Feb 17, 2014
Wow! There are a whole new raft of top level domains (TLDs) becoming available, such as .guru and .trend. This opens up the capabilities for people and organizations to better position themselves in the internet world.
Not really. When was the last time that you actually typed in a URL with anything but .com or a .country-specific (e.g. .co.uk) suffix? Indeed, when was the last time you actually typed in a URL directly at all? Don’t most of us use Google or Bing and then click on the company’s name anyway?
Do we really want to be able to go to acompanyname.guru? What will we expect to see there? Would it be so much different than going to acompanyname.com and clicking on a tab with something like “Guru” marked on it? I’m sure that for a few egotists, registering their own name as a .guru is seen as worth it. That the vast majority of people will be too busy laughing at such vanity to read anything on their web page is likely to pass the .guru owner by.
Just why are we seeing such an explosion of TLDs coming through?
TLDs are broken down into two main groups: the 295 ccTLDs (country code TLD), such as .uk, .cn, .ch and so on, and the gTLDs (generic TLDs), such as .guru and .trend. I argued strongly against the introduction of the .eu ccTLD in 2005 — it seemed pointless to me and was just another cost for an organization. As well as these two TLD types, there are a couple of special cases, but these do not have any bearing on this piece, so we’ll brush them under the carpet.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) was set up in 1998 to look after what should happen within the realm of TLDs. It started to introduce small numbers of new TLDs starting in 2001, but this was reasonable growth, overall.
Now, an organization would generally have bought itself its country specific and its .com TLDs. ICANN now suggested that for brand reasons, it really should buy its .biz, .info and possibly a few other gTLDs as well. At a few dollars a throw, no big deal.
Wind forwards to 2008, and ICANN started up a debate on opening up the world to many more gTLDs. By 2012, applications had been made for extra potential gTLDs. How many more? Actually, over 2,000. Some of these have distinct use and value — Mandarin Chinese and Arabic gTLDs will allow countries to have locally meaningful URLs. However, many have no discernible value at all.
The world is facing a move from 22 available gTLDs to over 2,000. Many of these are paid-for gTLDs, where a business can register their own name, or a trademark name as a gTLD (for example, .amazon, .google, .marmite). These will be sacrosanct — once they have been registered, no-one else apart from the registered company can use them. This has led to a rush for land-grab. Google has applied to register 101 gTLDs, Amazon 76, and that world-wide superbrand Donuts (a domain registry founded in 2011 specifically to deal with gTLD registrations) has submitted 307. Such grabbing has initiated much gnashing of teeth and arguing as to who should have which gTLD strings.
However, the open gTLDs are the real problem. Over 700 new gTLDs that anyone can use. If you are bothered about squatters taking your brand, then what do you do? Do you buy all 700 gTLDs so that you are completely covered? With an average price per gTLD of around £20, that’s £14,000 per year for a load of URLs that will never be used — or will just re-direct to the .com URL anyway.
And there is nothing to stop more gTLDs from being released. Each one raises yet another problem for an organization — do we buy it, or run the risk of our brand being hijacked by someone else, who will then try and hold us to ransom for a much higher cost of gTLD recovery? By buying a gTLD and then paying enough to get it high into search engine results, a cybersquatter can soon make a case for payment by the aggrieved party being the best option. OK, there is meant to be a process in place to resolve cases of cybersquatting, but the costs can still be high and the process interminably slow — and certainly higher than the £20 or so of buying the TLD.
To me, it all seems a little like a scam. As long as each gTLD cost is kept low, it is cheaper for a mid- to large-sized organization to just pay up, rather than employ someone to look at each gTLD and figure out if the company should ever need it. For the small guys, it becomes a case of finding the top 5, 10, 20, or whatever number of gTLDs that they believe are the most important to them – and then trying to forget that acompanyname.construction could be taken by someone else and used in inappropriate ways. And what happens if someone registers acompanyname.support or acompanyname.complaints and spoofs your site, opening up major phishing issues?
The domain registrars soak up the money; ICANN states that as a not-for-profit organization, it will not benefit directly from the new gTLD processes. However, the question has to be asked as to how such unfettered open gTLD expansion serves ICANN’s remit. It is nominally there to make the use of the internet easier for all, against its tag-line of “One world, one Internet”. This opening up of gTLDs seems to work against this ease of use — it is confusing to users, confusing and expensive for organizations, and only seems to work for the registrars and the cybersquatters.
However, it is too late to lock this stable door — the horse has bolted. That it has been allowed to happen should, however, raise questions over how the internet is policed. Meantime, all that can be done is for organizations — particularly smaller ones — is to choose carefully and monitor any abuses of their brand on the internet that could be seen by their target audience.