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dot Brands Need to Look under the Hood before Partnering

As the countdown for the ICANN gTLD program ticks away its final 100 days, potential dot Brand applicants have to make important decisions in a short space of time: whether to apply for a new TLD, how to best leverage a new top-level domain, and which gTLD partner to choose.

Most dot Brand applicants have excellent IT departments, but these resources are already over-stretched with current projects, and they likely lack the specific skills and experience needed to meet ICANN’s exacting standards in the highly specialized area of top-level domain registry technology. Consequently, most applicants will outsource this piece, much like they currently outsource phone service and other logistical activities.

Unfortunately, this need has spawned a new category of “technical” partners -- self-described “registry technology providers” who have invested in slick marketing materials and smooth sales pitchmen, but who don’t seem to have actual operating technology that meets ICANN’s requirements. Since most applicants will only meet the pitchmen, there are questions applicants can ask that will let them look "under the hood” to see if a potential provider is likely to help a new TLD succeed in both the evaluation stage and the launch and operating phases.

Keep in mind that ICANN’s primary mission is to ensure the security and stability of the DNS, so the selection of a technical partner is central to your chances for success. All applicants should ask the following three questions of any potential technical partner before signing on the dotted line:

Which gTLDs do you support today, and how long have you supported them? ICANN-contracted gTLDs operate under more stringent -- and public -- requirements than other TLDs, and they must provide monthly reports to ICANN on actual performance, reports that are made public. Beware any “provider” who has no record or who will not make it public. And remember that country-code TLDs (ccTLDs) operate independently from ICANN oversight and do not have the same reporting, auditing and policy compliance requirements as gTLD managers.

Which new gTLDs have you launched in the past and how successful were they? New gTLDs must successfully manage sunrises, launches and ongoing operations; these are challenging for even the most experienced technical providers. Beware those who have only observed past launches but claim that your launch will be “no problem.”

How many TLDs and what percent of your total registrations do you support on behalf of other TLD authorities (meaning, “not your own TLDs”)? The new TLD round will challenge many providers to determine if they can change their focus from internal TLDs to external TLDs; very few already support many TLDs that are not their own, like those of new applicants will be. Providers who are genetically focused on their own TLDs may find it hard to focus on you and your unique TLD needs. There's no one-size-fits-all back-end solution for new gTLD applicants. Choosing a partner with a strong background in supporting different TLD models from multiple customers will help remove friction from your new gTLD launch.

Applying for a new TLD is a risky and expensive undertaking. No applicant wants to learn that they didn’t meet the technical requirements, because -- by the time they learn -- it will be too late. Smart applicants will minimize risk in every area of the application, especially the technical area, by closely examining registry providers and selecting one whose true performance track record meets the future needs of the applicant.