars also know how to market and support new TLDs. Both registries and registrars know how to price new domains, host IP protection processes, use premium name auctions to fund initial operations, and award high-value names to those that will use them to generate awareness and acceptance among Internet users.
This weekend also represented another milestone for Afilias. Our domain, .INFO, was not only the first new TLD awarded by ICANN but it was also the first of the new TLDs from the 2000 round to launch with a live registry system. On October 1, 2001, the Internet public was, for the first time, able to register any .INFO domain name in a live, real-time registration system.
This was also the first time that domain names propagated to the DNS in under five minutes (the previous industry standard had been 12 hours or longer).
Nine years since that successful launch, .INFO now has over 6.5 million registrations, is the seventh-largest TLD in the world, and is far and away the largest new TLD ever created.
As we look ahead in the new TLD process, we can be sure of more sleepless nights of application writing. But this time, we have the benefit of ten more years of experience and the example of more than a dozen new TLDs that have launched before to guide us along the way.
Update: One year later, .INFO now has more than eight million registrations. It's the fourth largest gTLD and remains the largest new TLD ever created.