No applicant made more of the launch of the new gTLD programme in 2012 than Donuts. As the applicant of more than 300, Donuts laid claim to the expansion of the domain name system, promising innovation in how we use the internet.
Fast-forward to 2016 and Donuts is well on its way to fulfilling this promise. So far, the registry has had 193 gTLDs delegated, with 1.8 million registrations in extensions such as .guru, .photography and .email. According to Donuts, 23 million registrations have been made in new gTLDs as a whole, suggesting that, inch by inch, the internet landscape is undergoing an adjustment, although not the complete overhaul that was initially envisioned. Indeed, .com and .net still dominate domain names, with 10 million new registrations processed in Q1 2016, according to Versign. New registrations were also up on the same quarter in 2015, despite the substantial increase in extension options.
This promises to be further complicated by the arrival of .brand TLDs, which were the true innovations of the new gTLD programme. Offering the potential for brands to carve out their own secure corners of the internet, .brand TLDs are yet to fully materialise, with only a handful of brands announcing their intentions and many more playing their cards very close to their chests.
But with applicants such as Google, Amazon and BMW securing their own names as TLDs, there is a chance that even the new gTLDs that Donuts has amassed will be displaced. Paul Stahura, co-founder and CEO of Donuts, doesn’t see it that way. He says: “Brands certainly have their place in the domain name ecosystem—and a very valid and respectable one—but no, overall, brand TLDs aren’t necessarily where you’ll see ‘true engagement’. That’s already being proven by what you’re seeing with growth and usage of pure generics.”
Innovations within innovations
Donuts is turning its hand to other innovations within the domain name system in a bid to revolutionise use.
The registry has closed strategic investments in blockchain tech comany Netki and GeoFrenzy, which has developed infrastructure for defining and managing smart geofences. These technologies, Donuts hopes, will promote new uses for domain names and the domain name system as a whole.
Stahura says: “By seeking out new uses for domain names, we increase the addressable market for our core product. But a domain name, and the underlying domain name system, can be used for a lot more than that.”
“One way we’re catalysing that is through Donuts Labs. It’s our venture fund, with an investment thesis centered on funding novel uses of the domain name system. Those novel uses sit at the centre of some of the biggest trends in technology—the rise of the internet of things, blockchain technology and other adjacencies. Investment in these new areas, including business models that leverage the domain name system in innovative ways also serves to support our overall ecosystem.”
“After years of the incumbents battling to keep new TLDs out and new registries fighting to break into the market, we can now focus real innovation in the internet name space. Donuts intends to lead the charge.”
Donuts also led the charge in trademark protection in the early days of the new gTLD programme with the Domains Protected Marks List (DPML), allowing brands to block their trademarks from registration at the second level across all Donuts domain names. This service has since been boosted with a partnership with the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA).
Donuts and the MPAA have already taken on six infringing websites, five of which were immediately challenged for clear and pervasive copyright infringement. The sixth required further investigation.
Brands have reacted positively to the partnership, says Stahura. “DPML is a respected product—when developing that service, we consulted with IP experts and that was an investment of time that paid off well, as it’s enjoying good use and positive reviews in the IP world. The MPAA announcement took some people by surprise, since proactive arrangements like this one are still new.”
“But the reaction there was good too—Donuts has been recognised as a good registry interested in running clean namespaces. The industry needs (and is developing through the Domain Name Association’s Healthy Domains Initiative) more uptake of best practices such as this one.”
Of course, the advent of new gTLDs hasn’t all been plain sailing for Donuts. The registry recently failed to convince a US district court to suspend the auction for .web, which subsequently sold to Nu Dot Co for $135 million, the largest ever sum paid for a new gTLD via auction.
Donuts alleged that Verisign was behind Nu Dot Co’s bid but neither party informed the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, meaning any auction was unfair. The district court case is ongoing, while a spokesperson declined to comment.
All in all, Donuts is progressing as planned with new gTLDs. Further delegations are expected in the near future, its investments in technology have promise, and the registry continues to do right by trademark owners. Its .web bid was a bust, but given the muted successes of new gTLDs so far, it might have saved itself a handsome sum.