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The dangers of new domain names

The opening up of generic top-level domain names (gTLDs) may lead to more walled gardens and a fragmented internet, warns Sally Tomkotowicz

Did you know there is a .travel domain name? Not many do. But it’s actually been available for nearly seven years.

Yet if you search for holiday terms on Google you’ll be lucky to see a .travel site without going to page eight.

The .travel domain has had just tens of thousands of registrations since its initial introduction to the open market, making up less that 0.1 per cent of registrations by my company, Namesco. A similar story is true for .jobs. This compares with the 1.8m registrations we’ve carried out at  and the specific .uk domain, which recently passed 10million registrations on its own.

However, this lack of success for .travel and other names could change with the introduction of ‘dot anything’ domain names, significantly expanding into all sorts of industries and services with logical generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs).

New era

There's been a mountain of speculation about what the domain names could be and how they'll be used. Now the wait is over. ICANN recently unveiled the list of 1,930 generic top level domains applied for in its process to expand the Domain Name System (DNS) of the internet.

The new domains are currently being bid on by a combination of superbrand tech players and internet registry firms such as Afilias.

The big story is that Google and Amazon are fighting each other for .app, .free and .book, with both brands looking to protect their own names, .google and .amazon.

Amazon has also applied to register .search and .like – putting its tech rivals Google and Facebook on high alert. Amazon have even tried to register .joy, which has many wondering  if we really want a company to own our sense of joy?

Walled gardens

The concern is that this could lead to more Facebook-style ‘walled gardens’ as brands seek to keep consumers in their own areas of the internet.

Make no mistake, this change to the domain name world will lead to more competition, but it could also be viewed as a silent privatisation of the web – with the prime internet real estate going to the incumbent players with deep pockets and resources.

While the process has to be expensive to be managed carefully, the risk and costs involved in the first round has put out of the reach of many smaller organisations, giving large companies what could be a massive advantage online.

Barrier to entry

It is important to remember that the openness of the internet and the low costs to register a domain name has been one of the key drivers for its current success. Yet the resources required to participate in the new domains revolution are a significant barrier to entry.

To start off with, you need to pay $5,000 to register to apply. This is then followed by a 349-page form and $180,000 application fee per gTLD you would like.

This is all non-refundable, even if your application is unsuccessful. Then you need all the hardware and software to run the domain name on: that’s another few hundred thousand pounds.

Kinks in the system

Many of the rules around the guidelines are untested. For instance, there is a suggestion that .abc and .bbc won’t be allowed as they are too similar – and we know that our BBC has applied for .bbc initially.

Issues like these are something ICANN is anticipating and is one of the reasons there will not be another sale of gTLDs for two to three years until the kinks are worked out of the system and the lessons learnt from this undertaking.

Conclusion

This is one of the biggest things to happen to the internet since its inception. Brands, domain name registrars will need to learn how consumers are engaging with these new domains, and how organisations use them as gTLDs will surely shape the future of the online world. 

At names.co.uk we think the result could be a more focused, but also a more fragmented net – for better or worse.

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