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Sex sells: the effect of the .xxx domain

As the long awaited pre-order launch of .xxx domain names is due to take place in the UK within the next few weeks, Abby Hardoon, founder and CEO of domain name registration and hosting company daily.co.uk, looks at its potential impact

It is being touted as the biggest thing the domain world has seen since the launch of .com back in 1985 and, some believe that it may usher in a new era for the wider web as a whole, but is the hotly anticipated launch of the .xxx domain suffix going to make the web a safer place or be remembered as nothing more than a titillating headline?

Let’s face it, sex sells. It sells in vast quantities and generates immense revenue across the globe so it’s no surprise that, as has been the case with many new technologies destined for public consumption, the adult entertainment industry has been one of the first to put its money on the table and test it out.

Much like the early fervent adoption of the now out-dated VHS video format, the internet was seen as a new, gold-laden frontier for the adult entertainment industry and therefore they were, and continue to be, large investors and therefore drivers of technology.

Protecting the public

While there will always be debates held on the overall virtues of adult content and the distribution of such content across the internet, the main ambition of the new domain suffix should be to protect and safeguard not only our children (of which I have two boisterous teenage boys) but also other vulnerable groups of people or simply those who find porn distasteful. As well as that, it should, in my opinion, also act to protect businesses which find their company domain names just a small mistype away from one with adult content.

As an example of the latter, as CEO of Host Europe back in 1997, we used the domain name magic-moments.com for one of our leading hosting brands. It wasn’t long thereafter that a customer pointed out to us that he had landed on a soft porn website based in Germany simply by missing out the “-“ in the URL.

This similarity in URL and, therefore the inherent potential for confusion between one and the other by our customers, we considered serious enough to, soon after, drop the brand completely and consolidate it under Hosteurope.com.

The dangers of typos

As the internet began to evolve, regulations covering domain registration haven’t been thought out as carefully by the naming authority ICANN as one would have hoped (as is commonly the case, technology moved faster than the regulators did) and this allowed the adult entertainment industry to register domain names using .com or .net variation with ease. So it became common that a simple typing error for a URL meant that you landed on an adult website as opposed to the one you were looking for.

After living with a system as seemingly absurd as having a high street with a sex shop trading next door to a greengrocer, ICANN finally acted on what everyone has been asking for – to move adult content into its own domain space – and .xxx was finally born.

No evictions

.xxx is a ‘clean-up’ attempt and, at this point, an attempt only. Without the muscle of a harsher regime of monitoring and regulation, adult content will still be available on common domain suffixes like .com and .net. This means, without the police turning up to evict that sex shop on the high street, it will simply continue to trade at its current location.

Another thing worth considering is that a lot of money has changed hands for prominent adult domains in .com or .net suffixes. Only last year, sex.com sold for $13million and the value of such domains would no doubt free fall if adult content is forced to move into the .xxx domain space.

So where does this leave the .xxx domain then? Sadly, as it stands, it will likely be relegated to yet another ‘pet domain’ category and an important purchase for those wishing to protect their trademark. As a pet domain it offers another angle – imagine your family name with lots of kisses to go with it!

So will .xxx change the landscape of the internet? My answer is unfortunately: No, at least not at the moment.

Though .xxx is a step in the right direction, without enforcement, it can only ever be the first small step towards proper regulation.

Reservation phases

.xxx domains are to be rolled out through several ‘pre-registration’ and reservation phases starting, for Daily.co.uk, with their own pre-order launch scheduled for the coming weeks.

The preliminary Sunrise reservation phase, starting in September 2011 and lasting 30 days, will be open to trademark holders that meet membership requirements of the xxx community; trademark holders not in the xxx community who wish to protect their trademarks (blocking www.theirname.xxx); and also owners of existing pornographic websites recognised by the IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority).

The ‘Landrush’ reservation scheduled for Oct/Nov, 2011 will then allow any member of the xxx community to register any other domain.

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