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Yesterday I was asked for a comment about the new gTLDs by one of our local radio stations, Manx Radio. If you’re asking what a gTLD is, well, it’s an acronym for “generic top level domain”. We’re all used to our websites having names ending in .net, .org, .com etc and this is a new initiative to open up this name space allowing people to apply for any generic name they like. There have been around 2000 names applied for, ranging from .art all the way down to .zulu, with a whole host of words in between (including ones with non-Latin character sets). If you’re interested you can see the whole list on ICANN’s website.
The radio presenter I spoke to (Jason Roberts) was asking why there hadn’t been any applications for names relating to the Isle of Man. Anyone could have applied for .manx or .isleofman or .iom, but there hadn’t been any applications for them.What was the reason behind this?
I guess the main reason would be cost. Each application had to be accompanied by a payment of $185,000. The new names also incurred a yearly cost starting from $25,000 per annum, and you’d have to add cost of the infrastructure needed to handle domain name hosting and reselling on top of that. Domain names nowadays generally sell for under $10.00, so recouping the cost of that investment would entail selling many thousands of domain names. I’m sure there is an appetite for Manx TLDs, but I don’t think it’s that big. The other factor to consider is that there already is a uniquely Manx TLD, the .im TLD, so anyone buying a brand new TLD would have an uphill struggle to generate much return on their investment.
What’s funny is how after the interview thoughts kept percolating through my brain and there was a lot more I could had added to what was actually recorded. My main thought is that these new naming conventions will bring around a paradigm shift around how we use domain names. For example, the company I work for is called Intelligence, and has a domain name which is http://intelligence.im This domain name immediately gives you a hint as to where the company is located (in the Isle of Man), and the name of the company. There’s a certain amount of certainty that if I’m visiting that website, then I know who it’s about. But there’s nothing stopping someone buying a similar name and trying to pose as the real company; in fact it’s a commonly used technique called “domain squatting”.
Domain squatting is defined as the unscrupulous purchase of a domain name with the intention of profiting from the goodwill or trademark belonging to someone else. Domain squatters usually try to resell the domain name for an exorbitant amount, or use it to generate income by pretending to be the company behind the name. As you can imagine, this causes problems for the company or brand being represented; both for their customers and for themselves. It’s not uncommon for brands to go out and trying and buy similar domain names, even misspellings, to stop cyber squatters from grabbing them. Up to this point, .com, .net and .org have been the most common TLDs and it’s been relatively easy to secure them all. Once the new TLDs are available, this won’t really be possible any more, creating no lack of uncertainty both for brands and for customers. I’m expecting regulation around the use of domain names to get stricter as cybersquatters do their best to take advantage of the new names.
Another thought I had is that these new TLDs will have an impact on the way we navigate around the world. For example, if I want to go to McDonalds website I can pretty much guarantee that if I type “www.McDonalds.com” I will find myself at their website. This will change in the future as there will no longer be any uniformity around how websites will be named. I suppose this means that using Search Engines will become more central to our browsing habits, as we will have to rely on indirect mechanisms for navigation rather than describing the site we want to go to.
Right, what I’ve just said above does sound a little negative, but I’m a sincere believer that Change is always a source of opportunity, and this change is no different. Opening up the name space provides room for competition, opportunities for innovation and a move away from the status quo. As our methods of navigating the web change, new mechanisms will evolve and make our knowledge acquisition more streamlined. This can only be a good thing although is does constitute a threat to organisations who base their profitability or authority on mechanisms which are slowly becoming obsolete. The one thing I can say is that things will get interesting. The first batch of new TLDs will be coming online in March 2013, so watch this space!