Are gTLDs the Digital ‘Hoods’ of the Future?
Posted by Jennifer Wolfe on 21st October 2013 in 360 Blog

As I continue my quest to consider innovative ways for marketers to use the new gTLDs, I often look back to business books from 10-15 years ago to review the trends of the day. Faith Popcorn, renowned in the 1990s for predicting the future, may not have foreseen Facebook, Twitter or some of the latest technology. But she did know that as people sought refuge from the fast paced world of the day by “cocooning,” that they would also seek the sense of community we all desire through “clanning” in remote and safe environments (i.e. social networking). See Faith Popcorn’s book “Clicking” circa 1997 for more details.

Today, of course, we see how social media has transformed the ability to connect people anywhere in the world even while sitting alone in the dark with merely the haze of the computer screen, tablet or smart phone lighting the room. Clanning or social has changed the way we think about our lives. We are connected to those we’ve never met and feel close to those far away without any interaction other than the sharing of a photo or a post, poke, like, whatever.

The Social network has evolved into a social way of life through platforms dominated by Facebook, Twitter, Google, Tumblr, Pinterest and others that come online every day. So, the big question today, could the new gTLDs become the neighborhoods or “hoods” that people want to be a part of in the future? When we do want a domain name or web page, will we migrate away from a saturated .com where everyone lives and into more segmented internet neighborhoods that help define who we are? After all, if we run a pizza franchise, do we really need to be in .com, .news or .fashion? Do we want to be in a community of .restaurants, .pizza and the like? We want people to know who we are, what we are about, what we value and where we live in the digital world.

Most skepticism about gTLDs is directed at whether consumers will adopt or shift their thinking into the new domain landscape. The rationale being people know .com, they are comfortable with it, why would they change? Or, people don’t use web sites anymore anyway – it’s all about apps so why would a domain name matter? And, of course the biggest criticism is that none of the other new top level domains have been as successful as .com. There are hundreds of reasons why critics argue the new gTLDs won’t work. Paradigm shifts are hard to believe. I’m sure if you could time travel back to 1997 and tell leading marketers about this website called Facebook, there would have been many laughing at the very thought of nearly 1 billion people uploading pictures and sharing personal details of their life online, some updating every few minutes of their lives. What happens in Vegas stays on Facebook. Very few would have believed the paradigm shift of clanning online would occur so dramatically. But it did happen and gTLDs are coming in 2014.

For those in marketing today, .com and many of the codes are saturated. It’s hard to be creative with limited options. It’s hard to build communities when everyone lives in one neighborhood. And .coms are hardly memorable so they aren’t used as a basis for slogans or campaigns. But the new gTLDs open up millions of combinations and in specific categories ranging from .ventures and .guru to .horses and .tennis. The new gTLDs open up a plethora of creative ideas for marketers desperate for new ways to connect and engage their users with more memorable and pneumonic domains that can be incorporated into social communities and build neighborhoods of those with shared likes, interests and visions for their digital world.

These new domains can become source identifiers for brands and individuals alike searching to stand out from the .com crowd. Innovators can develop new platforms based upon these groups – for example a social network just for tennis, golf or fashion. Or in the business realm, just for MBA grads. We live in a world where clubs and belonging is critical and now that emotional need is largely fulfilled online. In the future, where your domain name resides could say a lot about you and what you identify with in a digital world. Which ‘hood will you call home?