From dot-com to dot-whatever: Website naming options take another giant leap forward
“Dot-com” is such an integral part of the language these days, it’s easy to forget just how novel the word is – and how quickly the Internet itself has changed since bursting onto the scene in the ’90s. (Remember the good old days when it took 20 minutes to load a sketchy Geocities Star Trek fan page and AOL sent you enough CDs in a month to re-side your garage?)
Now, the Web – which grows and evolves at a breakneck pace even in ordinary times – could soon see another sea change. Well, some would call it a sea change; others forecast a trickle.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization responsible for deciding what can and can’t be included in an Internet address, is poised to approve the creation of a potentially vast number of top-level domains. (In short, a top-level domain is what appears to the right of the dot in a Web address – e.g., .com, .org, .net, etc.) Through the program, companies will be able to create top-level domains that reflect their business name or brand. So instead of being restricted to acme.com, a company would have the option of launching manufacturing.acme, finance.acme, or even roadrunner-killing-solutions.acme.
Proponents of this new system see several benefits to having one’s own top-level domain.
Mary Iqbal, founder of Dot Anything, a Madison company that’s gearing up for the rollout of the new top-level domains, said having a signature top-level domain will allow companies to establish a greater level of control over their brands and improve security.
“Let’s say that I own a top-level domain; I have absolute control of what domains are created in there, no one can create a domain in there without permission,” said Iqbal. “For example, if Coke were to create a top-level domain, they could just keep one domain in there; they don’t have to create any more. All they have to do is alert their customers to go to shop.cocacola. They don’t need to continually be watching out for every possible domain.”
Of course, there’s one giant caveat when it comes to creating one of these new top-level domains. The registration cost will be $185,000, says Iqbal – a price that’s certainly prohibitive for most small businesses and could give medium-sized and large companies pause.
Still, having a top-level domain could eliminate a lot of legal wrangling over trademark issues, says Iqbal.
“Large companies like Microsoft, Canon, and UNICEF will spend well more than that per year fighting trademark issues with the name, so this is going to save them money – it will save them a lot of money,” said Iqbal.
In addition to the branding implications, having dedicated top-level domains will help eliminate fraud, says Iqbal.
“Right now, in today’s world, phishing is one of the most popular fraud mechanisms, and phishing can be done in many, many ways, but one of the ways they do it is they create a website that looks like another website,” said Iqbal. “Instead of ‘eBay,’ they might create ‘eBayy’ with two Ys, so that’s something you could prevent easily if every organization had their own top-level domain.”
Getting used to the idea
Of course, it remains to be seen whether the new wave of top-level domains will truly create a new paradigm or fizzle like a dot-com caught in a bubble.
Still, at least one survey, conducted by World Trademark Review magazine, revealed a fair amount of interest among trademark-savvy companies. The survey found that 54% of in-house trademark counsel, attorneys in law firms, and marketing professionals responded “yes,” “it’s likely,” or “maybe” when asked if their company or client would apply for a new top-level domain. Furthermore, of that group, 81% responded that the new domain would be their “master brand.”
But not everyone is convinced that these new top-level domains will create the kind of splash that some industry observers envision.
Jiri Marousek, director of the digital department at Lindsay, Stone & Briggs, a Madison consulting company that helps other companies with their brands, says the potential for company-specific top-level domains is probably fairly limited.
“In terms of opportunities there, for small businesses, it doesn’t make sense at all,” said Marousek. “For big businesses, it really provides some opportunity for measurement and tracking and for segmenting businesses that have multiple target audiences.
“But even for Coca-Cola, a top-level domain doesn’t really make much sense because when you think about it, coke.coke will be more confusing to the consumer than just coke.com that they’ve been preconditioned to for the better part of the last two decades.”
For a company like Nike, which appeals to people with diverse interests, being able to segment one’s Web presence – by, for example, launching basketball.nike, soccer.nike, or running.nike – would likely have some value, said Marousek. But even companies that appeal to a diverse group of consumers or have numerous product lines might face an uphill climb when it comes to promoting new URLs, he said.
“It takes a lot of conditioning and a lot of training when you think about it,” said Marousek. “It took a lot of time to get a set of best practices for how people are used to paying for things online, and it took a couple of behemoths like Amazon.com and others to really kind of precondition and train the consumer. It took a long time before those standards were set. URLs are really the same way. It’s really difficult for a company to get consumers to type in a dot-net let alone something like appliances.ge.”
But while “dot-com” is so ubiquitous it has become a kind of shorthand for any organization’s or company’s Internet presence, some would say that the time has long since passed for companies to expand their Web horizons.
“The growth in sales of the dot-com domain has slowed,” said Iqbal. “In other words, you can’t get a good dot-com anymore. If you try to start a business as I have, it’s almost impossible to find a good dot-com that’s not taken. If it is taken, it’s very expensive to buy it, so this will allow people to create businesses and throw that marketplace open.”
And despite the critics, Iqbal sees the advent of the new era of top-level domains as the start of something big.
“We had a dot-com boom and now we’re opening up the Internet to dot-anything,” said Iqbal. “It’s a really exciting time.”
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