“Now is a good time to investigate the topic of new generic top-level domains.”

Interview with Wolfram Schmidt, CEO of switchplus ag

This interview with Wolfram Schmidt is an accompaniment to the Unic magazine article on the topics of domain management and the new generic top-level domains (gTLD).

Wolfram Schmidt is the founder and CEO of switchplus ag, which was started in March 2009 and is a 100% subsidiary of the SWITCH Foundation. The company is now the market leader in the domain name field in Switzerland and provides other complete solutions in the web services sector.

Mr Schmidt, are companies currently fully aware of the importance of domain management?

No. But we must distinguish between large, medium-sized and small companies. Small and medium-sized companies often don’t perform any domain management. It varies for large companies. Sometimes one person within the company is responsible, but they often perform mainly administrative tasks, such as paying the invoices.

In large companies, domain names are frequently registered by different people – especially on the business side. However, the tendency is increasingly to consolidate the management of domain names in large companies. In most cases, the legal department also gets involved because domain management is ultimately about intellectual property.

Domain management is very closely tied to the topic of brand protection. The person who looks after protecting the brand should also be responsible for domain management. This is because a very large part of brand protection on the Internet today consists of reserving and blocking domain names.

Brand protection also means screening the Internet in order to find out whether someone is using the brand name or a modified version of it without authorisation. Companies that provide such brand protection services now exist.

And are these services being used in Switzerland?

The topic of brand protection on the Internet is not yet established. The cost of these services is significant. For a company with more than a hundred brands, brand protection services cost tens of thousands of Swiss francs. For this reason, many companies somehow take care of it themselves. With the emphasis on “somehow”.

Could you identify for us what a company needs to pay attention to in its domain management, with regard to organisation, strategy and processes?

Firstly, a company should investigate how exposed it is on the Internet. This means quantifying the risks created by not performing domain management.

Secondly, it’s very obvious that the topic of domain management should not be handled by an administrative department, but by the same department that deals with brand protection.

Thirdly, not only should domain names be registered, but the company should also monitor whether domain names are being used improperly on the Internet with regard to the company’s brands.

So a certain continuity is required?

Yes, as a company, I should have a corresponding service. However, there first has to be an understanding of how much damage can result from someone abusing the brand. How many websites in the world are using my brand name without permission? How much is this costing me in terms of revenue and my good reputation?

When you register domain names for brand protection, the added value for additional domain names that are registered is relatively small. Do you agree with this?

This is correct. New domain names cost money. So you should think about whether it is more expensive in the long run to register a lot of domain names in advance, or take legal action in cases of abuse. With the new generic top-level domains, companies will have to ask themselves this question again.

What personnel resources have to be made available for domain management? As an example, let’s take an internationally active company operating in 10 to 15 markets that wants to get more involved in this topic. Is one person enough?

I think this is realistic. What’s important is putting this person in the right place. The first thing they have to do is take stock. This will take a while because it’s not so easy to find out which domain names the company owns. There’s no option to display all the company's domain names in Whois. Additionally, domain names are sometimes registered by different areas of the company, by agencies or even privately by employees, and they’re registered with different providers (registrars).

Then comes the consolidation, which means checking whether the correct owner (holder) is registered, and bringing everything together under a single provider. It may be necessary to transfer domain names or perform a change of holders.

The next step would be to check whether the registered domain names are sufficient for brand protection, or whether additional domain names need to be registered or purchased. You can also make a conscious decision against a registration or purchase that is too expensive.

Is domain management easier when all the domain names are with a single registrar, as in the case of switchplus?

Yes – for example, the invoicing is easier and you have a much better overview of all the domain names as they are all managed on the same user account. And you also protect yourself from fraudsters attempting to sell a domain name.

How do fraudsters go about this?

Fraudsters get the contact data from Whois and, for example, offer to sell a domain name, supposedly just before it can be registered by someone else. Or they write a mail requesting the supposed renewal of the .com domain for 120 dollars, which can be paid immediately by credit card.

If I have all the domain names with a single registrar, I only pay invoices from this registrar and can immediately delete or discard all other requests or fake invoices.

We’ve talked about personnel resources for domain management. How big a budget does a company have to set aside?

Domain name prices vary. And it depends how many domain names a company has to register for each brand. This, in turn, depends very heavily on how attractive the brand is for fraudsters. B2C brands are usually more attractive than B2B brands. A larger company should set the budget at around 30,000 francs per year.

Let’s talk about the new generic top-level domains (gTLD). Should I be looking at this topic if I have a website?

Today, people using a web address generally enter the ending of the respective country or .com. They assume that a website operator has registered the domain ending of the country if they are operating there.

However, most catchy domain names are currently taken. The new gTLDs will generate various TLDs for different interest groups or lines of business – for example, .travel, .music, .film. There will also be regional TLDs such as .zurich, .berlin or .vienna in addition to .ch. Switzerland has also registered .swiss.

When the new gTLDs are launched, this will initially be unfamiliar to users. But we can safely assume that some of these endings will become standard over time.

