ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, was founded in 1998 to help organize the management of domain names. ICANN has recently sought to increase the level of domain-related competition on the Internet by authorizing the release of hundreds of new Generic Top Level Domains. It would appear as though the largest domain registrars across the globe are seeking to capitalize on the new domain program. However, what are the benefits of the new program? How harmful are the potential negative impacts?
Current Generic Top-Level Domains
Currently, there are only 22 gTLDs available for use. The largest and most well-known of the gTLDs is .com, a top-level domain that is owned by the Internet giant Verisign, Inc.. Some other well-know top-level domains include the following:
There are two types of gTLDs: sponsored TLDs (sTLDs) and unsponsored TLDs (uTLDs). The uTLDs are managed using the same policies as those that govern gTLDs. sTLDs are domains that are managed by a sponsor organization. The sponsor organization is responsible for establishing policies and practices for the management of that sTLD. For example, .com, .net and .org are the orginal uTLDs established in the 1980’s. The domains ending in .edu, .gov, .int and .mil are sTLDs. sTLDs are intended to represent a specific community or type of organization, such as a university or government entity.
Future Top-Level Domain Names
Any follower of domain-related news may recognize that many of the domains in the list above were originally intended to be sTLDs, including .mobi and .xxx. However, since 2004, ICANN’s proposed market structure of these new sTLDs has been slightly modified to meet the increase in demand of domain names. As a result, many of the new domains are available to the public via domain registrars, as opposed to their sTLD counterparts such as .edu.
The newest generic Top-Level Domains will provide buyers with the ability to easily identify their websites through the use of the identifier. The new domain names correspond to various industries, using words or abbreviations to specify the community, such as .attorney or .engineer. Some of the domains identified for release by ICANN that are associated with businesses include:
In any new expansion, there are those that are proponents and there are those that see only negative outcomes. In the case of new gTLDs, the winners and losers have likely varying opinions on the impact the new domains will have on the Internet industry.
Criticism of the New gTLD Program
Confusion. Critics of the new gTLD program say that the new domains are likely to bring unnecessary confusion among Internet users. More top-level domains mean that there are more possible combinations of words and identifiers, meaning that duplication of content could be an issue. However, it could be that the new domain names bring about just the opposite.
For example, if web surfers use a search engine to find a Wiki-oriented website concerning their favorite music, a .wiki gTLD will likely identify the sites that fit into this criteria. But what happens when the unethical purchase domains with the intent of leading consumers? Let’s say you search for “wiki music”. The top two search engine results end with .wiki and .music. But which one is correct? The bottom line is that there hasn’t been much research on how the new gTLDs will affect search engine optimization. Also, we’re likely to see an increase in branding and trademark lawsuits that have never been seen.
Scale-ability. Proponents of the new gTLD program are excited about the endless possibilities of the new domains. In the past and currently, there has been much profiteering from domain name purchases. This has caused the demand of highly sought-after domains to be parked or left unused while an investor waits for someone to spend much more than the $9.99 spent on the original purchase. With the large number of new domains, it may be easier for new Internet businesses to find and acquire the name that suits their business needs.
Control. In recent years, many domain registrars have relinquished the isolation of their gTLDs in order to capitalize on the monetary benefit of public sales. For example, .me was originally the Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for Montenegro. However, due to the appeal of the English-friendly term, the country of Montenegro awarded doMEn a contract to operate the domain.
Will the same amount of loosely applied control be designated to the new top-level domain names? If so, what will be the impact on user-related confusion? For the time-being, there’s no way to predict the outcome of such a mass-release of domains. However, domain buyers and sellers alike can head to the website of any domain name registrar to be notified of a particular domain’s release.