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Predicting the Future

by Scott Pinzon | 19 September 2011

People have a lot of opinions – positive, negative and everything in between – about new gTLDs.  At ICANN, we believe that new gTLDs are a platform of innovation, but we can’t predict the future to tell you what kinds of new products and services might be developed.

That is the thing about innovation. It is notoriously hard to predict. Nobody knows what new gTLDs will bring.

In 1988, banks were beginning to roll out automated terminal (ATM) networks. It was the dawn of cash machines. Surveys and focus groups “proved” that no one wanted cash machines. Users found the idea creepy. They felt having a computer dole out cash was too “Big Brother” and would be error-prone. They said they liked seeing their bank teller once every payday to get all the cash they’d need for the next 14 days. People over 60 vowed they would never, ever use an ATM.

Cash machines subsequently exploded in popularity. (How long has it been since you visited a human teller to do your personal banking?) Until people experienced ATMs, it turned out the data couldn’t predict what would happen.

We can also find an example of “innovation is hard to predict” in the domain name industry. The top-level domain .com was added as an afterthought, on the belief that the real action on the budding Darpanet would be in .edu and .mil. The thinking at the time was that very few commercial entities had any need to transfer data around. Now .com has roughly 90 million registered names.

The committees inventing the first TLDs could not anticipate future technologies, such as the popular adoption of broadband. Nor could they foresee generational shifts in the zeitgeist (the World War II generation didn’t have the openness that launched blogs, podcasting, and Google; and the Baby Boomers didn’t have the millennial generation’s “groupiness” that launched Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare).

Similarly, considerations about new gTLDs must go beyond simple comparisons to the Web we know today. What will happen when new gTLDs intersect with other burgeoning technologies, including DNSSEC, IPv6, and RFID chips? Are we merely a handful of years away from an era when every electronic device has its own IP address and web page? Could a DNSSEC-protected TLD that heavily authenticates registrants shut out fraudulent web pages and cybersquatting?

New gTLDs represent a platform for innovation. No one can predict what smart people will do with them. Lots of new business models will be invented. Some will work. Some won’t.

But given the fountain of innovation and public benefit that has poured from the Internet over the last 20 years, sitting here in 2011 and definitively predicting the failure of new gTLDs seems short-sighted.

Whether you work for a business, a cause, or a government, you know that new ideas can change the world in ways we never would have guessed. Innovation is notoriously hard to predict, and your idea just might be the next big .thing.