There may possibly be more limitations with the new gTLDs than there are now. At present, anyone can register a .ch domain name for any purpose. With .swiss, we assume that this domain ending will only be issued to someone who has something to do with Switzerland. Conversely, this means that at some point customers will have to be aware of the fact that a company with .swiss is a Swiss company. In this case, as a Swiss company I cannot do without the .swiss domain name.

The location-related new gTLDs such as .zurich are practical for users who are looking for something in a specific location, such as restaurant.zurich, car-rental.zurich or hotel.zurich. When the user enters .zurich, he knows that what he’s looking for is in Zurich.

How search engines deal with this will also be a decisive factor. It therefore makes sense for a Zurich restaurant owner, for example, to register a .zurich domain name.

Now is a good time to look at the topic of new gTLDs. As yet, there’s no pressure to act immediately. So it is worth asking yourself: what endings are expected, and which of the around 700 new endings could be relevant for me?

Do we have to gather the relevant information ourselves?

Since 14 November, switchplus has been providing a service that I use to reserve the relevant new gTLDs. As soon as there is new information on a domain ending, switchplus passes it on to everyone who has made a reservation. This enables you to delegate the procurement of information. This service is free. So if I’m the owner of the Sonnenhof restaurant, I can reserve sonnenhof.restaurant, and switchplus will keep me abreast of developments.

During the public launch phase, I can convert the non-binding reservation into a binding registration application. We then attempt to register the domain name for the customer. As various registrars submit registrations, we cannot guarantee that the customer will get the domain name.

To stay with our example of the Sonnenhof restaurant: is it possible that all Sonnenhof restaurants are competing for the sonnenhof.restaurant domain name?

It’s possible. That means if I own the Sonnenhof restaurant in Lucerne, I should also submit a registration application for sonnenhof-lucerne.restaurant, as a precaution.

We’ve talked about the public registration phase. Could you explain for us the different phases of a TLD launch in more detail?

When a TLD such as .restaurant is launched, the registry responsible for the corresponding new gTLD creates a launch plan. Firstly, the registry looks for launch partners to publicise the TLD. In return, these partners usually receive a number of good domain names, which they can auction.

Then comes the Sunrise phase. In this phase, all companies that have a legitimate claim can register domain names. The Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) deals with this phase. For 150 dollars a year, the entry in the TMCH gives you the right to buy domain names with the entered trademark in the Sunrise phase. However, what the TMCH doesn’t regulate is the process involving two institutions with a legitimate claim to the same trademark (for example, one in Europe and one in America). In this case, it is not clear who will ultimately receive the domain name.

After the Sunrise phase comes an optional Landrush phase. The registry can auction attractive domain names in this phase.

When the Landrush phase is over, the public registration phase follows. As soon as this gets underway, the registrars attempt to reserve domain names in the registry.

We have published detailed information on the launch process for the new gTLDs on www.switchie.ch.

So it’s similar to the pre-selling of tickets. As soon as the pre-selling starts, everyone wants a ticket.

The registrar with whom you placed a registration application has to perform a prioritisation. For this reason, at switchplus we only enter one registration application per domain name. So if multiple customers have reserved sonnenhof.restaurant, they will all be informed about the option to convert the reservation into a registration application. However, we only apply the registration application for the first applicant who converts his reservation into a binding application.

Some of the procedures within the individual phases are still unclear because there are currently no new gTLDs that can be purchased publicly.

How long does it take from the launch to the public registration phase?

The entire process for launching a new gTLD will take around three months. Which means that when the time comes, you have to be quick. So it is good to start thinking about it now.

So will the new gTLDs actually be used?

At the moment, we don’t know which TLDs are going to make it. We can assume that some of them will survive.

Nor do we know yet whether there’ll be a procedure for .swiss to confirm that only Swiss companies can register a .swiss domain name. If this is successful, and Internet users know that there are Swiss products on a .swiss site, the domain name will be worth more. However, the necessary inspection work will also make the domain name more expensive.

New forms of surfing behaviour due to new gTLDs are sometimes described. For example, that I can use .app or .shop to navigate to a specific area of a website. Can you imagine user behaviour of this kind?

Do we need this? I would question this. Why should app.switchplus.ch be worse than switchplus.app? Very few users type domain names into the browser. They usually get to the website via links or search engines.

Which new gTLDs will you be providing domain names for?

We don’t know yet which new gTLDs will be successful, so we will offer all the endings that can be registered publicly.

Finally, what three tips do you have for a website operator on the topic of new gTLDs?

Check which endings interest you.

Consider whether you want to invest 150 dollars per brand to enter it in the Trademark Clearinghouse and benefit from the Sunrise phase.

Make a reservation at switchplus for the domain names that interest you. Then we’ll inform you about developments.

Mr Schmidt, many thanks for the interview!

In this Unic interview, Wolfram Schmidt, CEO of switchplus ag, reports on the new generic top-level domains and explains how they can be reserved.