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ICANN Can But Should It?

Zooknic map of global TLDsLast month, ICANN voted to relax domain name rules, allowing any institution willing to pay premium rates (speculated at $50,000 to $100,000 and up) for their own top-level domain name.

This means Smith Group would no longer be restricted to competing with 153 million domain names worldwide and branding itself to smithgroup.com, smithgroup.net, etc., but a unique and proprietary .smithgroup.

It makes sense but is it right?

In the beginning, Tim Berners-Lee invented the World Wide Web and the notion of a top-level domain (TLD) was born.

The first seven TLDs in the 1980s were .com, .edu, .gov, .int, .mil, .net, and .org. Anyone could register (and still can) a .com, .net, or .org, with the remaining four reserved for educational, governmental, military, and international organizations.

In time, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers was formed in 1998 to regulate the .com, .net, and .org TLDs, as well as country-code TLDs, such as .us, .uk, .fr, .ru, .it, .fm, .nu, .me and countless others.

Two years later, as the Web expanded and exploded with tremendous growth, ICANN claimed contractual ownership of 14 TLDs via various registrars: .aero, .biz, .cat, .com, .coop, .info, .jobs, .mobi, .museum, .name, .net, .org, .pro, and .travel.

Today, as visually represented in the above map by Zooknic, there are 246 country-specific TLDs and 20 global TLDs.

Judging from ICANN’s vote, the number of TLDs has the potential for exploding into a number nobody can predict.

Imagining unique TLDs

Millions of organizations currently competing for pop culture branding and technological bandwidth on existing TLDs would be able to spend big money for their own top-level domains. Subdomains could be utilized for organizational departments, e.g. instead of www.smithgroup.com/info.html or www.smithgroup.com/training, it could create www.info.smithgroup or www.training.smithgroup. And so forth.

The ICANN, in its regulatory capacity, must approve any TLD proposal but that isn’t stopping activists in New York City argue for a .nyc domain, as briefed in the May 2008 issue of Governing.

“The unique TLD can create a shared identify for governments, businesses and nonprofits and improve the search-engine positioning for city services and businesses,” writes Elizabeth Daigneau. “A local TLD such as .nyc also means that domain name revenue remains in the city.”

Internet advertising executives are split over the benefits of TLD registrations, with some seeing it as market dilution and others as a creative opportunity.

TLD registration is not a panacea for everyone, as MediaWizard Samit Madan explains:

Domains are like real estate. Only the biggest players even bother owning their own. Restaurants lease the space because they make more money from selling food. The landlord rents it out because he makes more from multiple properties. Microsoft has its own facilities because it needs it due to the thousands of local employees who will permanently be located there.

The simile here is that while some people will launch their own TLDs as a viable business, an end user would always prefer a good domain in a known extension. He wants to make money from his venture, his primary motive will never be to popularise the TLD itself.

Personally, I don’t foresee or expect to purchase a TLD to merely brand my name. More to the point, should someone buy .ariherzog, I can always contest them and I’d probably win. I’m guessing other individuals, aside from the John Smiths and Jane Adamses of the world, are in the same boat as me.

But what about organizations that have the clout and capital for such an expenditure? Should they rush out to buy one? Should cities like New York, Paris, and Berlin have their TLDs too? What are the pros and cons of speculation and ownership of such a mechanism?

I see that moving.com and moving.net, for instance, are comparable websites about the moving industry, whereas moving.org belongs to the American Moving and Storage Association. Suppose the AMSA doesn’t have the funds to purchase a .moving TLD and someone else does. More to the point, suppose every TLD, present and future, for a given keyword is owned by a different corporation. Talk about confusion!

Four years ago, Berners-Lee indicated his staunch opposition to the ICANN creation of new TLDs.

Don’t get me wrong. There are some reasons for which I’d like to open new domain names. It would be great to open new domains but only where a social system or technical system was very different. If you want to open a domain where you are numbering things like telephones, that may be useful. If you make a commitment to the integrity of that piece of the Web, then that would be interesting

He claimed TLDs made sense when the fragmentation was for content, not devices. I agree with this sentiment.

This is why .com worked for some time before everyone and their cousins bought .com domains. Not anyone can buy a .info or .museum domain, not that they are ineligible but because an ariherzog.info domain would be more apropos than ariherzog.museum.

I’m happy visiting www.ebay.com to visit the online auction house; I don’t need the existence of a www.ebay to know where to go. To me, that’s overkill.

Just because ICANN can approve new TLDs doesn’t mean it should.

Thoughts?