NamesCon 2016: Fireside Chat with Akram Atallah and Derek Newman

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Derek Newman and Akram Atallah chat at NamesCon 2016

“All in, all the time,” said Colin Campbell, CEO of .CLUB, of Akram Atallah, President of ICANN’s Global Domains Division (GDD) . Derek Newman, domain-name lawyer at Newman Du Wors, sat down with Atalla for a quick chat on the NamesCon 2016 main stage.

ICANN “is in a new era,” said Newman, because of Atallah. ICANN is in charge of the stability and security of domain names in general, said Atallah, but it’s an organization built on partnership: “That partnership has many different dimensions.” Everyone focuses on the small percentage of bad actors instead of looking at how positive most of the community is, said Atallah adding that registering your name should be done with the confidence of depositing money in a bank.

Registrars getting their voices heard is a big challenge going forward, said Atallah: “The majority of the players are doing business and they don’t have the bandwidth or capability to participate in the policy process.”  He raised what is emerging as a persistent theme of NamesCon 2016: education. How we see and use the Internet is changing fundamentally, and explaining those changes to the public is a huge challenge.

ICANN itself is getting more customer-oriented: “We got this feedback from the community that ICANN is too fixed,” said Atallah. Separating the gTLD program from the rest of the organization “let some air in” and let the rest of the organization breathe. GDD, said Atallah, is the business operations division of ICANN, managing registries and customer support: “A lot of what we do is implementation.” There are 70 people across 30 countries in GDD, noted Newman. Atallah added, “Our customer support team has 24/5 support.” For now that’s just for GDD, but Atallah wants that level of support available throughout ICANN soon; including local-language support around the world.

Competition, choice and innovation are the ICANN mandates, said Atallah: “I’m going to say this out front: I’m not an economist. That said, there’s a lot more choice now” with the new gTLDs. Competition is also there, he added: “Competition isn’t only about domain-name price… you have to think about it a little bit more. What is the cost of hosting? What is the cost of email?” He said that the biggest challenge of the competition element is investment in the industry. “You’ll see more providers come into play,” he told Newman.

Innovation is manifesting in the business models emerging in domaining, said Atallah, as well as the way domain names are being applied for. “Cities are coming to play, we have brands coming into play,” he said: “Brands will have to come in and show how they will use these domains.”

The Future is Already Here

“The entire world is moving online, there’s no question about it,” said Atallah: “Your brand online is way more important than your brand in the real world.” Your reach is so much larger, with much less cost, he said.

The million dollar question, nudged Newman, is “When is the next round [of creating gTLDs]?”  It’s “a debatable question,” replied Atallah with a smile. The reviews and policy work take time, he said, and the board will have to sign off on the recommendations that emerge. However, estimating the next round coming in 2018 or 2019 is “reasonable”, he said. The larger question is whether a special round for brands is the best way forward, said Newman; Atallah said that it’s all about “meeting everyone’s needs.”

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